Thoughts – Netflix’s Death Note
Oh look, here we go again.
I miss the era where criticism of actors would be reserved for, oh I don’t know, their actual acting. But of course, that’s not the case anymore.
To be fair, the level of smarmy “I can immediately tell this is going to suck because Light isn’t Asian” isn’t the worse it’s ever been, since things really hit all-time levels of hysteria back when Scarlett Johansson was cast in the role of the Major for the upcoming Ghost in the Shell adaptation. But GitS was different because it’s more popular with an older generation of anime fans and less so with millennials, which is the exact opposite for the case of Death Note. So when the mass hysteria first broke out over GitS, it quickly became apparent that the loudest voices weren’t Japanese and weren’t actual fans of the original GitS anime film, but were really just typical SJWs complaining about whitewashing. And that allowed the anime community to get a hold of itself before it was too late.
Given that we’re already there, let’s just bash through the big issue of cultural politics.
I personally dislike identity politics because it’s a lazy way of winning arguments, but everyone nowadays uses identity as ammunition, so I think I’ll be lazy this once. I’m ethnically Asian, which is supposed to make me hyper-conscious of under-representation of Asian actors and actresses in Hollywood and stuff like that. But my general sense of ground sentiment in Asia itself is that most Asians aren’t all that riled up about “Asian representation” in Western media. Honestly, most Asians are way too caught up in supporting the anime and K-pop industry to care about this.
This is what I think culture should be about, pushing the boundaries of art itself, not waging wars over culture theft. It shouldn’t be a big deal what profile of actor gets cast as Light or L, and even if you’re that hung up about it we already have at least 4 movies starring Asian Light Yagamis and Ls. Of course there will always be minorities who feel under-represented in Western media. But I think the solution to under-representation isn’t to make creators so conscious about their casting / character choices that the end product becomes rather disingenuous. Making everything about diversity for diversity’s sake ends up sending creativity in the wrong direction.
I guess what I’m really trying to say is that in case SJWs are trying to push a narrative that Asian people feel alienated and betrayed by Death Note’s casting choices, I think it’s harmful and I’m not contributing to it.
Still, I am concerned that Netflix’s Death Note may disappoint fans of the original Japanese franchise for one major reason. Death Note was certainly about thrills, suspense and brains – which I think Netflix could catch onto and make sure to recreate in their film. But it takes a millennial anime fan to understand that the crowning glory of Death Note really was this sweet-toothed goth kid and his impact as the stylistic role model for teenage boys.
If you guys don’t know, you really don’t know. Back in Death Note’s heyday of 2006 / 2007, all the guys were squatting on chairs and typing with their index fingers and sucking their thumbs. All the girls had pictures of Kenichi Matsuyama in his edgy eyeliner on their phone screens. L was the flagship posterchild for the emo, yet quirky and adorable genius whom fanboys adored and tried to emulate – although of course they all failed because L is the kind of character who only exists in anime.
I exaggerate, of course, Death Note isn’t all about L. But my point is that adapting a great story isn’t the difficult part. The Herculean task is identifying the iconic aspects of the source material that worked so well with its audience in the original setting, then deciding whether to scrap or keep them. As at the date of this post, it’s way too early to tell, though I get why the tone of the 1 min 40 second long trailer would worry some people.
In any case, in the months ahead, the bulk of the anime community will spend their time actually building on this conversation of what would make the Death Note adaptation good or bad. The rest of the internet, on the other hand, will completely overlook this because they will be too busy complaining about whitewashing and every other problem that apparently concerns Japanese and Asians but which actual Japanese and Asian people don’t care about. We can’t always win in life, but we won’t always lose, and especially so if Netflix at least gives us a decent take on the beloved Death Note franchise.