Death Note: The anime behind the Duffer Brothers’ live-action series, explained

biblical image of Death noteViz Media

Death Note has been a point of interest since the Duffer Brothers, the creators of Stranger Things, announced they were planning a live-action series. But what is Death Note?

Recent news has broken about the Duffer Brothers forming their own production company called Upside Down Pictures. With Netflix, they plan to develop more projects both inside and outside of Hawkins.

One of these productions will apparently be a live-action Death Note series, which has piqued some interest and sparked some worry. Fans of Stranger Things may wish to follow everything that the Duffer Brothers create, but may not be familiar with Death Note – though it is as similarly tense and spooky as Stranger Things.

So perhaps you want to know what Death Note is about without having to watch the whole series? Well, first off that’s a massive shame, as Death Note is considered to be one of the greatest anime of all time. But eh, that’s your choice. So here it is, a simplified history of Death Note.

upside down picturesImaginary Forces via Deadline
The Duffer Brother’s new production company will bring Death Note to the screen once again

Like death itself, Death Note has taken many forms

Death Note – often stylized in all caps as “DEATH NOTE” – is a Japanese manga series originally written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata. The series was initially created due to Tsugumi Ohba’s desire to create a suspense series, since mainstream manga had very few suspense stories in circulation.

The comic was originally expected to be a one-shot story, but due to its immediate positive feedback, Death Note became a serialized manga. It ran weekly in the magazine Shōnen Jump from December 2003 to May 2006, spanning 108 chapters. As of April 2015, Death Note had over 30 million copies in circulation.

A 37-episode anime television series adaptation was then produced by Madhouse Studio and directed by Tetsurō Araki, which ran from October 2006 to June 2007. The series is arguably what really pushed the franchise into becoming the global sensation that it is today.

Now, the franchise has included many forms. There was a light novel written by Nisio Isin in 2006. Multiple spin-off series – such as 2016’s Death Note: New Generation – were created, and various Nintendo DS games were released, as were three (arguably forgettable) live-action films, which premiered in Japan from June 2006 to February 2008. There’s even been a (surprisingly pretty good) musical.

Probably the most memorable take on this series to many of you is Netflix’s live-action 2017 movie, which starred Alex Wolff, and is widely considered to be terrible. Understandably, this has made some Death Note fans apprehensive about the Duffer Brothers’ upcoming attempt.

What is the plot of Death Note?

The story follows Light Yagami, a disaffected teen genius who lives in Tokyo. One day, he discovers a mysterious notebook called, you guessed it, the “Death Note.” As the name explains, this book has the power to kill anyone whose name is written in it, as long as the writer knows the victim’s full name and face.

Turns out this Death Note belongs to an otherworldly being, a Shinigami named Ryuk. He appears to Light – though is invisible to everyone else – and explains that he dropped the notebook into the human world out of boredom, to see if anyone would use it.

The series centers around Light’s attempts to use the Death Note to carry out a worldwide massacre of criminals, in order to create a crime-free utopia, but in the process he becomes very much like the psychopaths he initially set out to destroy.

The series also covers the world’s reaction to Light’s actions. The media cottons on to the fact that someone is behind the mass string of deaths, and Light is sensationalized into a God-like figure, named “Kira,” aka “キラ,” the Japanese transliteration of the English word “killer.” Cults arise from Kira, successors are born, and the authorities attempt to put a stop to Kira’s actions. Or at the very least, discover who he is.

Death note image of light and L and RyukViz Media
Justice takes on many forms in this modern gothic manga.

The person put in charge of this mission is the odd and enigmatic consulting detective, known as L. L is able to deduce that Kira is located in Tokyo, and after outsmarting Kira on a live broadcast, Light vows to find out L’s real name, in order to kill him.

Other characters are introduced, such as the adorable yet clingy actress-model Misa Amane, who has her own Death Note, along with other supernatural powers. But this article won’t discuss anything further, lest we really start dipping into spoiler territory.

While the story arguably dips in quality as it nears its end, the series is a masterclass of showcasing two mastermind characters going head-to-head. The cat and mouse game L and Light play is akin to that of Sherlock and Moriarty, and the story’s themes of justice and morality lead the narrative on a whirlwind of twists and turns.

The thematic impact of Death Note

Death Note has something of an amazing legacy, for both good and bad reasons. Its many adaptations alone show how influential the show has been.

The story has often been praised for its dark take on the theme of justice and playing God, and its gothic biblical imagery made it a haven for the emo kids of the early 2000s. That last statement cannot be understated: the characters of L and Misa are still seen as emo icons to this day.

Because of its dramatic edge-lord essence, the franchise has occasionally been mocked, albeit lovingly. It’s hard to hate even the most melodramatic aspects of the show, as these moments always manage to be incredibly memorable. For example, who will ever forget the “I’ll take a potato chip… and EAT IT” scene?

Let’s see the Duffer Brothers try to recreate this.

Death Note is something of an enigma, one that hasn’t really been able to be captured in live-action. We can only hope that the skilled imaginations of the Duffer Brothers will lead to an exception.