Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Darkest Nightmare

The human whose name is written in this note shall die
"Death Note"

To be honest, I think this particular installment falls outside the scope of this blog, but oh well, it at least gives me a chance to fanboy about Death Note...

While the Death Note might look like just an ordinary black notebook, it is in fact a tool utilized by the Death Gods to terminate the life of humans. The notebook allows the user to kill any person as long as they know the name and face of their target, simply by writing down their names in the notebook. Ten years ago, a genius young man got his hands on a Death Note and started killing off criminals left and right with the help of the supernatural powers of the Death Note, leading society into believing in the existence of "Kira", a vengeful entity who would 'cleanse the world of evil' by killing off those who opposed them. It took the combined efforts of a special Task Force and the world's greatest detective to stop the "Kira" killings and the terrible weapon that is the Death Note. And now, ten years later, no less than six Death Notes have found their way to Earth. One of the new owners of a Death Note claims to be the successor to the original "Kira", but his goal is not only to punish the sinful: he is also after the remaining Death Notes. The Anti-Death Note Task Force, under the leadership of Death Note expert Mishima Tsukuru, is reopened by the Japanese police, and the unit is assisted by Ryuzaki, the successor to the detective who managed to stop the original "Kira" ten years ago. Who shall stand, and who shall fall at the end of the struggle for possession of the Death Notes in the 2016 film Death Note: Light Up The NEW World?

Death Note is a hit comic thriller that originally ran from 2003-2006 that chronicled how the genius Yagami Light came into possession of a Death Note and starts exterminating all 'evil' humans on Earth by writing down the names of not only criminals in the note, but everyone (like the police and other forces who believed in freedom) who opposed Light's reign as "Kira", the god of this new world ruled by fear. The titular Death Note was a supernatural object (and even Death Gods appeared as characters in the series), so while you're right in assuming this was not a conventional mystery series, the intellectual battles that unfolded across the series between Light and the world's greatest detective "L" were really something to behold. As Rampo said, a mystery story is one that focused on a mystery, and the subsequent solving of it through a logical process. Readers of Death Note were constantly presented with brilliant cat-and-mouse games between Light (as the possessor of the Death Note) and L (representing law and justice) as they both tried to checkmate each other. The mysteries of this series were not about murders or alibis or anything conventional as that: the situations themselves were mysteries. How was Light going to get out of that trap set by L? How was L going to avoid getting killed by Light? The strategic chess game between Light and L was fantastic and also important: fair. While Light had access to supernatural powers in the form of the Death Note, the note itself had various rules that limited its use, and it was a joy to see how the rules of the Death Note were used to not only create, but also solve the most exciting situations that seemed to spell nothing but doom for either of the protagonists. Seen as such, Death Note is definitely a mystery series.

The success of Death Note led to various adaptations and spin-offs, and even Netflix has an original American remake planned for release later this year. The 2016 film Death Note: Light Up The NEW World on the other hand is a direct sequel to the Japanese live-action film adaptations of the original comic (2006's Death Note and Death Note: The Last Name), which features a different (shortened) version of the original story, so readers of the manga/viewers of the anime might be surprised at some of the differences in the backstory (the films are great though).

But you might also be surprised to learn that Light Up The NEW World is not a very good film.

The base story is fairly similar to the original Death Note storyline, and that's not strange. The cat-and-mouse games between a brilliant mind who considers himself to be a god thanks to the Death Note, and a brilliant detective who believes it's wrong for one human to have such power were what drove the plot of Death Note, creating one new situation after another where you wondered how they were going to get out of that. This "Genius Death God" VS ""Genius Detective" core dichotomy is repeated in Light Up The NEW World, but it doesn't work that well because mainly, the protagonists of this film are not nearly as smart as the original Light and L. We are introduced to the "successors" of both Light and L in this film, but neither of them show the same level of (almost superhuman) intelligence their predecessors had. The original Death Note was like watching high level chess, where you know what the rules are, but still barely manage to keep up with the amazing moves of each of the two insanely intelligent players. The new protagonists in Light Up The NEW World are simply playing the same chess game at normal speed, and their strategems don't feel as nearly impressive. At no point does Light Up The NEW World manage to be as exciting as the original films, nor does it manage to present the viewer with unique situations which are solved in a logical way.

In fact, the few moments where Light Up The NEW World does make 'smart' use of the Death Note rules to create engaging situations which need solving, those rare moments are basically nothing more but water-downed versions of events that are either taken from the manga, or even worse, were already featured in the original two films! This was probably the greatest disappointment, as the few moments that show some promise were nothing more than inferior repeats of situations done much better in the earlier two films. The conclusion to this film for example is nothing more than a less impressive version of an important event in Death Note: The Last Name (and the corresponding arc in the original manga), and its weaknesses are strengthened by the fact there is no proper building up, or foreshadowing, to this conclusion. I really find it a fault that they didn't properly develop the plot to facilitate the ending, because I think it could've at least worked much better if structured better. Now's it's basically a rip-off, and not even done right!

The rest of the film consists of many "If only they did more with that...". From horrible use of characters from the original two films, to the rather limited use of the fact there were six Death Notes on Earth, it's all rather disappointing. And don't get me started on the impossible way it sometimes shoehorns new backstories to the characters from the original films, because logistically, a lot of what drives the plot of Light Up The NEW World contradicts directly with the original films. Another misstep is the position of "hacking" in this film. Sure, computer hacking is seldom portrayed realistically in fiction, but when you have all kinds of rules to limit the power of a supernatural weapon like the Death Note to keep the cat-and-mouse games interesting, I find it weird that they allow hacking to be overpowered and capable of doing anything. It's as if hacking is more powerful than a Death Note.

The few times Death Note: Light Up The NEW World does manage to feel somewhat interesting, it's only because it's mirroring the original series, and that shows that on its own, it's really not that fun. That's the word I was looking for. It's simply not fun. If it's not attempting (poorly) to replicate the events and situations that made the original Death Note films so engaging, then it's busy throwing things at you that weaken the plot on the whole. At no point does Light Up The NEW World manage to come close to the strategic mystery plots that manage to make the original a hit.

Original Japanese title(s): 『デスノート Light up the NEW World』 


  1. I really enjoyed 'Death Note' - probably one of my all-time favourite anime series. :) I did think it was a fair-play mystery for much of the series, and then the ending sneaked in some hitherto unseen pieces of evidence.

    1. Death Note was really amazing. It's still one of the few series I followed right from the start to end (the manga in my case). And indeed, most of it is extremely fair (even if difficult to figure out for us normal humans), so it works great as a template for fair supernatural mysteries too. Have you seen/read Liar Game? While not completely the same, it has the same vibe of deceiving the opponent through set rules.

    2. Yes, it was the scrupulous integration between cunning intelligence and devious fairness that made the series an exceptional one right until the penultimate episode... I've not heard of 'Liar Game' - does it have an anime series, or is it only available as a manga? I think I could get my hands on the Korean television series.

    3. There's the original manga and an excellent Japanese TV drama based on it. I've only read two or three volumes of the manga, but the drama is really fantastic and I actually like it more than the manga.

      Both seasons of the Liar Game drama are available for streaming at Crunchyroll for free (though availability depends on where you're situated, as always with CR).

      The first season is a mostly closed-off story. The second season builds further on that, but that particular storyline doesn't end within the TV series itself, but carries over to the 2010 film Liar Game: The Final Stage. There's another film, Liar Game: Reborn, which is a sequel, but it has few direct connections to the previous productions.

  2. I didn't know it was on Crunchyroll - I'll check it out! :D