Death Note: The Musical
Death Note: The Musical is a musical based on the Japanese manga series of the same name by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. The score is by Frank Wildhorn, with lyrics by Jack Murphy and book by Ivan Menchell.
Development for the musical was announced in December 2013. The musical had its world premiere on April 6, 2015 at the Nissay Theatre in Tokyo, Japan, with a Korean production opening the following July, running through August, at the Opera House of Seongnam Arts Center in Seoul.
Light Yagami is a genius high school student in Tokyo, Japan, who despises criminals. He expresses his frustrations to his teacher, his classmates rallying to his side as he proclaims the failures of the justice system ("Where is the Justice?"). Meanwhile, two Shinigami ("gods of death") named Ryuk and Rem discuss how pitiful humans are, before Ryuk, seeking entertainment, drops a supernatural notebook called the "Death Note" into the human world ("They're Only Human"). Light finds it in the street and jokingly writes the name of a criminal that is currently holding a group of children hostage ("Change the World"). When the criminal dies, Light is initially horrified - until his hatred of criminals prompts him to use the Death Note to rid the world of crime, beginning a series of murders that quickly attracts the attention of the police ("Hurricane"). Following this, Chief Soichiro Yagami reluctantly proposes that they enlist the enigmatic but unorthodox detective known only as L.
Whilst Light flicks through the Death Note in his room, Ryuk appears and identifies himself as the notebook's original owner. He reveals that he will write Light's name inside when it's his time to die and that only those who have touched the Death Note can see him - as demonstrated when Light's little sister, Sayu, bursts into the room, completely oblivious to Ryuk's presence. When she leaves, Light reveals his plans to become the world's savior, using the internet to show Ryuk that people have joyously labelled the killings the work of "Kira" (derived from "killer"). Ryuk, amused that the people's "hero" is no more than a bratty teenager, reveals that he didn't choose Light for the task and merely dropped the Death Note out of boredom ("Kira"). Subsequently, Light and Sayu attends the concert of famous idol Misa Amane, who dedicates her performance to Kira ("I'm Ready"). Afterwards, when Sayu mentions that she believes Kira's actions are wrong, Light asks what she would say to Kira if she met him. He is left stunned by her response - she would tell him to stop, declaring that he should follow her brother's example, whilst Misa muses over how much she idolizes Kira ("We All Need a Hero").
Returning home, Light watches an Interpol broadcast in which L reveals himself and vows to capture Kira, causing Light to write his name in the Death Note. However, this turns out to be a trap; after the man dies, the real L's voice enters, explaining that his stand-in was a criminal scheduled for execution. Ending the broadcast with the deduction that Kira is in the Kantō region, L ponders their oncoming battle, realizing that his opponent is a high school student ("The Game Begins"). Reeling after carelessly falling into L's trap, Light tries to learn more about the Death Note from Ryuk, wondering how far he can manipulate the details of a person's death. Soichiro, now revealed to be Light's father, enters the room and discusses the case with his son, mentioning L's deduction from the schedule of murders that Kira is a student. Soichiro then declares that L was wrong to sacrifice his stand-in during the broadcast, advising Light to be as righteous as possible whilst unaware that he is Kira ("There Are Lines").
Whilst L deduces that Kira needs a name and a face to kill, Light asks Ryuk, who can see someone's name above their heads, to tell him L's name should they ever meet him. Ryuk instead offers to give Light his own "Shinigami Eyes" in exchange for half of his remaining lifespan. Rebuffing the deal, Light changes the schedule of murders, revealing Kira's connection to the police and forcing L to probe his own investigation team. Confident that the task force will retaliate by finding and exposing L's identity, Light ponders with his opponent the outcome of their game ("Secrets and Lies"). Afterwards, a news broadcast announces that the FBI have sent several agents to Japan, prompting Light to find the identity of one agent, Haley Belle, on his fiancée's social media profiles. Writing Belle's name in the notebook, Light specifies that they meet at Shinjuku Station, where the agent writes the names of his colleagues onto a Death Note scrap before committing suicide ("Hurricane (Reprise)").
Upon learning the deaths of the FBI agents, the task force is torn between their duty to capture Kira and fear of being killed. Soichiro gives each man the opportunity to leave, prompting one to quit the case ("Change the World (Reprise)"). Light and L listen from different locations as the citizens praise Kira, with the detective vowing to bring him to justice. Suddenly, a second Death Note falls from the sky and is discovered by Misa, who has fled from a stalker's clutches ("Where is the Justice? (Reprise)").
