Death Note fell into a similar popularity effect as Sword Art Online. It debuted during the beginning of the Streaming era, and it served as an excellent gateway show for many anime fans. And it quickly rose in fame, thanks to both the manga and the anime, and became one of the most popular anime ever made. After the first few chapters/episodes, expectations for the rest of the series were high.
Too high for it to ever meet.
The plot of this show quickly spiraled out of control. Between multiple Death Notes, Shinigami, and plans so convoluted that it makes the plot of Kingdom Hearts look coherent, this show quickly spiraled into complete absurdity. And as the spiral continued downwards, the quality plummeted with it. After L’s death (the shows been out for years, don’t burn me), the story took a massive nose dive, only ever looking up again right at the end.
Now, none of this is new. Plenty of anime suffer from having openings so strong that the rest of the show can’t keep up. Disappointment is a feeling that many suffer from when watching anime. So what sets Death Note apart in this regard? Well, the answer simply lies in the hype.
If you were to speak to someone who was recommending Death Note to you, then they’d more often than not tell you that it was a masterpiece. And more often than not, they’re only really talking about the first few episodes. Thus, most people went into the show with high expectations. These may very well have been met at the beginning, as the first few episodes are very solid, but over time? Not so much.
Here’s the thing: if Death Note wasn’t as massively popular as it was, this wouldn’t have been so disappointing. It would’ve just been another anime with a great opening and a disappointing second and third act before an alright ending. But so many people built the show up as something special, a show above the quality of your average anime.
It’s really not. Sure, it has some solid art and animation, intense and clever writing and spectacular music (that first opening is still one of the best openings in any anime I’ve ever seen). But the series suffered from an escalation problem, as most anime do. Eventually, the stakes got too high, the plans too absurd, and the deductions far too beyond the realm of possibility. The clever but at least somewhat grounded and logical chess game of wits the fans fell in love with was long gone. Now it felt like a Dragon Ball Super fight, but with lies and detective work rather than punches and lasers.
Absurd, nonsensical, and mind numbing to watch.
If Death Note wasn’t as popular as it was in it’s hay day, then it wouldn’t be so disappointing. It’d be your average anime series: a bit rough around the edges, but still perfectly acceptable. Unfortunately, the franchise only spiraled further out of control. How so? Three words.
Live action adaptations.
There have been multiple adaptations of this show into live action, and surprise! None of them are very good. The Japanese version is close to the source material, but suffers from the typical problems of your live action anime combined with the issues of the original work. The visuals are super jarring, especially Ryuk, but honestly? I kind of like it a bit more than the original. In an ironic way, at least.
But then there’s the Netflix movie (which is getting a sequel apparently) which is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. Not only does it completely eviscerate the source material, but it doesn’t even tell their own story in a new and interesting way. The visuals are terrible and ugly, the acting is some of the worst I’ve ever seen, the writing is absolutely atrocious, the pacing sucks, and everything else is a god damn disaster. I could fill a whole one-thousand word rant by talking about this movie.
But I won’t. Mostly because it’s not worth it, but also because everyone else who talks about movies on the internet has long since beaten me to the punch. Maybe I’ll tear the sequel apart, I dunno.
Popularity often kills a franchise. Because of the extreme success of these things, more of them are produced, and the quality tends to drop more often than not. The same thing happens all the time in Hollywood. And in terms of anime, Death Note is one of the worst cases of this. It was an alright series that got blown up further than it deserved, and it became impossible to live up to the hype the fans had built for it.
Gee, where have I heard that one before?