Explainers

‘Death Note’ Ending, Explained

October 21, 2018
16 min read

If you have been reading this site, then you know I am a great fan of anime. Hell, I have watched more anime movie and series than regular TV series or movies featuring live people. Part of the reason is that a lot more can be done on the animated screen than in a normal show. You can push the boundaries of physics when it comes to action, or make the show more visually appealing by creating beautiful sceneries. But personally, I have found that the characters in an anime are much more vibrant. Yeah, many of them may not be relatable but are quite interesting. Such character combinations won’t work on regular media most of the times but are in perfect tandem in the anime environment.

Well, it’s time to talk about ‘Death Note’ now. Let me just tell this outright I just loved this series and will fight anyone who says that the anime wasn’t good. The anime, ‘Death Note’ like most anime have been adopted from a manga of the same name. The plot was utterly creative and the theme of Good vs Evil was great. One of the things that stands out the most is the characters especially the two lead characters Light and L.

Characterization of Light and L was Spot On

The characterization of Light and L has been near perfect. It gives the show the feel, that it needs to completely engage the viewers. Though the role of L changes as the show progresses the first L is the best one. His mannerisms though eccentric make you fall in love with him instantly. As soon as he is introduced to us we are given a taste of what we are about to see. It takes him only an instant to deduce that Kira is from Japan after he tricks Light into killing him only to reveal that it was not him at all but rather a death row inmate. As the show keeps on progressing L’s ingeniousness is something we are on the lookout for. He keeps toying with Light and doesn’t take long to make him a prime suspect.

Let’s now talk about Light Yagami for a second. To match a character like L whose brain works on a different level, you need to have a rival who can provide a challenge and Light is more than capable of handling that task. Light is a straight-A student. He is intelligent not only in paper but also in real life. He picks up the Death Note from the grounds of his high school and after meeting Ryuk starts using the book. His goal is clean and simple. He is going to use the book to kill criminals that plague the world and create a peaceful abode for humans. We, don’t get to see much of Light’s intelligence at first but after he gets tricked by L he becomes more careful.

Ryuk, The Being That Started it All

Why did I decide to dedicate an entire subheading to Ryuk, you ask? Well, it’s because he is the most important character of all. It was he who decided to drop the Death Note to the human world because he was bored. Considering the beautiful show that followed after this act of his, I would say his dropping the book on Earth was a great idea. At the first episode, Ryuk appears in front of Light and explains him the rules of using the Death Note. He also tells Light that he will be the one to write Light’s name in the Death Note when the time comes. This foreshadowing in the very first episode was an interesting thing to do.

Another thing which I liked about Ryuk is that he doesn’t meddle with humans. Yes, I know he has dropped the Death Note to Earth and interacts with Light a lot. But my point is that he never gets into deciding any situation. He doesn’t give Light any insight into his strategies. Ryuk’s eyes can see the real name of any human and even after telling Light that, he doesn’t tell him the real name of L. He does help him a bit though in the execution of his plans, for example when he locates the hidden cameras in his room. Though Ryuk doesn’t actively participate in any stuff, his presence at every scene gives a different feel.

Teru Mikami and Misa Amane, The Additional Kiras

At first, when the concept of having more Kiras rather than one hit the plot, I was a bit skeptical. I thought that this would only complicate the plot and the characters may turn out to be not as interesting as Light. But I was wrong. Mikami was a really interesting character and so was Misa.

Let’s talk about Misa first. She is a famous singing idol in Japan. She is beautiful and loved by teens all over Japan. It is revealed that she is the second Kira. The introduction of a second Kira was important because it made the case a bit tough to solve. L is thrown off by it even though not for too long. I guess Misa’s character was important as her being an immature kid made it tough for Light too as she ended up revealing certain features about the Death Note to the police. Misa has the Shinigami eyes and thus she can see the real name of everyone except the owner of a Death Note. This is how she finds Light.

Teru Mikami is a lawyer. He has a strong sense of justice but his way to achieve such justice in convoluted. He is chosen by Light to be the owner of Gelus’s death note which was owned by Misa originally. Mikami is a mad follower of Kira and wants to follow in his footsteps. But he is much different from Light. His boundaries are way stricter than Light’s and a person who has even committed a petty crime falls under his radar even though the person may not be currently committing any crimes. His life is way too routined which gives Near an opening and he tampers with the notebook. Later, Mikami is shown to become insane as he starts killing more people and ends his own life.