After the crowd praises Kira once more ("Where is the Justice? (Reprise)"), Rem appears before Misa. She reveals that the newly dropped Death Note belonged to a Shinigami named Gelus who broke the Shinigami code by saving Misa from her stalker and promptly turned to sand. Explaining that Kira punished the man who murdered her parents, Misa begs a reluctant Rem to give her Shinigami Eyes so she can assist him ("Mortals and Fools"). Meanwhile, the task force admits to Soichiro their lack of trust in L, including their suspicion that he is really Kira. L then appears before them and offers his own suspect - Light Yagami. Vowing to investigate him closely, he meets the young genius in college, catching him off-guard by revealing himself to be L. Whilst the pair plot each other's downfall, Misa writes a new song declaring in subtext her devotion to Kira ("Stalemate"). As she records it, she sends a message to a TV station as "the Second Kira", begging to meet the original in Shibuya, which disturbs Light but amuses Ryuk ("I’ll Only Love You More"). This message also forces L to accept the impossible, including the likelihood that Shinigami exist ("The Way Things Are").
The next day in Shibuya, news of the two Kiras is met with joy by the people, hopeful that the pair will join forces ("Where is the Justice?(Reprise)"). Afterwards, Light and Misa meet and introduce their Shinigami to one another. When Misa begs him to become her boyfriend in exchange for her help, Light manipulates her into revealing the name of a task force member following them, much to Rem's horror. After agreeing to meet on the college campus, they leave Ryuk and Rem to ponder the situation, with Ryuk warning Rem about getting too attached to Misa ("Mortals and Fools (Reprise)"). Later, L's continued assertions of Light's guilt results in a heated argument with Soichiro, ending with the revelation that the officer who tailed Light has committed suicide. Convinced that the two Kiras are working together, L leaves Soichiro to question his faith in his son ("Honor Bound").
Back at college, L challenges Light to a set of tennis, the intensity of their mental battle boiling over into the match ("Playing His Game"). After winning, Light probes L about his suspicions, at which point Misa arrives. Light introduces her to L, allowing Misa to see the latter's real name ("Playing His Game (Reprise)"). However, L has her arrested before she can reveal what she knows, having found evidence on the envelope sent to the TV station that ties her to the Second Kira. Blindfolding her and chaining her to a cross, L tries to force Misa into confessing, but she refuses. Appalled, Soichiro predicts that L will pay for torturing Misa and reaffirms his belief in Light ("Borrowed Time"). Rem then enters Misa's cell, offering to erase her memory of the Death Note so that she won't betray Light. Misa agrees, leaving Rem heartbroken ("When Love Comes"). Rem then finds Light and Ryuk, at which point Light talks her into writing L's name in the Death Note. Anticipating this, Rem agrees and orchestrates L's death as Light specifies, ultimately sacrificing herself to save Misa.
With the stage set for the final showdown, L goes to meet Light in an abandoned warehouse on Daikoku Wharf ("The Way Things Are (Reprise)"). Upon arrival, L holds Light at gunpoint, whereupon the latter confesses to his crimes and reveals both his Death Note and Ryuk. Light then declares his victory, as L's name has already been written by Rem ("The Way It Ends"). L shoots his foe, but this is part of Light's plan - he will tell Soichiro that L was the real Kira and tried to kill him, thus allowing him to join and ultimately manipulate the task force as he sees fit. However, L warns Light that the game has not yet finished before being compelled to commit suicide by the Death Note. As Ryuk congratulates Light, he laments that life will return to a boring routine without L to challenge him, and writes Light's name in the Death Note as the latter begs to be spared, declaring himself, "God of the New World" before he dies ("Hurricane (Reprise)"). Remarking that everyone's efforts were meaningless, Ryuk departs with the Death Note.
As the people mourn the loss of Kira, Soichiro and Sayu find the bodies in the warehouse and are left without knowing what really happened to Light. Meanwhile, Misa finds Rem's remains and disperses them, marking the latter's death and the end of the story ("Requiem").
Wildhorn was approached to write the musical back in 2013, and prior to this, he had not heard about the series until his son convinced him to accept. The musical received a New York workshop in April 2014 in anticipation of the Tokyo premiere. The New York workshop cast included Andy Kelso, Robert Cuccioli and Adrienne Warren. An English concept album was recorded in December 2014 featuring Jeremy Jordan as Light, Jarrod Spector as L, Eric Anderson as Ryuk, Carrie Manolakos as Rem, Michael Lanning as Soichiro, Adrienne Warren as Misa, and Laura Osnes as Sayu. Eight songs from the album were released online in early 2015. Despite the show originally being written in English, no English-language production of the show has been announced.
