For fans of the original Death Note manga and anime, Adam Wingard’s Netflix adaptation of the original Anime offered up a strange and unfamiliar experience. And that’s because Wingard seemingly rejected Death Note canon to craft an entirely new story that seemingly pulls from one of Shakespeare’s most widely-known plays: Macbeth.
In most versions of Death Note, Light Yagami takes to mass murder rather quickly without remorse, and he does so in a brilliant, efficient, and calculated manner. You should be afraid of him, because he’s smarter than you and willing to kill anyone who steps out of line as he builds a new world order. For a time, he does so without any companions other than the death god Ryuk, who follows him around.
But in Netflix’s Death Note, the story is more of a meet-cute between two budding psychopaths. Light Turner uses his new Death Note powers to woo classmate Mia Sutton, who’s inexplicably turned on by mass murder.
In every version of Death Note, Light wants to become a god of a new world, which is roughly the equivalent of being a Scottish king centuries ago. Everything from the main narrative to the connections between characters between the two stories fits.
Here are the six character match-ups that explain how Adam Wingard’s Death Note is just like Macbeth:
1. Light Turner — Macbeth
Much like Light Turner, Macbeth isn’t necessarily a bad person until three witches deliver a magical prophecy that spurs wicked thoughts and ideas in his head, ultimately empowering him through otherworldly means.
Both characters lack the virtue needed to be “good” leaders, and they’re both easily driven to murder when the opportunity for personal gain arrives.
Guilt still influences both Light and Macbeth to rethink their decisions; neither can remain comfortable in their position as a villain and murderer. For each, it’s their spouses that urge them on out of bloodlust in the middle of the story.
2. Mia Sutton — Lady Macbeth
Both Mia and Lady Macbeth show a sense of bloodlust and ambition that their male companions can’t bring themselves to maintain. They’re portrayed as more ruthless in the first half of the story, eagerly urging their partners on.
The obvious key difference is that Lady Macbeth despairs and descends into madness rather quickly, whereas Mia transforms into a villain that wants to take Light’s power away at all costs.
3. Ryuk — The Three Witches
The supernatural figures that appear in Death Note and Macbeth are essential parts to each story. Ryuk is obviously closer in nature to a character like Mephistopheles in Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, but the fact remains that without the influence of a witch or god of death, neither hero would embark on their journey.
4. L — Macduff
Every villainous protagonist needs an antagonistic hero that’s pure and straightforward. In Death Note, that’s “L,” an orphan raised to be a perfect detective, unlike anything the world’s ever seen. In the manga and anime, L is more of a foil and worthy challenger to Light; both characters are painfully brilliant and watching their battle of wits unfold is half the fun.
But the L-Light dynamic in Netflix’s Death Note is simplified and closer to the relationship between Macbeth and Macduff. The latter is immediately hostile as Macbeth rises to power and leads the resistance against him. By the end of each tale, both Macduff and L are driven purely by vengeance.
Also: L and Light, Macbeth and Macduff? Their names are remarkably similar.
5. Watari — King Duncan
Speaking of vengeance: For L, it’s the death of his father figure Watari that drives the detective mad. After Watari dies, L stops at nothing to take “Kira” down, even stealing a police cruiser and waving a handgun around in public. For Macduff, the source of his need for vengeance is the death of his wife and son, carried out by murderers sent by Macbeth. In this sense, Watari and King Duncan become less analogous.
However, not only are Watari and King Duncan the virtuous, paternal, nurturing characters in each story, but their respective deaths represent the first time that Light and Macbeth commit unjustified murder. To Light, every previous person that he murdered with the Death Note “deserved it.” Watari was something of an accident, and it seems to directly lead to his crisis of conscience.
For Macbeth, killing King Duncan allows him to become the king, but the guilt over that murder consumes both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth by the end of the play.
6. James Turner — Banquo
Banquo presents a different kind of foil to Macbeth, as does James Turner to his son, Light.
Macbeth and Banquo are of similar status and opinion. Only after hearing the witches’ prophecy does Macbeth feel empowered enough to make the selfish, villainous choices that define the rest of the play. Banquo has similar ambitions, but never acts on them. Like King Duncan, he’s murdered by Macbeth in a power play.
At the start of Death Note, both James and Light fume over the death of Light’s mother, who was killed by a generic mob boss’s son some time ago. Light demands immediate vengeance and achieves that through murdering the man with the Death Note. James also wants to see justice delivered — he’s even delighted to hear of the man’s death — but he refuses to work outside the confines of the law.
One might draw an identical line to indicate the differences between Macbeth and Banquo.
Adam Wingard’s Death Note is now streaming on Netflix