After months of uncertainty between different networks during which it looked like the project might be axed, Netflix has swooped in to make sure America’s live-action Death Note adaption lives on. Whether you’re a fan of the beloved anime, or have just seen enough snippets to be intrigued, it’s exciting to see the project moving forward. Word is that production is going to start in June, and we’ve already heard Paper Towns’ Nat Wolff and The Leftovers’ Margaret Qualley are set to take on the roles of Light Yagami and Misa Amane respectively.
But even if you’re a longtime Death Note fan, there might still be some things you don’t know about the series. Regardless if you’ve read the manga and watched the anime, there’re still some surprises hidden away in the story. Before the Netflix adaptation comes out, we’ll help you ferret out those last few secrets you don’t know. And if you’re new to the series, you can surprise your friends with details even they don’t know. Here are the 12 Things You Need to Know About Death Note.
Something that should be a big relief to fans who might be worried that this adaption of Death Note will be sanitized for American viewers is that the version set for Netflix will be the equivalent of an R-Rated film. While the anime and manga are far from some HBO drama in terms of mature content, it’s a story that frequently deals with characters dying, sometimes in gruesome fashion. One of the first major usages of the Death Note involves Light using it to help a girl being harassed by writing her assailant’s name in the notebook and having him be run over in the street.
We absolutely don’t want violence just for the sake of making things dark or shocking, but it’s good to know that the show won’t have to shy away from keeping things close to the source material either. Death Note has a complex series of twists and turns as its plot unfolds, and it really is an anime that even people who aren’t big fans of the genre can enjoy. Netflix has done well in creating more adult-oriented content through their versions of shows like Daredevil, so it gives us hope that this will be an adaption of Death Note that does the story justice.
Followers of the manga or anime are probably already aware, but the American adaption of Death Note won’t actually be the first live-action treatment the story has received. Death Note already had not one, but two live-action Japanese movies, as well as a more recent live-action TV series. But if you haven’t heard about any of these other adaptions and were thinking of checking them out, you’re probably better off skipping them. Most fans of the original story are in agreement that while it’s an admirable effort to try and translate the story with real actors, that the Japanese adaptions didn’t really hit the mark.
With the movies, they were made around the same time as the anime and had special effects that weren’t really up to par, giving viewers a cartoonish-looking CGI Ryuk to follow Light around in the story and distract from the serious tone the plot tries to achieve, whereas the Japanese TV series makes some significant deviations from the original plot that soured longtime fans on the short-lived adaption. The American adaption will no doubt have to make similar concessions in translating the story over to a Western audience, but hopefully they’re changes that make sense and lend to this being the first good live-action adaption of Death Note.
Speaking of adaptions of Death Note, one adaption that might surprise people is that it was actually turned into a musical just last year. While the anime does have a great soundtrack, transforming the story into a full-fledged musical isn’t the most obvious choice. Death Note doesn’t exactly fit in when you imagine popular musicals like Cats, or Rent. Surprisingly, though, the show actually garnered some decent reviews in its Japan debut, and was something people were excited for.
While we’re hoping the Netflix adaption goes the route of a serious drama rather than having the showpiece numbers of Frozen, it’s impressive to see what a popular franchise it’s become to have so many different iterations of the story. For fans who are hoping to catch Death Note as a musical at some point, there’s no word on it coming to America right now, but clips of the Japanese version are online to sample. And if the Netflix adaption does well, it could very likely launch the story into mainstream American popularity, and maybe convince Japan to take a chance on doing the musical for English audiences.
Light Yagami is a high school student himself when he first finds Ryuk’s Death Note, and what school kid doesn’t have disagreements with their fellow classmates? Light initially contemplates testing the Death Note by eliminating a bully at his school, but he soon sets his sights on bigger dangers to society. But for kids who are victimized day after day, it’s understandable that they'd fantasize about some way to end their harassment.
