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Theatre / Death Note: The Musical

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♫ Killing indirectly, pen and ink and paper
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 exclusively 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, followed by a subsequent Korean production that same year. This was followed by two more productions in the same countries in 2017, another Japanese run in 2020, and a visually revamped 2022 Korean production. In addition, the musical saw its first production outside of Asia in Rio de Janeiro, and will make its English-language debut in the form of a concert in London in August of 2023.

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 Name Change: The FBI agent Light uses to learn the identities of the other agents is named Haley Belle instead of Raye Penber. In the manga, this was the name of another agent who died off-page.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: "Honor Bound" is full of this, as Soichiro struggles to assure himself that his son isn't a murderer despite mounting suspicion.
    ♫ Listen to me, am I crazy, thinking he could be
    Some insane, unfeeling monster, somehow raised by me?
  • Beyond the Impossible: Light intended for L to hand him the gun and shoot L with it personally, and had Rem write it as such instead L pulls the gun away and shoots himself with the gun.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Costume Evolution: Meta example; the original costumes for Ryuk and Rem were relatively simple black and white cloaks. The 2022 Korean production gives them more faithful (and detailed) designs, with Ryuk sporting his classic shoulder feathers and Rem donning her white shoulder spikes.
  • 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
    Blown away
    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 productions—the 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. In the English concept album, whenever L and Light duet, L usually sings a higher harmony to Light. The Japanese and Korean stage versions though have Light on the higher harmonies with L underneath him.
  • 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.
    • Both versions also have Ryuk exclaim "Thank you, baby!" after someone tosses him an apple.
    • The Japanese version of "Playing His Game/Inside of Him" is punctuated by spectators to L and Light's tennis match announcing the score 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.
  • Hero vs. Villain Duet: "Stalemate" and "Playing His Game" both feature Light and L singing together about their increasingly visceral enmity and how they each plan to defeat the other.
  • "I Am" Song: Light's song "Hurricane" reflects on how he is now a metaphorical hurricane, sweeping away the sins of humanity.
  • "I Am Becoming" Song: Light sings "Hurricane/Death Note" as he makes the decision to become Kira. The Japanese lyrics show some initial hesitation, but by the end of both versions he's fully committed and proclaims his intention to become a god.
  • "I Want" Song: The first song, "Where is the Justice" showcases the students and Light's desire for some actual justice in the world. The Japanese version of "Hurricane/Death Note" has elements of this, as Light describes his vision of a peaceful world in more positive terms than the English version and vows that he will do anything to bring it about.
  • 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.
  • Karma Houdini: Downplayed with Misa. She does get 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"
  • Likes Clark Kent, Hates Superman: As in previous versions of the story, Light's family have strong anti-Kira sentiments and his father Soichiro is part of the task force trying to bring Kira to justice. Sayu even tells Light that Kira wouldn't be so cruel if only he were more like her beloved brother.
  • 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.
  • O.O.C. 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.
  • Race Lift: The American concept album had a mostly white cast, except for Misa, who was played by a black woman.
  • 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.
  • To Know Him, I Must Become Him: The English lyrics of "Playing His Game" are all about this:
    ♫ I'll catch him when
    I look through his eyes, see what he sees
    And then improvise
    Until I can learn what puts him at ease
    I'll walk in his shoes, as long as it takes
    'Til deep in my bones I'm sure he is
    One and the same as the me who is playing his game ♫
  • 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! ♫
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Kira gains a lot of public support; given the compressed timeline of the musical, people seem to be won over more quickly than in other versions of the story. This is shown in the reprises of "Where is the Justice?", where the ensemble sings Kira's praises.
    ♫ Talk about the victims
    Finally there's some justice
    It's Kira who can give them hope
    And change the way things are ♫
  • 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... ♫