L’s Successors

After the death of L, we are introduced to Near and Mello who are two highly intelligent individuals who were on the path of becoming the greatest detective. Since L died abruptly he was unable to choose his successor. When Roger asks them to work together Mello refuses and decides to go find Kira on his own. He leaves the Watari’s orphanage and goes to America where he gets involved with the mafia. He then uses the mafia to get hold of a Death Note. Mello’s methods are brutal. He wants to catch Kira not out of a sense of justice but rather to prove that he is better than Near and should be the next L. He loves chocolates and likes to decimate his enemies.

Near on the other hand is calm and composed. His methods are much more lawful. He is willing to work with Mello even though the later doesn’t. Even though Near is shown as a sane person he is quite competitive too. This is revealed when he meets Mello at the SPK HQ and challenges him. Despite their differences, both were instrumental in catching the real Kira.

The Plot

As I mentioned before, the plot of ‘Death Note’ is great. It is filled with suspense and twists. Each episode has been made in such a way that it is very hard to stop watching the series until the very end. The series starts with Ryuk, a shinigami, being bored of his routine life. To spice things up he decides to drop his notebook in the Earth realm and have a human use it. Light Yagami happens to find the notebook in the grounds outside his high schools. He reads the rules of using the book but doesn’t really give it a try until Ryuk appears and tells him that he is the real owner of the book and Light can use it by becoming its owner. Ryuk also informs Light that if the situation demands it he will be the one to write Light’s name in his notebook.

The build-up in every episode is fantastic. One of the best things about the show is that the characters evolve as the show progresses. Light at first starts killing criminals and isn’t careful. But after he is tricked by L he becomes much more aware of his actions. He could have just stopped killing and this would have let him off the hook. But no. Once you have killed and felt like a God it is really hard to stop. Light feels the same. He continues killing criminals but keeps track of the investigations too. He continuously tries to stay one step ahead of L, and confuses him.

The first encounter between L and Light is quite interesting as both test each other’s intellect and measure their every move so as to not give each other ample information which might jeopardize them. They play tennis and analyze the opponent’s moves. Light keeps thinking about every hit and decides which one will be better winning or losing? He does this as he thinks that this might be important for L in profiling Light. It’s great to see the amount of work the creators did to make this harmless game a battlefield for two intellectual beings. As the show progresses we keep encountering such situations where L and Light are desperately trying to outwit each other. While physically there’s no evidence of any struggle mentally they are going nuclear. Blasting each other’s plans.

Another great thing about ‘Death Note’ is Light’s persona as Kira and his plans to keep killing and avoiding justice. Even in desperate situations, Light just doesn’t stop. Even after knowing that one can relinquish the ownership of the notebook and lose all memory of it, Light doesn’t choose to do so. He instead uses this rule to his advantage. Also, when Ryuk informs Light about the Shinigami eyes Light doesn’t make the deal as he doesn’t like the idea of having his life halved. This gives us an insight into Light’s will to live. Light is strong-willed and determined to carry out his goals.

Most people would want to rid the world of evil but when faced with potential danger they will run away as soon as possible. But Light doesn’t do so and we get to see this time and again. He believes in his actions and the idea of creating a peaceful world. He is so engrossed in this idea that he doesn’t think for a moment before using other people even if it means that they will be in danger. Upon learning that Misa has the eyes of the Shinigami, Light uses her to create confusion and lessen his potential as a suspect even if it means that Misa will be in danger. After knowing that Rem will do anything thing to save Misa Light comes with an elaborate plan to clear his name as well as execute L.

This plan was so brilliant that I literally got goosebumps when the viewers are finally made aware of it. His plan even included using Rem to kill L, Watari, and others. He used the fact that Rem deeply cared about Misa and would do anything to protect her. Light intently put Misa in danger so that Rem would come to her rescue and kill all of Light’s obstacles. This would mean that Rem meddles with Misa’s lifespan and thus Rem would die too and Light won’t have to constantly worry about using Misa dangerously. The plan was a bit of gamble as Rem could have easily tried to strike a deal with L giving him the real Kira in exchange for Misa’s immunity. But in the end, Light’s gamble did pay off and L dies.

