Netflix’s live-action Death Note movie is good and I will fight anyone who tells me otherwise

Netflix’s live-action Death Note movie is good. Not ironically good, or good-for-an-adaptation, or so-bad-it’s-good. Just… good.

And yet I’ve heard so much backlash from the anime community (read: not fan community, but the anime community as a whole), nitpicking over how it isn’t a 1:1 adaptation, how everyone in the cast has been whitewashed (and I guess “blackwashed” in the case of the character of L), among what’s probably a million other arguments for why this movie shouldn’t have been made. Even before official production on the movie began, it had so many cards stacked against it. So of course, if you can’t please the core audience most likely to be interested in the movie, then what’s the point?
But even with all that in mind, I still stand by my statement. Netflix’s Death Note movie is a good movie. Why? Because it’s able to distance itself from the rose-tinted expectations of fans and actually capture Death Note’s essence—an essence that a lot of fans tend to avoid entirely.

Similar to how shonen manga are so much more than their surface-level fights and are able to really delve into more complex themes of friendship, humanity, and even politics, so too does Death Note’s initial allure give way to “ulterior” themes for those willing to dig past its grimdark exterior. At its surface, the original Death Note manga comes off as this giant artsy-fartsy showdown of the minds—this really clever story of cat-and-mouse that touches on themes of morality and godlihood. Its main character is a hyper-intelligent, unflawed high-schooler who oh-so-cooly takes it upon himself to judge the wicked. It is probably one of the most unapologetically pompous shonen series in recent history starring a Barry Sue protagonist with everyone else bending to his will. But it’s for that very same reason that a lot of high-schoolers were drawn towards it. And probably why a lot of fans look back on the series with the same kind of disdain as something like Linkin Park (pre-Chester’s untimely death, anyway)—because the series at its surface is so caught up in its own srs bsns drama, that in hindsight, we can’t help but view the series as nothing more than “baby’s first serious non-punchy manga.”

But what if Death Note wasn’t as serious as people remember it being? What if beyond its blatant religious imagery and rambling monologues on morality, the series was nothing more than a B-movie complete with over-the-top deaths thinly justified through the existence of a magical killing notebook?

That’s what Netflix’s Death Note realizes, and it brings that into the spotlight in full force.

Rather than the perfectly perfect Light Yagami, we have a purposefully whiny shitstain that is Light Turner. Rather than seeking out godlihood, he uses it as an excuse to get in the pants of a one Mia Sutton (who sidenote: is a large step up from the original’s Misa Amane). Rather than the in-your-face mental face-offs between Light and L, the movie’s centerpieces are its Final Destination-esque criminal deaths. The movie strips away any of the original’s subtlety to the benefit of better getting across that Death Note was never about answering nth level questions on life, death, killing, etc, but to centerpiece an unlikeable person’s fall from grace via the most in-your-face, gratuitous visuals and laughably serious demon lore. It embraces its campiness, and is able to utilize it to its full extent, resulting in a beautifully shot, dutch-angle-filled, oddly 80s soundtracky, CW-tier-acting, romp of a movie where you’re absolutely certain Willem Dafoe enjoyed his role playing a slightly less gremlin-faced version of himself.

I’m glad it’s in talks for getting a sequel and I spit in the face of anyone that says the original has aged well enough to the point that they’d prefer that over this.

Bakuman: Initial Thoughts

When I first heard that there was a manga out there created by the same artist/author team that did Death Note, the first thing that crossed my mind was “money grab.”

Honestly, with Hollywood playing up the “from the same creative minds behind <insert blockbuster hit of five years ago here>” you can’t blame me for initially thinking such. Though considering the creative mind that is the meshing of artist Takeshi Obata and author Tsugumi Ohba, I guess I should have given them the benefit of the doubt. Upon reading the first volume of the manga, even without any shinigami, you could immediately tell it had that Death Note vibe, with Obata once again having his fantastic art competing against Ohba’s continuous onslaught of speech bubbles yet in the long run still making for a good read unlike the page compositions of some certain pirate manga that whenever bombarded with text just makes me want to puke… but that’s beside the point.

Story aside, is anyone actually surprised this series got an anime adaptation?

Having read the first volume of the manga, I pretty much knew what I was getting myself into… but nothing could prepare myself for the cheesiness that was the opening song. Darn you, Kobukuro and all your inspirational folk tunes.

So we’re introduced to the melancholic Moritaka, a ninth grader still fresh off the heels of his visions of becoming a manga artist like his uncle. Already somewhat down from his uncle’s less than uplifting story of how he became a manga artist in an attempt to get closer to a certain female acquaintance of his, the actual death of his uncle from overworking doesn’t exactly help Moritaka all that much. Disappointed with the world and its discouragement of following your dreams, the kid’s been in quite the slump, as a string of soliloquies demonstrates.

Enter Akito: the one blonde kid in class which of course translates to a person of interest. Noticing how Moritaka forgot one of his notebooks after class, Akito anticipated his coming back after hours and waits for him with a proposition in mind. Creeper status? Maybe. But it’s an anime, so we all know that his character design must match his actual character, meaning his intentions must be pure. In pure “because the plot calls for it” form, Akito is the perfect sidekick to Moritaka, being the class’ smart kid yet still holding out for a future more glamorous than your typical government job—the manga author to Moritaka’s manga artist.

“At this rate, you’re gonna watch your life pass by at a snail’s pace! You’re fine with that being all your life amounts to?”
“It’s weirder to have and strive for a dream in ninth grade.”

Still being the realist, discouraged from continuing his dreams after seeing the life his uncle lived, Moritaka is less than enthused at the blondie’s proposition, taking his notebook back and going home to play some videogames… which will forever be the kid equivalent to heavy drinking when in a slump. But it seems like Akito just can’t let Moritaka be, since he calls the guy in an elaborate scheme involving Moritaka’s crush to eventually get him to buddy up and actually try to make a living in the manga industry. So besides the obvious themes of following one’s dreams, Ohba also suggests that in order to strive for what we truly desire, we must be willing to come off as a bit creepy first. Yeah, this is an anime for otaku, alright.

To compare to Ohba and Obata’s other teamup project, this seems like a much better adaptation so far than Death Note’s. While the former really made a point of playing up the dark nature of the manga with its lighting and sudden lightning storms not present in the manga, Bakuman has done a pretty good job of keeping the same ambiance kept in the manga, not watering down the series to one basic theme (with exception to the opening theme, which I guess is allowed to pull that off). Swift changes between dramatic monologues and goofy school goings-on are well executed, with a lighthearted soundtrack that doesn’t keep viewers too down when the characters are getting too serious.

What I especially enjoyed this time around, though, was how the small little jokes from the manga were also kept for the anime. What brought down the Death Note anime for me was how a majority of the lighthearted moments were removed, all for the sake of maintaining the series’ serious atmosphere. Sure, there were Misa’s occasional outbursts, but the manga just had so much more to offer. With Bakuman, every memorable gag, no matter how small, was kept for the first episode from Akito’s stuttering to the ever so awkward meeting up with Moritaka’s crush.

My one fear for the series is that it’s been slated for 25 episodes total, with the manga series itself not even being finished yet, at 10 graphic novels as of late. Will the series pull an FMA and make a new ending while the manga continues? It sure seems possible, and based on the nature of the series, it’s not exactly the type of story to have that major of a twist near the end of the story to differentiate the manga from the anime. Still, only time will tell.

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