August 25th marks an important day for one of the globe’s most popular manga series: Death Note. Netflix will be the home of this live action adaption of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s landmark tale. Death Note was first published in December 2003 in Weekly Shonen Jump and continued to be released until May 2006. The manga series totaled 108 chapters and was spaced out over twelve volumes. In October of the final year of the series, an encyclopedia was published that explained the various character arcs and storylines. The anime television series arrived in Japan on October 3, 2006. The last episode aired on June 26, 2007, but this would not be the end for Death Note fans. Popular video game maker Konami released Kira Game on February 15, 2007, a communication strategy game that asked players to navigate the world as Kira or L. Netflix’s live action adaption of Death Note is simply the next in line on the unprecedented creation path for the series.
Death Note follows young protagonist Light Yagami who procures the “Death Note,” a notebook that kills anyone whose name is inside if the author has seen the person’s face. Light takes the moral high ground and uses the book to punish the ill-mannered. His endeavors are complicated when Detective “L” and Interpol become aware of his actions and seek out Light’s victims.
Netflix’s casting of these major roles is expected to elicit a wide range of emotions from audiences. Nat Wolff, of Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars fame, plays the focal Light. Keith Stanfield will play “L, ” Willem Dafoe will voice Ryuk, and Margaret Qualley will stand in for as Mia Sutton.
The cast on the surface is an exceptionally attractive one to those unfamiliar with the series. Stanfield is coming off the huge success of Atlanta and a nomination for best duo, as well as his recent role in the well-received flick, Get Out. Wolff has similarly seen an ascent in his career and will help draw a younger audience.
The Public’s Watchful Eye
In question is whether or not faithful fans will be receptive to the changes. One of the complaints lodged against the filmmakers was the casting of Stanfield for the role of “L.” Some critics have charged that the series has been Americanized. An early petition to boycott Netflix’s Death Note for its “whitewashing” reached thousands because of certain changes. Light Yagami became Light Turner and Misa Amane is now Mia Sutton. Transitioning from the original Tokyo setting to America’s Pacific Northwest in Seattle. Japanese influence appears to be limited to only the original plot.
A Hefty Price
Death Note’s budget of $40-50 million is easily the highest investment for the series. Three prior live-action adaptations peaked at that box office value. Netflix is looking to drive up the stock even further with a hefty investment in Death Note in an attempt to cash in on its immense popularity.
The film should receive a fair amount of interest as it ranks among the most globally prominent manga series. Death Note is thriving with upwards of 30 million copies circulating as of 2015. Netflix’s unprecedented audience that has not been exposed to manga creates a valuable bridge between East and West. The combination of Japanese and American media has become a more and more regular occurrence. Fans of Death Note and other animes will be exposed to the likes of Dafoe, Stanfield, and Wolff. Likewise, advocates of those actors may not be familiar with manga or have viewed anime. No one is arguing that Netflix’s newest project is a perfect example of what Ohba and Obata created, but Netflix does create a valuable platform for anime.