Using the power of the Death Note, Light Yagami becomes Gotham’s God of Death and begins ridding Gotham of its criminals. Only one thing stands between him and a new world with no crime, The Batman.
Audiences have grown tired of the traditional heroic story. A virtuous person rising up against the forces of evil and darkness is saved for children’s stories nowadays. Adults are bored with idealistic heroes. They want flawed individuals at the center of their stories.
What is it about antiheroes that audiences love?
I have been watching films and television shows about antihero protagonists to find out the answer to that question.
Every story needs the right protagonist. Death Note has a money one in the god of the new world, Light Yagami. A story about a high school student that finds a notebook that can kill people is a novel concept by itself. When that high school student is a genius sociopath with a god complex, you get the intriguing cat and mouse game that is Death Note.
Under other circumstances, Light would be a traditional hero. He has many heroic qualities. He is highly intelligent. Determined. Battling against the evils of society. His major flaw is his hubris. That same flaw is shared by many ancient Greek Heroes.
However, Light Yagami is a sociopath who revels in the destruction of his opposition. He murders thousands of criminals over the course of the story. He is so driven to his goal that he will manipulate anyone to achieve his ends. He believes he has the right to judge the world and no one should dare stand in his way. Those who do deserve death.
After killing Raye Penbar and a team of FBI agents sent to investigate him, Light Yagami realizes he has left himself exposed. Penbar’s fiancee, Naomi Misora discovers a clue that could implicate Light in the murders. Light runs into her and finds out her discovery through idle chitchat. He asks for her name. With a name and face, he can kill anyone. She gives him a fake one. With his life on the line, Light slyly gets the woman’s real name and kills her.
I chose this scene as it shows all the facets of Light’s character. This woman is his first real challenge. If he fails, he will be arrested and executed. He acts out of survival. He gains her trust with subtle lies and compliments. Once he has won, he tells her he is the killer the police are looking for. By then it is too late for Naomi to do anything.
On the surface, this scene is a man killing a young woman and getting away with it, a villainous endeavor. But this scene is a battle of wits. Two intelligent people go back and forth until one comes out the victor. Ultimately Light uses Naomi’s emotional attachments against her.
This scene is very well-thought out and logical, among the best in all of Death Note.
An intriguing protagonist only remains intriguing against strong opposition. The eccentric L. Lawliet is Light’s rival in this story. L is the world’s great detective. He is as ruthless and cunning as Light is. He has the support of the police force and applies immense pressure onto the wannabe god. The cat-and-mouse game between the two of them is the backbone of this story. The story drops in quality after Light defeats L.
It’s important to not try to force the audience to feel a certain way about characters. Death Note lets the audience decide on whether they want to side with Light or L. The story teller should be putting on a show, not trying to push morality onto the audience.
Death Note‘s Light Yagami is the reason this anime is able to appeal to people who do not usually enjoy animation. He draws the audience in. People want to see him caught. People want to see him get away with everything. No one would want to be friends with him, but we do all want to see how he gets past his next big obstacle.
I look forward to the upcoming live action adaptation of Death Note. There have been interesting casting choices made. The portrayal of Light Yagami will be the key to the success of the adaptation. If the writers and director accurately transfer his character to the screen, then American audiences will be in for a treat.
But that’s a big if.