Death Note: Light Versus Justice

Disclaimer: This article will contain SPOILERS.  If you have not read or watched Death Note, please do so before reading this article.

Arguably, there is one simple aspect that makes Death Note both diversely acclaimed and among my top rating animes/ mangas.  This aspect is the fact that the protagonist is, in fact, an antagonist and is despised as much as he is loved.

Light Yagami, the protagonist of Death Note.

A very fair evaluation would suggest that an anime’s main character is likeable to the vast majority of viewers and typically tends to be the hero.  By flipping the norm, Death Note’s Light Yagami is one of few evil protagonists.  However, as a protagonist, Light finds an antagonist in L (whom typically tends to be more liked than Light).  Confused yet?  A key player in this enlightened view just happens to be the overwhelming amount of conflicts that take place.  By focusing on the smaller, more internal conflicts, the audience can see the positives and negatives in Light, and by weighing them to their own values and beliefs can determine whether each individual viewer likes or despises Light.

L, the antagonist to Light (or justice in our case).

As you know, Light uses the powers of Ryuk’s death note to punish evildoers and simply kill or cleanse the world of these people.  One view of this situation is that killing people is unethical, despite what they have done and Light is abusing the powers of a god.  Those with a higher sense of justice would come to the consensus that murder is a crime.  However, Light’s murderous spree does yield benefits to Japan as crime rates go down out of fear for Kira and viewers who relate more to creating a beneficial future may take the following view.  As wrong as killing is, Light is murdering criminals and his utilitarian rule is making a statement.  “All who break laws will be steam rolled in order to pave the new world; a better world!”  Who in the right mind becomes a sociopath serial killer out of boredom?

This is the bored guy…

Despite how the viewer feels about Light murdering criminals, he begins to kill the innocent or those who are trying to stop his ascension to becoming god of the new world.  Those who truly believe in Light’s cause would see this as a necessary evil to counteract the evils of his enemies.  However, those who do not agree begin to despise Light.  A major turning point in the series is the death of L.  Finally, Light manages to kill L and eliminate his greatest rival.  The event crushed an overwhelming amount of L fans, as he had an amazing character design that was unique and appealing to many.  If a fan were to pick any moment in the series to hate Light, this would be the moment.  There are so many ethical problems with Lights actions that make it easy to see why even some Light fans can see why people would hate him.  Firstly, Light eliminated the only real threat to his godship and the biggest symbol of Justice in the series, so now he seems unstoppable.  Secondly, Light and L became what seemed like best friends and regardless of whether this was a ploy by Light or not, it was hard to watch his death, even as a Light fan.  Finally, the viewer is forced to make a decision in this breaking point in one of three ways.  The first option is that the viewer stays or becomes a loyal L fan and despises Light for the rest of the series.  The second option is that the viewer remains or becomes a Light fan, but mourns the death of L.  The last option is that the viewer is a die hard Light fan, feels no remorse for L, and is glad that the obstacle is overcome.

L and Light fighting each other.

Throughout the series the viewer may definitively take the fandom of Light or L based on the events that occur, however, there is one final standing event that will ultimately determine whether the viewer supports Light or justice.  This event occurs in the final episode or chapter of the series when Light is found out and the series must conclude.  In the final confrontation, Light Yagami is shot five times by Matsuda for trying to write on his scrap of the Death Note.  Although he escapes after being shot, he doesn’t make it far before passing from his blood loss.  In the series L states, “Kira is childish and he hates losing… I’m also childish and hate to lose.”  This is evidently true when Light is revealed as Kira by Neer and he lashes out in a childish manner.  The actions of Light also shows that he is still a young man and fears for the end of his life, which many viewers can relate to, despite what he has done.  Furthermore, if the viewer is a true Light fan at this point in the series, they will have an absolute hatred for Neer not only because he is the new antagonist, but for the fact that he is a child.  Light fans will be slowly dying inside as they watch their favourite character’s quick downfall that leads on the duration of his final moments.

Light after being shot.

As unfortunate as it is, the characters that front each side of this debate both end up dead in the end, but the viewer must realize that the entire series is an inverted reflection of our social norms and thus plays mind games with us throughout.  Even I find myself in question at the end of the series.  I am a Light fan even though I was sad to see L go?  I ask myself, “Am I psychotic for wanting Light to succeed?”  Some may think that they are being stubborn for not supporting the main character.  Death Note is most definitely a series that needs to be reflected upon after completion as it represents an enigma in the minds of viewers.  There are those who will stubbornly ignore the complexity of the finale, but there are those like me (and hopefully you) who will critically think about the various aspects of this series that made it so great.  The one thing that does infuriate me is the fact that Misa gets away with no consequences for her actions.  We can chalk Light’s death up to deserving his punishment and the fact that his time in Ryuk’s Death Note was up, but how come Misa doesn’t die or get punished?  Misa killed innocents as well as criminals just like Light.  Misa halves her remaining life twice by making the shinigami eye deal with both Rem and Ryuk, so how come she is so lucky?  She isn’t.  Sadly, Misa kills herself about a year after Light dies, which does not bring me pleasure and in fact grants no sense of justice in the series.  Often times the viewer misses this event as it is quite subtle and implied heavily in the anime.  Although she may not have been punished for her crimes, Misa Amane concludes her own remaining lifespan as she cannot spend it with the man she loves.

Misa, Light and L.

To conclude, I sincerely hope that this information helps you critically think about the series and open your mind to different interpretations.  If you could not appreciate the uniqueness and overwhelming success of Death Note after watching it, I hope that you now have after reading this article.  Death Note has a good plot and amazing characters along with its uniqueness.  As L said after Misa claims that she can’t imagine a world without Light, “Hmmm… yes it would be dark.” As psychotic as Light was, he brought something to the table that other protagonists did not or could not.

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