‘Death Note’: Are You Ready to Challenge Your Morality?

What would you do, if you stumble upon a Death Note?

To the oblivious reader, this is an extraneous question. However, anyone who has watched the 37-episode anime show Death Note, which released in 2006, would be left scratching their heads trying to answer the question based on what they’ve seen, felt and undergone while viewing the show.

Thanks to its engaging screenplay, cerebral storyline and mature theme selection, it has firmly established itself as among the smartest and the most viscerally thrilling edge-of-your-seat shows of all time, capable of garnering plaudits from all age groups. Directed by Tetsurō Araki, Death Note is currently available on Netflix India.

From the very first episode, Death Note seized my attention. At its very base level, the show describes a battle of minds between a high-school student, Light Yagami, who discovers a supernatural notebook, and a scruffy, endearing boyish-man detective named ‘L’, who is adamant on preventing the possessor of such a notebook from carrying out their ‘evil’ intentions.

L from Death Note is near the top of the list for many anime enthusiasts.

I was left facing some uneasy and spine tickling questions while watching Death Note. But how could I not? How often does it happen that a show makes you ponder hard about your own views and beliefs? How often does it happen that a genre, erroneously classified as something meant only for children, deals with concepts and issues that are so challenging?

The show takes the traditional concepts of good and evil and gives it an extremely intriguing twist. It blurs the proverbial line between good and evil to such an extent, that at one point in time, I began sympathising with Light.

Also read: Anime Isn’t Just Cartoons, It’s Art

This posed a dilemma to me.

Light’s plan was simple. He would use the Death Note, which had a set of rules given that the user must follow, to eradicate criminals, offenders and other threats, thus creating an ideal world free of crime.

According to him, an ideal world is one where he would wield the power and status of a god. He would be the judge, jury and executioner of wrongdoers, and the messiah of those who have been made victims.

Sounds wicked and vile doesn’t it? I thought so too, until a few more episodes passed and I began seeing the sense behind the so-called ‘senseless killings’.

As a law student, I am accustomed to the functioning of the Indian judiciary. In India, the acquittal rate in criminal matters is quite high. The honourable magistrates and judges, at times, fail to provide justice when it’s most needed.

It made me wonder, that surely had Light/ Kira been there, this would have never happened. Surely, the accused wouldn’t have been allowed to escape from the clutches of the law so easily. If only I possessed a medium similar to that of the Death Note, justice would have prevailed.

But just when I started to sympathise with Light’s crusade, the show thrusts L into the spotlight.

L confronts his nemesis and his ideology head on, and begins denouncing the rationale behind such horrific executions. L’s philosophy and thinking provided me with a different perspective. He puts forth an equally compelling and thoughtful argument which made me switch my stance and arrive at the conclusion that what Light was doing was abhorrent and all an outcome of his sick, twisted mind.

I then though that in a country like India, it is very important the Rule of Law is followed. This is needed in order to prevent anarchy. It presented a welcome predicament to me.

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With each passing episode, the rules of the Death Note became more complex and intriguing. What follows is game of cat and mouse rarely seen, where I could rarely figure out who was the hunter, and who was the hunted.

Just as Light and L went back and forth, the thoughts in my mind oscillated from one side to another. I could scarcely grasp the lengths to which one would go to to protect their ideals and beliefs. I experienced mind bending plot turns, which made me question the morality of every action. The ostensibly straight forward notions of death, justice and morality went for a toss.

However, the more I saw, the more I realised that each of these philosophies are intertwined. They’re linked to one another by a very thin thread. It is left up to the viewers to choose to perceive what they’ve just witnessed.

If I describe the show any further, I would be doing a disservice to the readers, who might be potential viewers of this thrilling show.

I just want to end by reiterating that Death Note is a show that deserves your attention. It isn’t like anything that you’ve witnessed before. It will capture your imagination, disarm your preconceived notions and compel you to think beyond the obvious. And therein lies its beauty.

Trishank Panchmatiya is a final-year law student and a sports addict with a penchant for films, shows and everything in between.