Our moral values are no longer decided for us by an absolute god but something we decide for ourselves. But how do we differentiate between what is right and what is wrong? There are caped heroes, vigilantes and supercops dominating both on the silver screen and our televisions giving us a false illusion of what justice is. Heroes and villains often mirror each other in term of their capabilities and sometimes even their preternatural strengths. The only difference is heroes fight for others and villains are selfish pricks. But there is another breed that walks the fine line between the two diagonally opposite stereotypes – ANTIHERO. The antihero is someone who is neither Mr. goody two shoes nor the archetypal bad guy hell bent on destruction . He often has a strong sense of justice,It’s just that sometimes their actions go beyond questionable from a moral point of view. And Death Note gave the world an antihero who goes from a high school kid to believing himself to be god or in his words ” I am Justice” – Light Yagami.
Death note is a contemporary series set in a society with a very steep slope for crime rate. Written by Tsugumi Ohba with a mega hit anime directed by Tetsurō Araki, Death note pits two very alike characters fighting crime and injustice from the either side of laws dictated by the moral code of humans- L and Light. Light is a smart, athletic, popular high school student who uses a mystical note book to make the world ‘a better place’.The note book has the ability to kill anyone whose name is written within it. of the society is high.Before he received the Death Note he was rather helpless and bitter about the crime and corruption eating away the very foundation of society . But with Death Note is in his possession he finally has the power to make a difference and hence after a brief moment of moral hesitation, he decides that he is going to use the Death Note to create a Utopia. He does this by killing all the criminals and ridding the world of crime and fear:
“First I wrote the names of the worst criminals I could think of, like I was cleaning up the world, one name at a time. So that eventually, no one will ever do anything evil again. […] Then, and only then, the world will start moving in the right direction. It’ll be a new world, free of injustice, and populated by people who I have judged to be honest, kind and hardworking “
Deciding to punish criminals using the notebook, Light takes on the name Kira, a name given to him by his supporters, derived from the English word killer.The series follows his descent to the very corrupted being he wanted to eliminate as he progressively moves away from the justice that he claims to seek. Light’s use of the notebook takes on the form of retributive justice.Eventually Light decides that he is a god and will reform the world. At this time, Light’s form of justice seems to drift into a form of Utilitarianism, where the punishment is dealt out to make the world become a better place. To many people this seems like a fair form of justice, but over the course of the series, Light’s actions become increasingly tyrannical, dealing death as punishment to lesser crimes.Light maintains a general contempt and hatred towards humanity throughout the series.
“Once you actually start looking around, it makes you wonder if you’d be doing society a favor by getting rid of all these people.”
One thing is for sure, and that is when the people are starting to realize that there is someone who is going after the criminals, the crime rates is going drastically down, and in that sense Light achieves his goal. Apart from how you look at the killings, the question also remains, by killing the criminals didn’t he become one of them?? On one hand, he believe that he is fighting for the sake of his people, but on the other hand he also believes that he is above the law that he is trying to enforce. Here comes in L, the great detective working with law to catch Kira. The mental fights between these two become the main points of the story. Both are representative of a form of justice. Light as a type of absolute justice and L as someone who believes in deduction and mortal law. If we look at the moral decisions both of them make there is in fact very little difference.They both believe that they have the right to judge people and deliver punishment except Light believes himself god and L believes himself to be the executor of human law.
It’s not just the characters but even their portraiture depict the two sides of justice.I believe, Light is a sort of a metaphor for Satan. That’s why his hair and eyes always turn red, and why he’s always shown holding an apple. He’s portrayed as a smart, athletic, good looking, popular, brilliant person, who literally want’s to be God. It’s the same as the Biblical/Judaic story of Lucifer, the most beautiful angel who fell from grace and became a devil because he wanted to be a God.
I think L is the closest thing we have to justice. Yes he represents the government which will always be corrupt on some level, and speaking in utilitarian terms Lights brand of justice did save more innocent lives. But the Government also represents the people to an extent, since it’s a creation of the people, not a God (Kira) who forces people into submission through fear. Kira seems to take the world by the throat. People either praise him or curse him but Criminals do fear him and with a good reason.Many people approve of his methods or so it seems. As the story progresses more and more people fall in line with Kira and his form of absolute justice. At the climax of the story we see that the world has gone back to the way it was without Kira, crime rate has gone up to the levels. It appears that people didn’t fear breaking law but going against Kira.
Death Note is trying to convey that trying to change the world through justice and laws changes nothing. One cannot change the human nature of people through strict tyranny or law. Society merely bends itself to the ruling authority because of fear of punishment but without that they revert back to their true selves. Justice is nothing but a means to an end. Justice is merely a system used by the authorities to keep everyone in line.