Whether it was all good fun, or perhaps a warning sign that intervention was necessary, there have in fact been school children in multiple countries who have made notebooks like the one in Death Note. Evidently these were no decorative anime props to these kids either, because they were filled with the names of people from the schools of the kids. Obviously that’s the kind of thing that would be concerning for school administrators to find, and has led to any content relating to Death Note being banned in countries like China out of fear for the mental and physical safety of the children.
It’s hard to picture any of the Shinigami as human after seeing how monstrous all of them are, but apparently the original plan was for at least Ryuk to look somewhat more ordinary. He was going to be human in appearance, while also having wings. The Shinigami were also supposed to be attractive looking, and while there’s bound to be someone out there who finds any character good looking, the majority of Death Note fans probably aren’t fantasizing about Ryuk in the final design he got.
The final product of the Shinigami are so hideous that most characters react by screaming or trying to kill the Shinigami when it’s first revealed to them. That honestly seems like a pretty logical reaction. Though it’s funny to think the attractiveness angle for the Shinigami was abandoned due to fears that they would overshadow the main characters. Light and L have no shortage of fans who are enamored by their looks, so it’s hard to imagine Ryuk with how he looks now being competition for that spotlight.
The realm of the Shinigami is one of the most underexplored aspects of the Death Note story. Ryuk and his fellow gods of death are interesting catalysts for the plot, but then fade into the background as the battle of wits between Light and L takes center stage. Honestly, if the entire story had taken place among the various Shinigami, it probably could have been really good in its own right and explored a lot of unanswered questions. What is the history of the gods of death? And why were they each given Death Notes to write in?
While we don’t know the answers to those questions, we do know the Death Notes are distributed by a king in the Shinigami world. He never appears in the main story of Death Note, but there are references to him, and the other Shinigami seem to respect his rules. One image that is available of him depicts him as a giant sphere of flesh suspended in the air by chains, with disproportionately small limbs dangling from his body. The closest we really see to the King exerting his power in the main series is through one of his right-hand men, the bejeweled Armonia, being the one that the Shinigami Sidoh reports to about his lost notebook. It shows that even in a world as seemingly devoid of life and structure as that of the Shinigami, they still have a hierarchy and a dynasty.
After L’s role in the story comes to an end, Light needed a new adversary to test his wits against. As the chess board was reset for another game, Light wound up getting not one opponent, but two. Mello and Near were both younger and far less experienced than L, but had been being groomed to take over for their mentor when the day came. But their relation to L nearly had an even more significant bond than simply looking up the detective mastermind.
In the early planning of Death Note, Near and Mello were actually being considered to be the children of L. In fact, if they had been revealed to be L’s sons, it probably wouldn’t have been such a huge shock seeing as how they share L’s taste for sweets, as well as his compulsion for unusual postures and gestures. Maybe being a genius just leads to such eccentricities. Regardless, the decision was ultimately nixed when Death Note’s creator realized that to have had children, L must have had sex at some point, and it’s just not easy to picture someone as obsessive and analytical as L indulging in emotions like that. L is a man who cares about solving puzzles to an all-encompassing extent, even if it means manipulating those around him. So yeah, L likely lived his whole life as a genius virgin, and Near and Mello were merely his protégés rather than his progeny.
While people usually think of L’s struggles with Light when they think of Death Note, L actually had a previous encounter with a killer that helped prepare him for his hunt against Kira. In the novel Death Note: Another Note - The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases, L is tasked with ending the killing spree of a man known as Beyond Birthday. BB was initially being considered to be a potential successor for L in case anything happened to him, just like Near and Mello are. But BB wound up showing the results of someone with a high level of intelligence like L electing to use his ability to hurt instead of help.
BB is referenced in the main story of Death Note, and even has ties to another character who appears in the manga and anime, Naomi Misora. Fans of the series probably remember that Naomi has a small role in the series, but is also one of the first true tests for Light and his secret identity as Kira. In the novel, Naomi is actually a central character in the hunt to catch Beyond Birthday.
