Well. It has come to this. Netflix is finally producing a live-action USA-based adaptation of Death Note, the hit manga/anime where a teenager with a god complex gets a notebook that he can use to magically murder people. It’s better than it sounds, albeit not the greatest thing ever. The show is mostly famous for being a classic “gateway anime” that gets people started on the medium, filled with grandiose ideals, over-the-top battles of wits, and a modern crime drama setting with supernatural elements.
Mostly, the press and hype surrounding the upcoming series has been…pretty negative. But yesterday, the official trailer for the Netflix series dropped, so it’s time to find out: is it that bad, after all? Here goes nothing, my rapid-fire comments on a rapid-fire teaser.
We open on one of the more iconic shots of the show: the titular “Death Note” dropping from the sky, sorta floaty in a way that worked a lot better when it was animated. Seeing it in live action makes it look sorta…silly. Some things just don’t translate well, and you kinda have to work around them. So, I’m not hopeful, given how key they knew that moment was.
And there’s our edgy protagonist/bad guy. Light Yagami (well, he probably isn’t a “Yagami” in this adaptation, if looks are anything to go by), with an eminently punchable face and juuuuuuuust enough of an aura of pretentious self-importance about himself. Honestly, he’s not a bad fit. He doesn’t look quite as seductively evil as in the anime, but this isn’t a bad look for him. He’s just leaning more towards the smug jerkface side, which could work.
This is a pretty good call. If you’ve seen the show, you know that apples are a little bit of a big deal, and this shot is filled with delicious texture even if you haven’t seen the original. Unless what you’re thinking of right now is Twilight. Please don’t. From here, the titular Death Note looks wonderfully weathered and ageless, with crinkled weathered pages and whatnot. So I actually like this.
The story is set in Seattle, Washington, which we find out via a quick shot of the skyline (complete with the Space Needle), and that’s not bad. It’s a little random as far as places go, but it does manage to be a big city that isn’t one of the huge major metropolises (Chicago, New York), which means that it makes a bit more sense insofar as the events of the story not attracting quite as much attention. And shortly after that, we get a shot that only manages to be incredibly puzzling.
Uh, who are these girls? Obviously, they belong to the high school that Light attends, but, A: why are there random hands holding up the outside girls, and B: who is the center character? Apparently she’s so tough (and school guidelines are so lax) that she smokes cigarettes during cheerleading practice. Is that Misa? Misa the mentally-unstable obsessive goth girl? She…doesn’t really project the same aura. At all. And yet, I can’t think of any other character this could be, especially given how they’re highlighting her.
That would honestly be really sad. Her aesthetic is an incredibly thematic projection of the existing overwrought Gothic aesthetic of Death Note, so overwrought that it makes the show interesting to watch. It’s a sort of hamminess that lets you take the whole show a little less seriously, but it’s also glorious to watch its full splendor.
I mean, look at this!
Okay, back to the American version.
What is…that? Some kind of ninja wannabe walking through a red-lit…is that a server room? What even is going on? I just…what even? How, how is this anything remotely like–I know it’s been a while since I saw the anime, but what in the blue blazes is going on? I guess Netflix is really trying to remind us of their trademark red color here.
Well, at least they got that part fairly faithfully. The writing looks entirely different, but it still has that wonderful Gothic feel. Which totally clashes with the entire rest of the tone of the series. Oh well.
I do have to admit, this next montage depicting the start of Light’s reign of terror? Pretty good! Appropriately chilling, and that is the Death Note that I know. It’s supposed to be grand, shocking, and dramatic, just like these shots. I mean, look at that lighting and camerawork.
And at least they got the look of the title right. They’re definitely working hard to redeem themselves. And wait, there’s a little more–
…aw. That’s all we get to see of Ryuk? Well, it is a teaser, I guess. And the voice sounds appropriately creepy…but not…sufficiently joyful-creepy? Ryuk almost manages to sound giddy, which establishes his otherworldly status amazingly well. I’m really worried this is just going to entirely miss the mark there.
So that’s that. Um. That was a thing.
That was definitely a thing.
I may or may not have to at least watch the first episode for snark commentary. I mean, it’s technically possible that I’ll be delightfully surprised by a good show, but I don’t see the makings of much solid here, and very little to inspire confidence.