Death Note (2015)
I actually didn't have any idea that this drama was even a thing until quite a while into it. Much as I enjoy a good jdrama, I don't really keep up to date on which ones are airing, so the existence of a Death Note adaptation completely passed me by until around episode six, when somebody informed me that I should be watching it, as it was hilarious. They were not wrong.
A loose-ish adaptation of the popular manga of the same name, Death Note follows Light Yagami, a young man who comes into possession of the titular Death Note, a notebook that kills anybody whose name is written in its pages. After circumstances push him into using it, he becomes Kira, a mass murderer who kills the perpetrators of heinous crimes. Before long, his crimes have drawn the attention of the police, along with L, a young genius detective who swears to catch Kira and expose the method behind his crimes.
I say it's a loose-ish adaptation, because while the events of the series are very broadly the same as those of the manga, the series is clearly taking a very different approach in its treatment of Light and L - while Light in the manga is not even remotely sympathetic, and L is clearly a heroic character, the series goes to great lengths to make Light someone who the audience can sympathise with, and someone whose fall they can empathise with to one degree or another.
It's a change that sometimes slots a bit awkwardly into the plot, such as when we have a timeskip that takes Light from being horrified at having killed to people to being eagerly killing every criminal he can, with nothing to really show us how he got from Point A to Point B, but the intention (and the fact that the drama is doing something new rather than contenting itself with being a simple page-to-screen adaptation) is appreciated nevertheless.
|Possibly my least favourite change, Near and Mello are now two personalities in|
a single person, rather than being two separate people.
(In contrast, the L in this series is possibly the least heroic of any version of the character, openly and gleefully enjoying tormenting Light, and being quite happy to put others in danger or in pain to get his way. While previous Ls were always portrayed as socially awkward, reclusive, and often with a poor understanding of morals, the L of this series appears to be actually pretty socially adept, able to navigate interaction with others with ease and often being quite manipulative.
The series does try to shift L into being a more archetypal good guy towards the last quarter of the series, with him being shown in friendly, even somewhat familial relationships with several characters, and for the most part, it works, humanising L and putting his previous actions into a new light.)
Possibly as part of that desire to make Light more sympathetic, Light's intelligence has also been severely downgraded, to the point where especially during the first three or four episodes, viewers might actually find themselves quite frustrated with him, as he bumbles his way through his burgeoning career as a serial killer while making as many amateur hour mistakes as possible. Mistakes that in the manga were often the result of Light's gigantic ego and god complex are here more often the result of thoughtlessness, or due to one of the many emotional outbursts that Light has.
|To be honest, Misa comes off as more competent than Light.|
It's a trend that continues - although less irritatingly so - into later episodes, as Light's plans often start to fall apart on him the moment he puts them into motion, leading to him fumbling and rushing to get them back on track. It makes for a very dramatic cat-and-mouse game between him and L, and having Light as the clear underdog in their conflict does much to make him more sympathetic, but gosh, does it get frustrating at points. Even when Light's plans are succeeding, he's messing them up somehow in the process.
The series ends on a less than inspiring note, too. While both the manga and previous adaptations have always ended on Ryuk killing Light by writing his name down, thus fulfilling a promise made to him at the very beginning, this version ends on Light burning to death in a fire, which lacks the same kind of gravitas. It's odd, too, because the drama's version of Ryuk - who is much more overtly manipulative and malevolent than any other version of Ryuk - would have been perfectly capped off by him deciding to kill Light as soon as he wasn't interesting any more. It would have been the perfect end point for a character that has always been manipulative, antagonistic, and self-serving.
|Light, with - evil jars?|
Mechanically, the series has an excellent cast of actors, a great soundtrack, is often shot beautifully, and has surprisingly nice CGI for the shinigami - it leaves a little to be desired, but after the first episode or so nearly any viewer will have grown used to their slight cartoony-ness.
Overall, I do give this a fairly strong recommendation. It's a fun, short series that has a lot of dramatic highs and which, while it's not necessarily always successful, tries to take the story in an interesting new direction. The series ended with a short trailer for a film, which to be honest looks strange and confusing, but we'll see what that's like.