Despite being a classic series with a massive fanbase, one major flaw in the original Death Note anime is its portrayal of female characters, specifically Misa Amane. Though Misa is powerful, she only exists to do what Light wants, following him without question and blinded by romantic attraction. Other examples are Kiyomi Takada, who uses her job as a newscaster to do Light’s bidding, and Naomi Misora, who is defeated by Light in one episode despite having deduced so much about Kira.
Surprisingly then, despite its mixed reviews, Netflix’s live-action Death Note film does a better job presenting a strong female lead. Mia Sutton takes charge and works with Light much more collaboratively, at times murdering without him knowing. The movie rectifies the anime’s weak point with its female characters by making Mia a strong, independent thinker who takes charge and moves the plot forward.
The Death Note Anime’s Misa Amane Is Too Submissive to Light
In the original Death Note, Misa Amane is a model who’s sympathetic to Kira for murdering the man who killed her family. Since Kira brought this criminal to justice, Misa makes it her mission to serve him however she can. She attains her own death note when the shinigami Gelus sacrifices himself to save her from being attacked, and his fellow shinigami Rem gives Misa his notebook. Misa makes the “eye deal” with Rem and begins posing as Kira to get his attention.
Once Misa and Light meet, she immediately asks to be useful to him. Technically, since Misa has the shinigami eyes, she is more powerful than Light – Misa can see the names and lifespans of humans, which would allow her to kill L for Light. In fact, Misa first identifies Light as Kira because human death note users’ names do not appear above their heads, so she found him easily.
Despite her power, Misa’s only interest is to serve Light. The Death Note anime trivializes her interest in helping Light by making it mostly romantic – Misa introduces herself, then instantly asks if Light will make her his girlfriend. She makes herself submissive by equating love with servitude.
However, Misa is still strong and resourceful, successfully killing people behind the scenes for Light through the series. Unfortunately, she is still merely a tool for him to use and abandon. Once Misa becomes too risky for Light to keep around, he makes her relinquish ownership of her notebook and lose her memories of it. The final few episodes reduce Misa to squabbling jealously with Light’s new girlfriend Takada.
Mia Sutton Takes Charge in Netflix’s Adaptation
Unlike her anime counterpart, the Netflix Death Note‘s Mia Sutton takes on a more dominant role. While fans have legitimate complaints about this film, it’s hard to deny Mia has a more compelling part than Misa.
Rather than Light Yagami working alone until Misa comes later, Light Turner and Mia team up immediately. Light kills only two people before telling Mia about his notebook. Kira isn’t famous yet, but Light proves his power by killing someone on the news while Mia watches. From this moment on, they work as a team.
In fact, at times Mia seems more enthusiastic about killing people than Light. Netflix’s Light is cautious about who they kill, reasoning with Mia about why they shouldn’t take suggestions from Kira fan websites. While Mia thinks it would be a good way of getting bad people off the street, Light thinks it’s reckless to not vet the criminals first.
Interestingly, Netflix attributes some of Light’s actions in the original Death Note anime to Mia. During the famous Lind L. Taylor press conference, Light is outraged and kills Taylor in response to L’s provocation. In the Netflix film, Mia is the one to express outrage, but Light says they shouldn’t do anything too risky. Furthermore, when the FBI agents come to Japan in the anime, Light gets the names from agent Raye Penber and murders them all. In the film, Mia steals a page from the notebook and kills the agents without Light knowing. She also ensures that Watari dies after finding L’s name, which Misa has no role in – in the anime, the Shinigami Rem kills Watari to protect Misa.
Netflix changes Light and Mia’s romance, too. During one scene, Light asks if he can kiss Mia, but she responds by pushing him against a wall and kissing him first. Though there are scenes where she placates Light by saying that she just wants to be with him, this first kiss sets up their dynamic. While she can play submissive, Mia is the dominant figure who wants control. She even tries to kill Light, writing his name in the notebook as a precaution. Light Yagami in the anime would presumably not respond well to Mia Sutton’s cry of “Give me my Goddamn notebook!” on the Ferris wheel in the film’s climax.
Although Light ultimately kills Mia through a loophole in the note’s rules, it’s undeniable that she pushes him to the limit in Netflix’s Death Note. Her choices create important plot conflicts. Mia does not take orders like Misa Amane, but rather expects Light to follow hers. If he doesn’t, she takes matters into her own hands.
Netflix’s Death Note Eliminates Kiyomi Takada and Naomi Misora
Netflix’s Death Note chose to eliminate some other female characters from the anime entirely. Kiyomi Takada, Light’s other girlfriend, never appears. In the anime, Takada is a TV spokeswoman, broadcasting pro-Kira propaganda on the news. When she is no longer useful to him, Light writes her name in the notebook. Takada becomes another pawn in Light’s game, which the film rejects by not trying to adapt her character.
Naomi Misora also does not appear in the live-action Death Note. Misora is bright and capable in the anime – even L praises her detective skills from a former case. When Light runs into her, he realizes she is onto him and has excellent investigative skills. Despite her apparent power and knowledge, Light still kills her within one episode. Yes, this moment proves Light is cunning, but it also reduces her as any kind of a real threat. Even killing Raye – Misora’s husband – and the other FBI agents took a couple of episodes, from the bus jacking to the scenes in the subway. Netflix ignores Misora too, perhaps to allow more screen time for Mia.
Of course, many fans will have differing views on these two versions and their character portrayals. There is nothing wrong with male-centered stories, and just because Death Note favors its male characters does not make it a bad series. The anime and the live-action film are clearly trying to cater to different audiences – there will be changes to characters when something is both modernized and Westernized. And despite her blind spot for Light’s cruelty, Misa Amane is still a widely known and loved anime character. Still, Netflix’s film gives audiences a taste of what a stronger Misa might’ve been like.
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