This is the letter D for the Blogging from A-Z April Challenge.
My favorite thing about Death Note is how it subverts how good and evil are presented to the world through the characters of Light and L. Both appear to be on one side but they are really on the other. Let’s take a look at this.
Top student in his high school and eventually university. Studious, doesn’t get into trouble, has dreams of working with the Tokyo Police Force. Doesn’t fight with his younger sister, gets along with his parents.
Identity unknown. Known for solving the unsolvable. Doesn’t show face and uses voice changing technology to communicate. Could be anyone, really.
This is how these guys are presented at the beginning of the show. One seems really good, the other is questionable at best. Would you really fully trust someone who doesn’t fully trust you? Exactly. In any case, these are just the surface identities for these guys. When you start watching the show, you start to get to know these guys and this is what you find.
Light is Kira. Kira is the name attached to the individual who starts murdering criminals in a seemingly pell-mell pattern. How he does it is unknown to the police force. To the viewers, we know of the Death Note, the show’s namesake, a notebook that kills the person whose name is written inside. Light/Kira has been murdering the criminals who have been announced on television. Say what you will about criminal punishment — the show very much puts Kira’s actions on the evil end of the spectrum. Killing of any kind is immoral, and the Tokyo Police Force work to bring him to justice.
L is this guy:
Although you never hear his name in the show, you do learn some of his history. L was brought up in an orphanage for the gifted, and it is there that he started his career as the world’s best albeit most secretive detective. We learn of several people who have worked with L before and are more than willing to trust him with their lives. He is kind of a genius and is very much the person he says he is.
As is the case with both of these characters, they each have surface identities and identities they keep from the world. With their surface identities, they try to uncover the other’s secret identity. That is where the show’s intrigue and magic lies. It’s all a giant mind game between two guys who are never positive about the identity of the other. Although both are aware of who their opponent possibly is, they are never positive. Both are aware the other is attempting to piece together their identity, and both attempt to foil those plans while attempting to uncover their opponent’s identity at the same time. It’s fantastic.
This show invites the viewer to think about the nature of good and evil, whether they can totally be trusted to stay good or evil, whether you can be entirely good or entirely evil, and what it means to be good and evil. Kira/Light may be killing people, but he’s only killing criminals. Ask yourself how bad that can be, and then ask yourself why the police would want this stopped. Is it really good? Is it really evil? Is there a way to make this situation black and white, or will there always be a grey area? How are these things seen in the secondary characters?
Does evil manifest itself in evil ways, or does it hide out in good intentions? Does evil lurk in good people like it does in Light? Is goodness often associated with those shunned by society? Does goodness lurk in the seemingly evil like evil lurks in the seemingly good? And how are we able to tell these things apart from one another?
Think about these questions. And then go watch Death Note, but only because that show’s awesome.
Discussion Question: What’s another television show, animated or otherwise, that makes you ponder the nature of good and evil? Why?