The thing about Death Note is that it could have been good, if they had actually Americanized it instead of white washing it. I’ll explain the difference.
Death Note is amazing, not just because of it’s interesting premise, art, and storytelling, but also because it asks audiences to ponder over various moral conundrums. Sure the larger questions of whether we can sacrifice the few for the greater good, and whether people/States have the right to take away the lives of other are fairly universal, but other shows, books, and mangas have asked the same questions. What makes Death Note so good is that it is deeply grounded in a specific place and political context. It is a commentary on early 2000s Japan. It is specific, yet understandable across many contexts. It asks old questions in new ways, and therefore gives us the opportunity for new answers.
Imagine if Death Note had actually been Americanized. Imagine a young Native American girl found the Death Note. She’s 15 and pregnant, because Native American women are one of the most vulnerable groups to sexual assault in the United States. She knows who her rapist is. His name. His face. Because it is so rarely a stranger. She also knows the names and the faces of the congress member and representatives who are trying to push an anti-abortion bill that would even rule out an exception for rape. She knows the names and faces of every cop that laughed her out of the police station, and the doctors that asked her what she was wearing before refusing to do a rape kit. Imagine if this girl found the Death Note.
Imagine if Death Note had actually been Americanized. Imagine a young Black boy found the Death Note. He’s been stopped and frisked for the second time that day, and his best friend was shot 16 times two years before because apparently, a wallet looks just like a gun. He knows the shooter’s name and face, the cop didn’t even get fired and that’s why he was able to frisk our protagonist today. He knows the names and faces of teachers who would rather send their students to juvie rather than detention, or even talk to them. He knows the names and faces of the preachers talk about uplifting the spirit while only caring about uplifting their bank accounts. Imagine if this boy found the Death Note.
Imagine if Death Note had actually been Americanized. Imagine a young Filipina girl found the Death Note. She’s the only one in her family with papers. ICE raids are becoming more common, but the masks and the shields keep them nearly anonymous. Faceless men take her mother, then her brother, and finally her father. She doesn’t know their names and faces, but she’s had glimpses of ICE vehicle numbers and a knack for hacking. She knows the president, though, stoking anti-immigrant sentiments. Imagine if this girl found the Death Note.
Imagine if Death Note had actually been Americanized. Imagine a young white boy found the Death Note. And his name is Dylan Roof, Adam Lanza, James Holmes, Elliot Rodger, Jared Loughner, or Charles Manson. A Shinigami meets 4chan, MRAs, and the “alt-right”; death god meets god-complex meets white male supremacy. We don’t need to imagine what happens if these boys find the Death Note. We already know, but it would still make damn good television.
If instead, all we get is Light Turner, depoliticised and decontextualized, just another white face on another Japanese story, what is the point?