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Light is Evil

This is not the face of a Hero. It’s not even the face of an Anti-hero.


This isn’t a post I plan to fully delve into Death Note with. Our essay on it as a part of our essay series is what will cover it thoroughly.

No, my thoughts today are on what the anime has covered so far, specifically me questioning the popularity of the Villain of Death Note, Light Yagami.

Death Note is a twisted series, but not one that is difficult to unwind. It still follows the basic shounen conventions set forth by the publication it was run in, Weekly Shounen Jump. We are given a youth with ambition who discovers powerful abilities that allow him to achieve his ambition.

The only thing is, instead of a hero, we are given a villain. However, based on the conventions set forth, he is half-way presented as a hero, a dangerous storytelling idea, especially with the message Death Note is trying to convey.

And thus, I have made an enemy of much of the anime community, I think.

WARNING. Some spoilers for Part 2 may be ahead.

Light Yagami, our ambitious youth at the forefront of all the events in Death Note, is not an admirable character. He is brilliant, clever, and has a good goal. However, on the flip side, once he obtains the power to kill through the Death Note, we are shown that he is ruthless, shrewd, and downright insane: an unstable psychopath with just enough brain power to come up with means to outwit the most brilliant minds in the world, and to do so by any means necessary.

“But, DTZ!,” you might say. “Light wants to put an end to evil in the world! He’s a hero!”

As I said, a good goal. However, I am not a subscriber to Machiavellian thought. The ends do not justify the means, especially when one is striving for an end that involves improving the world. Light Yagami is taking the simplest path to achieving a world without crime: kill anyone who commits a crime. However, Occam’s Razor should not (and I argue it does not) be invoked for ethical or moral solutions, and an unfortunate fact of living as a human is that we are capable of both good and evil, and that capability won’t ever go away. If Light Yagami succeeds in his goal to create a “utopia,” it will NOT be a peaceful happy existence, but rather, a Dictatorship through Fear.

Thus, in a way, Light Yagami is no better than Adolf Hitler.

And that’s just thinking based on episode 1! In episode 1, we are introduced to Light and the “devil” which tempts him to do evil, Ryuk. Ryuk is an interesting malicious force, in that he is not truly evil. While he does essentially give a random person the means to kill whoever they might want to kill, Ryuk does not pick or choose who, and it doesn’t matter to him what that person does with it. It’s his own little happy fun death show, and his watching the twisted, insane world as Light’s plans unfold is all merely entertainment. In a way, Ryuk is a take on us readers/viewers, who take delight in watching those not of our world in conflict and torment.

However, above all else, Ryuk is honest. While he remains a neutral force, he never lies, at least to the one holding the Death Note. In fact, the only evil and dishonest act he ever actively does in Part 1 is one that Light gets him to do. And as an honest force, he says several things in the first episode that are of note, and that many people forget when they complain that the ending of Death Note is unsatisfactory, reconstructed here, paraphrased for your pleasure.

1.) “I am not on your side, nor am I on anyone elses.”

2.) “When you die, I will be writing your name in my notebook.”

3.) “Don’t expect that a person who has used the Death Note can go to Heaven or Hell.”

4.) “If you succeed, then you’ll be the only rotten person left in the world.”

Ryuk details for us both his position, and the possible ends of the story, with these four lines.

So, from Chapter/Episode 1, we know that Light is majorly fucked up.

However, he truly descends away from whatever good he may have in him when L appears, and his goal changes from “creating a Utopia” to “killing anyone who disagrees with me.” From the moment he shouts “I am Justice!” at L once the challenge is issued and L has claimed that “Kira” and his power is evil, Light is irredeemable. If justice is killing anyone who ever did anything bad, then I’d rather live in an unjust world.

And Light only gets worse. As he is slowly corrupted by his mad quest, he starts losing all humanity, and even begins treating others as mere pawns in his quest to kill L. He even uses himself, rather, the him before he got the Death Note, as a tool to not only completely clear himself, but also kill not one, but two of his obstacles, Rem and L.

And once he has won against L, all he can think is “It’s too easy without Ryuuzaki [L] here.”

Light grows to love the thrill of stalking and killing those who oppose him rather than his other goal.

Which is why placing him in the role which typically belongs to the hero is dangerous. His psychotic nature is presented as admirable in the minds of some, when the message of Death Note is clearly “This is not the way we should solve the problems of the world.”

So in closing, I would like to call on the anime community, specifically those who treat Light as an admirable character, and ask them to honestly justify why we should elevate this fictional madman onto a pedestal that he doesn’t belong on.