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The Many Adaptations of Death Note

Since the manga’s completion in 2006, Death Note has been adapted 5 times, and has yet another adaptation said to be on the way. If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it is. Most manga can realistically hope for only one or two adaptations—an anime, and maybe a live action adaptation of some sort. A lucky few titles have received more, but these titles are the exception and not the rule. Furthermore, most such series are classics that are old enough fo their fans to be able to remember Blockbuster and dial-up internet. Think Sailor Moon or Fist of the North Star. By comparison, Death Note—whose first chapter isn’t even old enough to legally purchase alcohol in the US—is a baby.

At its core, the story of Death Note is fairly simple: a jaded but highly intelligent teenager named Light Yagami happens upon a supernatural notebook owned by a shinigami named Ryuk, which kills anyone whose name is written in it (a Death Note). Light quickly decides to use the notebook to kill criminals en masse, with his ultimate goal being to shift society to strictly adhere to his moral standard, and to rule over this new world as an absolute judge, jury, and executioner—as a god. A reclusive detective named L takes on the case and quickly becomes suspicious of Light, thus launching a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse between the two. Where Death Note becomes more complex, however, is how this game is played, and the ways in which other people/players get involved. These obstacles easily let Death Note span the course of 108 chapters.

The first adaptation of Death Note is also its sole non-live-action adaptation: the 2006–07 anime by Madhouse. Widely considered to be the gold standard for Death Note adaptations, this is also by far the most manga-faithful and successful one. “Is Death Note the best new anime series to be released in America during 2007? That may be debatable, but its status amongst the year’s elite titles is not,” wrote Theron Martin in his review of the first volume of Death Note’s US DVD release for ANN, “The rare blend of originality, intelligence, and quality visuals it exhibits allows it to take an interesting horror-story concept, bend it over backwards, and turn it into a good-looking thriller whose intensity matches that of any dedicated action series despite its total lack of true action scenes.” But although this adaptation was Death Note’s first, it was hardly the last.


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