While it’s unlikely the novel will be incorporated into the Netflix adaption, it’s still worth checking out to gain more insight into the backstory of some of the prominent characters from the manga and anime. It helps demonstrate exactly why L is viewed as the greatest detective in the world, and what made him so qualified to try and track down Kira.
Some fans will always take things too far, and express their enjoyment for dark subject matter in some unsettling ways. In addition to the incidents of school children being disciplined for creating their own Death Notes mentioned earlier, there has actually also been a crime involving murder that featured a connection to Death Note. It was a Belgian murder case from around a decade ago that involved a mutilated body, and in the vicinity of the remains were several notes that spelled out the phrase “I am Kira.”
Police initially feared the killing was the beginning of a serial murder spree, but it wound up being contained to just the one incident. The case took several years to solve, but eventually several suspects were apprehended and sentenced to prison for the crime. Obviously one death is nothing compared to what the Kira of Death Note winds up doing, and fictional stories can’t be blamed for what crimes killers perpetrate, but it’s nonetheless pretty creepy to think people would actually experience the story of Death Note and view it as a form of inspiration for murder.
While it was only mentioned one time in the pilot of the manga, one interesting detail about Death Note is that there was originally a way for the user of the note to reverse any of the deaths they carried out. Just as writing a name in the Death Note notebook would eventually kill a person, a special eraser existed that could not only physically get rid of the name written in the book, but even restore the life that was taken as well.
Ultimately the idea wound up not being used in the main series, probably to avoid complicating the story with more rules, keeping track of who could and couldn’t come back to life, and lessening the gravity of lives that were taken with the notebook. With how calculating Light is to begin with, he probably wouldn’t have used the eraser anyway, just as he refused Ryuk’s offer of having the Shinigami eyes. Nonetheless, it would have added an interesting dynamic to the story, and it’s pretty intriguing to think about how there are still aspects to the realm of the gods of death that weren’t introduced into Death Note but could have changed how things played out.
While the OVAs for the Death Note anime are non-canon, and mostly just a recap of what happened throughout the series, there are some new and interesting scenes included in them that show off a bit more depth to the characters. For Light, we already know from the main series that anyone who uses the note book can never go to heaven or hell after they die, so if such places did exist, Light would never experience those afterlives. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Light wouldn’t get to go to any afterlife.
In Death Note: Relight, we’re introduced to a Shinigami that we didn’t meet in the main anime. Based on the knowledge this Shinigami has, as well as his interactions with an older looking Ryuk, fans of the series have long speculated that the new Shinigami is actually Light. If that were the case, it provides some valuable backstory about the Shinigami realm, and could possibly mean each god of death is someone from the human realm who died after having used a notebook. It makes you wonder not only about whether the new Shinigami is Light, but also who the other Shinigami could have been if they actually were all humans at one point.
Initially in Death Note, L is such a mysterious figure that people know almost nothing about him beyond the incredible work he does. Rumors swirl about him, and everyone has their own vision of who could possibly be behind the name, until the person that is eventually revealed is nothing like what anyone suspected. Even after L is physically revealed, he still remains an enigma between his deceptive behavior, his unspoken backstory, and his unusual mannerisms that distract the other characters from how little they actually know about the man they are working with.
Tsugumi Ohba, the writer behind Death Note, looks like he might share a lot in common with L. His private life is so closely guarded that no one even know what gender he is. A lot of people refer to Ohba with male pronouns due to the masculine name, but Ohba is apparently just a pen name used for his career. Ohba’s true identity is as reclusive as L’s initially is. The creator and the character evidently even share a few traits. In the profiles of Ohba in the manga, it’s said that he is a collector of teacups, and also holds his knees on a chair when sitting, much like L is known to do. It’s unclear how similar Ohba actually is to his character, and how much of what is said is just more misdirection, but obviously Ohba knows how create intrigue in real life as well as in his work.
Did we miss out on anything interesting about Death Note? Don’t put our name in a Death Note book over it, just tell us about it in the comments!