Death Note - Various Real-World Implications of a Dark Hero Born into an Era of Occlusion and Self-Righteousness

Death Note - Various Real-World Implications of a Dark Hero Born into an Era of Occlusion and Self-Righteousness 2

Death Note is a popular manga series that was published in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump from 2003-2006. The original story was a joint effort by writer Tsugumi Ohba and artist Takeshi Obata. The series has sold over 30 million copies worldwide and has been adapted into both a television anime series and live-action film. After the anime was broadcast in North America on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim late-night programming, it quickly got a lot of attention and was eventually broadcast in Europe and across Asia, increasing its popularity. In recent years, there have been reports of a Hollywood version of Death Note in the works. In an interview, director Jonny Black has said that the film is currently in production, but the tentative release date and cast list are still unknown.

Death Note is about a young boy named Yagami Light who discovers a mysterious notebook that has the power to kill anyone whose name is written in its pages. The story follows LIght as he tries to use the book to bring order and rid the world of evil. He begins by writing the names of various criminals, killing them off one by one. Soon, the world begins to take notice. They dub Light "Kira" (Killer) and some even begin to worship him for his actions. The police, however, label him a serial killer for his many murders, and hire "L," a mysterious detective from Interpol, to help them in tracking Kira down. Light and L must use their wits and knowledge to fool one another and to promote their unique sense of justice.

Who will be killed? How will they die? Will L get to the bottom of Light's crimes and discover his identity? It is questions like these that give Death Note its tense, high-caliber suspense. The series has also received high praise from readers for its intelligent "battle of the minds" dialogue dealing with the concept of justice and serious social issues. However, those aren't the only elements for which it should be praised. Death Note should go down as one of Shonen Jump’s legendary manga for its ability to deal with such serious topics while somehow still making us laugh.

Let's compare it to other popular manga series that were originally published in the ‘70s and ‘80s, such as Team Astro, Fist of the North Star and JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. Each one of these works is full of dramatized and exaggerated elements, but still deals with serious topics through the depiction of people fighting for their ideals and risking their lives. There are many heartrending episodes in these series that include battles between rivals, discipline and training, and bereavement of companions or enemies.

Fist of the North Star, for example, is on the surface a very serious story, but still contains moments of absurdity throughout. In one scene, the main character goes to spend the night at an inn at which it is obvious that the hostess is actually a large man dressed in drag. Not only that, the man is the main character's enemy. He decides to disguise himself as the hostess in order to attack the main character in his sleep. The main character instantly realizes his enemy's intent, and remarks, "Who would believe that an old woman could be as large as you?" before knocking him to ground. That sort of plot, no matter how you look at it, is obviously a gag. However, the serious mood of the story is not changed. It kind of brings the reader into an irrational world in which they are not sure if they should laugh or not.

Many similar scenes are present in Death Note. One clear example is the famous "Potato Chips" scene in which Light, in a room that L is monitoring with security cameras, has to write down criminals’ names in the death note without being noticed. Light pretends to be studying for school while continually writing down the names in this tension-filled scene. How does he do it? While "studying" at his desk, Light places a small portable television and a scrap of paper from the death note inside a bag of potato chips. He watches the news and writes the names of the criminals broadcast on TV. In this way, he is able to kill criminals while appearing to be nothing more than a diligent student to L and the police who are observing him. Light, with a wicked smile, even thinks to himself, "I'll take a potato chip…and I'll eat it!" while cooly eating his snacks.

During this tense scene in which it seems he could be exposed at any moment, Light's triumphant expression and nonchalant act of eating potato chips really stand out from the work’s typically cool atmosphere. It also illustrates how during moments of intense suspense in dramatic work, laughter can be extremely effective.

Takeshi Obata's delicate and charming art style together with Tsugumi Ohba's subtly humorous dialogue are what make Death Note stand out as a unique and interesting work that defies the genre of suspense. In Japan, Death Note fans have made "Death Collages" comprised of sometimes altered bits of dialogue from the series which became popular for a time online. Could these collages be the result of fans who were fascinated by the power of subtle humor in this series? The "Potato Chips" scene was later recreated in the anime version. The scene exaggerated Light's actions with a mixture of slow motion clips of him studying, reaching for a potato chip and many jump-cuts to give it a fast pace. In combination with Mamoru Miyano's performance as the voice of Light, the animated version accurately captured the "serious but still funny" quality of the scene. It's the unexpected humorous scenes in the midst of suspense that make the series so strangely amusing.

As an internationally acclaimed piece of work, Death Note has influenced many people and been indirectly responsible for various incidents. In America, a student was suspended from school after he made his own death note and began writing his friends’ names in it. Considering the shooting incidents that happen in America, it’s understandable why such action was taken. In Japan, however, it would be unusual to suspend a student for imitating a work of fiction. As a result, this story was taken up by many Internet media sources. In Belgium, after a criminal left the message "Watashi wa Kira desu" (I am Kira), media outlets reported that he was heavily influenced by the series. This sort of incident could be related to why Russia tried to prevent the sale of Death Note comics in the country.

In this way, Death Note is not only a comic book series loved by many readers throughout the world, it’s a work that has had comparable real world effects on society, both good and bad. It's popularity has extended to many readers in foreign countries and affected them as well. This fact suggests that Death Note, when it was released, accurately captured the Zeitgeist of its time. Manga critics have identified Light, with his self-righteous declaration of justice and his radical methods, as a fascinating dark hero, an embodiment of idealism in a period of drawn out economic stagnation both in Japan and worldwide. Similar opinions have been heard from other intellectuals, from literature to psychology. This suggests that Death Note is linked to the global mood of the 2000s.

As I mentioned already, Death Note was not a simply a work of suspense drama. Remember if you will, the final scene at the end of the series in which we witness Light's extreme decline. We see reckless idealism, egoistic corpulence, self-righteous omnipotence, and the frail dependence of humanity on necessary evils. We see how humans, ever at the whim of an only natural phenomenon, death, lead bittersweet lives ostensibly in search of peace. At the end of this story, Ryuk, the death god who serves as a spectator throughout the series, simply states, "Humans are so…interesting." There's something in that statement that I think concisely summarizes what Death Note is as a whole.

This is a Tokyo Otaku Mode original article.

Death Note - Various Real-World Implications of a Dark Hero Born into an Era of Occlusion and Self-Righteousness 1
Death Note - Various Real-World Implications of a Dark Hero Born into an Era of Occlusion and Self-Righteousness 2
Death Note - Various Real-World Implications of a Dark Hero Born into an Era of Occlusion and Self-Righteousness 3
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