Death Note is not a good anime. it is preachy, slow, there is not a single likable character in the whole mess of a story, and there are so many holes in the plot that it is impossible to believe anyone could find any sense in it. Somehow, despite all of this, Death Note is one of the most successful series of the ’00s and is on several people’s “top ten anime” list, celebrated for being brilliant, for being deep and controversial and for being one of the best psychological thrillers in anime. How can it be that a show with such a mediocre take on vigilantism could explode into such a massive state of popularity? To answer this, one need simply look at the time that it was released. The year 2006, when anime was in an awkward stage of switching between CGI and hand drawn and it was painfully obvious in some shows, while others hid their computer animation a little better. The “emo” movement was truly gaining momentum, and teen angst was at an all-time high. With this in mind, examine the main characters to Death Note. On one side we have Light Yagami, a misunderstood boy in high school who considers himself to be leaps and bounds ahead of the “commoners” in his grade and ultimately gains the ability to play god, removing those that he sees as a plague on society. On the other we have the awkward, silent and messy “L”, a boy who is smarter than all the adults and has a strong sense of justice, wanting to do what is right to protect the people around him that do not understand him. There is a clear pattern here. One might even argue that these characters were made so simple to appeal to the brain dead youth of the age who feel like outcasts themselves, who think they know more than their elders, and who find flaws in society that they think only they could fix. Add in a random gothic lolita blonde who falls for the main character’s quirkiness for no real reason whatsoever and there is a perfect mix to appeal to the angsty teens of the mid-2000s. Unfortunately, due to the success of this mediocre at best but really quite bad anime series, the anime did not die at the end of the series. There were several live action adaptations in Japan, and to the horror of even people who consider themselves fans of the series, in 2017 Netflix announced they would be releasing an American Live Action movie of Death Note.
The biggest sin here is not that there is an American version of an anime, even though historically this has not been a good thing. The biggest sin is that, even though the source material is so much hot garbage, this movie attempts to update and revamp it for a younger, modern audience, stripping away any of the subtext and nuance that was barely present in the first place, and making a shitty, disgraceful movie attempting to be the next Final Destination. To really delve into this, one must begin with the characters, and how they are different from the source material. As a heads up, there will be no mention of the differences between anime and manga, as whoever created this is probably unaware that there is such a thing as books with printed text and images in them. The first character to examine is the main protagonist, Light Yagami, or as he is known in the movie, Light TURNER. Yagami must have been too hard for the writer or actor to pronounce. On the topic of the actor, he is terrible. Absolute dog shit. In the anime, Light is an intelligent, smug individual, who believes he is above everyone else and actually formulates clever plans to carry out, even if his major plans end up relying far too much on coincidence and plot armor to actually be planned. In the movie, Light is a sniveling little brat who gets bullied at school. The only signs of intelligence are a couple throw away exposition lines, and the fact that viewers can see him forging tests and selling them at one point in the early parts of the movie. To make his character more sympathetic, the writers felt it necessary to shrink his family from a loving father, mother, sister and himself down to just himself and his father and had his mother be killed by a criminal. His dad being a detective and being mad about not being able to keep this criminal behind bars becomes one of the major contributing factors to why Timmy Turner turns murderer. The biggest problem with this is the first use of the Death Note, which for some reason they decided a simple notebook was not edgy enough and updated the thing to a leather bound Necronomicon rip-off. The very first name Bootstrap Bill Turner writes in the book is that of the school bully that always gives him trouble, which completely deflates any moral high ground that sniveling little shit stain of a person may have had.
The next big change comes in the love interest, Misa. Or in the American version, Mia. In the anime, Misa has her own death note, given to her after she witnesses the death of her family. She has her own intricate story and is one of the few characters that starts out interesting, even if she becomes a trope halfway through only there to be used by Light and to make the viewer hate him even more. She falls in love with Kira, the name that Light takes for his murderer after he kills the murderer that killed her family. After this, she plays an important role in assisting Kira and helping Light hide his true identity. In the movie, Mia is a troubled psychopath who is the actual evil behind everything. She hooks up with Light for the sole reason that he has the Death Note and she gets off on killing people. In the movie Light’s ambitions are all for the greater good and he refuses to kill innocents, while she says he must take out anyone who threatens to stop them. She plays the part of an antagonist to a degree, showing Light what would happen if he let Ryuk choose another successor for the Death Note if he were to give it up. If the anime version of her was annoying, the movie version is annoying, flat, boring and predictable in so many more ways. Ryuk himself is not changed too much, but the biggest difference is that he seems to be at odds with Light far more often in this, taunting and toying with him throughout everything and just generally being a bully instead of supporting his twisted habits. By far the biggest slap in the face to the source material is the changes to the character L. The anime version of L is a socially awkward orphan who has been raised from a young age to be a detective and bring down criminals. At the core, the movie gets this right. However, there are major flaws in the character beyond this point. L is a shrewd thinker, who is able to explain his thinking clearly when he needs to and who is never an emotional individual. he is always quiet, calm, and it should be obvious what the big flaws are in the movie version already. In the movie, L is over-emotional, is tricked easily, and never actually shows his “smarts”. The movie breaks the basic rule of “show, don’t tell” by simply telling the audience how smart L is and what a great detective he is. Beyond the actor talking in full sentences and enunciating every word in an odd manner, there is not a single hint of his intelligence given. When his butler gets kidnapped, L turns into a psychotic mess, even going so far as to take up a gun and try to hunt down Kira himself, who he suspects to be Light even though there is barely any kind of proof whatsoever. He simply suspects Light because the script says he must.
While it has been rather a long time since this reviewer has read the original series, there are definite changes to the story and setting itself that are noteworthy as well. First of all, and most glaring in everything, is the setting changed from Japan to Seattle. While this does not change the story too much, it is mostly just an odd choice. One of the most annoying changes already mentioned earlier was the appearance of the Death Note itself. The fact that the Death Note was a simple notebook was part of what made the thing so sinister. Making it something so obviously evil by binding it in dark leather and making the font obviously spooky kind of ruins the whole thing. Another big change is the gore. The calling card of Kira in the anime is the fact that all these major criminals and bad people are killed by heart attacks, a clear sign that they are all being caused by one person. In the movie, Light goes out of his way to write out gruesome deaths for all of his victims, another thing that deflates any moral high ground he may have had. The very first name he writes is his bully, and right out of the gate he starts with decapitation as the cause of death. Maybe the gore would not be so bad if there had been more of a budget for it, but for the most part, it is all computer animated garbage, much like the rest of the movie. Everything has been dumbed down to an insulting degree, probably to make the movie concept more accessible to typical American audiences. There is nothing redeemable about this movie, and it is deserving of the lowest possible score. if there were something lower than an F, this movie would fall into that category. Thankfully, even fans of the anime seem ready to admit that this movie is bad. Unfortunately, this does not seem to deter the studio who made it, as there are apparently talks of a sequel. Do not watch this movie, do not watch this anime unless you truly need something to pass the time. Please, do not support this trash, even in jest.