Death Note’s Ending

Ambiguous ending means even the victor is unclear; who was right?
anime, criticism
2008-09-292012-12-10 finished certainty: possible importance: 2

The ani­me/­manga is in­ter­est­ing on many lev­els. The are un­ex­pect­edly Japan­ese ver­sions of the Grim Reaper; the cos­mol­ogy is re­mark­ably athe­is­tic1; its genre is al­most un­clas­si­fi­able (de­tec­tive/mys­tery, dra­ma, sus­pense, ac­tion, Greek tragedy, su­per­nat­u­ral, or what?); the plot war­rants con­sid­er­able analy­sis, and fur­nishes con­sid­er­able scope for thought—just com­ing up with in­ge­nious ways of ex­ploit­ing a Death Note con­sis­tent with the rules is good in­tel­lec­tual fun, or one can de­vise in­ter­est­ing the­o­ries to an­a­lyze (ex­am­ple: to de­vise op­ti­mal strate­gies for a Kira and a L?).

Me? I’m in­ter­ested in the end­ing.

Manga Endings

I should note that it’s un­usual for anime and manga to even have good end­ings, much less great ones. End­ings are chal­leng­ing in any medi­um, but the busi­ness of anime and manga seems to pos­i­tively mil­i­tate against them.

Con­sider the lowly . Her cre­ation’s con­tin­u­ance is fraught with un­cer­tain­ty; adrift on the vi­cis­si­tudes of the highly com­pet­i­tive & un­sta­ble com­mer­cial world of weekly and monthly Japan­ese pe­ri­od­i­cals like (who are the ma­jor­ity of her pos­si­ble em­ploy­er­s), there is not the slight­est guar­an­tee her manga will con­tinue to be pub­lished next year or month or per­haps even the next week. What in­cen­tive does she have to in­vest in in­tri­cate arcs with sub­tle con­nec­tions and call­backs? Or even think about an end­ing?

There aren’t many good analo­gies here for her predica­ment; one could try to com­pare to a nov­el­ist, ex­cept the medium is differ­ent in an im­por­tant way: an in­spired nov­el­ist can pro­duce a tremen­dous amount in a short time (a nov­el­ist could the­o­ret­i­cally write a good-sized novel in roughly a day at 60 WPM)—but even an in­spired man­gaka can­not quickly write & draw & ink hun­dreds of pages. On the other hand, com­par­i­son to mak­ing movies is not apt ei­ther as even in­die movies filmed on a shoe­string cost dozens of thou­sands of dol­lars, while draw­ing manga is so cheap that thou­sands of am­a­teurs rou­tinely sell their work for the cost of print­ing2 or for noth­ing on­line.

Per­haps the best anal­ogy would be to that by­gone age when nov­els were se­ri­al­ized in West­ern monthly and weekly pe­ri­od­i­cals, much like Japan­ese pe­ri­od­i­cals se­ri­al­ize man­ga. This pro­vides some use­ful par­al­lels, and im­me­di­ately draws our at­ten­tion to one prob­lem of the pe­ri­od­i­cal mod­el: it pays by the word. One gets what one pays for; and so if the artist or au­thor is be­ing paid for vol­ume, they are not for qual­i­ty. I defy any mod­ern reader to read through the im­pos­ing bulk of Charles Dick­en­s’s and its 57 chap­ters and hun­dreds of pa­pers, & not once think that it would be a more sat­is­fac­tory novel if it were just a tad less dis­cur­sive. Even hu­mor­ous strips like pal­pa­bly out­wear their wel­come some­where around vol­ume 35 (or was it #46? Or #53?); how much more so for plot-driven ones!

It’s clear that a sim­i­lar in­cen­tive is often at work with man­ga. The au­thor has rea­son to draw the se­ries un­til long after it should have been fin­ished. Will even the most ar­dent fan of truly de­fend the claim that and have not suffered for their overly ex­tended length? She may have be­come the best-selling fe­male comic artist, and one of the wealth­i­est women in Japan, based on their pop­u­lar­i­ty—but the crit­i­cal fan must look sadly on the bloated car­casses of what were quite good or de­cent (re­spec­tive­ly) se­ries.

