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Subtitles & Sensibility: Sequel time with Death Note & Gantz

Back in February I shared my thoughts on the first live action Death Note & Gantz films, and honestly, not a lot has changed since I watched the sequels. (If you haven’t seen either, that post should be sufficient. This post assumes franchise knowledge for both.)

I did find the overall experience surprising. My snap judgment was that I would really enjoy Death Note, but I would find Gantz a little too dry & sci -fi for my taste. Instead, I frequently disliked Death Note, but I thoroughly enjoyed Gantz. There were two key differences for me between the two.

First, in Death Note, we are watching the manipulators from their areas of power, whereas in Gantz we are with the manipulated, watching these ordinary people trying to do their best in an extraordinary world. Second, the respective morality of the films was very different. In Death Note, even though Light is being pursued by authorities, the film accepts his decisions to kill in a way that I was uncomfortable with. Plus, an element of the Death Note is that the holder can kill from afar, so he doesn’t have to get his hands dirty. In Gantz, however, the characters brought back from death to fight are conflicted about killing, and when they choose to follow the instructions of Gantz it is for a clear goal: to earn enough points to either bring back someone else who has died, or so they might free themselves from the program. And even with this, in the second Gantz film, they are questioned outright about why they’re fighting, and it is clear that they question this themselves.

As for particulars of the films themselves….

In Death Note: The Last Name, the production value runs the gamut from soap opera to video game. Story-wise a few new complications are added to the rules of the Death Note (and a second Death Note is introduced), though none of this really challenges L, who works intuitively. The story tension is meant to come not from whether or not L will know that Light is Kira, but whether or not he will be able to prove it. However, Light and his various associates, be they gods of death or devoted fans, continue to remain one contrived step ahead of L’s ability to discover hard evidence.

As for Gantz: The Perfect Answer, it was a satisfying conclusion to the story. New elements were brought in, like people who are investigating the rumors of Gantz and the possibility that these dead people are still alive, and as aforementioned, the fighters deal with some heavy questions about who they are fighting and why.

There are a number of excellent action sequences involving a subway car, though there were definitely some moments where I wished I was watching it in the theater. Action on DVD frequently goes on too long to hold my interest, but that’s a personal thing. Overall, I enjoyed both Gantz films, and they’ve got me interested in the anime and manga, which is a huge success.


On a whim I picked up L: Change the World at the library, and to my surprise, very much enjoyed it. It’s an L-specific spin-off of the Death Note live action films, and opens just before the Kira story begins. It starts with L working with Naomi on a case, and I actually really wished we could have had more of that. Naomi is a fun, capable character, and I enjoyed the taste we got of their relationship. If anyone could tell me if that is expanded on in the anime or manga I would really appreciate it.

The film quickly leaps through the timeline of the first two films, and the bulk of it takes place after. L takes some time finishing off odds and ends of cases, and this is his last big case before his chosen death comes. Essentially it’s a completely unoriginal bioterrorism-type outbreak story, but I enjoyed getting to know more about L outside of his entanglement with Light, especially insofar as it gave us a better look at the system L works within. The villains have a pretty traditional plan to destroy the world so they can remake it, but at least in the process they have to engage with the world, which makes them much more interesting than Light, hiding behind his notebook.

It’s a testament to the work Matsuyama had done with the character of L over the prior two films that when he engages in simple human behaviors it’s incredibly strange to watch. When he’s simply being outside in the world, it made me nervous. I wanted to encase him in bubble wrap & return him to his hermetically sealed chamber, full of sweets & computer monitors. In the course of fighting the virus, he has to interact with children, and it’s a great twist to watch this child-like character struggle to connect. As a bonus, children are the perfect people to ask L all the questions we’ve had through the prior two films. Why does he eat so much sugar? Is he even capable of standing up straight?

In the end, L: Change the World was a treat for me for making it through the other two Death Note films. It wasn’t great, and it certainly wouldn’t stand on its own, but if you really wanted more L, it’s a fun little diversion.

Review copies of Death Note: The Last Name and Gantz: The Perfect Answer provided by New People Entertainment.

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About Jaci Dahlvang

Jaci Dahlvang works for a community-based nonprofit organization by day and is an undercover librarian at heart. She was a film critic for her college paper junior year and never got over it, and now she writes about film at My Socks Are On Fire. She'll watch everything from art films to goofy blockbusters, but she prefers anything in which ladies are allowed to be awesome. She spends far too much time on Twitter discussing all of these things plus knitting and coffee. The more movies she sees, the more she needs to see. Keep up with her film writing by liking My Socks Are On Fire on Facebook.


  1. Unbelievably, you have made me actually want to watch “L: Change the World.”

    • Jaci Dahlvang says:

      That *is* shocking!

      • It sounds like it solves two of my biggest problems with the manga: too much Light & too little Naomi.

        Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that any of this is in the anime or manga, though it’s possible that Naomi’s story lasts longer in both. I haven’t seen the live action films, so I can’t really compare.

        • Jaci Dahlvang says:

          There still isn’t enough Naomi for me, She’s just in the opening sequence. And there definitely isn’t enough of her in the live action films — she’s only in the first one. We can see that she is awesome, but the film treats her very poorly.

          I really cannot stand Light, so much so that I found myself holding it against Tatsuya Fujiwara’s character when I rewatched Battle Royale last month!

          • Ahhh yes. Well, she dies early on in the manga, so I’m assuming that’s the same, but my guess would be that she’s at least a bit more fleshed out in the manga, just because it’s a better medium for long-form storytelling. But it’s not nearly enough to make up for the horridness of Light. When I first started reading the manga, I didn’t think I’d be able to get through something with such a hateful protagonist, but things got a little better once L was introduced. The anime fixes some of the storytelling problems in the second half of the manga (I’ve heard rumors that the authors were asked to continue far past the story they originally wanted to tell because the series was so popular, which may have been the problem with that) but nothing fixes the fact that Light is such an awful person.

  2. Fun times! Thanks for the reviews. I remember not liking the DeathNote films as much because they didn’t really have time to be as nuanced as the manga was in the beginning. In the manga, there was at least to possibility that Light started out with good intentions; the movie went straight from Light getting the notebook to being totally corrupted by its power with no view of his more gradual moral fall. Also, the DeathNote movies were just awful to Naomi, who was a much more sympathetic and even-keeled character in the manga. I understand why, but it’s still obnoxious.

    If you really want more Naomi, I think the bit they did in the beginning of the L movie is related to the DeathNote novel that got released stateside. It definitely has more Naomi (and more L), but it also has some of the most hilarious names since Yoshiyuki Tomino’s anime. : )

    • Jaci Dahlvang says:

      Excellent! Thank you for the suggestion! My library even seems to have it, which is fantastic.

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