Why Is Netflix's Failed 'Death Note' Getting a Sequel?

Updated on February 27, 2019
RachaelLefler profile image

I've studied anime, manga, and Japan for a long time. My favorite anime/manga are sci-fi and seinen (mature).

I'm not one to get too passionate about a movie one way or the other, until I've seen it. I like to go into each new fictional experience as a new experience, without allowing my perception to be colored by the opinions of society. I don't want advertizing to hype me up to overpraise something that's mediocre, and I don't want angry Tweets to stop me from enjoying something I would normally enjoy.

But then there's this.

I normally don't care about the race or gender of fictional characters changing across adaptations. It makes total sense from a marketing standpoint to change the names of the original Death Note characters, change the setting, and yes, change their races. Because you're trying to get Americans to watch the movie, so to me it just is good business to make the cast American. If they had made a good movie, I wouldn't have cared about the "white washing" nonsense I had heard about on social media.

Race and culture also aren't that important to a story about cops and criminals like Death Note. The anime's themes are even more relevant to the United States than to Japan, since we have a much higher rate of violent crime. Therefore, the work's central theme, capital punishment, is extremely relevant to American society.

I care about the race of the actors as much as I care about a gnat's dick. If they make a good movie.

But, they did not.

But apparently, the original Death Note Netflix film's success was "sizeable", and so there is now a sequel to it on the way. Oh what joyful days.

Why Was the Original Death Note Movie So Bad?

Like I said, I don't really care that they changed the names of the characters in Death Note, changed the setting to America, and made the characters white except for L, who was played by a black man. (Is that blackwashing?)

What I care about is that they didn't seem to understand anything at all about why audiences loved Death Note as a story in the first place.

Light Yagami, now called Light Turner, went from a scheming mastermind chessmaster to a bumbling idiot, who pulls every 'awkward for the sake of making him adorable' move a teenage boy could make.

And yeah, they're all teenagers now. So they have to add in a lot of high school and American teen romance clichés.

And the adorable yaoi-fic-fueling, intellectually stimulating, heated conversations between L and Light? The ones that made up the tension in the plot of the original anime? Don't worry, now L and Light barely talk to each other and what we have instead are annoyingly long chase scenes! You like how Death Note explores themes surrounding the criminal justice system and the question of who has the moral authority to give a death sentence to another human being? Yeah that sounds a lot more boring than some cliché, overacted teen relationship drama! While we're at it let's have the whole thing culminate in a Ferris wheel scene? Because... kids like Ferris wheels?

The problem here is not turning a Japanese work into an American one, but trying to turn an adult crime drama into a teen romance drama. You could go on and on about the acting, the editing, the plot making no sense, and so on. But the heart of Netflix's Death Note's problems lie in the fact that it's missing everything we loved about the Death Note anime. There's no more subtlety and no more depth. There's no philosophical intrigue or clever cat-and-mouse games between criminal and detective, which are the heart of all great crime drama.

What we have instead is two unlikable (some may say insufferable) teenagers having relationship drama while attempting to do crimes because hey, crime is in the script. When I was a teenager, I wanted to be cool and suave like Light Yagami. But this isn't the Light Yagami from when I was a teenager. This Light Turner is not a mastermind I can look up to because his cutthroat manipulative behavior makes him cool. Light Turner in this movie is just a scared, dumb little boy. No prodigy, certainly no mastermind. It also takes out one of the best things about Death Note, that it's an anime that doesn't focus on high school and teenagers for once. Light Yagami being a college student meant something, and made a statement that not all anime have to be obsessed with high school. So what do they do? They took that element out of it completely and made it about high school.

So you can see why fans of the original anime didn't care for this... whatever it is... much.

So, What Do We Know About This Sequel?