Anime adaptations

Still worse is the fact that most anime are adap­ta­tions of man­ga; most adap­ta­tions are com­mis­sioned dur­ing a man­ga’s chief pe­riod of pop­u­lar­i­ty. This is again un­sur­pris­ing from a com­mer­cial point of view—of course you only start pro­duc­ing an anime when a manga has proven it­self/ So, al­most by de­fi­n­i­tion most an­i­ma­tors will have no ac­cess to the au­thor’s end­ing, since it does­n’t ex­ist! There are sev­eral ways an an­i­ma­tor can cope with this lack.

  1. Stall

    The an­i­ma­tion stu­dio can sim­ply stretch out pro­duc­tion and re­lease over sev­eral sea­sons. The stu­dio an­i­mates as far as the manga goes, and stops. In the in­ter­val be­fore the stu­dio gears up for the next sea­son, the au­thor will have pro­duced more manga which can im­me­di­ately be processed into more ani­me. This ap­proach has the merit that what is pro­duced has the chance to be a qual­ity pro­duct, since there are no more con­straints than are nat­u­rally present to the medium and fund­ing; the screen­writ­ers can con­cen­trate on each episode. The down­side to this ap­proach is that there is no guar­an­tee that there will ever be a se­quel sea­son; the viewer can eas­ily be left with an in­com­plete work. This often hap­pens.

  2. Stretch

    How­ev­er, usu­ally the au­thor will not write 24 episodes of ma­te­r­ial in that re­prieve. Here the stu­dio can stretch the episodes (lengthy pre­views and sum­maries, ‘filler’ con­tent, and other such flim-flam), or make up point­less plots & sto­ries which lead to no last­ing con­clu­sion (s­ince if any char­ac­ters per­ma­nently died, say, it might con­tra­dict the re­sumed plot). This ap­proach gives us such ar­tis­ti­cally abom­inable anime as [Dragon Ball Z] or , with filler episodes re­viled by the most faith­ful of fans. If a se­ries is com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful enough to jus­tify this treat­ment, such a se­ries is nigh guar­an­teed to be an­i­mated to com­ple­tion. But what profiteth an anime to be fin­ished if it lose its soul?

  3. Sus­tain

    A stu­dio could, of course, just use its in­-house writ­ers to come up with new plot arcs on its own, and ven­ture off into new ter­ri­to­ry. One imag­ines the an­i­ma­tors com­plain­ing: “if the au­thor can’t be both­ered to hurry up with the re­main­ing chap­ters, we’ll write our own!” (With black­jacks and hook­er­s…) This differs from #2 inas­much as the new writ­ers aren’t re­quired to be con­sis­tent with any fu­ture manga chap­ters; that is, a #2-style filler episode might have all the char­ac­ters spend a fun day at the beach and every­one comes home ex­actly the same and the day at the beach is never again men­tioned by any­one, but a episode of type #3 might see the pro­tag­o­nist’s best friend sac­ri­fice her life to stop the evil plan and set the stage for a fi­nal show­down. Some­times the dis­tinc­tion be­tween old and orig­i­nal ma­te­r­ial is clear (watch­ing through TV, one can al­most feel where the tran­si­tion oc­curs) & some­times highly un­cer­tain (; did tell the an­i­ma­tors the end­ing would be, or was the anime end an in­spired guess?). Re­gard­less, #3 is not a fi­nal so­lu­tion. The writ­ers may spin out new arcs as long as they have air­time left, but sooner or later they will run out of time, and will need to re­sort to 1, 2, or…

  4. Stop

    The fourth and fi­nal ma­jor so­lu­tion is to come up with a real end­ing. This ap­proach can be un­der­stood as work­ing in 2 ways:

    1. Story arc end­ing

      Most plot-driven works have mul­ti­ple story arcs which ul­ti­mately build up into the fi­nal end­ing arc. In the Stop: Story Arc ap­proach, you merely take what­ever story ar­c’s end is clos­est to your sched­uled end, and make that the end­ing. Hope­fully you will have been work­ing up to this the en­tire pre­ced­ing sea­son so that the end feels ap­pro­pri­ately sig­nifi­cant.

