Anime adaptations are often held to high standards and Netflix’s “Death Note” is no exception.
The live-action adaptation has had a fair amount of controversy leading up to its release. The questionable casting of Nat Wolff was met with backlash and cries of whitewashing, which director Adam Wingard brushed off.
It turns out the critics were right. Netflix’s version of “Death Note” features a protagonist that is whitewashed beyond the color of his skin. His character and demeanor are fundamentally different to the point that only a certain group of people are able to relate to him.
For those who don’t know, “Death Note” is centered around a notebook that gives the wielder the ability to kill anyone whose name they write within its pages. Light Yagami, a third-year high school student, finds the notebook one day and quickly realizes the power it possesses.
With the “Death Note” in hand, Light sets out to rid the world of evil by killing off criminals and wrongdoers under the pseudonym Kira, eventually catching the attention of the enigmatic Detective L and his task force. What follows is a game of wit and deception as L tries to uncover who Kira is and stop him from killing more people.
For the most part, Wingard’s adaptation gets the premise of the series down. It’s the changes to little details, specifically to Light’s character and motivations, that derail it and keep it from achieving even mediocrity
In the Netflix adaptation, Light is introduced as a social outcast who gets bullied and does homework for other people. He’s moody and meek, even after he finds the “Death Note.” In fact, he is reluctant to use the “Death Note” until he is convinced to keep using it by Mia.
In the manga, Light is a brilliant student who is bored with the minutiae of everyday life. He possesses an innate arrogance that is amplified when he starts using the notebook. He doesn’t rely on anybody unless he absolutely needs them to reach a goal, at which point he cuts ties with them.
Netflix Light is a completely different character than Manga Light, and that changes the whole arc of his character. Instead of being cold and distant, he is sympathetic and relatable, which is worse considering the fact that he ruthlessly kills people just because he deems them unworthy of living.
This is where the message of the original manga series gets lost because Light was never supposed to be someone the viewer roots for. He’s not the hero, he’s the anti-hero. He’s a morally bankrupt character who thinks so highly of himself that he believes he can pass judgment on anybody. He’s an asshole, but the readers know it and keep reading to see how far he will go.