Not all that much. How do we fix this? This article from comicbook.com talks about how they could save this by either:

  1. Focusing on the cat-and-mouse parts of the Death Note manga that everybody likes, and being closer to the manga, or:
  2. Making it an anthology, and telling different, unrelated stories about different characters discovering the Death Note in different places and times. This would sort of be like the spin-offs of the Puella Magi Madoka Magica manga, which feature different girls getting wishes granted by Kyubey.

Netflix clearly wants to be seen as a movie-maker in its own right, to shake off their origins as a middle man to help other people's movies reach the eyeballs of the consumer.

What we know is that Greg Russo will be writing the script. Russo is untested. As IMDB shows, he's not yet completed any finished screenplays. But he has been announced as a writer for Category 6, Mortal Kombat, and a Resident Evil reboot. So we have a writer who's never written anything finished before, who will also be working on 2 or 3 other projects while writing this, and we don't have information right now about the director or cast.

Final Thoughts

I'm not feeling confident about this movie but, with so little information to go on, my opinion right now is just speculation based on the previous movie. Perhaps Netflix has learned from the critics of the previous film. On the other hand, if the last film was truly substantially successful, well then, money talks. Many people like me hated this film, but watched it anyway, and studio executives care only about the number of eyeballs looking at a screen. Not about how the people watching actually feel about the film. They also may enjoy courting the whitewashing controversy because, hey, there's no such thing as bad publicity.

Optimistically, I expect this movie to just be OK. It will be interesting to see what they come up with. But if it sucks, just remember that there's still the manga, the original Death Note anime, and the really cool Japanese live action films. They can't take that away from us. Stay strong.

Questions & Answers


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      • profile image

        Daniel Hilgeman 

        2 weeks ago

        i must be in the minority but i like the anime and i thought the movie was really good its differant but for me thats ok yeah light yagami and light turner arent the same characters maybe its my mental disability but i can like the anime for what it is and the movie for what it is i really like the movie and cant wait to see the sequel

      • Empatheon profile image


        13 months ago

        I guess nowadays pop culture as a whole tends to be simple franchise scavenger. Not only it doesn't produce anything fresh and original, but also in its blind ignorance fails in rehashing, rebooting and remaking classic stuff, stripping it of soul and former glory.

        It's probably good opportunity to draw a line for oneself: no more paying for redundant experiences based on nostalgia. Zero tolerance for lame attempts of cash grab.

        Indiana Jones - butchered. Star Wars - butchered. Jurassic Park (World, whatever) - butchered. Death Note - butchered. Even older fiction, like Anne of Green Gables isn't safe anymore when nihilistic modernizers are roaming around...

        The one and only filmmaker I can trust these days completely is Denis Villeneuve, because he is quality storyteller foremost. Even his take on Blade Runner elevated core material in my eyes; the main ideas were exactly the same as in 1982 predecessor, but his execution made them more humane and touching than in original Ridley Scott's vision. He really did make BR his own and gave me subtle moments of fleeting beauty.

        Maybe this is main reason why Villeneuve shines through all these contemporary hacks - he never resigns from his attempts of creating true art, even when his job is to work on continuation of somebody else work. That sort of art based not only on classic aesthetic categories and proper storytelling, but also personal competence of aesthetic judgment. These are so rare in mainstream today!

        And on top of everything he's done, there is this "Incendies" masterpiece. That's how you tell engaging story which won't let anyone leave before it concludes.

        In times of crisis, it's better to stick with trustworthy, talented auteur creators and ignore all that mediocrity around.

      • ChrisSawin profile image

        Chris Sawin 

        13 months ago from Houston, TX

        I remember being let down by the anime after about the 13th episode or so. It lost momentum and never regained what made those first dozen or so episodes so good. But the Netflix live action film (the Japanese ones aren't much better) is really bad. It felt more like Final Destination than Death Note and the teenage drama crap was just too much. Although the casting of Willem Dafoe as Ryuk is incredible. If the sequel is just him laughing and talking trash for two hours, then it's off to a better start than the previous film.


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