      A good ex­am­ple here is . Haruhi and Ky­on’s first kiss and get­ting to­gether feels like a sat­is­fy­ing end­ing; they can ride off into the sun­set to­geth­er. Hardly any­thing more needs to be said but of course, view­ers won’t feel be­trayed if a sec­ond sea­son hap­pen­s—we may have seen every­thing im­por­tant, but we will still en­joy the fur­ther wacky ad­ven­tures of the SOS Brigade. There is no real end­ing yet to the se­ries of light nov­els, but the viewer could be for­given for think­ing oth­er­wise.3

      This strat­egy should­n’t be con­sid­ered a bad thing; the end­ing may not be the “true end­ing”, but nev­er­the­less, a care­fully cho­sen in­ci­dent can cap the se­ries with (as TvTropes likes to say) a Crown­ing Mo­ment of Awe­some. In rare cas­es, the end­ing may be su­pe­rior to any ad­di­tional end­ings. An ex­am­ple here would be the first sea­son of the : one of the main themes was the abuse & de­gen­er­a­tion of the cy­borg as­sas­sins even as they ap­pear and act like well-e­d­u­cated cute nor­mal girls, which cul­mi­nates in the death of a side-char­ac­ter as the oth­ers take a break from killing to watch a me­teor shower & sing Schiller’s “” against Beethoven’s . The end­ing is high­ly-re­gard­ed, but Gun­slinger Girl got a sec­ond sea­son which while it had a over­ar­ch­ing plot, did not have a nearly as affect­ing end­ing.

    2. Start a new end­ing

      But some­times there is no rea­son­able story arc to end with; some­times there is only one story arc pe­ri­od. Take Hells­ing, for ex­am­ple. Aside from a few one-off episodes which build the world and in­clude some early fore­shad­ow­ings, there is only one large story arc with no end in sight. So what does one do? One comes up with an en­tirely orig­i­nal end­ing. In Hells­ing’s case, we now know with the con­clu­sion of the orig­i­nal manga that the fake vam­pires the pro­tag­o­nists bat­tle were dis­patched by old vam­pire Nazis in South Amer­ica as a pre­lude to in­vad­ing Eng­land; but the an­i­ma­tors had no inkling of this back in 2000 or 2001 when plan­ning be­gan. So they had to come up with their own end­ing—a mediocre one. There is no doubt that the , which started while the manga was still fin­ish­ing but which was able to (as an OVA) Stall un­til the manga fin­ished, is su­pe­rior in every way to the old TV adap­ta­tion.

Thus we can see that both the Death Note manga & anime are un­usual in sev­eral ways:

  • Both were fin­ished.
  • planned it out from the start.4 (Death Note is tightly writ­ten; there is re­mark­ably lit­tle in the 100-odd chap­ters which could be edited out with no vi­o­lence to plot or world-cre­ation or char­ac­ter­i­za­tion; the urge to profit would seem to’ve been sat­is­fied by all the spin-offs and adap­ta­tions, leav­ing the orig­i­nal work un­slub­bered.)
  • The an­i­ma­tors opted for #1, quite rea­son­ably an­i­mat­ing the L arc as sea­son 1 and wait­ing to an­i­mate the Mel­lo-N­ear arc as sea­son 2.
  • Fi­nances were not a prob­lem. Some end­ings are so mem­o­rable in part be­cause of time or fi­nanc­ing prob­lems (the orig­i­nal ), but one en­joys them more in the way of a train wreck or NASCAR crash. An end­ing like Death Note’s would have been il­l-served by haste or fru­gal­i­ty. For­tu­nate­ly, it was one of the most an­tic­i­pated or pop­u­lar anime of 2006 & 2007 (re­spec­tive­ly) and thus am­ply fund­ed.

