Everything Wrong With Netflix’s Death Note – Part 1

How Do I Write This Movie Into A Death Note?

Netflix Death Note

Yes, it’s been done to death, we know. Yet it still seems as though there are things that need to be said. Netflix’s Death Note left many fans upset about their favorite anime’s western adaptation, and for good reason. Adam Wingard and the team behind this latest fiasco ineffably proved that they did not understand the subject matter they had in hand.

Many fans would have been happy with a new, stylized adaptation of a story they already know and love. People are receptive to new things, so long as it’s done with a love of the source material. Death Note, however, wasn’t that. To be fair, many would argue that most anime adaptations are treated in much the same manner. Those that tackle these stories just don’t take them seriously enough. It’s hard to say what the reason for this might be, but what is certain is that it’s always a smaller audience than intended that appreciates these movies in full.

But what made the Death Note movie so special in this regard? Well, there’s a lot of reasons, to be sure. Yet even if Netflix’s adaptation had been just that – an adaptation – one could argue that a wide array of changes would be necessary to ensure that the core of the series fit into an hour and forty minute feature length film, but other aspects would need to be kept to maintain the themes. Maybe the error lies more in it being a movie instead of a show? Possibly, but I personally doubt it. My reasons? Well, let me tell you. To make my points on this film absolutely clear, however, I’m going to need to write this article in two parts. I hope that come time I finalize this, you’ll be in agreement with me, at least mostly, as to why Death Note failed fans so terribly. The first, and most important point to be made in this regard is this:

Light Isn’t a Genius

Netflix Death Note

I iz geenius?

Say what you will about Light Turner, but he doesn’t hold a candle to Light Yagami. Sure, it’s mentioned in passing that Turner is a brilliant kid, but aside for a few words from his peers and father, we never actually see that in action. Remember the old adage “show, don’t tell?” Then you’ll recognize that what we got here was in fact the exact opposite, and that’s not good storytelling. We never see Light do anything even remotely intelligent throughout the entirety of this movie. And before you say it, no, doing other kids’ homework doesn’t count. Perhaps it’s due, in part, to less than subpar writing. Or maybe it’s a lack of respect for the target audience. Either way, whatever we were supposed to gather and interpret as intellect on Light’s part never actually happened.

Case in point. Light’s biggest offense is not brushing up on the rules of the Death Note, or even bothering to explore its limitations, something his anime and manga persona did in full within the first 39 days of obtaining the Death Note. Instead Mia, his “girlfriend,” takes action, learning them all herself while playing Light for a fool up until the last few minutes of the film. For all we know, though, Mia’s barely handled the Death Note. So how she became more familiar with the rules regarding its use before Light, who has had it for an undisclosed amount of time, is something of a plot hole. But I digress. The film is laden with them, after all, and I’d need more than one article to nit pick everything.

There’s also the fact that Light couldn’t be bothered to consider that Mia had stolen the Death Note, or at least a page from it, as she had done in order to kill the Kira task force. Instead, Light blames Ryuk. He doesn’t ask Ryuk anything, like how this could have happened, which goes to show that Light might not actually care that much about the Death Note or its powers and is more interested in keeping Mia around. He’s also so intent on assuming the worst of one stranger in his life that Light never stops to consider that Mia, who is practically a stranger herself, may only be with Light because of the seductive power the Death Note provides.

Netflix Death Note

Mia Sutton in a nutshell.

If you think about this for a moment, it’s almost like Mia and Light have flipped characters for this film. Mia acts as if she is the real Kira. Meanwhile, Light only uses the Death Note to impress her. Arguably, this bait and switch could have made for a much better movie.

