Back in 2006, acclaimed anime Death Note hit the silver screen with two live-action film adaptations. Now, a decade later, the films are getting their first direct sequel–and a three-episode prequel miniseries.
Death Note: New Generation is a three-episode Hulu original series that stars the main cast of the upcoming film, Death Note: Light Up the NEW World, and serves to introduce each of the three main leads.
The first episode, Rebirth, follows rookie detective Tsukuru Mishima. After finding out about the existence of the Death Note, he has become obsessed with Light Yagami, i.e., the deceased serial killer Kira, and has studied everything about the Death Note case–down to what kinds of chips Light used to eat and why.
While the Kira incident may be a decade old, the police still run a Death Note Task Force that investigates any case where a Death Note could have been used as the murder weapon. Rebirth follows Detective Mishima on one such case where a healthy man suddenly drops dead of a heart attack for no discernible reason.
This episode shows how the world has been for the decade leading up to the new film. The police are still wary of the Death Notes, but ten years has shuffled the small task force into a tiny room with a tiny staff. Now they work as Death Note debunkers, proving how unexplained deaths and murders actually occurred without supernatural influence.
However, just because Death Notes are no longer in the wild, that doesn’t mean they don’t continue to impact the world. Kira is both championed as a divine hero who punished the guilty and a murdering mastermind by those who believe in law and order. Many people on both sides continue to be inspired by him.
While Rebirth deals with the successor to Detective Yagami of the original films, the second episode, follows L’s successor, Ryuzaki. As the new L, Ryuzaki works with other members of the orphanage, Wammy’s House–including Near (N), a genius boy saved by the original L just before his death in the spin-off film, L: Change the WorLd.
In the years since Kira’s rampage, Ryuzaki and co. have continued the original L’s work, solving crimes across the world that have local agencies stumped. But when an anonymous dancing livestreamer suddenly speaks gibberish (an anagram of the sentence “Kira, I also have a Death Note”) and seems to kill herself off screen, Ryuzaki returns to Japan to see if a Death Note murder truly occurred or if it’s just an elaborate hoax.
As we see in this episode, Ryuzaki is not a simple copy and paste of L. While he can solve cases remotely like his predecessor, he is far more willing to go out into the field and confront the crimes directly. He likewise prefers to work alone, if possible–especially when the job has life threatening risks.
The most interesting aspect of the episode, however, is that much of it is shot like a horror film. From the moment Ryuzaki enters the livestreamer’s apartment, it seems like something could jump out of the shadows at any moment. This tense situation is only added to by the still-running webcam–which could spell certain death for Ryuzaki should his face be seen by a Death Note wielder. This episode also gives the briefest introduction to the new Kira, Yuki Shien, who serves as one of the protagonists of the final episode, Fanaticism.
The third episode begins by detailing Yuki’s backstory as the only survivor of the killer who murdered his whole family. Growing up as an orphan plagued by the memories of what happened, Yuki eventually became a cyber terrorist–a cyber terrorist who one day found Kira’s old Death Note lying on the floor of his room. Now he plans to continue where Kira left off, starting with killers who managed to slip through the cracks of the system.
What’s odd about Fanaticism is that the majority of the run time is not spent focused on Yuki. Rather, we see the life of one of his potential victims; a man who, in his youth, smothered a young girl on accident while trying to keep her quiet. It’s clear that, despite avoiding jail, the man is punishing himself. He works as a toilet cleaner, abases himself in front of the victim’s family, and each night is haunted by nightmares of his crime.
While a killer, it is clear that he regrets it. No matter how he may try to live a new life, he is unable to escape his sins. Even the love of his girlfriend only makes him feel more ashamed–how could a murderer be good enough for her? Even a few minutes into his story, it’s difficult not to feel sorry for the man with his overwhelming guilt and life ruined by a single mistake.
And always at the back of your mind is the knowledge that, at any given moment, he might drop dead thanks to Yuki’s Death Note.
Death Note: New Generation is a great little introduction to the world ten years after Kira’s defeat. It sets the stage for the film (with six Death Notes resting in the hands of mortals) and gives you a solid sense of who the three protagonists are and what drives them. All in all, it’s like an extra hour of character development that should, in theory, allow the film to dive right on into the mystery.
Death Note: New Generation is available on Hulu.jp (without English subtitles). Death Note: Light Up the NEW World will be released in Japanese theaters on October 29, 2016. There is currently no word on a Western release for either.