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Over the more than ten years since its initial release as a serialized manga, Death Note has gained a lot of attention from audiences around the globe. The series by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata has been adapted into a number of projects, including an anime, three live-action Japanese film, a stage musical performed in Japan and Korea, and with an American film on the way. Now comes another telling of the story, this time in a long form television format that may bring a new view towards the series.
Do I need anything about the Death Note franchise before watching this series?
Not necessarily. This particular version of Death Note is more of a reimagining of the original manga. The creators of the television drama have even made a point in saying this is a brand new story and has a completely new ending. While there will be a lot of the same characters and plot points at times, this particular version of Death Note seems to be safe for new-comers. And while I’m a big fan of this franchise, most of this recap will have nothing to do with the original manga. However, at the very end, there will be an analysis about what is different from the source material.
“How To Use It”
We start off with our main character, Light Yagami, who comes off as a regular college student and a very compassionate person. We first see him at an idol concert, which stars a girl named Misa Amane. While Light seems to be having some fun, it’s clear that he attended because his friend, Kamoda wanted to go. During a discussion at work, Light claims that he’d rather have a secure service job than be rich. “You can invest your life in something and it might make you money, but it won’t necessarily make you happy.” While working, a bully from high school, Sakota, enters, having just been released from jail. Light thinks back to how he would bully Kamoda while he would only sit by the sidelines. Outside of Light’s work, Sakota tells them to bring him 300,000 yen (almost $2500) and even takes Light’s phone as an incentive.
While walking, Light discovers the Death Note, which was dropped only seconds earlier. At home, he is greeted by his sister, Sayu, who says that their dad isn’t home. Light goes to his room and translates the rules of the Death Note. The human whose name is written in this note shall die. This note will not take effect unless the writer has the person’s face in mind when writing his or her name. Therefore, people sharing the same name will not be affected. If the cause of death is written within 40 seconds, it will happen. If the cause of death is not specified, the person will simply die of a heart attack. Light decides to write Sakota’s name in the book. He tries to erase it, but it’s stuck the page, even though he wrote it in pencil. Panicked, he scratches the name out instead. The next day, he finds out that Sakota died in a train accident. At the wake, Light overhears a conversation with two people who were with Sakota, saying that he had a heart attack on his motorcycle. He also overhears that people who knew Sakota from their school are all saying that his death was a good thing all over social media.
We then cut to the Japanese police, who are running an investigation on Kuro Otoharada, whose recently killed a cab driver. The leader of this investigation will be Soichiro Yagami, a veteran detective who has a history with Otoharada. Yagami had captured Otoharada ten years ago, who swore that he would kill him. On that same day, his wife was in critical care at the hospital, but found booking the criminal more important. In the end, he wasn’t present when his wife passed, which seemed to effect his young son. Other police officers of note are Kanzo Mogi (who seems to as old as Yagami), Shuichi Aizawa, and Tota Matsuda. In the brief moment that Yagami is home, only Sayu is there to greet him. He goes up to Light’s room, which is noted as weird behavior for him. In a discussion about his future, Light makes it clear that he wants a service job and doesn’t want to be a cop. Later on that night, Otoharada kills a police officer and steals his gun.
That morning, he holds a mother and her daughter hostage. Light and Sayu are brought to police headquarters, where they are informed that their father made a trade to be a hostage for the little girl’s freedom. With Sayu crying that the police should just “kill” the criminal, Light returns home and digs up the Death Note from the trash. He writes down Otoharada’s name in the notebook, in which he is just in time to save his father. Sayu and Soichiro reunite while it is also made clear that Light isn’t present. Light is alone and appears to be in a trance, knowing that he ended two lives. It is at this time that the Shinigami (God of Death) Ryuk reveals himself. A scary looking creature, Light runs in fear. This leads him to a tall building, where he throws the Death Note and plans to commit suicide. However, Ryuk bring backs the notebook, telling Light that he is free to do whatever he wants with it. “The person who picks up the Death Note gets to decide how to use it”. The only cost of the user is the feeling of agony and terror from using it as well as not being able to go to heaven or hell. And the reason for dropping the notebook? Ryuk was just bored!
