Monday, February 8, 2016

Death Note Relight 2: L's Successors

This is it. The last of the animated Death Note movies, and the last piece of animated material out of the franchise. (For now at least)
Last week, I covered Visions of a God. While it wasn't totally awful, there was too much bringing it down for it to be actually good. However, there were a few good pieces of original animation holding the whole thing together. The pacing sucked, and they cut the plot down beyond what could possibly be called "the bare minimum", but it was still somewhat entertaining to see how they'd arranged the whole thing. Plus, they didn't waste much in the way of screentime. At the very least, they included almost everything you needed to know to understand the plot.
Spoiler warnings for the last half of Death Note, as well as the entire film.
After the apparent popularity of Visions of a God, Mad House decided to make another TV movie to finish out the series. Unfortunately, they dropped the ball on this one spectacularly. Some of the issues come from the way the last movie ended, since Visions of a God prematurely discarded the really cool framing-device at the end. I suppose they weren't expecting to make a second movie. So, what have they replaced it with? L, (who at this point in the series is supposed to be dead) starts out the movie talking to the audience. Directly to the audience, stating what the purpose of the movie is. L states that this movie was created for people who had never seen Death Note before, even though that literally doesn't make a lick of sense. If you haven't seen Death Note, why would you be watching a Death Note movie? For that matter, why would you be watching the second Death Note animated movie? If you're not familiar with the series, why would you bother watching one of the sequels?
L then proceeds to spend the next nine and a half minutes recapping the events of the series up until then. I know they did this in the series after L died, but there was a reason for it! Their entire database had been deleted, and they had to go back over everything they knew had happened so they could have some kind of record of what happened. Plus, since it was narrated from L's perspective, it helped compound his recent death. Another thing to mention was that the recap that took up half of Episode 26: Renewal was both much more complete than the recap they made for this movie. Possibly because they weren't trying to recap an already butchered plot. Plus, they didn't just replay the last scene from Episode 25: Silence verbatim.
Then we come to the runtime. The last movie was almost three hours long, and that was barely enough time for everything they were trying to sum up. This movie isn't even two hours long, and it spends almost ten minutes of the runtime recapping the last movie. Seriously, I couldn't believe my eyes when I looked at the clock and saw that I was almost ten minutes into the film without a single piece of footage that didn't come from the last movie. At all. Off to a flying start, and it only gets worse from here.
Let's have a quick rundown of what's been changed, shall we?
The biggest change that's been made is that the Mafia subplot has been completely removed. Yeah, they cut out one of the most important arcs of the series. Not all of what happens overtly afffects the plot immediately, but there are so many important things that happen in the Mafia arc that directly affect how the series ends that I'd think that's the last thing you'd cut. But on that subject, Soichiro Yagami has been completely written out of the story. The Japanese version makes an offhand reference to him retiring after Light joined the task-force, but the English version doesn't even mention it. This brings up some fairly significant questions. Since Soichiro's heart-attack was written out of the first movie, so for all we know, he was in perfect health. What would your first thought be there? Maybe he retired to take care of his daughter, who's obviously suffering from PTSD. But that can't be the case, since the mafia have been written out of the story.
Later on in the movie Mello shows up at the SPK headquarters with a massive scar on his face and absolutely no explanation as to why. He then proceeds to do nothing until the very end of the movie. Removing the mafia means that everything Mello did has been erased, which basically makes him a pointless character in this movie. Maybe if they hadn't had a ten minute recap at the beginning, they'd have had the time to adapt some of the mafia arc.Or maybe if they'd had thirty minutes or more of extra screentime, they could have adapted it, and had time for some of the other things they cut. Or maybe if they had another hour and cut that ten minute recap, then they could have done something resembling a decent job.
You see, without the mafia arc, no SPK members are killed, Light never learns Mello's name, Mello never gets his scar, Soichiro never dies, Light never has to give up one of his Death Notes to get rid of the Shinigami Sidoh, and most importantly, since Light doesn't know Mello's real name, he has no way of telling Takeda who Mello is in the event she has to kill him, ergo Mello never dies.
Certain things have been changed to accommodate the mafia's erasure, but the recovery is utterly incomplete to say the very least.
For instance, one of the compensating factors is that rather than Mello and the mafia killing off most of Near's team, Kiyomi Takeda and Teru Mikami are the ones responsible. Even though they cut out the scenes of the United States turning the relevant information over to... Literally anyone. At that point in time, the SPK had never even shown their faces to anyone at that point. Since the SPK wasn't involved with the mafia investigation, that means Light had no reason to know of their existence to kill any of them.
Mikami's origin has been completely removed. Oh, and since most of the FBI arc was cut out of the first movie, we have no explanation as to who Takeda is. She was Light's girlfriend in High-school. She was on the Spaceland bus when he set up his plan to kill all the FBI agents. In the actual series we actually knew who she was. In this, she's not mentioned at all until she just shows up in this film.
