Thoughts on Death Note

Above: Ryuk.

Yesterday I finished watching the anime Death Note. Its story is that of Light Yagami, who discovers a notebook (the “Death Note”) which allows him to kill anyone whose face he knows, merely by writing their name. He uses this ability to try to exterminate evildoers to create an earthly utopia, becoming the mass murderer “Kira” (how often those trying to create utopias end up with the label “mass murderer”). Thought-provoking, intriguing, exciting, funny, and at times beautiful, this has been my first adventure into anime as a grown man (I watched Beyblade, Avatar: The Legend of Aang, Spirited AwayHowl's Moving Castle, a Pok√©mon film, and was pressured into watching Hetalia: Axis Powers as a boy, but overall I was never a real anime fan).

I have been sceptical of anime thanks to the “weeaboo” subculture, but Chocolate Cosmos, who has a long-lasting love of manga and anime, introduced me to Death Note, and made me realise that enjoying anime does not necessarily transform you into a katana-wielding neckbeard.

There were many enjoyable characters in Death Note, among them the idiosyncratic “L”, the childish and loveable Touta Matsuda, and the Shinigami (god of death) Ryuk, who cares not for right and wrong, only for his own entertainment, his carefree nihilism represented perfectly by his facial expression, a constant sinister grin (yet he is still likeable. Morality is a human constraint; Ryuk, like Death itself, is just a force of nature doing its job).

Anyway, I mentioned that Death Note is thought-provoking. As Chocolate Cosmos pointed out when I told her I had just finished watching it, “I think if he [Light Yagami] had been a bit older, matured a bit and then found the Death Note, the story would have been a bit different. I think there are a lot of kids who would do what he did, not at first but as time went on with such power in their hands...”, to which I responded, “that's very true. If I had discovered the Death Note a few years ago it's scary to think I would have been Kira. How easy it is for a fairly ordinary person to become a genocidal maniac”. I myself have matured in the sense that I now fully appreciate the rule of law, the court system, and such things as the presumption of innocence. But it is an interesting (and terrifying) question to ask, what would I have done, were I in another's situation? What if I were a bit more childish, like Light Yagami, and had found the Death Note? What would I have done? This sort of thing is why we say "Judge not lest ye be judged". The law-abiding among us may feel proud about how we're not Myra Hindleys or Adolf Hitlers, but who knows what crimes we could have committed had our circumstances been different? If you found a Death Note, what would you do?