What I Learnt From Death Note? A Fan Theory For The Real World
It’s been almost 10 years since the Death Note anime concluded. And while the author thinks his creation was meant for entertainment purposes only, it’s impossible for the fans of the series to discuss the primary question that the show asks,
“What is Justice?”
This is my attempt at answering the question and a few more things that the show highlights.
Obvious SPOILER Warning.
To start off, Death Note is a fantastic anime/manga — probably the greatest of all time. With its thrilling plot, supernatural elements and carefully crafted junctions, the show is near flawless from a storytelling point of view. I've watched both the canon anime and the relight versions so I think I have some authority to express a well thought opinion.
Note: I am a pro-Kira member of the fandom and am not happy with how the ending came together but (I don’t know how) I’ve made my peace with it.
Another Note: I am aware that most of the lead characters had mental illnesses which go a long way in shaping their personalities. And honestly, the level of depth that it adds makes the entire premise and storyline even better.
About Light Yagami
Yagami Light is a very well written character and I, personally, connect really well with him. No, I do not fancy killing a significant portion of our society but I find that his view of the world applies a lot to our real world. We’ve seen people of power go corrupt with the near-infinite resources at their disposal and, while not entirely rotten, the negative news across the world dominate most of our daily media consumption. Come to think of it, this portrayal of the world probably had more than a big impact on Light’s sense of judgment and how he thinks about the world.
Factor in his almost perfect life at an individual level — a young, promising student with all the charms that one can ask for. He was supposed to be a detective in the future, following in his father’s shoes. This is where you can see why he had such a negative opinion of our world. To him, it was just going through the motions to reach a goal he has already achieved, in a corrupted world which he had too much time to think about.
Was he, in his mind, entitled? Yes. Was he spoilt? No.
In all honesty, chasing perfectionism is hazardous. So what happens when you give too much power to a perfect individual in a less than ideal world?
Exactly what happened in the anime.
It would be an understatement to say that Light was overwhelmed by the power that the notebook gave him. Like every young adult, he too wanted to be a superhero and the book gave him that opportunity.
“Having finally made his dream reality, he was overwhelmed both by the magnitude of his achievement and by the joy and happiness that it brought him.” — Light Yagami
The Morals Of L
L was, clearly, the more experienced individual lead in the story and knew a bit more about how our (and the anime’s) world functions. He has a very different view of justice — which, suits to our society that, at its basic, promotes individual voice and freedom.
His social awkwardness contributes to his overall appeal for many, many people are not that pleased with having a lot of people around them. Intellectually, he is on par with Light, if not better. His idea of justice is concerned with giving people a second chance, an opportunity to redeem themselves and this is something that our society needs.
At the same time, it is safe to assume that L was nowhere near a saint as his opinions on the world and Kira’s actions would suggest. He often bent the rules to suit his agenda and wasn't exactly on a moral high ground either.
This knowledge and vision is shared by his successors.
Why? I believe that the Wammy’s House has a big influence on how the minds of these children are shaped. Their societal experience is confined in the boundaries of the orphanage and their view of the world is way more different than someone from outside.
“Kira is childish and he hates losing… I am also childish and I hate to lose. That’s how I know.”
What I Think Of This Battle Of Wits?
To be fair to the both of them, neither of them is wrong.
Stay with me on this one.
Light definitely had the right vision. In most mainstream superhero stories, the hero has blood on his hands. Which is acceptable and justified because it was for the greater good of the society. While Light certainly had a lot of blood and killed way too many innocents, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he was corrupted by the power of the notebook.
Think about it, if you can get by doing something that is advantageous but morally wrong, you’ll probably do it. In fact, a lot of us will not think twice about doing something that we’ll condemn when done by someone else.
Of course, Light did develop a god complex (quite soon for my liking) and was corrupted by his unlimited power. He did set out to achieve the right thing with his idea of justice. Fair enough, he did deliver results by minimizing the war and crime across the world but was deemed a murderer (that he was).
Like I said before, I am pro-Kira and I would have loved to see how the world could have been if Kira dominated it. We’ve seen past instances where efficiency was achieved through a not-so-human behavior (and just to be clear, I don’t support it).
At the same time, I can understand the writer’s decision to kill him off because, to be fair, the sheer size of our world means that it will hold on to the way it is, resisting changes (Kira, in this case) in one way or the other, and surviving.
This is exactly what the problem with Light’s base model was. He was just another person given a little extra power. The truth is, one person is not enough to make a change.
All of this is when you don’t consider the other, more accepted and suited idea of justice and morality.
When you bring this into the discussion, Light is closer to a crazed, serial killer than the “God of the New World”. At his age, he wasn't anywhere close to be qualified enough to pass his judgment on others and he was certainly holding the world hostage to his command. And while it is wrong to say that his intentions were bad to start off, the ability to control the world got to his head quickly and especially with the involvement of L and his team.
As much as I want to believe otherwise, they were absolutely right to chase him and bring him to justice. While many of us think that we can change the world for the better if we were a super hero, vigilantism is not the solution. Sure, it is very efficient and seems like the best bet in a world full of corruption at so many levels but such a society is bound to destroy individualism.
Yes, Light’s solution saved a lot of lives by accelerating the judicial process but it also put a lot of innocent lives at risk, even when you discount the ones that he killed willingly.
From his point of view, Light’s vision wasn't achieved till the end. And in reality, it could never have been.
Eventually, the story is an evidence of some truths about our society.
- Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
There is no denying that Light, and L for that matter, were corrupted by the powers they had at their disposal. While Light had the ability to control death, L had a team of skilled members who would not question him even if that led to their death.
- We, as individuals and as a society, crave, value, and fear power.
Not many were willing to take Kira head on and Kira’s power was a significant reason as to why people followed and respected him. The truth is we will always bow down to those in power. Be it Kira or any political leader for that matter.
But which side was wrong?
The fact is, our world isn't segregated into black and white, rather a multitude of grays. People have opinions and perceptions of themselves and the world around them and, more often than not, are unwilling to change. We are biased, bigoted and will apply the same rules and moral compass on others that we deem to be below us. Empathy is not as common as we think it is.
As a society, we are nowhere close to perfect but our ability to survive through different situations (and feel good about it) is what keeps us bound and together.
Both morality and justice depends on who has the final say in the matter of things. It is ourselves at the individual level and the world leaders, the government for the society.
In the end, Light’s words were exactly what were true about the world.
“If Kira gets caught, he is evil. If Kira rules the world, he is justice.”