The musical premiered on April 6, 2015 and ran until April 29, 2015 at the Nissay Theatre in Tokyo, Japan, with Kenji Urai and Hayato Kakizawa sharing the role of Light, Teppei Koike as L, Kotaro Yoshida as Ryuk, Fuka Yuzuki as Misa, Megumi Hamada as Rem, Takeshi Kaga as Soichiro, and Ami Maeshima as Sayu.
A Korean production ran in Seoul from July 11, 2015 to August 11, 2015. The Korean production sported an entirely new cast, and featured Hong Kwang-ho as Light and Kim Junsu as L.
The Korean production is set to open again at the Opera Theater of the Seoul Arts Center, running from January 3 to January 26, 2017. The majority of the roles will be played by the same actors from the Premiere production, save for the roles of Light and Misa; which will be taken over by musical actor Han Ji-Sang, and pop singer, BEN. It was announced that this production of Death Note would be Kim Junsu's last performance before he began his mandatory military service in the South Korean army. From July 21, 2017 to July 23, 2017, a short 4-show run was performed at the National Taichung Theater in Taichung, Taiwan featuring much of the cast from the Tokyo production, subtitled in Chinese.
Another Japanese tour, which will act as a potential springboard for future international productions, premiered on January 20, 2020, at the Toshima Ward Arts & Culture Theater in Tokyo. This production features Ryouta Murai and Shouma Kai as Light, Fu Takahashi as L, Sakura Kiryu as Misa, Eiji Yokota as Ryuk, Park Hye-na, reprising her role from the Korean productions, as Rem, Kiyotaka Imai as Soichiro, and Hirari Nishida as Sayu, and is directed by Tamiya Kuriyama, reprising his role from helming the previous Japanese and Korean productions.
Licensed concert version of the musical "Death Note" Death Note: The Concert took place in Moscow (Russia) on April 17, 2021 at the "MIR Concert Hall"!
The concert was attended by soloists of Moscow and St. Petersburg musicals. The concert was accompanied by an orchestra.
Director: Anton Presnov. Music Director: Mariam Barskaya.
Producer: Kirill Oleshkevich (Production Center "Penta Entertainment")
The musical was one of the most highly anticipated musicals of the year in Japan and Korea. The Korean production received positive reviews from critics. Hong Kwang-ho and Kim Junsu were universally praised for their "powerhouse voices" and "brilliant, subtle acting;" while Park Hye-na and Kang Hong-suk, as the Shinigami Ryuk and Rem, were praised for "practically stealing the show." Wildhorn's score was also praised, while the story was criticized for trying to cram 12 volumes of the manga into a two-and-a-half hour musical. The staging was also criticized for being very simplistic and lacking in visual spectacle.
Death Note's Musical Is the BEST Way to Enjoy the Story
Death Note: The Musical is not only a unique anime musical, it's perhaps one of the best ways to experience the source material.
When you think about a night at the theater, you likely don't think about Death Note, the super-popular anime and manga series that made waves in both Japan and America. However, like many anime and manga franchises, Death Note has had a stage adaptation. And this adaptation is the best way to experience the story and an excellent way to dip your toes into the world of anime musicals.
Death Note: The Musical retells the first arc of the manga, following Light Yagami as he finds the Death Note and goes on a rampage, all while the detective L tries to track him down and put a stop to the murders. However, unlike many other anime musicals, Death Note: The Musical was first written in English. The main script was written by Ivan Menchell, Jack Murphy handled the lyrics and the whole thing was scored by prolific stage music writer Frank Wildhorn. Wildhorn is known for bringing books such as Jekyll & Hyde and Dracula to the stage, so Death Note was a natural fit for him.
Related: Death Note: The Tragic Fall of Rem, the Shinigami With a Heart
The original English script was written in 2013, and then, in 2014, a workshop performance was held in New York. However, while these shows were in English, they were not open to the public. They instead acted as a proof of concept for Korean and Japanese producers. This was followed by a recording session where the cast recorded an album containing 19 of the show's songs as a reference for translators. Once this was done, the international distributors began to arrange performances of the show.
The show opened at the Nissay Theatre in Tokyo, Japan, in April 2015. While this show had both the script and songs translated into Japanese, eight of the songs from the English workshop recording were released online to generate hype for the show. Later in 2015, the show opened in Korea, using a Korean translation of the script. Since then, the show has had many stagings in Japan, the last being performed in 2020. It also had a brief stint in Russia, where it was performed in a concert format. Alas, the show has never been performed in America or in English. However, HoriPro, the company behind the musical, has expressed interest in an international tour and scriptwriter Ivan Menchell has said that an American performance is in the works.
