[Guest Post] Death Note – A Deplorable Attempt at Adaptation

Death Note

Hello everyone and welcome to That Baka Blog’s first ever guest post. Today I would like to introduce you to Stephen Nagel, a filmmaker and blogger from Cape Town, South Africa. When he’s not talking about film, he’s probably off writing or shooting one. If you enjoy reading this post, please make sure to catch more of his ramblings on his blog, BTG Lifestyle, or on Twitter at @thesnagel. Without further a do, here’s Stephen’s review on the Death Note anime and Netflix film.

Whether you stumbled on the Death Note manga early on, or perhaps you only got introduced to the wonderful world of murder and Shinigami through the anime years later (as many of us did) one thing is for sure: most people who read or watch Death Note absolute love it.

For me, it was the anime that captured my attention, so I will be reviewing this from the perspective of someone who watched (and loved) it. So the plan is a brief review of the anime series, followed by a review of the live action film adaptation that was released earlier this year on Netflix.

The Anime


After the huge success of the manga, the Death Note anime was released in 37 episodes, which spanned roughly 9 months from 2006-2007. The IMDB rating says it all, with a 9/10 rating from almost 145,000 users.

Death Note is about a high schooler named Light who finds a Death Note, dropped to earth by Ryuk the Shinigami, purely out of boredom. Light reads the rules of the note (there are many, so I won’t go into too much detail) and realises that he’s able to kill anyone whose name and face he knows. All he needs to do is write the name in the book while visualizing their face, and they will die.

After deciding to kill many criminals to serve justice and change the world, local and international law enforcement start to investigate the deaths as a series of murders. Later, a world-renowned detective, L is introduced to solve the then unsolvable case, and the rest of the story evolves into a cat and mouse game between Light and L as L tries to uncover the truth.


The interesting characters and intricate storytelling provide a consistently captivating experience that can sometimes be too intense to binge all the way through. As with many great stories, Death Note walks the fine line of morality, asking us to reckon with our own feelings about what Light is doing.

Imagine you got a book that could kill anyone? Who would you go after? Would you clean up the world, or maybe you’ll go after people who have personally wronged you? These are the questions we’re left to think about in the wake of Death Note.

Ryuk, the Shinigami, with his nonchalant attitude towards death and human beings, and his odd appetitive for apples, provides a bit of (dark) comedic relief from time to time; but he also turns on the creep switch at any moment, bringing Light and the audience back to reality and the fact that he is in affect a god of death.

For the most part, Death Note ties up into a fairly neat bun, but leaves the audience with these heavy questions to ponder. And that’s what makes it brilliant.

Rating: 8.5/10

The Movie


Oh my, oh my. In 2015 (I think) we heard whispers that a film adaptation of the critically acclaimed Death Note would be coming to Netflix in the coming years. Before that we heard that it had gone into production, but only the fan boys and girls really paid attention there.

We’ve seen many a live action anime adaptation in Japanese cinema, but it’s rarer to see one land up in Hollywood. Many games have been adapted, but that’s a whole other story.

I digress. I was interested to see where this would go. Not long after, news started to spread about Willem Dafoe’s involvement as Ryuk, and anyone who has seen Spider-Man (2002) will know that he’s simply perfect for this role (I’m talking about his performance as the Green Goblin).

They cast Nat Wolff in the lead, a fairly unknown actor, while Margaret Qualley was cast as Mia, Light’s girlfriend (Misa from the anime).

This film was horrible. I didn’t hate it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was horrible. The entire thing was rushed, crammed into less than two hours. What the anime had taken 37 episodes (of 20+ minutes each) to tell in a beautifully crafted character study, the film decided to stuff into a much shorter film that is more focused on gore and action than character.


While Dafoe embodies Ryuk brilliantly with his creepy-ass voice, the character itself was not written well, manipulating situations too severely and basically becoming the true villain of the film in a sense, because it felt like they wanted the audience to think that Ryuk somehow directly lead Light to that fate, whereas Ryuk’s character is way more suggestive than active in the anime.

I don’t even want to get into the details around Mia and how she’s also antagonised. Let’s just say that her fate in the anime is way more tragic.

Nat Wolff brings very little to the role of Light, another character which was completely lost in the adaptation. The only saving grace here is Lakeith Stanfield as L. While the character has flaws as well, his embodiment in the introduction, and the overall arc of this character felt the most solid overall.

Being under two hours, the film is rife with pacing issues as we rush through the introduction to the Death Note and Ryuk, Light’s plans for his new world order, and his eventual fall from grace.

I come down on exactly the same problem every time I think about this film: It was too short. This should have been adapted into a miniseries. Even if they were unable to do, say 37 episodes of live action, they could have done this in a 6-10 episode arc that provided us with more time, more detail, more character development, and a more intricate plot.

At this point I’ve basically given up on anime adaptations to live action (especially Hollywood adaptations). But guess what; Hollywood probably has a lot more in store for us, as the aversion from original content continues in favour of adapted works.

Rating: 5.5/10

It was a ton of fun doing this anime (and live action review). If you guys enjoyed my review, feel free to see more film reviews, trailers and more over at BTG Lifestyle Movie Blog.

2 thoughts on “[Guest Post] Death Note – A Deplorable Attempt at Adaptation

Add yours

  1. I think you ended up rating this movie higher than me but still in that range i figured a more partial watcher would give it. I think it should most def been longer and better crafted esp if this is a one movie film. If they decided to make a sequel i would be interested to see what route they take as L ended up being such a different character. I also reviewed this on my blog if you wanna check it out 😛 and my god Light was such a passive character in this movie it made me cringe Orz im just so used to light making all the plans, being the mastermind and in this adaptation he did nothing xD gives the movie a whole diff feel

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, thanks for your reply! I felt like the film deserved credit, because it had hints of greatness, but it just never came together in the end. This was mainly because it was rushed. Masi Oka producing to protect the story as far as possible is commendable (and I’m sure he got a lot of crap from the suits who mutilated the source material for Western audiences). As I mentioned, Lakeith Stanfield and Willem Dafoe are really good as well. There’s enough here that it could have been okay, or good. But alas, we got what we got. I like how you characterize this adaptation of Light as passive; I fully agree with that. As I move deeper into my re-watch of the anime, I realize more and more how much depth there is to that character that the movie was just never going to manage. Will check out your review some time – Stephen

      Liked by 1 person

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