Let us walk through a scenario: Consider a person, let's call him A, who kills people. We will surely consider A as evil. But what if I say, the people, he kills, are criminals, who have done heinous crimes. They are murderers, rapists, the scum of the earth, who are incarcerated or sometimes, even escape the justice system. Would you still consider A as evil? He is, after all, punishing those who deserve it and bringing justice to the world. Will you still not give him a chance?
This time I am not writing about the Devil like I had talked about after reading Master and Margarita. A is very much human and his name is Light Yagami. He doles out justice using the Death Note. Would you trust in a man with this much power? He is after all portrayed as a very smart, first-class student.
When I started watching Death Note, I was really interested by this conundrum they were posing. I had watched the first 4 episodes a few years ago, but was not in the right zone to continue watching at that time. Over the years, those 4 episodes set a lasting impression in me and even though I never fully got into the series until this month, I highly recommended it to anyone I spoke to. It seemed like a really good anime series. My other recommendation would be Berserk, which I have completely watched, but that is not exactly new user friendly. I realized that I wasn't taking my own advice and decided to watch the anime myself.
How it begins...
When a Shinigami (God of Death) drops his notebook to Earth, Light Yagami finds it. He soon discovers there a few rules written in the notebook, supposedly called the Death Note, the main rule being, anyone whose name is written in the note shall die within 40 seconds unless the cause of death is written. All you need is a name and the face of the person (so people with same names will not be killed by mistake).
Being an inquisitive student that he is, Light tries the note out by writing the name of a criminal. It works! He, then, doesn't stop there and continues to deem out justice to criminals. Ryuk, the Shinigami who had dropped the note, joins Light and is surprised at how the note has been been put to used. He was bored in the nether realm and had dropped the note to our world and now this seemed to be an interesting turn of events to him.
However, soon his actions come to notice to the authorities and we are introduced to the mysterious L, who is a world famous detective. L is able to determine that Light is in Japan and openly challenges him on live television. Since Light doesn't know L's name or how he looks, he cannot do anything. This how the game begins. Since the world is also aware of the actions of Light, they dub him Kira (meaning Killer).
Light Yagami and L had a great dynamic. A smart student, who wants to give justice vs. an equally smart detective. I was interested to see how this would play out, how far would they push the moral boundaries with Light's character in his path to become the ultimate judge and L's moves to catch ahold of him. I thought they would make it morally gray, giving us the opportunity to take a said but never being clear as to who is in the right. Yes, Light was working outside the law, doling out justice by himself, but equally L could have also been painted as a morally gray character, who will do anything to catch his mark.
This was my opinion when I rewatched the first four episodes. This is what I was expecting in the upcoming episodes, excited on how they will cover the remaining 33 episodes.
However, the anime seemed to head into a different direction. Light's character was made into an arrogant, egotistical guy, whose sole aim was to become a God. He has his reasons, which seem valid at first and then it all becomes senseless, petty. For a smart student, he does stupid things. 17 year olds don't have the world smarts in them but this anime seems to show that even the smart ones are just childish. Light is not grounding and relatable. Why make him arrogant? They say power corrupts, but this was just a great leap in corruption. I do not know how Light makes a good protagonist because after this point, I was rooting for L.
Once he kills the Raye Penber, the FBI agent on his tail and the rest of the FBI agents, it is all downhill from there. It does not make logical sense for Light to make such a move when for the next part when he is put under complete surveillance, he pretends to be a normal boy, while doling out his justice in secret. This could all have been avoided if Light would have just stayed put. This is just a pattern that keeps repeating in the series. Light remains patient at times and then gives up his position at others. It seems he is desperate to stay undiscovered and yet makes stupid mistakes. It does not match his character arc at all.
Then, the conveniences that are afforded to him. They could have atleast given Raye's fiance a chance, a small arc, but no. Light just happens to come to the police building when she comes in to report her suspicions. One episode of Light trying to find her name and bam, it is done in the end. I was starting to get bored of the stupidity of the series by this point.
At that point. L thinks it best to show his face to Light in the hopes of pushing him to make a mistake. By then, it seems there is no hard evidence linking Light to Kira and yet L has an unexplained intuition. It seems that instead of building up to anything, the anime just wanted to make conveniences wherever required. None of the deductions seem earned, nor does anything that Light do.
In the next part, they introduce a second Kira. This Kira seems to be intriguing. Now there is a new character in the mix. Maybe the anime could redeem itself. But, no, it is just another convenience afforded to Light because this Kira, Misa Amane, is a devoted fan and is equipped with Shinigami eyes that will allow her to see the names of people and their lifespan. Awfully convenient for Light. First time, she sees Light, she knows he's Kira as she cannot see his lifespan. Her character is there just to serve Light and serve as the next turning point for the memory loss arc because she gets caught by L as the second Kira, who then deduces that Light is actually Kira.
Light and Misa give up their Death Notes, which makes them lose their memories (one of the rules says that if a person gives up the note, his memory of the note will be erased). Do the rules of the Death Note seem to be too convenient for the plot?!
There is some hope as to where the series could have gone if it had Light and L working together. The best part of the anime are the interactions between Light and L when they were working against each other and now it's taken a step forward with them working together.
We see a total change in character in the middle of the season. This did not feel like the Light we have been seeing so far. This is actually a good guy. The anime makes it seem like the memory loss made Light into a morally responsible guy. It would have worked if Light was shown as a moral guy, whose use of the Death Note was accompanied by his descent into immorality and insanity. Maybe it would all make sense. But this change of character is just abrupt and felt odd at that point but atleast for a time, Light and L were on the same side.
We find the Note has been given to a morally reprehensible guy, who is part of the board of a huge corporation, by Rem, the Shinigami who owns Misa's Death Note. Once this guy is captured and the Death Note is retrieved, it turns out it has been Light's plan all along as he gets his memory back on touching the Death Note. Again some semblance of a plot but it feels like too little, too late. Since L now gets possession of the Death Note and understands the method of how Kira does his killing, he gets an idea to verify a few of the rules in the book, which seem to acquit Light and Misa. At this time, Rem, the Shinigami, sacrifices herself by killing L (another convenient plot point: if a Shinigami writes a name in the Death Note for protecting her loved one, the Shinigami dies). Rem loves Misa and so she does this to protect her. Another plot point arranged by the really "smart" L. Light then resumes the mantle of L and it seems he has won.
The series should have ended there. At least, it wouldn't have been the shitshow it was after that. The characters, Mellow and Near, who are supposedly L's successors (never been talked about in the first half) seem to come out of nowhere and are on L's case. Instead of working together, they go head to head to solve the case because Mellow is not ready to work with Near. What follows is some utter convenient nonsense, I have no idea how I sat through.
Let me skip to the end and say, Light gets his own assistant in the meantime and a new lady lover, who again is just another tool he uses but is bested by Near despite trying to "outwit" him. Ryuk and his witticisms are sidelined in the second arc and Light just seems obnoxious at this point. I couldn't wait for the series to end. By the finale, I wished I had not wasted my time on this overhyped series.
I had started the series with the hope that it would debate on the nature of good vs. evil and show morally gray characters in Light and L but what I ended up with was a series with bland 2 dimensional characters and a plot filled with conveniences instead of any meaningful buildup and resolution. I am disappointed in this anime and apologize to all those whom I recommended this.