Related: Avatar: The Last Airbender is Getting a Fan-Made Musical
Death Note: The Musical is one of the best ways to experience the Death Note story. The original manga is already extremely dramatic, and the stage musical format enhances that in the best way. The clever use of harmony and dissonance in the songs also gives a unique look at Light and L's rivalry. On top of this, the short runtime means that the action is fast-paced, which keeps the story from dragging. This makes it a great way to dip your toes into the franchise. It is also a great way to get into anime musicals, as while it is based on a Japanese franchise, it is laid out like a traditional Broadway musical.
This accessibility can be attributed to the fact that Frank Wildhorn hadn't heard of Death Note before being approached to do the musical, and he only took the job at the insistence of his son. Thus, the musical presumes that the viewer is also new to Death Note. The musical numbers quickly introduce the world and its characters while drawing the audience into the story and setting. This is something that many manga musicals struggle with, as they presume the audience already knows the story and skip over important details, leaving newcomers out of the loop.
Death Note: The Musical is a must-watch for Death Note fans and those new to the franchise. We can only hope that the American tour ends up happening so more fans can get the chance to experience it and so fans can hear all of the songs in English. Thankfully, due to Death Note's international popularity and the fact that the English script is already written, it seems like an American tour is inevitable.
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Jonathon Greenall has been writing for many years and has written for several websites, poetry collections, and short fiction collections. They're also an analog game designer who has written and published several popular roleplaying games. A lifelong anime fan ever since their first exposures to Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena, Jonathon loves talking about anime, from big hits to the weird and wonderful corners that are often overlooked. They write original short fiction on their blog and keeps track of all their other projects on their portfolio You can also follow them on Twitter to hear them talk about games, anime, and everything else.
Theatre / Death Note: The Musical
Writing is the gun, I only have to aim
Could this be the hour, unimagined power
Waiting to devour who I say? ♫
— Light Yagami, "Hurricane"
In 2015, a stage musical based on the popular shōnen manga Death Note opened exlusively in Japan and South Korea. The show is an adaptation of the manga's first arc, and the story remains more or less the same. Tired of living in an "unjust" world where criminals continue to run rampant, high school student Light Yagami stumbles upon a black notebook, dropped into the human world by a Shinigami named Ryuk, that holds the ability to kill a person just by writing their name within its pages. Hoping to use this newfound power to purge the world of evil, Light goes on a massive killing spree under the alias "Kira", while the mysterious detective L sets off to stop the bloodshed and take Kira down once and for all.
The show's script and songs were originally written in English by Ivan Menchell, Jack Murphy, and well-known Broadway composer Frank Wildhorn, and were subsequently translated to Japanese and Korean for the actual productions. It premiered at the Nissay Theater in Tokyo, Japan on April 5th, 2015. The show is apparently coming to America, but no set date has been announced.
Death Note: The Musical provides examples of:
- Adaptational Attractiveness:
- Adaptational Dye-Job:
- Hayato Kakizawa, one of the two actors to play Light in the Japanese production, sports dark brown hair for the role instead of red.
- In the Korean production, Light has black hair, L becomes a brunette, and Misa sports red hair instead of blonde. However, L and Misa would eventually sport their original hair colors in later performances.
- Adaptational Expansion: The relationship between Ryuk and Rem is subtly expanded upon, and they're portrayed as a sort of Red Oni, Blue Oni duo at first. They have much more stage time together, and when Ryuk tosses the Death Note into the human world, Rem is the only other Shinigami that's present.
- Adaptational Personality Change: L is much more expressive and emotional in the Korean musical while he is The Stoic in the Japanese musical. Compare the Japanese and Korean renditions of 'The Way Things Are'.
- Adaptation Distillation: In the same vein as the live action films, the musical is based solely on the first arc of the manga, but heavily condenses the overall story in order to fit it into a two-hour show. The ending in particular was altered to accomodate this: Light still successfully kills L like in the manga, but dies just moments later after Ryuk writes his name in the Death Note.
- Adaptation Relationship Overhaul: Rem's love for Misa is mostly motherly in the anime and manga, a few eyebrow-raising moments notwithstanding. Here, she's explicitly in romantic love with her.
- Adapted Out:
- Several characters that appear in the first arc, namely Watari, Naomi Misora and Kyosuke Higuchi, are not present in the show.