Thus, all con­di­tions were cleared.

Plot summary

Now, be­fore we can un­der­stand the end­ing, one needs to know—what is Death Note?

The plot is the im­por­tant thing. The bril­liant, am­bi­tious & al­tru­is­tic comes into pos­ses­sion of a small black note­book called a ‘Death Note’, which al­lows him to kill any­one he wishes by writ­ing down their name.5 (The Death Note was aban­doned by a su­per­nat­ural be­ing, the shinigami , who watches every­thing Light does with his old Death Note and oc­ca­sion­ally helps Light in ex­change for de­li­cious food.)

Nat­u­ral­ly, Lights be­gins to use the Note and starts by sys­tem­at­i­cally killing off crim­i­nals listed in pub­lic records. Ar­ro­gantly (or hubris­ti­cal­ly?) he makes no at­tempt to con­ceal his mur­ders, and even­tu­ally po­lice all over the world be­gin to no­tice that an un­timely num­ber of crim­i­nals are dy­ing of heart at­tacks. They dis­patch their best de­tec­tive, , to hunt Light down and bring him to jus­tice. (L is not his real name, but L, N, & M all adopt pseu­do­nyms to foil the Death Note.)

By clever ploys, L man­ages to nar­row down Light’s lo­ca­tion to his town, and be­gins hunt­ing there in per­son. Light turns the Japan­ese po­lice against L, but at the cost of nar­row­ing down the pool of sus­pects so dras­ti­cally that L puts Light at the top of the sus­pect list.

The 2 join forces, and even­tu­ally Light man­ages to get L to ac­cept a false premise about the Death Note, and en­gi­neers a sit­u­a­tion where the false premise ex­cul­pates Light. Out of sus­pi­cion, he kills L. If that were all there was, Death Note would be mem­o­rable enough as a kind of par­ody of where is not a panty­waist but re­ally is an uber­men­sch. But in killing L, Light has made mis­takes—if one does not ac­cept the false premise, it is clear that Light was the killer all along. Cru­cial­ly, L was in pos­ses­sion of a Death Note and could have tested the premise and dis­cov­ered its truth, but L had a self­-im­posed moral code which for­bade ‘win­ning’ in any dis­hon­est way. (Although L had no prob­lem set­ting up a death row in­mate to be killed by Light, he ap­par­ently scru­pled at killing more di­rect­ly.) We are led to be­lieve that L could have saved him­self and won if he had been will­ing to com­pro­mise his per­sonal code, and that he was aware of this bind.

Re­gard­less, L’s suc­ces­sors, 2 young boys named and com­pete to take up L’s man­tle by solv­ing the case and aveng­ing their role mod­el. Both seek a Death Note of their own. Many com­pli­ca­tions en­sue.

The Ending

The sec­ond arc ends with a con­fronta­tion. Light has aban­doned his Death Note and del­e­gated his du­ties to a pros­e­cu­tor named who sup­ports his efforts. Mikami sus­pects that he is be­ing watched by Near, and arranges a fake Death Note. When Mello un­ex­pect­edly kid­naps an­other fol­lower of Light, he is killed by her—but Mikami dis­cov­ers this too late and makes a bee­line for the real Death Note, tip­ping off Near about the de­cep­tion.

Light and Near agree to meet in an aban­doned ware­house to dis­cuss the case. Both plan to make this first meet­ing the last: Light plans to kill Near, Near’s re­main­ing as­sis­tants, and his fel­low po­lice (who know too much about him); and Near plans to de­fin­i­tively un­mask Light, who as a mass mur­der will be se­cretly tried and ex­e­cut­ed. As Light has come to no longer pos­sess his Death Note, his plan is to wait for every­one to re­move their masks and then Mikami (who pos­sess a su­per­nat­ural power which in­fal­li­bly re­veals a per­son’s name when he sees their face) will write down every­one but Light’s name in a Death Note.

