What’s wrong with Netflix’s adaptation of Death Note
Lets be clear with something. I love Death Note (created by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata back in 2003). I enjoyed reading the manga then watching the anime (this when I was in college), and I think its one of the finest works ever created that still manage to distinguish itself from what is out there now.
Death Note’s core plot is a about 2 brilliant or genius minds battling each other using deduction and strategy, and the Death Note itself is just a medium to do this.
So, what went wrong on this adaptation? Well, beside changing some rules from the Death Note, here are my conclusions.
Light Yagami (Manga) vs Light Turner (Netflix Adaptation)
Light Yagami is motivated, clever and a sociopath character, he lacks empathy and his drive to achieve goals makes him to take increasingly and unforgivable actions (killing criminals). Yet he remains the hero of the story, anti-hero describes him better. So, what makes us like Light Yagami (a character with questionable morals)? We like him because we see external behavior we tend to admire, and Light is (1) polite, confident, even generous, and this is established in the manga when he interacts with his family, and diminished in the adaptation where Light Turner does others people homework for money. The second likable trait is, (2) he is smart, way too smart, and this is where the gap between the manga and adaptation increase. Light Turner is easily manipulated by Ryuk (this is demonstrated on the scene where Ryuk pushes Light to kill his classmate). On the manga, Light thinks several times who should be his first victim, bringing to the table the possible consequences that could happen as a result of it. Light Yagami keeps the existence of the note as a secret for quiet some time (before the plot progress to include more characters), and even when this happen, he carefully crafted a plan to do it. On the other hand, Light Turner tells Mia Sutton about it, emphasizing he is driven by the fact he likes her.
L (Manga) vs L (Netflix Adaptation)
L (manga) is the first Light Yagami’s antagonist. There is not a lot of information from this character but the fact he is an orphan and somehow became the world’s best detective. We like this character because he is (1) the epitome of morality. For him killing people is wrong regardless of the motives (for Light Yagami or Kira, this justified by creating a world with no evil). He does (2) pressures Light to make uncomfortable decisions that reveals more about the anti-hero, thus moving the plot farther.
The adaptation tried to portrait an scene making L confronting Kira, but before describing this one, on the manga, L confronts him by broadcasting in TV, a man called Lind L. Taylor claims to be L, he provokes Kira by saying he will capture him and taunts Kira to kill him. Light Yagami sees this and become angered, takes the bait, and kills Lind, Light celebrates this, to then notice the broadcast is still running but this time with the real L (only his voice now) provoking Light to kill him, but Light can’t, L now has valuable information, (1) Kira can kill people without making direct contact with the victims, (2) there is a reason why Kira could not kill L at that moment (this is revealed later in the plot), and (3) L knows Kira is in a specific area in Japan (due the broadcast was aired in different locations at different times). I consider this a powerful scene, in fact, I got into the story because of this.
Going back to the adaptation, L goes to the public where there is press (already in Seattle - assuming Kira is there with little to none information), he “provokes” Kira to kill him. Note how I quoted provoke, due the scene never established that L & Kira are indeed communicating (in comparing to the manga, where Kira took the first bait, this confirmed to the audience that the confrontation was happening). On the movie, L is just talking to the people in the press and everyone who might be watching the news. From here, L got the information he needed the names and a face to kill people, he assumed Kira took the bait. This simply does not work.
However, the biggest mistake was to show an emotional L in the adaptation. At some point of the movie, L decides to settle Kira’s case by using a gun to kill Light, having no proof Light was Kira.
Adapting a character is just not a matter of mimicking his manners and movements. L (adaptation) copies L (manga) weirdness but in an unbelievable way. I would have liked more, L (adaptation) being the smart guy his is even if they have had to remove the manners.
Misa Asame (Manga) vs Mia Sutton (Netflix Adaptation)
It will not be fair to compare these 2 characters as they too way different. Misa Asame is a model who falls in love with Light Yagami and in order to be with him, she is willing to do anything Light says. Mia on the other hand, seems to share the same conflicts and ideas as Light Turner.
Ryuk (Manga) vs Ryuk (Netflix Adaptation)
Ryuk is the only redeemable character in this new adaptation. He has a slightly different look here which I like. But the biggest mistake here was, he took sides with Light Turner. In the manga, Ryuk mentions he is not either on Light’s or L’s sides and he often refuses aid Light. Ryuk (manga) is just an observer having fun watching the human world using the note. And this is important, due the story is about Light and L, the note is just a medium for the plot to move.
Fun fact with Ryuk (Adaptation), he mentioned that everyone who tried to write his name on the note, was able to only wrote 2 before dying. But there is another scene where we clearly see Ryuk’s name fully written on the note.
With all of the above said, I enjoyed the movie. I hopefully this will make people to be interested int he real story and read the manga or watch the anime, which is in Netflix too.