- L's successors Mello and Near are omitted as well, since Light dies immediately after L in this version.
- For the sake of time and audience comprehension, Ryuk and Rem are the only Shinigami to appear.
- Adult Fear: "Honor Bound" is full of this, as Sochiro doesn't want to believe that Light's idealism is a Broken Pedestal, and is actually the monstrous Kira.
♫ Listen to me, am I crazy, thinking he could be
Some insane, unfeeling monster,somehow raised by me? ♫
- Ain't Too Proud to Beg: When Ryuk begins to write Light's name at the end, the latter can only repeatedly plead for the former to stop what he's doing. Unfortunately, this doesn't sway Ryuk.
- All for Nothing: At the end of the musical, after Light had successfully defeated L, Ryuk kills Light not long after because he got bored, referencing this trope when talking about Kira's impact on the world.
- All Musicals Are Adaptations
- Ambiguous Situation: By the end of the musical, it's not clear if Soichiro is aware that Light is Kira. "Honor Bound" ends with him chiding the idea as ridiculous, but so much happens afterwards, especially him discovering L and Light dead side by side, that it's entirely possible that he ended up realizing it.
- And I Must Scream: In "The Way It Ends" L is aware that his body is out of his control due to a Death Note's influence and that Light is behind it all, but he can only watch his body march towards death.
- Antagonist in Mourning: Downplayed Trope, since Light doesn't actually care about L on a personal level, but he does audibly deflate near the end of "The Way It Ends," implicitly due to the fact he's realizing he's just killed his sole Worthy Opponent.
- Bittersweet Ending: Light kills God knows how many people, including L, and is then killed by Ryuk. Rem also dies protecting Misa. No one will ever know for sure who Kira was, or what happened to Light and L, though it's implied that Soichoro has some idea. The world mourns the loss of Kira. On the upside, Light's reign of terror has been stopped, and Misa, Sayu, and Soichoro all survive — Kira's identity being a mystery means that at least Sayu never has to live with the knowledge of what her brother really was, while Misa loses her memories and gets the normal life she never had in the manga.
- Boom, Headshot!: How L bites it in this version, though he inflicts it on himself due to the influence of the Death Note.
- BSoD Song:
- "Change the World (Reprise)", sung by Soichiro's team of investigators. As more and more people die at Kira's hands, the men contemplate whether they should risk their own lives for the sake of the case, or if they should give up for the sake of their families. At the end, only one of them ends up throwing in the towel.
- There's also L's Act II solo, "The Way Things Are", in which he slowly begins to realize the existence of Shinigami.
- Cliffhanger: At the end of Act 1, a second Death Note falls from the sky, and who's the first person to find it? Misa.
- Composite Character:
- In the Korean version of the musical, L visibly takes after Near from the source material, with a bit more emphasis on his withdrawn eccentricity, white surroundings and clothes, and what looks like a literal Adaptational Dye-Job.
- Raye Penber's role is merged with FBI agent Haley Belle as Light's FBI agent victim. Likewise, his role as a shadow who Light kills is given to Kanzo Mogi.
- Call-Back: Subtle, but Light's omission of "[you don't] load a gun" during "There Are Lines" calls back to his mention of the Death Note being a metaphorical gun in "Hurricane" as seen in this page's quote.
- Counterpoint Duet: "There Are Lines", between Light and Soichiro. While Soichiro encourages his son to stay strong and never turn to crime, Light, having done just that, eagerly awaits to become a God as his plan continues to unfold.
- Crowd Song: "Where Is The Justice?", its reprises and "Requiem". You can also count the occasional chants from the ensemble in the Japanese and Korean versions of "Playing His Game".
- Dark Reprise: As the show goes on, "Where Is The Justice?" and "Hurricane" although already dark songs, get darker, as shown by the public's opinion increasing of Kira, the success of Light's plan to kill the FBI agents, and Light's death.
- Death Song: Light sings a very brief Dark Reprise of "Hurricane" before collapsing to the floor, dead from a heart attack.
♫ The hardest rains
The coldest winds
Are waiting for the hurricane
The human stains
And all their sins
The earth will shake
The sky will scream
Once they feel the power... ♫
- Death by Adaptation: Mogi dies in the musical.
- Defiant to the End: L takes the time as he's dying to tell Light that he knew he was Kira from the very beginning.
- Demoted to Extra: The prominent task force members from the original series have severely reduced roles. Matsuda in particular is hit with this the most - there's a character who's clearly supposed to be him, but he goes unnamed.
