Death Note is one of the most iconic shonen series of all time. Both the anime and manga are overwhelmingly popular and critically lauded. Now, I can proudly say that after three tries, I have finally finished it.
***Spoilers for Death Note manga/anime***
Written Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, Death Note tells the story of a genius Tokyo teen named Light Yagami who comes across the notebook Death Note left in the human realm by the shinigami Ryuk. Ryuk is here for the lols.
The notebook grants the user the power to kill anyone whose name is written into the book (along with a bunch of other rules we learn throughout the series).
Initially reluctant, Light uses the notebook to kill a criminal, which slowly crafts a new vision of society in his mind. Light decides to use the Death Note to create a crime-free society. Seen by society as a vigilante savior by some, he is dubbed “Kira” by the general public and attracts the attention of an elite Japanese police task force, led by his own father, and strange detective L.
For many viewers, the hook of the series is the cat and mouse game between Light and L. These two brilliant teen minds trying to outwit each other, wrapped up in their mutual egos. It carries the series for a significant chunk of the series. Twice when I’ve started the series from the beginning, I’ve often wondered why I lose steam when the show is so enthralling.
Then it happens …
In episode 16, “Decision,” Light begins his big play towards the end of what is called the Yotsuba arc. It includes him relinquishing control of the Death Note, having his partner/girlfriend Misa (who also has a Death Note and shinigami) relinquish her control as well, and ordering Ryuk to give the Death Note to someone who will use it for bad means. Light and Misa lose their memories and the cat and mouse game has to happen all over again.
Also the opening changes to this.
This is always the point where I start to mentally tap out. In both the manga and anime, I find the whole “Light loses his memories” aspect frustrating to watch. Especially because it brings up an issue with Light himself. Is the Death Note why he is evil, or did it just awaken what was in him all along?
Twice I stopped here and never picked the series back up.
This time, I decided to move forward. I promised a friend I would do it. Keeping promises matters I guess.
Once I learned to time the opening for bathroom and snack breaks, I found that strength to push through the Yotsuba arc. Ryuk gives the Death Note to Kyosuke Higuchi, a corrupt businessman who uses the Death Note to continue the work of Kira. Eventually, Light gets the Death Note back and uses all of this bait and switch to eventually kill L.
L dying is one of the most divisive aspects of the series. He was beloved and his “relationship” with Light was compelling. Plus, he always really knew deep down that Light was Kira. Light just managed to be one step ahead.
After L dies we move five years into the future. Light has taken on the “L” moniker and still kills as Kira. With the internet, he is able to have even greater reach to the point where even the President of the United States is like “we have no beef with you.”
In the place of L we get “Mello” and “Near.” Never have two characters have such big shoes to fill. In a speedy eleven episodes, Near and Mello, L’s protégées, do what their mentor could not and lead to the capture of Light Yagami.
Light’s end is what the series was worth sticking around for. Near manages to outmaneuver Light with like two copies of the Death Note and by luring Light into a false sense of security. He actually ends up confessing to being Kira, thinking that everyone who hears the confession will die, from one of his minions writing in the Death Note. Only to realize that Near has outsmarted him.
Ahh, it was sweet. Light was caught in 4k but ended up crying and monologuing trying to prove that he was “right” to kill countless people. He ends up getting shot by one of his long-time defenders and runs to a warehouse. Ryuk, who always knew he would write Light’s name in his own Death Note, kills Light with his trademark grin showing.
That made it all worth it.
Light is a bastard. Sexist, sadistic, manipulative, and so drunk on his own ego that he thinks his actions are good. It is pointed out that during the “Reign of Kira” we saw the end of wars and the crime rate drop by 70%.
But he thought that he was chosen to fix the world and didn’t realize all the lies he ruined in the process.
There is always a question with Light if he would have turned out differently if he’d not found the Death Note. The manga shows Light begging Ryuk not to kill him, where the anime gives him a more sympathetic end. I think the manga ending is Light in his truest form—a petulant murderer who treated the power over life and death as a game.
(image: Adult Swim)
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