Takeda feeds information to Mikami over the phone. This scene is comprised of recut stock-footage of Mikami writing names in the Death Note with original footage of Takeda feeding him the information.
Another thing I should mention before I forget is that rather than having Mikami kill off a bunch of guys from the Sakura TV Kira Worship Service, he instead kills off a group of people who dislike Kira on a Pro-Kira vs Anti-Kira debate. Something Light wouldn't have supported or allowed at this point in the series. What the hell was this about? Why didn't they just re-use the footage from the show?
Anyways, in addition to all of the stock footage from the series that they use in the SPK massacre, they also use pieces of original footage for some reason. One shot shows one of the SPK members head twisting around a hundred and eighty degrees. EVEN THOUGH THAT'S NOT POSSIBLE!
Let's go back to the first season of Death Note, where Light experimented with the limitations of the power. Something which is not physically possible cannot be made to occur by writing it in the Death Note. You can't make someone from a prison in America die by jumping off of the Eiffel Tower. By the rules of the Death Note, that guy should have died of a heart-attack, plain and freaking simple. But, since they cut all of the specifics of that experimentation, as well as literally all of the rules of the Death Note, I suppose that's all up in the air! Even though setting up all those rules was critical to the Death Note not being incredibly overpowered.
Speaking of Death Note rules, they only ever mention one of the fake rules in the Death Note, carrying on from what they were doing in the first movie as well. Even though that second rule was critical to them not just flat out destroying the Death Note. You know, the rule that said that destruction of the Death Note would kill literally everyone who touched it? That rule? That incredibly critical rule?
Anyways, almost all of Light's plotting around the Kira task-force to keep in contact with Takeda and Mikami has been removed.
The whole movie is basically a rush to the last episode, which plays out almost in its entirety, with a little bit of abridging thrown in to make it a little shorter. There's also the dinner between Misa and Takeda, which ultimately seems pointless when Misa and Takeda alike have had an incredibly small amount of screentime in this movie.
Long story short, Mello kidnaps Takeda, she kills him (Even though she doesn't have any way to do that. She doesn't own a Death Note, ergo she can't bargain for the Shinigami eyes.) and Light kills her. Mikami's entire routine and most of the SPK's surveillance of him has been cut, as well as him retrieving the Death Note from the bank (at least until Near tells Light this at the end of the movie) so we don't even have any hint that Mikami was trying to kill Takeda until the end. We also don't get any kind of communication between Mikami and Light, so they never establish that Light wasn't able to move freely, ergo Mikami just seems like an idiot working on his own, rather than applying a bit of logic to the situation like he did in the comics and animated series.
They then speed to Light's death at the hands (or more to the point, the pen) of Ryuk. They skip the symbolism, the mirage of L looking over the dying Light, everything that made that a powerful moment.
Something I found particularly strange is the extensive use of original animation in areas where stock footage would have worked just as well, if not better. Most of the original footage centers around Near and the SPK, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense. They had plenty of footage of Near and the SPK from the series, and get this, most of the new footage is Near screwing around with puzzles and games and whatnot. Stuff he did plenty of in the show.
The only noteworthy piece of original footage is a flashback to L talking to the Whammy House kids and answering their questions. That's literally it. No other piece of original footage serves to do anything unique. Even then, that little clip was adapted from a one-shot tie-in to the comics.
All in all, this movie is loaded with plot-holes, it's terribly paced, and above all, it's way too short.
The plot lurches around without much care for coherency, moving too fast for its own good at some points and then grinding to a halt at others. The comics and the animated series alike knew how pacing worked, bringing things down slowly and then slowly building back up to the intensity they needed.
Then we come to the voice-acting. In Visions of a God, the newly recorded-lines, while not on-par at a writing level matched the original lines in performance quality. In L's Successors, there are a few of Light's new lines that sound just off enough that I wonder if this special was rushed to completion. The same goes for some of Near's new lines. It's almost as if they didn't have enough time to do multiple takes. I'd say this goes for the Japanese as well as English voice-tracks, but Light and Near's Japanese VA's didn't really have far to sink.
What I'm trying to say is, this movie is bad. Incredibly bad. It's even worse because it came from something good. In that regard, it's incredibly similar to the first Hunger Games movie. In fact, that's the best comparison I can draw. So many things have been cut from the source material that the final product literally doesn't make a lick of sense. Even Visions of a God had a bit of redeeming value to it, what with the original footage in the beginning, middle and end of the movie. This film on the other hand just butchers the plot of the show without giving any significant reason why you should watch it if you've already seen the animated series, and if you're a first-time viewer, you should just watch the animated series.
In the end, I give it a 1.1* rating. I didn't enjoy this film either as a critic or a fan of the series.
Next week, we'll either be tackling a videogame, or the first live-action Death Note movie. We'll see what happens.

Image from