- Distant Duet: "We All Need a Hero" is one between Sayu and Misa, in which they both sing about how much they idolize their biggest hero, Kira. At least it's that way in the Japanese and Korean productionsthe English demo has Sayu sing it on her own.
- Dramatic Irony: "We All Need a Hero" is pretty much Dramatic Irony: The Song, as Sayu sings about how she wishes that Kira was more like her personal hero, her brother Light.
- Duet of Differences: Naturally, there are a few between Light and L: "Stalemate" (where they meet for the first time and instantly plan out how they're gonna deal with each other), "Playing His Game" (a dueling duet of sorts that takes place during the tennis match), and "The Way It Ends" (where Light finally reveals his entire plan to L).
- Eleven O'Clock Number: "When Love Comes", Rem's big solo number where she finally confesses her love for Misa, and quietly accepts the fact that she must sacrifice herself in order to save the girl's life.
- Establishing Character Moment: Light has this in the first song, "Where is the Justice?" showing his philosophies and his motivations for later becoming Kira.
- Everything Has Rhythm: Light and L both use their tennis rackets for this purpose in "Playing His Game".
- Evil Gloating: "The Way It Ends," where Light gloats not just about L's upcoming death and the fact that L hasn't been able to prove he was Kira, but also about Rem's death.
- Evil Sounds Deep: Downplayed. Whenever L and Light duet, L usually sings a higher harmony to Light.
- Face Death with Dignity: When he's forced to commit suicide, L keeps a straight face during it all and tells Light that he hasn't won.
- "Gaining Confidence" Song: A very dark version with Light's "I Am Becoming" Song, "Hurricane." The first verse is soft as Light realizes that, yes, he can in fact kill people with the notebook he found by writing their names, before building in a truly spectacular manner. By the last verse, he's belting out, "I am the God of a brand-new world!"
- Gratuitous English: In both the Japanese and Korean versions, the lines "I'm ready, yes I'm ready" in "Ready for Love" are sung in English.
- Greek Chorus: An ensemble of civilians narrate much of the story as it progresses.
- Groupie Brigade: When Misa is spotted at L and Light's tennis match, an eager group of fans chase her off the stage asking for autographs. Rem immediately runs after her to provide protection.
- "I Am" Song: Light's song "Hurricane" reflects on how he is now a metaphorical hurricane, sweeping away the sins of humanity.
- Incoming Ham: During Misa's pop concert number, "Ready ", Ryuk suddenly runs onstage and dances his ass off.
- The Ingenue: Sayu Yagami is a sweet young woman who is pretty much the only character who isn't extremely screwed-up. She even gets to dodge the massive nightmare she had to live through in the manga.
- Innocent Soprano: Sayu is a sweet, innocent soprano who is oblivious to her brother's villainy.
- "I Want" Song: The first song, "Where is the Justice" showcases the students and Light's desire for some actual justice in the world.
- Karma Houdini: Misa. She gets away with helping Light kill Kanzo Mogi, but she has a much lower body count compared to her manga and film counterparts, and what she had to go through could be considered punishment enough.
- Large Ham: Light can get pretty over-the-top during his more manic moments, but Ryuk is the one that takes the cake. "I'M BOOOOOOOOOOOOOORED!!!"
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: L has lines about being a character in a play in both "Stalemate" and "The Way it Ends"
- Love Makes You Stupid: As Rem puts it, "Love is for mortals and fools." No denying that Misa's life would've been much happier if she'd never fallen in love with Kira.
- Love Martyr: "I'll Only Love You More" is a single entirely devoted to Misa saying how she'll love Kira no matter who he is or how he treats her.
- Mama Bear: Rem to Misa, as per usual. When Ryuk gets a little too close to Misa, Rem immediately slaps him away.
- Mundane Made Awesome: Like in the anime, Light and L take a simple tennis match and turn it into an intense battle between foes; in this case, it's an intense duet.
- Minor Character, Major Song: Sayu, a relatively minor character in the show, gets some spotlight with her song, "We All Need A Hero".
- Mythology Gag:
- When the investigators first encounter L, he asks them, "What are you looking at? Is it because I'm the only one with sweets?"
- Soichiro is still kicking when Light dies at the end, a la the live action movies. In the original Tokyo production, he's played by Takeshi Kaga, the same actor who played him in the first two movies.
- OOC Is Serious Business:
- In the reprise of "Mortals and Fools", Ryuk suddenly stops joking around with Rem to warn her how badly falling in love with a human could go for her and advises her to step away. It's a far cry from his playful personality in the rest of the show and really showcases that he's genuinely nervous about what could happen to Rem.
