Death Note and Light’s character

A few months ago, I was sat in my living room with my sister and my mother, a typical lazy winter evening. They were watching some terrible reality-tv show, whilst I was minding my own business, engrossed in a volume of Death Note.

‘What are you doing?’ enquired my Mum. I explained that I was reading a Japanese comic book. ‘Oh right’, she said, ‘What is it? What’s it called?’. I told her what the series was called. ‘Ooooh, that doesn’t sound very nice!’ she exclaimed. I explained that, yes, it’s not very nice, that the Death Note is a notebook which has the power to kill a person whose name is written within its pages.

My sister chipped in. ‘That’s horrible! Why couldn’t it be a notebook where, you write someone’s name, and they, I don’t know.……..get a present?’.

This got me thinking about a number of things. Firstly, I thought about how my Mum and my sister really don’t understand manga! But they did have a point. Death Note is an awesome series, and one that I truly love. But it is, in many ways, a grim tale. The amount of deaths within the series is vast. If you had to put a number on it, it would be incomprehensible, simply too large to calculate or to imagine. I had never really thought about it before, but the scale of murders in Death Note is truly shocking. Light is, essentially, a serial killer on a gargantuan scale. So why had I not realised it before? Why was I, right up until the final pages, ‘rooting for’ Light?

I tried to explain to my family. No, you don’t understand, I said, he’s only using it for good, he’s trying to create a better world. But they weren’t convinced, and, as I was trying to justify Light’s actions, I realised I sounded like a bit of a lunatic myself! I had been sucked in by Light. I believed his rhetoric. I was a Kira-worshipper! I believed that Light had to do these things in order to create a new, safer world. But then, for the first time, I started to question Light. Did he really have to do it that way? Was there another way that didn’t involve such grisly means?

I wondered, what would Light have done about the state of the world if he had not found the notebook? Would he have joined the police and tried to change the world that way, by capturing as many criminals as he could, and trying to prevent crime? Yes, he probably would. But what if he still found a special notebook, but it was a completely different one. My sister wanted to use it for gift-giving. Could that have changed the world? Could Light have given presents to criminals, thus making them happy and grateful, and thus giving them the desire to reform? Well, probably not, that’s a fanciful and unrealistic idea (even for manga!).

Or how about this – the notebook could be used for anything the user wishes, EXCEPT killing. Instead of being an ‘evil’ notebook, it was, in some way, an inherently ‘good’ notebook. Would Light have still tried to change the world, but somehow trying to do it through good deeds? Was there another way for Light to achieve what he wanted? There is no right or wrong answer to this. I’m just trying to ask an interesting question about the nature of Light’s character. My own belief is that, Light was a twisted megalomaniac, a flawed genius. Although I did ‘support’ him, he was pretty much a would-be despot. I think the crucial thing to remember is that he wasn’t just interested in creating a new world, he wanted himself to reign over that world. I think that he and the Death Note were made for each other.