Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
“Don’t sell any more Death Note tickets” the woman working the ticket book said to her co-worker as we walked into the movie theater.
“Excuse me?” I said, more than a little flustered. Had my worst fears proven true? Had we — myself, my friend Craig and Jog — arrived to bucolic downtown Lancaster to catch a special showing of L: Change the WorLd, the third live action film in the Death Note series, only to discover it was sold out? Damnation! I knew I should have bought those tickets ahead of time online!!
The ticket seller looked me and my companions up and down suspiciously. Why were three grown men, all clearly over the age of 21, coming to see some anime spin-off?
“It’s pretty crowded in there,” she said jerking her head in the direction of the theater. “I don’t think you’ll be able to find a seat together. Are you sure you want to get tickets?”
I nodded. We had come so far. No bunch of teenyboppers was going to keep me from enjoying the latest adventures of my favorite barefooted, mussy-haired, possibly autistic detective, no sir.
“It’s kind of crazy in there,” she said as she leaned forward to give me my change and ticket, as if relaying covert safety instructions. I felt like Jim Phelps. “They’re getting kind of rowdy.”
If anything, that made me want to attend the screening even more. In my mind’s eye I imagined being seated next to some 16-year-old Goth Lolita and her friend (or possibly mom) as they wondered whether L or Light made a better uke. I pictured being surrounded by Local Ryuk Cosplayers Union #671, the arms full of apples ready to throw at the screen a la Rocky Horror Picture Show, only for mang-style!
How could I not want to partake in that?
So tickets in hand my friends and I headed down the hall to the theater.
It turns out movie theater workers are full of shit.
Oh, there were a lot of people in the audience, most of them young girls, and they were indeed a talkative bunch. The running commentary and giggles rarely let up throughout the movie.
And yes, a few were dressed up, though not as nearly as I had hoped, most sticking to the odd Death Note-related T-shirt. But we had no trouble finding seats together, though they were up front. I dunno, maybe Lancaster City has gotten a lot quieter in the years since I lived there, but that crowd didn’t meet my definition of rowdy at all. Spirited, sure, but not rowdy.
But then this wasn’t the lost print of Orson Wells’ The Magnificent Ambersons we were watching but a spin-off of a popular manga and anime franchise that the property owners were desperately attempting to milk the cow one last time before the teat went completely dry. A (mildly) rowdy audience comes with the territory.
And here I should probably pause here and warn those who have not seen any of the Death Note movies or manga and plan on doing so someday and would like to not have their experienced ruined for them that lots of spoilers lay ahead.
The first two Death Note movies diverged from the original manga (and anime) series in that L actually managed to beat Light Yagami instead of it being the other way around. In doing so, however, L had to sacrifice himself by writing in the Death Note that he would “die peacefully in his sleep in 23 days.”
L: Change the WorLd (dig that upper case playfulness! How coy!), therefore, chronicles those final days by having the sullen crimesolver with a penchant for sweets solve one last crime. This being the third movie in the trilogy it involves helping cute little kids.
It also involves a dangerous, deadly plague that could wipe out mankind, which, given current headlines, seems eerily prescient. It turns out that the people behind this mysterious plague are a group of wacko environmentalists that make the Earth Firsters look like a bunch of logging industry executives. They plan is to kill off most of mankind and set up a new utopia (don’t they all), but they need an antidote to keep themselves alive and of course L ends up getting his hands on it, mainly via a young boy and a teenage girl who have somehow mysteriously avoided contracting the virus.
It’s kind of surprising how much blood and gore there is in this film in comparison to the source material. In the original Death Note, most of the deaths occurred off-stage or the victims simply fell over from a heart attack, all the better to engage in the sort of labyrinthine mind games that made the series so enjoyable. Here, we see an entire of village of people and more getting oozing sores, puking blood and bleeding from their eyeballs. Oh, and then there’s the scientist who gets the disease, and is then electrocuted in his lab because , well, I’m not sure, maybe just for kicks. For a moment, though, I thought I had walked into a special screening of “24.”
There are a few bones thrown to the Death Note faithful — both Ryuk and Misa Misa make cameo appearances — but for the most part this is L’s show and L’s show alone. it bears little resemblance plot and structure-wise to the original material. The big villain, for example, turns out to be one of L’s fellow super-detectives who went to the same ultra-secret school he did, so you’d expect a big battle of the wills or perhaps even another tennis match, but no such luck. The villain really doesn’t pose much of a challenge — on the contrary, she makes some real boneheaded moves. I realized, however, it’s because she’s a woman, since every woman in the Death Note universe acts like a moron.
Despite my criticisms and snark, I really enjoyed L: Change the World. Because it’s not tied down to the source material, it has the liberty to be goofy and silly with the character and situations. It doesn’t hurt that Kenichi Matsuyama is engaging and charismatic as the lead. No doubt many of the cooing ladies behind me felt the same way as they cheered and oooed any time L did anything remotely L-like. (At one point, the teen-age girl rested her head on L’s shoulder, leading one audience member to scream “Nooo!” I suppose scene that played havoc with her fan fiction opus.)
At any rate, it was a fun if rather inconsequential film and I left the theater in a good mood, buoyed no doubt by the gaggle of young women behind us who were bitching about all the “fan girls” in the audience. As we headed to our car, a young high schooler began chanting “I love L” in a sing-song voice, in one of those loud/quiet voices that was obviously intended to get our attention, no doubt to let us know that, fan girl be damned, she was one of the faithful.
I hear ya sister, I hear ya.