Duffer Brothers, Netflix adapting Death Note makes an anime fan largely apprehensive and mildly hopeful – News9 LIVE

14 July 2022 11:30 AM GMT
Still from Death Note
The Duffer brothers (of Stranger Things fame) have created their own production studio called Upside Down Pictures and in their initial roster of projects is a familiar name, one that even non-anime fans know of by now: Death Note.

Going by Stranger Things’ roaring success, new projects from the Duffer duo would ideally generate a lot of hype (as they should), but the problem at hand is one that has been plaguing the industry for years: Anime adaptations just do not seem to work in the live-action format, and for good reason.
Or reasons, rather.
Compatibility of medium
One of the highlights of anime as a medium is how it is able to put forth larger-than-life concepts and characters in a fluid yet plausible manner that a viewer would not find to be out of place. Animation undoubtedly goes hand in glove with the world of make-believe. You could see the wildest scenarios get animated and it would be easy to immerse yourself in them. Granted, there is a ton of live-action fiction out there, some that has even done well (Marvel/DC adaptations to name a few) but there’s always a gap between the make and the believe bits, it all seems a little out of place no matter what.
Most anime we’ve seen as kids have predominantly been Shonen (action-filled, catering to young audiences, e.g. Pokémon, Dragon Ball Z, you get the drill). The reason why these series appealed to us as kids was because they were created (story-wise) and portrayed (visually) keeping the target audience in mind (children).
The striking hairdos and the fast-paced fight sequences of the characters in Dragon Ball Z, and the character design of any and every Pokémon we’ve ever seen, are all otherworldly characteristics that are impossible to imagine and recreate digitally in real life (without spending an ungodly amount on animation, which would just not make sense on the numbers front). These are the very things that got us hooked on all these shows to the extent that years later, when discussed, we can recall certain scenes or characters because that is how unique and striking an impression they had left on our minds.

All the franchises mentioned above have already had a live-action adaptation and they have only reaffirmed the lack of compatibility between the two media. While big-ticket studios like Marvel or DC have a seemingly endless budget to make sure their offerings look as realistic as possible by employing bleeding edge technology, every studio or project unfortunately does not have the same liberty. Not to overlook that simply using the latest technology has not helped these studios get the desired results for each project; they often do falter in terms of achieving that desired level of finesse in their VFX and CGI.
Death Note (the 2017 live-action adaption) and Dragon Ball: Evolution (2009) are two stark reminders of how these attempts to bring anime franchises into mainstream media have gone awry, despite being backed by humongous studios (Netflix and 20th Century Fox respectively). It only goes on to show that while budget crunch may limit the project, having deep pockets still does not guarantee a favourable result.
Lack of faithfulness to source
Apart from the glaring incompatibility of manga storylines and live-action cinematography as two different art forms, there are other elephants in the proverbial room and they’re yet to be addressed, at least by the makers.
Detective Pikachu was based more on the video game of the same name than the original anime itself. The game, like the movie, was not tightly based on the general Pokémon vs Pokémon antics of the universe but rather on various mysteries occurring in the universe and how Tim, the lead, solved the same with his trusty sidekick Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds in the movie). While Detective Pikachu may have fared much better as a movie, did it really fare well as a Pokémon movie?
Ryan Reynolds may have carried the movie on his shoulders his performance as Pikachu, it invariably comes at the cost of the movie being more about a Deadpool-esque Ryan Reynolds and poorly executed CGI sequences paired with a predictable story littered with strictly average dialogues. The fact that it is a Pokémon movie so should largely be about Pokémon as it’s the anime characters that make the universe unique in the first place.

Also, if you are going to whitewash a series, do a good job at the very least? Son Goku (Dragon Ball Evolution) as a white teen was horribly alien to look at (makes sense though since he is a half-monkey Saiyajin?), even more so when you realise that a majority of the key members of the movie roster were white while the Asian roster pertained to mostly forgettable side characters in an already forgettable movie.
As if a motley crew for a tokenistic line-up was not enough, the script did not really look like it was meant to do the movie any good. Half-baked cheesy lines you would swear you have heard before being babbled out with barely any life behind them made the movie a drag to watch through. It was clear that neither the cast nor the makers were aware of the series as an anime or what the characters they were playing were truly like, seeing as how barely anybody bore resemblance to their animated counterparts (an uphill task considering the ethnicity itself was a mismatch for the larger part).
Similar problems persisted with Netflix’s previous attempt at Death Note as well, where the anti-hero Light was anything but like Light Yagami, the one we all love/hate. If anybody got their character down to a (very tiny) T, it had to be Lakeith Stanfield, who played L. Despite being at a disadvantage by cast as L, an otherwise reclusive shut-in genius who is also rather pale, Lakeith managed to jot down his mannerism to commendable degree of accuracy, which made up for his lack of similarity to L as a Black man who is rather well-built. He’s unanimously considered the best part of the movie.
The reason? It is simple, he is a Death Note fan so he’s actually seen the source material, and L was one of his favourite characters to boot. It goes on to show how being (faithfully) aware of what you are recreating and being invested in it can go a long, long, LONG way in improving your chances at successfully adapting an existing storyline (not that it was rocket science to begin with).

Getting something wrong is not a cardinal sin, we have all been there, done that. The problem, however, lies in faltering on points that have already been set up and explained: we know how Light was as a character in the original Death Note series (anime and manga). Yet their portrayal in the movie was a polar opposite, and a flop to boot. Attempts were made to somehow compress a story that spanned over one hundred chapters into a two-hour movie. The fact that somebody needs to explain that these are bad ideas and should not be executed is flabbergasting enough but to top it off, this has become a recurring experience. And that is just plain frustrating and reason enough for anime fans to write off live-action remakes before they’re even made.
But we have faith in Duffer Brothers
The hopes for a sound adaptation of Death Note are bleak, but that is exactly the kind of stories the Duffer Brothers are known to thrive upon, where the natural and the supernatural intersect. Add to that the fact that it will be a series and not another movie, we can expect well fleshed out characters and plotlines. Does this guarantee accuracy to the source? No, but it guarantees a premise for a well-made series regardless.
Do the Duffers have a masterstroke in store for us? Or will this be the “Strangest Thing” they will ever present, time will tell.
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