If you need further proof, take the last twenty minutes of the film after Mia wrote Light’s name in the Death Note. Both Light and Mia know that in order to undo the effects of the Death Note, all that needs be done is to burn the page in the book (not the case in the original show/manga, but whatever). The page – that’s still in the book, mind you –  joins Light on his little chase scene through downtown Seattle to get to Mia at the Ferris Wheel. Why didn’t Light just burn the page when he found it? You can’t be telling me that – in Seattle – he couldn’t just find someone with a lighter and torch that page? Or, since we are in a school, he could have just used a bunsen burner in a chemistry lab! Are we to believe that these options would have somehow take longer than the idiotic chase sequence between L and Light? This, and the conclusion of the film at large, was moronically executed. But if we hadn’t had to endure all of that, we would have been robbed of that hilarious Ferris Wheel finale, so I guess there’s that.

Inconsistencies And Unresolved Plot Holes

Netflix Death Note

I’m sure they’re talking about another, totally different Ryuk.

Why can’t Light trust Ryuk? We never really got any information on that, but what we did get was a really interesting screw up.

When Light threatens Ryuk with writing his name in the Death Note, we’re assured by the death god himself that the furthest anyone’s ever gotten was two letters before, presumably, they were killed. Yet we actually have a note in the book telling Light and the audience at large “not to trust Ryuk.” That’s about all we get on that, save for the fact that someone did actually write Ryuk’s name in the Death Note.

Now, those of us familiar with the anime/manga know that writing a death god’s name in the Death Note has no consequences, but since we’re working with a semi-different universe here, perhaps in this movie’s case it can. So we are then instead led to believe that some names can be written into the Death Note, but not have it result in a death? How does that factor in? We’ll never know, though, because no one bothers to explore the rules of the Death Note.

Furthermore, we may presume that director Adam Wingard had intended this to come through in future installments on why we “can’t trust” Ryuk. But given Death Note’s poor reception, it’s unlikely we’ll see a conclusion.

Another thing that someone might want to let the writers of this movie know is that Japanese people have more than one name.

Netflix Death Note

Yes, just Watari. Like Madonna.

Light controlling Watari through the Death Note was hailed as being one of the smartest moments of the movie by many viewers. I might be inclined to agree, if that pesky “name” rule hadn’t been the only solid one we got in this film. In other words, the movie broke it’s own set of laws to give us this solution, and it still didn’t warrant an answer. L is still alive, though heavily discredited due to his actions after the loss of Watari. Instead of Light getting the detective’s name, why not just have Watari kill L himself? If we can work with only having a surname for controlling a person, surely a nickname or codename is good enough for the Death Note’s instructions? For example, write “Watari kills the man he knows as L and then kills himself.” Done! And I bet it would have worked if it weren’t for those meddling kids, yadda yadda yadda.

There’s also the fact that his death was left as “dealer’s choice”. There are no dealers choice deaths with the Death Note. We’ve already established that unspecified deaths are heart attacks, as was the case with the Kira task force director. Now clearly Watari’s death was supposed to provide some sort of a catalyst for L, but this ended up resulting in the detective’s downfall instead of helping him win the case. So ultimately, once again, what was the point?

You can argue that L is technically victorious by writing Light’s name onto the page of the Death Note (which he probably did do, despite lacking any conclusive evidence that that’s how the Death Note works), but this only means that Light’s brand of justice ultimately wins out in the end anyway. So then, what was the point of finding Kira if only to become the new Kira?

To Be Continued

Netflix Death Note

Hi! You can probably kill people psychically. Let me show you my face.

This only opens up a whole new can of worms, but sadly I’ll have to conclude this and other points for another article. We’re really only just scratching the surface here, and while I don’t want to beat a dead horse, I feel it’s poignant to point out just exactly where this movie disappoints its ardent fan base.

Agree? Disagree? Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments section. I’m eager to hear what others have to say.

Beth Meadows
A graduate of Full Sail University in the field of Game Design, Beth currently works at a small game development studio as a QA Engineer (a fancy name for a QA Tester - which means she plays video games for a living). Beth is obsessed with Heroclix and loves all things BioWare. In her spare time she enjoys gaming, reading, writing, and playing with her dogs (yes, she's a crazy dog mom). She's also quite a big fan of sleeping and eating and is trying to figure out how to combine these abilities.

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