Put the e-pitchforks away.
It’s been 16 days. You’ve had more than two weeks to give the Netflix live action Death Note a chance. You’ve had time to form your opinion and, chances are, you already knew how you felt about it halfway through the movie – maybe even 10 minutes in. If you’re anything like the people on my Facebook timeline, you hated it.
Me, on the other hand? I quite enjoyed it.
Now, before you take up arms against me and bring out the verbal pitchforks (“Who’s this chick and what the fuck does she know about anime?”), let me clarify one thing: I’m not saying it was true to the anime or to the manga. I’m not saying it was a masterpiece of acting and directing. I’m not even saying it was that good. It was far from being objectively good as a cinematic work of art. What it was, my friends, was entertaining.
Need my credentials? I bought and read the manga for the first time about a decade ago. I’ve watched the anime in Japanese with subtitles multiple times. I’ve cosplayed as Misa Amane at two anime conventions. I know this shit. When I first saw the trailers for Netflix’s Death Note, I scoffed. I literally (and my boyfriend can attest to this) went into watching the movie with my arms crossed, lip pouting, determined to hate it. The second the movie began, I was cringing.
And honestly, the cringing turned into laughter. Nat Wolff’s Light Turner? Please. He’s not Light Yagami — he’s an average Joe who comes across a supernatural weapon that gives him an interesting alternative to his normal, suburban life. He has above average intelligence, but he doesn’t have the Yagami genius. His first scene with Shinigami Ryuk is beyond ridiculous. Thanks to this movie, I’ve never said the words, “Light is a little bitch” so much in my life. Who could ever say that about the cool, calculating Light Yagami?
It was at this point — the very point when I watched Light Turner screaming in blatant childish terror, scrabbling at a locked door while Willem Dafoe sat smirking in the shadows — that I realized this movie wasn’t Death Note. I mean, it’s Death Note in the same sense that Panda Express is Chinese food. It’s not real, and it’s not authentic, but it’s cheap and cheerful. It has its own perks, but it’s clearly a bastardized version, not to be compared to the original. It’s a whole different ball game.
And that’s why, despite myself and my love for the original manga and anime, I kind of liked Netflix’s Death Note. It was entertaining. Beautifully shot. Ridiculously and unapologetically campy. If you take this movie for what it is — a Netflix psychological teen thriller that borrows elements from a wildly popular manga/anime series — then you can enjoy its self-awareness and borderline comedic storyline. I mean, Light doesn’t “take a potato chip … and eat it,” to my disappointment, but the outstanding casting of Lakeith Stanfield as L and Willem Dafoe as Ryuk make up for Director Adam Wingard’s omission of some of the anime’s prime meme material.
Light Turner is a far cry from Light Yagami. He’s not a brilliant, powerful, well-respected Japanese student — he’s a somewhat grungy, dorky, fly-under-the-radar American boy. Mia Sutton isn’t an airheaded Lolita who worships Light — she’s a stereotypical emo bad girl with delusions of power. The movie is about their relationship more than the anime and manga were ever about the relationship between Yagami and Amane.
Again, this isn’t Death Note as we know and love it, and we anime lovers need to accept the fact that hey, maybe that’s okay. There are tons of people in the western world who’d never watch anime if their life depended on it. If this movie gives them just a taste — if it skims the most superficial surface — of the amazing story originally developed by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, then is that really such a bad thing?
Anime and manga fans know the difference, of course, but for me, it’s a good stepping stone to even greater pervasion of Asian culture in the west. Anime is taking a foothold, but adaptations like this help bring it more into the sphere of pop culture. Personally, I want the world to know about these stories. It might be like taking Grimm and turning it into Disney, but these stories need to be told. You might not like this particular medium, but it spreads the word of the Death Note brand. Shares the story. And that’s a good thing.
Call it whitewashed (except please don’t, because Lakeith Stanfield proves it’s not), call it shitty, or call it a terrible excuse for a Death Note adaptation. If you didn’t make a single sound when you watched a bullying teenager get messily decapitated when a stray ladder goes awry (kid gets wrecked), then there’s no convincing you. When it comes to this movie, you can stubbornly be a purist and hate its guts as a matter of principle, or you can delight in its ridiculousness and enjoy every cheesy line, every B-movie homage, and every conscious departure from its original source content.
And if that doesn’t work, you can just turn it into a drinking game: two drinks every time Light Turner is a little bitch. Better stock up on the beer, friends. Things are about to get lit.