But the plan goes hor­ri­bly awry. Light, cer­tain that Mikami writ­ten down the names and doomed the oth­ers, be­gins boast­ing of his ac­com­plish­ments and crow­ing over their de­feat. But they fail to die! His fol­lower had been fooled—his Death Note was a fake, cour­tesy of Near, who switched it be­fore the meet­ing. Damned out of his own mouth, Light makes a fi­nal at­tempt to kill Near, but is shot by a for­mer lackey & killed by his shinigami Ryuk (as he had promised Light at the very be­gin­ning of the se­ries). Fi­nis.

Who Won?

Now, the epi­logue raises some ques­tions. The man­ner of Mel­lo’s death told Near that there was an­other Death Note, and that ex­plains sat­is­fac­to­rily how Near could have known to sub­sti­tute the fake. But, as one of the de­tec­tives ob­serves, the fol­lower was known as be­ing a very metic­u­lous, thor­ough, care­ful man—­some of the rea­sons Light had cho­sen him. The stakes were as high as pos­si­ble, and it was the work of mo­ments to test his Death Note on a ran­dom per­son on live tele­vi­sion. So why did­n’t he? Was he truly just care­less on that one day of all days?

The de­tec­tive sug­gests, there­fore, that Near used his cap­tured Death Note to con­trol the fol­low­er’s ac­tions that day: ex­pressly com­mand­ing him to fail in his mis­sion and then com­mit sui­cide. Re­port­edly in Death Note: How to Read 13, the au­thor Ohba com­ments that it is left to the reader to de­cide whether the de­tec­tive is cor­rect. (It’s worth not­ing that Near de­duces Mikami was the new Kira solely from ran­dom watch­ing of TV, a plot hole so gap­ing that it rather sug­gests that the cre­ators had sim­ply de­cided it was time to kill off Light & Mikami—a de­ci­sion that in­di­cates lit­tle sym­pa­thy for them.)

Given this, who won? That is my fun­da­men­tal ques­tion. At the end of Death Note, who has tri­umphed? It is easy to say that Light, Mel­lo, and L are all dead so the vic­tor must be Near. But is it as sim­ple as that?

  1. Did L win? He may have been killed by Light, but he never com­pro­mised his moral code, his meth­ods forced Light to weaken his po­si­tion enough that he could be de­fin­i­tively caught, and he did know that Light was guilty. And Light was brought to jus­tice in the end. Ar­guably, L won.

  2. Did Mello win? Prob­a­bly not, but on the other hand, Near’s vic­tory would have been im­pos­si­ble with­out Mel­lo. Mello saw a pos­si­bil­ity (the fake Death Note) that Near ad­mits he did­n’t, tested it, and thereby proved to Near he had made a fa­tal mis­take; with­out Mel­lo’s kid­nap­ping, Near would have re­placed Mikami’s fake Death Note with an­other fake Death Note, and died at the fi­nal meet­ing. If you re­mem­ber that Mel­lo’s goal was to prove him­self su­pe­rior to Near and a more wor­thy suc­ces­sor to L—then you could well con­sider him a vic­tor.

  3. Did Near win? Well, surely he did. After all, he out­-thought Light, en­com­passed his con­fes­sion and de­struc­tion and most im­por­tant­ly, sur­vived to the end. Does­n’t all that make him a vic­tor? Well, look at the case for Mel­lo. Near would have failed, and it is am­bigu­ous whether or not he used a Death Note on the fol­low­er. If he did, then he failed dou­bly—once in pure de­tec­tion skill, and twice in liv­ing up to L’s ex­am­ple. We nat­u­rally count him the ob­vi­ous vic­tor at the end… but should we?

  4. Did Light win? He car­ried out his mis­sion for years. And we are led to be­lieve that by his ac­tions, crime dropped con­sid­er­ably (sav­ing or im­prov­ing count­less lives world­wide). After his death, crime rose again.