“The Legend of Kira, Our Savior”
A month passes, and a cloaked man from England says he wants to work with the Japanese police. We see that Light has been busy with the Death Note, writing the names of criminals and having them die of heart attacks. In a meeting with the Japanese police, they are discussing this latest trend. When Ryuk asks what Light’s benefit in all this is, he claims that it’s more for the world’s benefit. At the taskforce, the motive of these deaths are explained through a Facebook page titled “The Legend of Kira, Our Savior,” saying that it’s the work of someone with a twisted sense of justice. With this, an elderly man named Watari enters, saying that the detective known as L would like to work with them.
Talk of Kira is everywhere, even at Light’s school, where his friends are discussing if Kira is a God or a murderer. Kamoda even brings up that the pop-idol Misa Amane may be pro-Kira due to the fact her parents were killed when she was young. This leads to a scene where Misa learns that the man who killed her parents, Kyu Nishida would be granted parole. She yells at the public prosecutor, Teru Mikami, who seems to side with her on that this is an injustice, but he must uphold the law. We then see Light looking up information about Nishida.
At home, Light’s television is set to a special news report from the International Criminal Police Organization to the entire world. A man named Lind L. Tailor, referring to himself as L, calls out a challenge to Kira, saying he will catch him. With Tailor’s constant prodding at Kira’s ego, Light writes his name in the Death Note, yelling that what Kira does “makes people happy”. After he dies, an insignia appears on the screen of the letter L, with a voice claiming that Tailor was really a death row inmate. We discover that the hooded man from before was L, and challenges Kira to kill him. Before ending the broadcast, L reveals that this was only live in the Kanto region of Japan, so they now know where Kira could be residing. At police headquarters, Mogi and Yagami note that with L using a human life, he is no better than Kira.
Yagami calls up L, who has been contemplating why Kira wasn’t able to kill him. He is scolded for not taking human life into account, with Yagami more concerned about the cops who are openly trying to catch Kira. To this, L shares that he feels that Kira only needs to know a name and face to kill and shares his profile of who Kira may be. Because of Kira’s retaliation towards Tailor, Kira must be young. As well, the times of death for criminals points to the idea that Kira might be a student. Light goes by the headquarters and meets with Matsuda, who discloses this information to him. This frightens Light, wondering if there is something that he could do to disprove L’s theory.
Light then discovers a rule he has overlooked in the notebook. After writing the cause of death, details of the death should be written in the next 6 minutes and 40 seconds. Light uses this to control time of death, and even takes time out to kill Nishida. Misa discovers this news and wonders if it was the working of Kira. At police headquarters, people start to question L’s theory as well as L himself. L says that he will only meet with Soichiro Yagami, to which he accepts. Watari escorts Yagami to a secret room inside a hotel where L currently resides. They bring up the possibility of a leak, and L shows that he is already narrowing down his Kira suspects.
Light is about to attend another Misa Amane concert when Ryuk points out that he is being followed. It is at this moment where Light realizes that L is serious about catch Kira at any costs. L reveals to Yagami that he has enlisted the help of the FBI to investigate those connected with the case and their families. Both Light and L take on this challenge, knowing that whoever is discovered first will be killed. At the end of the episode, we are introduced to Near, who is talking to himself with a puppet. They are discussing L and Kira, wondering who will “fall apart” first.
What did you think of it?
This characterization of Light really feels like something no other adaptation has done. His first two kills were very personally motivated. He comes off as a caring person, going out of his way to assist those that are close to him. He cares very little about what benefits only him, and more of what helps in the bigger picture. While his relationship with his father is rocky, he seems to be somewhat close to his sister. Because of having their mother pass and his father gone most of the time, it seems that Light has had to be a surrogate parent for Sayu.
Right now, his ambition wasn’t to be Kira or some kind of God, he only wanted to create a peaceful world. He is a very passive person in the beginning, allowing other outside forces to push him in various directions. With the confrontation with L on television, it was interesting to see that he was frightened by this instead of accepting the challenge head-on. It was only at the end, where he was able to see what his work has prospered where he decided to take the offensive against L. He has something that he wants to work for now, and he’ll fight whoever is standing in his way. This is a great personification of “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.
