We think Death Note is a pretty cool manga and anime series. The delicate artwork is beautiful to look at (you have to admit, the protagonist Light is one fine-looking character, even if he turns out to be, well … seriously psychotic), the Death Gods look creepy in an awesome way and the story expertly combines a fierce battle of the minds with elements of the supernatural to create an engaging and entertaining plot.
Judging from the hit the franchise has become, including two successful live action movies, we’re apparently not the only ones who feel this way, and it’s understandable that fans were excited when it was announced back in April that Death Note was going to become a TV drama. However, just last week, newly released information about the drama caused concern among fans about what exactly the creators of the TV version were doing with the well-loved series. And so, when the drama’s very first episode aired this past Sunday, we checked it out to see for ourselves whether fans’ worries were unfounded or not.
Around the middle of last week, major Japanese network Nippon TV released details on their drama version of Death Note. Surprise, surprise, it turns out they had made some significant changes to the story and characters, especially with protagonist Light. To the shock of fans, Light, the confident genius in the manga who never doubted that he was worthy of being a “god” in the new world order he would establish with his Death Note, was instead going to be an ordinary, mild-mannered college student who is a fan (you could even say otaku) of idol group “Ichigo Berry” and works part-time at an izakaya pub. Moreover, the new Light admits aloud that his ambition in life is to become a civil servant, that symbol of stable yet not-so-exciting jobs in Japan — a fry cry from someone with the conviction to make himself a living god.
▼ The artwork in the original manga is stunning.
Japanese internet users were immediately alarmed by this information and many negative and frustrated-sounding comments were posted online. How could they create a Death Note in which Light isn’t a genius? Where would all the excitement of the original series be without the complex mind games between Light and his nemesis L, without the cool and calculating evil mastermind being pitted against the brilliant investigator? Some fans even went as far as to comment that the new characterizations were laughable, and that they might as well have made a completely original story using just the idea of the Death Note.
▼ Light contemplates his unusual find, the Death Note. The notebook, by the way, appeared to be quite well-recreated.
Intrigued by all of this, we eagerly awaited the airing of the first episode of Death Note the TV drama. And our impression after actually seeing the show for ourselves?
Well, yes, maybe it wasn’t the best idea to turn Light into a regular student, but much more than that, we couldn’t help feel that the screenplay simply was not well-developed. It also felt rushed, going through quite a lot of plot in the first episode – which by the way had an extended airing time of approximately 90 minutes including commercials. (The show will be in 60-minute episodes from next week.)
We thought the cast of actors playing the main roles certainly looked attractive enough, but given the script, there was probably a limit to what they could do with the characters they were being asked to play. Light (played by Masataka Kubota), being just a regular student, has nothing exceptional or distinguishing about him and shows none of the confidence bordering on hubris that is an important part of his character in the manga. His father, Soichiro Yagami (Yutaka Matsushige), who is definitely an authority figure in the manga both as a father and a professional in the police force, is simply not portrayed with the same gravity in the drama. Light’s sister, Sayu (Reiko Fujiwara), who is an intelligent girl who respects her brother and father in the original comic, comes across as a whining, spoiled girl in the drama. And as for Light’s arch-rival, L (Kento Yamazaki), as quirky as he is in the manga, he seems to have taken on a newly arrogant personality, which unfortunately doesn’t endear him to viewers anywhere near as much as his original personality did.
▼ Kento Yamazaki looks good as the brilliant L, but they seem to have given him a slightly arrogant (narcissistic?) personality.
And the sometimes simplistic or unintelligent lines that the characters spoke in the drama really didn’t help. Combine that with the sense that they were going through a great deal of plot material awfully fast, and you get what unfortunately for us, or at least for this writer, is a screenplay that felt unrefined. Interestingly, while there seem to be plenty of comments online echoing this sentiment, the ratings for the show which were announced on Monday were actually very high, suggesting there was a large amount of interest in the drama itself. How those ratings hold in the coming weeks, however, remains to be seen.
If they want to do a story of an ordinary guy coming across a sinister and supernatural Death Note, that’s fine, but hopefully they can polish and spice up the script into something that will allow viewers to identify more with the characters.
We certainly hope this happens in future episodes, because even without a genius protagonist, the story of a notebook that can give you the power of life and death has so much potential!
Reference and top image: Nippon TV website