As much as I hate to say this, but L’s death was quite instrumental for the series as it made the ground warmer for more plot development and character development. This was a great way to reset the series and delete any preconceived notions that the viewers have developed over the course of the series. But here’s the downside. The series might start feeling a little less exciting after his death. The problem was that so much character building has been taking place before that episode that it felt like the series finale rather than just the ending of an arc. L’s character was built up so much as that it felt as though he was the final and biggest rival. So, after his death, it felt so complete that the subsequent episodes felt a bit low on energy or rather there wasn’t much balance of energy. I know Light’s inflated ego after L’s death was meant to show that he had no more boundaries anymore which meant he would be making mistakes. But still, if they had adjusted the characters and the plot a did the viewers would have been left yearning for more after L’s death rather than feeling complete.

L was a great character and his intellect was one of the main reasons that made me continue to watch the show. He doesn’t take much time to come with solutions to problems. This made Light quite vulnerable. L used cunning tricks to catch the criminals. He was quite quick to study the situation. When Light is in confinement but the killings continue, he did let go of Light and Misa. But he never stopped suspecting them. He knew that this new set of killings is different from the earlier two. This makes him conclude that this is the third Kira.

After L’s death, we get to meet his successors Near and Mello. Here, also we ‘Death Note’ trying to use more characters to deepen the plot while creating multiple subplots. They could have easily used one true successor and he could have then tried to catch Kira using the clues of his predecessor. But no we get two characters. Both of them are extremely different from one and another. After efforts of getting them to work together fails, both go their separate ways. One, Mello, goes to America and joins the mafia to catch Kira while the other, Near, chooses to work with the law. This type of character conflicts are somethings we see a lot in the series. We have so many characters trying who at certain times had conflicting thoughts. This gives the series a relatable vibe while making the viewers feel for the characters.

Mello uses unlawful ways to get his hands on a Death Note. He even goes to the extent of blackmailing the US president. Mello is a tough character for Light to deal with because he is unpredictable. In the case of L, there was a boundary everyone was sure that he would not cross. But there was no such thing with Mello. He even kidnapped L’s sister and asked his father to bring him the Death Note he had in his possession. Another character conflict occurs here when Light’s dad had the notebook and even knew Mello’s name but he did not use it to his advantage. He rather wanted to let Mello surrender. This resulted in him getting killed.

I don’t know about you guys but I could see the end of Mello’s character. His methods were rash and he felt the need to dominate every situation. This meant that he was bound to slip up at any moment and he did. After kidnapping Kyomi the current head of Kira’s cult he asks her to take off her clothes to get rid of a tracking device. But he never checked for any piece of death note. Turns out Kiyomi had a note in her bra and used it to kill Mello.

Now, I know many people debate whether Mello sacrificed his life. There’s a theory that Mello knew that his death will be important in revealing the location of Mikami’s notebook. Look, we don’t know if it is the truth but one thing we can be sure of is that Humans make mistake. If that turns out to be pivotal in solving a crime then great! But I guess the ambiguity is what heightens the experience. Mello’s death was important in catching Kira. Whether it was intentional on Mello’s part the viewers get to decide it.

The Ending

The ending of the series was kinda dramatic I know but that was one of the staple reasons why the series was so popular. Remember the potato chip scene. A seemingly normal scene had a great impact on the viewers due to the wonderful direction and split-screen montage. We knew that Light would die in the end. We might have not wanted to admit it because we were connected with his character but we knew that he would end in the same way as described by Ryuk in the first episode. The last scene takes place in the Yellow Box Warehouse.

One of the best thing that I liked was how helpless Light felt in the end. He had been relying on his plan and his manipulation abilities way too much after the death of L and Melo. And as I had said earlier human beings making mistakes is something constant in this world. Light Yagami was bound to make a mistake as Mello did or L did. He was so confident in his planning that he did not think of any failsafe. When Mikami’s book ended up being the fake one there was nothing Light could have done. He cried for help but no one came. I guess in the end he realized how his victims must have felt. He had been engrossed in the idea of him being a real God so much that his realization that he just was a mere human was captured beautifully.

But well it’s criticism time now. I liked the manga ending better. The main reason being the humiliating death of Light. He had killed L and many of the task force members in front of everyone. It was only fair that he dies in front of everyone too. But anime went a bit melodramatic over here giving Light a peaceful death alone.

My last thoughts on this series is that: Please watch ‘Death Note’. I know I have criticized some parts of the series but only in retrospect. Yes, lots of things could have been improved in the anime but that can be said about everything. The anime is really fun and entertaining and is well worth your time. This anime is one of the main reasons I still continue to love anime and take inspiration from the creators.

Read More About: Naruto | Noragami | English Dubbed Anime

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