At the end of this episode, Light and L seem to be standing on an even playing ground. One can say that they are two sides of the same coin. L has been on the offensive for the very beginning, and he’s already gotten this close to discovering Kira’s true identity. And while Light does finally have the motivation to fight for his sense of peace, this occurs pretty late in the game,. so he has given up any kind of possible advantage. For now, the relationship between these two seem stagnant, but it’s clear that won’t be the status quo for long.
It seems that one of the more interesting relationships is going to be between the L and the police, especially with Soichiro. It is clear that he has laid out a moral code that may be tested by this foreign detective. As well, Soichiro will be a connection between L and the police, which means he may feel pressure by either party, whether it be his loyalty to his co-workers, or staying within L’s trust. It’s clear that L may be eccentric, but he is also capable of doing what needs to be done to solve the case. It’s also important to wonder if Soichiro realizes that Kira saved his life when it came to Otoharada. It would be interesting if this played some sort of role later on in the story, especially if L does start to suspect Light of being Kira.
What’s going to happen next?
It’s hard to tell where the story is going just from this first episode. Added to what has already been pointed out, the show seems to go out of the way to give the identities of various characters. Do the roles of the pop-idol Misa Amane or public prosecutor Teru Mikami play any special role further down the line, or are these just Easter-eggs for fans who know the lore of the original series? As well, it’ll also be interesting to see what kind of role Near is going to play. He shares a lot of L’s traits, but it’s rather unclear if he’s on either side of this fight.
How different is it from the manga(SPOILERS)?
Overall, the story seems to follow the manga pretty well so far. A lot of the differences are more of a character level, the biggest being with Light Yagami. As stated before, his ambition is to help the world, unlike in the manga where his goal was to be the “God of a New World”. In the source material, the deaths of his first victims aren’t as traumatizing as they are here, but that could also play into circumstance. Also, there are differences on minor details, such as Light being a college student, where he is originally in high school at the beginning of the manga.
When it comes to L, his character has mostly stayed the same, although he seems to now like applesauce pouches in place of sweets, but those aren’t entirely absent either. The meeting with Soichiro Yagami is also a new twist. This early on, L doesn’t meet with anybody, and that’s a big part of him suspecting the police. This new development looks like it might play into the future of the story.
One change that does eat at me a bit involves Soichiro. In the manga, he is referred to as Chief by the police so his identity as Light’s father is well hidden until it gets a dramatic revealed in the third chapter. In this series, when we first see him, we know his identity and can infer his relationship with Light. Having done this doesn’t really change things in a plot sense, but it’s a reveal that may have had new-comers on the edge of their seats.
It’s also interesting that they killed off Soichiro’s wife in the series, and not making it clear if she was one of Otoharada’s victims. Not having the mother really changes the family dynamic of Death Note; where there is clear boundaries in this version of the story, the original manga had an important family dynamic as well as playing the moral center of the story. It may just appear as an insignificant change, but clearly not being a “whole” family takes its toll on the characters here.
Various characters from the manga make appearances as well. For instance, a lot of the detectives share the same names in the manga, and the most prominent of these characters Misa Amane, who is no longer a model, but a pop-idol. Her backstory is slowly revealed to the story, and lays out hints to an observant audience that she will be important later on. Possibly another big player is Teru Mikami, who became involved in the manga after a big time skip. Having made this reveal may mean new avenues for the story that might mirror arcs from the manga.
Finally there’s Near, whose story is only brought to us in the manga once L dies. Here, he seems to have a split personality, where the normal Near appears to be innocent while his darker side is personified in a puppet that looks a lot like his rival in the manga, Mello. In the original series, Near might be cold and analytical, but it was clear that he didn’t speak in “voices”. The fact that his existence is only because of L’s death may symbolize something greater in the show. What his role is in all this remains a mystery, but it definitely has me intrigued.
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