Death Note

Death Note is an interesting story if for no other reason than that the protagonist is a villain.
I mean I guess you could argue that, and in a small way that’s the whole point, but I believe Light Yagami is a villain.

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Look into those eyes, that grin, and tell me he’s not deranged.

I want to avoid spoilers because my husband and I are watching the anime and he hasn’t seen or read it before, but the basic plot is that there are death gods – Shinigami – who use notebooks called Death Notes to kill people by writing their names in the books. One Shinigami gets bored and drops his notebook into the human world where a high school student, Light, picks it up and upon realizing it’s real, decides to use it to wipe out the criminal population, ruling in righteous and abrupt judgement. The police catch on, this mystery killer is dubbed “Kira”, and the police bring in the world’s most famous detective known as L. L and Light begin a chess game of wits, moves and countermoves. Everybody dies. The end. (no wait. That’s not how it ends.)

If you simply write a person’s name in the Death Note, they die of a heart attack.

giphy

Is killing evil people evil? That’s a big question in Death Note. Some of the antagonists – who are the good guy police, it’s all inverted – believe that it’s not even necessarily about who Kira is killing. It’s the power to kill someone that is evil.

You know? I don’t think that’s wrong. I mean, technically speaking, we all have the power to kill someone without a Death Note. Sure, it’d be really easy to kill someone just by thinking of their face while writing their name in a notebook. But like, we have guns. We could just get one and kill people with it. In fact, people do that. A lot. That’s kind of the thing in the media and stuff. Bombs and shootings. So it’s not like having the power to kill people, even easily, is special or eludes us. And we do generally agree that doing so is evil.

But there is the question of killing people who are judged to be evil. As a moral person, I would argue that no one human really can judge. That’s the point of God. (Not to say people who don’t believe in God aren’t moral; just to say, speaking as a moral person and not, say, from my overlord-sona, if you will.) I mean, evil is a really deep concept. There’s actions, and intentions, and perspectives…and change. If a really evil person could change for the better, who are you to deny them that journey? It doesn’t matter if you will never forgive them, no matter how saintly they become. Who are you to deny them the journey of redemption?

But even beyond that, Light was thinking that if judgement was swift for evil acts, people would never do evil. Quotable Dudes, like one of the leaders of my church, have also literally said that. And what I know personally of conditioning also heavily suggests that. Light is probably right.

But see that’s a problem. I consider that concept evil. The whole point is that people can do evil things if they chose to, that to be so conditioned by punishment and possibly reward to do only good is just another form of tyranny, mind control. That’s evil. That’s cutting off agency. Technically one might be choosing to do good but is it really choosing to do good, does it really count, if it’s only done to avoid swift punishment and possibly also to get something good? If nothing else, I do hear people complain about the phenomenon of planning on doing something, but then someone, particularly Mom, asks you to do it, and all of a sudden you have zero desire to do it. You were GOING to take out the trash, but then Mom nagged, and now you don’t want to.

So maybe it’s all in perspective, and maybe your perspective is EVIL! but looks appealing and voila, villain. After all, I don’t believe in moral relativity, but I do believe that everything isn’t black and white – so sometimes it is a matter of perspective, but a lot of times, it isn’t.

Let’s take a quick moment to add what Light’s big mistake was, in my opinion:

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Raye Penber, FBI; Died of a heart attack.

L suspects that Kira is either a policeman or associated with the police, probably a loved one. He brings in 13 FBI agents to investigate the Japanese police force with which he is working. Light discovers that he’s being followed, goes to careful lengths to act like a normal student, and then to kill his stalker, Raye Penber, along with the other agents and their director. How he does it is clever enough, I guess, but completely unnecessary.

The day that Raye is wrapping up his report is the same day Light weasels out of him Raye’s name; he, Raye, specifically says “Light is a normal kid; not suspicious,” as he’s making his final notes. And Light suggests he knows that Raye doesn’t suspect him. But he gets Raye’s name out of him anyway and then gets all the FBI agents killed. Why? WHY? There was no reason to do that! I mean if it’s a matter of just declaring loudly, “Kira will not be opposed!” I guess it was necessary? But then that brings in how Kira will not just kill the evil, but also those who oppose him – which really does make him a tyrant. Besides that, the whole charade is when things start getting way stickier for Light. Mostly because even without his oversight, L uses just the information about his agents’ dealings to narrow down a list of suspects, but then there’s also

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Naomi Misora

Raye’s fiance, an ex agent. And even though she doesn’t get her vital information to L, L is alerted to the fact that she had wanted to contact him and then disappeared before she could. Which means L figures that it was probably someone Raye was investigating who is Kira.

Good job, Light. You should have just let it go.

Consider whether making a move or just keeping on stealth mode is the better move carefully. Always. And please, if your villain thinks he IS justice, maybe break the stereotype a little where he doesn’t assume that everything he does must then be justice and doesn’t feel guilt when killing people that are innocent, like the police. You know? The “I ought to be unopposed!” bs. I mean, it’s totally fine. It works. It’s tried and true. But shaking it up and having someone stick to a more stringent moral code as a villain would be cool too. What if Light had refused to kill anyone who wasn’t a criminal, police or not? L would have had a heck of a lot harder time catching him.

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About Rii the Wordsmith

An aspiring author, artist, avid consumer of storytelling medium, gamer, psychologist (insomuch as one with her bachelor's is a psychologist), wife, mother, DM, Christian, a friend to many, and, most importantly, an evil overlord.
This entry was posted in Making Villains (Making Villains la-la-la!) and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Death Note

  1. I think it’s interesting that you posted this today. I’m listening to the Writing Excuses podcast with Brandon Sanderson and three other authors and the current one I’m listening to is called “When Good Characters Go Bad.” Light started out with, what felt like, good intentions but then became corrupted because he didn’t want anyone standing in his way. Good intentions going wrong are great ways to build a villain that feels well-rounded. Thanks for another awesome post!

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