    It is one of the ques­tions in the back­ground of the en­tire se­ries: his means are often im­moral as he kills many good peo­ple, but the end is moral and it is in fact achieved (which is not true of many in­stances where the end is sup­posed to jus­tify the mean­s). His op­po­nents use moral means, but per­haps to im­moral effec­t—the epi­logue mutely com­ments on this dilem­ma, as griev­ing cit­i­zens memo­ri­al­ize Light and his quon­dam op­po­nents go to a large drug bust. Fur­ther, it took the efforts of not 1 but 3 world-class ge­nius de­tec­tives to fi­nally bring him down, 2 of whom die in the process, and they never man­age to so much as try or con­vict him—to say noth­ing of the prob­a­bil­ity that they man­aged that much only by re­sort­ing to Death Notes them­selves (and by im­pli­ca­tion, low­ered them­selves to his moral lev­el).

    If Go­liath tri­umphs at the cost of sev­eral limbs, few would count that a vic­to­ry. When we con­sider that his mis­takes were mo­ti­vated by the fa­tal flaw of hubris, per­haps we should say Light de­feated him­self and the other char­ac­ters were in­ci­den­tal?

  5. Did Ryuk win? In a sort of fourth-wall break­ing, the shinigami stated early on that he set the plot in mo­tion be­cause he was look­ing to be en­ter­tained. While hu­mans and shinigamis are dy­ing left and right, Ryuk floats tran­quilly on­wards, en­joy­ing his ap­ples and the com­plex plot­ting. None of the other char­ac­ters achieved all their ob­jec­tives, as they ei­ther died, lost a per­son im­por­tant to them, or were shown up. But what did Ryuk ever fail to ac­com­plish?

De­pend­ing on your view, the losers and vic­tors swirl and min­gle like tea leaves. Who won, who lost? An­swer this and you have your skele­ton key to Death Note.

See Also

  1. The aes­thet­ics of the anime se­ries such as the chant­ing and the de­sign of Ryuk, as well as var­i­ous touches like nam­ing the pro­tag­o­nist ‘Light’ or the in­clu­sion of su­per­nat­ural en­ti­ties & tools, might lead to think Death Note is set in a fairly stan­dard the­is­tic cos­mol­o­gy—Sh­in­to-style or pos­si­bly even a Chris­t­ian cos­mol­o­gy, with a sin­gle om­nipo­tent om­ni­scient cre­ator God. This is very quickly sub­vert­ed: Light is told that users of the Death Note go nei­ther to Heaven nor Hell but be­come noth­ing, a lie by omis­sion inas­much as Ryuk re­veals that Heaven and Hell do not ex­ist and all hu­mans be­come noth­ing. The ab­sence of such realms is a there are no gen­uine gods of any kind in the Death Note uni­verse, as one might ex­pect they would be­come rel­e­vant at some point (par­tic­u­larly the end­ings). This ab­sence is fit­ting given the eth­i­cal & ex­is­ten­tial­ist themes at play.

    Sim­i­lar­ly, while one might take the name shinigami or “death god” at face val­ue, the shinigami play no role but that of be­ing par­a­sites on hu­man­i­ty—they kill hu­mans (who would die any­way in the ab­sence of the so-called “death gods”!) solely to keep them­selves alive and en­gage in idle games. They ex­hibit no con­trol­ling pow­ers, age, die, can be tricked or ig­no­rant, com­mit sui­cide, and are as much at the mercy of the Death Note and its rules as any hu­man. (The pos­si­ble ex­cep­tion is the Shinigami King, though he is brib­able, fal­li­ble, seems to age, and pos­si­bly de­rives his au­thor­ity just from mak­ing Death Notes or hav­ing a cache.) Iron­i­cal­ly, the shinigami in Death Note do not even per­form the 2 key func­tions of the shinigami in Japan­ese folk­lore: they do not en­sure that peo­ple die at their ap­pointed times, and they do not es­cort hu­man souls any­where. (Nor is there any ex­plicit ev­i­dence of souls: eg. no one, hu­man or shinigami, sur­vives death, has out­-of-body ex­pe­ri­ences, or ex­ists in mul­ti­ple places or times si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly.)