- L shows genuine fear when he realizes he's going to die, though unlike Light, he manages to Face Death with Dignity.
- Out-of-Genre Experience: In-between all the show stopping musical numbers and spooky Ryuk solos comes "I'm Ready", Misa's solo number, which is instead a J-Pop love song about her feelings for Light.
- Psychic-Assisted Suicide: Not psychic assisted, but its a similar idea. Light uses the Death Note to force a man to kill himself by walking in front of a train. L dies under the same circumstances; instead of dying from a heart attack, he is forced to shoot himself in the head during his final confrontation with Light.
- Pyrrhic Victory: Light succeeds in killing L, but Ryuk promptly kills Light, rendering the whole thing moot.
- Rule of Symbolism:
- As the show goes on and Light and L begin to show off how they're Mirror Characters, their duets go from counterpointing/harmonizing off of each other to being almost completely in unison. Then, when their game is finished and L is dying during their final song, "The Way It Ends", they never once sing together.
- Misa pouring sand (Rem's remains) at the end of the show is meant to mirror the sands of an hourglass hitting the bottom, signifying that time has run out for both Light and L.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Referenced in "Where is the Justice?".
♫ Every time a high-priced mouthpiece starts to talk,
His client gets to walk.
Tell me where is the justice?
If there's any justice. ♫
- The Song Before the Storm: "Where is the Justice? (Reprise)", which closes the first act. As Kira rises to power while his followers grow in numbers, L vows to hunt him down and bring him to justice once and for all. Meanwhile, Misa stumbles upon another Death Note...
- Soundtrack Dissonance: "The Way It Ends" is one of the most upbeat numbers in the entire musical. It's also the song where L realizes that he's going to die and there's nothing he can do about it.
- Spared by the Adaptation:
- Misa and Soichiro do not die this time around, much like in the Japanese live-action film duology.
- Hirokazu Ukita, who also died in the manga but survived in the film series, gets to live here as well.
- Victory Is Boring: Ryuk's standards for a good time and the penalties for not meeting them are so high that he won't even sit back and watch Light take on the world when he arranges for L's death — when their duel ends with Light as the victor, Ryuk decides to end it there and kills Light.
- Villain Song: Light has two major ones: "Where is the Justice?", the show's opening number where he preaches to his class about how corrupt and unjust society is, and "Hurricane", where he finds the Death Note and declares that he'll become a God by purging the world of sin. Ryuk has one in the form of "Kira!", where he gleefully comments on Light's blossoming killing spree, while simultaneously calling him out for it.
♫ You think you're making changes, but the only thing you can change is your name! ♫
- Wham Shot: At the end, Misa appears and mournfully pours a handful of sand onto the stage. It's Rem's remains.
- What Is This Thing You Call "Love"?: Rem doesn't understand what love is, or why humans are so willing to do stupid, self-destructive things in the name of it. Misa helps her understand.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Soichiro calls L out for letting his stand-in die in order to smoke out Kira.
♫ Souls sing their oratory
Fading west as they fly
Tales full of fleeting glories
Stories old as the word "goodbye"
Ah, old as the word goodbye... ♫
Hey, Remember When Death Note (Almost) Became a Broadway Musical?
Do you remember when Death Note was made into a musical and almost hit the stage in New York?
The recent news that Moyoco Anno’s Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen would become the first manga series to receive a Broadway adaptation was a surprise to many, including myself. Death Note as a franchise has always been a vessel that reinvents itself at every opportunity. Aside from the anime adaptation of the series produced in conjunction with its serialization in Weekly Shonen Jump, each adaptation, for better and for worse, has had its own interpretation on the world of Death Note.
The first Japanese live-action adaptation in the mid-2000s and later TV drama are both enjoyable reinterpretations of the original story that differentiate themselves from the original. Then there’s the Netflix adaptation.
These adaptations show the series is more than willing to change, making a musical adaptation less unusual than it initially sounds. Perhaps the only surprising thing about the decision was that it was a team in New York who went about crafting this unique adaptation.
The result is the best interpretation of the Death Note franchise to date.
Fresh Eyes For a Reimagined Classic
In 2013, Frank Wildhorn was known most prominently for his work on popular musicals like Jekyll and Hyde. He’s not the first name that would come to mind for adapting a Japanese manga to the stage, and as he admitted in 2015, he hadn’t heard of Death Note when he was initially approached to create the musical.
