Do you deserve to live or to die? A question often repeated in my mind while watching one of the best anime ever – Death Note. It is so much more than just anime. It was first released as a manga and then adapted to anime, movies and more. Death Note is more than anime also in the sense of the storyline and the way it incorporates real life and depicts at our moral compass. This is a must watch even if you are not a fan of anime and in this post I’ll try to explain my thoughts on it.
Death Note was first released back in 2006 in Japan and it’s popularity has soared very quickly and it still continues to be one of the most important anime ever made. It’s mostly described as a psychological thriller, meaning the focus here is more on the plot than on the characters, though I think that’s not quite true, as there are a couple of main characters that you get to follow throughout the story that impressed me a lot. Personal favourites are Light Yagami, Misa and both shinigamis. Long version short, a bored god of death decided to drop his death note to the world of humans and waits to see what happens. The notebook is picked up by Light Yagami, a high school student, who quickly discovers what the note does and decides to use it. Realising what the note can do, kill anyone whose name is written in it (with some more rules and tweaks), he quickly changed from a law-abiding genius student to a sort of weird serial killer. He chooses a name for himself – Kira, whose targets are well-known criminals. He targets those who have been released from imprisonment through the holes in the laws and system. That may to some seem not criminal at all and that he’s just doing what legal system failed to do, but mostly it’s just him rationalizing his actions to something more righteous than they actually are. Of course, his actions don’t go unnoticed. The worlds best and most elusive detective gets involved into the case, named only as L. The whole first part of the anime is mostly centered on the epic battle of two amazing minds, making the viewer wonder who of the two will be exposed first. The show builds the suspense rather than concentrate on action. It’s a thriller and a damn good one! The explosive climax finally comes in the episode 25 (37 episodes in total). After that point the plot takes a dive and doesn’t get to quickly pick up the pace and give the viewers any actual sense of what’s going on really and why you should care. Except for that you get to care for what happens to Light and Misa. The main two protagonists, Light and L, are nothing alike, but for their intellects. Light or Kira later gets a chance to be a part of the Kira investigation and also in a way L’s best friend. When that happens, the game is truly on! The center of the anime is not the usual hero character, but actually a villain. The concept may not be new, but it is something different in the anime/manga world.
Even though this was probably targeted more at the teens and younger population, this may be one of those anime with a message that makes you think and reevaluate your own moral standing. Though that one can get a bit misinterpreted and misunderstood. Mostly I got to question my own sense of what is right and wrong, what is appropriate to do and what not and also who is allowed to judge whether or not someone else deserves to die. Watching this as a grown up I was still getting mixed signals from the show and actually ended up feeling bad for the serial killer Kira, even though he presents himself as the future new god of the new world, free of criminals and wrong doers. Things are rarely that black and white in actual life, which makes you think, what did the younger population, whose opinions have not been shaped and determined yet, get out of this? What kind of message did they get and do they see the dangers of mixing the ideas together?
The writer Tsugumi Ohba in one of his interviews shared his thoughts that no one should play God and decide the worth of other people’s lives, though the anime on times tries to convince you otherwise. At least to me, it seemed that sometimes Kira was just too similar to real life people and I really could see why he thought his actions were for the greater good. Also, when Misa enters the story, she explains she is grateful to Kira as he killed the convicts that murdered her parents. If something that terrible would have befallen you, would you be grateful for more death? Along the lines of morality, what is just, who should judge and decide there is also a question of liberty and security. To what lengths would you go to stay safe but not free? People begin to trust Kira, they believe in his justice system and believe that he should be praised for killing criminals. They give him the god status and never question him, even though he for example, kills officers, just for the sake of getting away and not being caught.
The creators later explained that they never really intended to explore repercussions of Kira’s actions, they were more focusing on creating a dramatic thriller, the perfect suspense, the perfect cat-and-mouse game, which they most definitely succeeded at! The intent was not really to create a philosophical manga, later anime, but here Light is presented as a hero that helps the people who were hurt by others and those others were never punished or the system let them go and they were free. Personally, I was swayed to Kira’s side, hoping he wouldn’t be caught and that he could continue being Kira. Because once you label him, give him an image, and then somewhere under all that is the true meaning of what it is to be Kira, you just feel like the killing is not that real and the threat is not as real as well. You get to hide the ugly truth behind the label, behind his own justification of his actions. The first episode includes a statement by Light, something like “This world is rotten!”, and I am sure a lot of people would agree with him. When even the members of the investigation start admitting that they also aren’t sure anymore that what Kira is doing is wrong and that catching him may not be the right thing to do as he is obviously reducing crime levels all over the world and actually helping prevent wars, I was really getting confused. I couldn’t see where the story wanted the viewers to lean – to the bad guy or to the good guy and which is which actually? The moral compass here becomes a blur and this is why I feel like this anime is one of those that anyone should see. You can just watch it and forget about it, but you can also use your brains and maybe think.
All in all, I find Death Note to be intriguing end engaging. I was quickly attracted to Light and even though his actions were wrong and my mind knew they were wrong, I could also understand his point of view and how he saw his actions. I am not saying or in any way claiming that in real life someone should just go, be Kira and decide our fates, it goes strongly against my senses and beliefs, but it was still hard not to hope that he would somehow get away with it. While watching the anime I never really got the feeling that I was super into it and that I just couldn’t live without it, like with some other shows, but it did intrigue me so much that I had to see the next episode and the next and the next. Later, while reading about the anime, I saw how many people really liked L’s character, and I was surprised, because to me, he really wasn’t that interesting. Maybe because the focus was on Light and we don’t get to hear many inner monologues from L as well. L is actually the real hero of the story, the one who tries his best and puts everything into catching Kira. The whole anime feels grey, grim and depressing, though there is a lot of intelligent humor that lightens things up. The battle of two super genius minds is fun to watch and the whole vibe of the anime is of the chase and thrill. Also, you could see the anime as not having a good and bad side, but just two poles, opposing sides both determined to fight for what is right – justice. But what is justice for either of the sides? Actually, I haven’t realised that I was so into the story and that I actually paid so much attention to it until it was over and I started listening to the soundtrack the day after and was just wow… I have so much to read, to think about, I need to write about it! 😛
To clarify, I have watched this anime at twenty-something years, basically all grown up, with more or less shaped opinions about life. I do not recommend this for younger audiences, for example middle school or first years of high school, unless you are going to actually explain to them what they are watching and make sure they don’t misinterpret the point.
To finish on a lighter note – I do really like the soundtrack, maybe try listening to this. 😉
Hope you enjoyed this blog post!
** No major spoilers.
** Shinigami – a god of death.
**Photos are screenshots of the anime and I do not own them or the rights to them.