Netflix’s ‘Death Note:’ Anime Fans Are Completely Missing The Point Of This Western Adaptation [Opinion]

It is unfortunate, but Death Note, Netflix’s latest foray into a Western adaptation of a blockbuster anime franchise, is starting to receive the Ghost in the Shell treatment. Since the upcoming film’s official trailer was revealed, many avid fans of the Death Note anime and manga have pounced on the movie, bashing its allegedly whitewashed cast and its overt departure from the source material. These sentiments, if any, completely miss the point of the upcoming Netflix movie.

In a recent interview with IGN, Adam Wingard, the director of Death Note, explained why the Netflix adaptation of the beloved Japanese anime/manga franchise would include a lot of liberties with the original source material. According to the director, the upcoming Netflix film would not be a direct adaptation of the anime or manga. Instead, it would be a movie with the core Death Note spirit intact, but with its characters, culture and setting completely changed.

“It’s one of those things where the harder I tried to stay 100 percent true to the source material, the more it just kind of fell apart…

“You’re in a different country, you’re in a different kind of environment, and you’re trying to also summarize a sprawling series into a two-hour-long film. For me, it became about what do these themes mean to modern day America, and how does that affect how we tell the story.

“Ultimately, the cat and mouse chase between Light and L, the themes of good, evil, and what’s in between the gray area. Those are the core things of Death Note, and that’s really what we went for.”

Addressing the difference in the depiction of the main characters, Wingard simply stated that the upcoming adaptation is a distinct story that should be taken as separate from the Japanese version of the franchise. Take, for example, the anime/manga and the Western live-action film’s main character.

“Light Turner and Light Yagami may share the same first name, but they’re very different people.”

This is something that very few Death Note anime and manga fans seem to completely miss. Since the debut of the trailer, the upcoming Netflix adaptation has been bashed left and right, with fans accusing the movie of butchering the source material by depicting its main characters in a different light, and by relinquishing numerous aspects of the Death Note anime and manga. Some fans, speaking out in the comment section of the movie’s trailer in YouTube, have gone so far as to say that the Netflix Death Note movie is reminiscent of the Dragon Ball Evolution film, an adaptation that has been so poorly received that it became the subject of jokes.

While such apprehensions are understandable, the level of negativity that the Western adaptation is receiving is already reaching a level that is borderline ridiculous. The Dragon Ball Evolution comparisons, for one, are completely off-tangent. The DB live-action film bombed because its creators are not even fans of the source material.

The director of Netflix’s Death Note, on the other hand, is well aware of the lore and background of the franchise he is adapting. This makes a huge difference in the way the Netflix film would turn out, and based on what the trailer seems to suggest; the upcoming film would be quite a nail-biting thriller.

It is pertinent to note that the Death Note franchise has gone so massive that it already spawned a series of live-action movies in Japan, as well as a live-action TV series, apart from the anime and manga. There’s even a Death Note musical. Considering that the Death Note canon has already been told numerous times in these formats, the different approach that the Western adaptation is taking is actually a breath of fresh air; if fans could look past its differences from the source material, of course.

Overall, if Death Note anime and manga fans do not watch the movie, it would be to their loss. This particular puritan trend among avid fans of the original Japanese adaptations has been going on for a while, and it has caused otherwise enjoyable movies to perform less than expected. The recently released Ghost in the Shell live-action film, for example, is nowhere near as bad as its critics made it out to be. It might not have all the nuances and existential questions that the Japanese animated film featured, but it was a decent adaptation in its own right. Despite this, however, it was mercilessly bashed and taunted by avid anime fans.

It is not difficult to take a film for what it is. Yes, anime adaptations have bombed badly in the past, but firms such as Netflix have all but proven that it could deliver decent adaptations with just the right balance between original content and nods to the source material. Let’s not forget, Netflix is also behind massive anime hits such as Ajin and the Blame! film, which has both been received quite well by even the most dedicated anime enthusiasts. Thus, for all intents and purposes, the upcoming Death Note movie might very well be in very good hands.

[Featured Image by Netflix]