Bringing someone unfamiliar into the creative process is a risk, but the decision makes sense. Multiple of Frank Wildhorn’s theatrical credits, including his most recognizable Jekyll and Hyde as well as Dracula, modernize and bring a new perspective to well-recognized stories, capturing the emotional core of these works through music. This is exactly what was needed to make a Death Note musical a success.
Wildhorn got to work towards creating an English concept album alongside a small New York workshop performance for a potential On- or Off-Broadway run, which was completed by the following year. For this, he also brought on Natalie Cole to do the score, Jack Murphy for the lyrics and Ivan Menchell to work on the script. Although the album was never officially released and the English run of the show never took place, the recordings have since been released online alongside clips and promotional videos from its various showings in Japan.
Bringing in a talented cast featuring the likes of Jeremy Jordan as Light and Jarrod Spector as L, this streamlined take on the series centers the series around a debate on what ‘justice’ is and how it should be administered. While this was a core theme of previous adaptations as well, the musical emphasizes the conflict between Light and L in a way that centralizes these ideas more prominently.
Not only that, one major flaw with the original story that almost every subsequent adaptation has improved upon is the handling of Light’s descent into chaos and his eventual demise. In the original story, the centralization of Light also inadvertently celebrates his quasi-fascist God complex. Even as the story shifts in the final chapters and episodes to condemn Light’s actions as we come to celebrate the previously-overlooked Matsuda’s growth, the framing of the story until this moment fails to adequately criticize the genocidal, dictatorial nature of Light’s actions.
The musical turns Light, a man who believes justice will only be served by taking events into his own hands, and L, who works independently of traditional institutions to best inflict justice, into representatives of their ideals, using secondary characters to grow these arguments. What truly sets it apart, however, is how the Death Note musical expands this debate beyond what other adaptations by framing justice in the context of societal inequality.
While the overture hints at the god complex that would eventually consume Light, the opening song ‘Where Is The Justice?’ sets Light up as a character to root for while placing the failures of the current justice system within the unequal society he resides in, where ordinary people lack power. This further sets up the tragic ending as his solution creates a similarly-hierarchical system that was doomed to fail as he becomes an embodiment of everything he claimed to oppose.
I’d say this was a standout song if the rest of the soundtrack wasn’t equally memorable. Light’s first use of the notebook changes his life like a ‘Hurricane’. As L is introduced we see them perform multiple duets that vocalize the mind games going on between the two intellectuals such as ‘Stalemate’. They even adapt the tennis match in the song ‘Playing His Game’. Songs given to Ryuk and Rem add to their characters well, and their introduction in ‘Only Human’ sets them up as overseers to their game.
While it took time for the song to win me over, I even love the song given to Light’s father, which is tinged with hurt as he denies the truth that Light could be Kira. It comes with the subtle insinuation that he believes L and is simply refusing to accept reality, which adds a painful layer of depth the character lacks in other adaptations. This is all built up to an incredible finale with ‘The Way it Ends’.
This ending recontextualizes the story by exposing Light’s god complex while not discrediting his critiques of structural inequality made at the start of the show, emphasizing the conclusion that laws alone won’t change society while inequality robs a person of power. The musical asks us to reconsider our own conceptions of justice and find a new solution, rejecting black-and-white morality for systemic reform. Telling this tale through the stage is a perfect fit since the limitations of the stage requires a level of abstraction that lends itself to psychological tales like this portrayed through metaphor.
Could the Death Note Musical Receive a New York Showing in the Future?
While the Death Note musical never received the New York run it deserved, the musical found success in a translated form in Japan and Asia, where the show has been performed on-and-off to sold-out audiences since 2015. A few of these performances were later broadcast on Japanese TV, while the show later made the jump to South Korea and Taiwan for similarly-successful stage runs.
In the wake of the news that Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen will hit the Broadway stage, and now that the show has proven itself to be a success in Asia, is there hope that the Death Note musical could eventually get a US performance? It’s possible.
In 2018, Ivan Menchell noted that an English performance wasn’t off the cards, though it would likely be performed in London before hitting New York. Before the pandemic, when the 2020 show run took place in Tokyo, HoriPro CEO Yoshitaka Hori noted that the original plan was for the musical to be the company’s first worldwide production targeted primarily at British and American audiences. The company wants to make a new push for international expansion, and a revival of the Death Note musical could fit here.
In many ways, this interpretation of the musical grounds itself to reality in a way that throws the story more directly into contemporary politics, with its discussions more relevant today than they were even when it was first conceived in 2013. Whether or not a Western performance ever comes to fruition, the Death Note musical is more than worth your time.
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.Death Note: The Musical - Where Is the Justice? (ENGLISH)
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