    So while ar­guably the uni­verse could be con­sid­ered non-nat­u­ral­is­tic, de­pend­ing on whether the world of the shinigami has an ex­pla­na­tion like be­ing an al­ter­nate di­men­sion or par­al­lel uni­verse, and at least par­tially su­per­nat­ural (due to the Death Notes), there is a dis­tinct ab­sence of any­thing one might de­scribe as be­ing a god. In this, the uni­verse rather re­sem­bles Neon Gen­e­sis Evan­ge­lion: a su­per­fi­cial watch­ing sug­gests that the uni­verse is per­me­ated by el­e­ments of ex­ist­ing re­li­gions be­ing ac­cu­rate and true, but more de­tailed watch­ing and back­story ma­te­ri­als re­veals a uni­verse de­void of such agents. For ex­am­ple, the so-called “An­gels” are merely the off­spring of a tech­no­log­i­cal­ly-ad­vanced alien race from mil­lions of years be­fore, and their ap­par­ently su­per­nat­ural abil­i­ties more ad­vanced sci­ence & tech­nol­ogy than pos­sessed by the hu­man char­ac­ters with the much-al­luded to scrip­tures be­ing in­struc­tion man­u­als for old ar­ti­facts or crea­tures; any men­tions of God or gods turn out on closer in­spec­tion to be metaphor­i­cal, al­lu­sive, or generic us­age ap­plied to any pow­er­ful en­tity (in­clud­ing hu­mans in var­i­ous form­s). And so on.↩︎

  2. comes to mind, with its dozens of thou­sands of sell­ers, and its hun­dreds of thou­sands of at­tend­ing buy­ers.↩︎

  3. Haruhi is in­ter­est­ing for an­other rea­son, the dis­tinc­tion be­tween ‘broad­cast’ episode or­der and the in­ter­nal chrono­log­i­cal or­der of the anime episodes; the broad­cast or­der is not a mere idio­syn­crasy but a clever hack that pre­serves the dra­matic arc of the over­all sto­ry.↩︎

  4. Or… was it planned out? writes in “Death strip: A con­tro­ver­sial graphic novel from Japan – banned in China – has in­spired a hit movie and much fan fic­tion. Will thril­l-s­tarved U.S. read­ers get hooked?”

    There’s a ru­mor that Death Note was orig­i­nally sup­posed to be only about half as long as it turned out to be, but when the orig­i­nal Japan­ese se­ri­al­iza­tion proved to be wildly pop­u­lar, Obata and Ohba were per­suaded to ex­tend it. That makes sense, since about halfway through the se­ries, there’s a point that seems like a nat­ural end­ing. It’s a fake-out, but it does sig­nal a change (which some read­ers hate) in the tone of the se­ries into a para­ble about mor­tal­i­ty, im­mor­tal­ity and the differ­ence be­tween phys­i­cal ex­is­tence and iden­ti­ty. Near the end, there’s a se­ries of ex­cep­tion­ally creepy scenes in which one char­ac­ter is seen play­ing with lit­tle wooden toys that rep­re­sent the rest of the cast – and then wear­ing a card­board mask of an­other char­ac­ter’s face. For the first half of Death Note, Kira and L ap­pear to be char­ac­ters like any oth­er, but in the sec­ond half, Ohba re­peat­edly makes it clear that they’re roles that his char­ac­ters can as­sume or aban­don.

    It’s worth not­ing that Obata & Ohba started after fin­ish­ing up Death Note, which is a manga about pro­duc­ing manga and which ref­er­ences their pre­vi­ous DN sev­eral times; the pro­tag­o­nists luck into cre­at­ing a pop­u­lar manga “Re­versi”. Re­port­edly the pro­tag­o­nists plan to end it at a par­tic­u­lar chap­ter (the same chap­ter num­ber that L died dur­ing in DN), but are con­vinced by their ed­i­tors to con­tinue it be­cause it is so pop­u­lar. Baku­man is widely taken by fans to be com­men­tary in gen­eral on DN.↩︎

  5. Here is an­other in­ter­est­ing topic of dis­cus­sion—what is a cor­rect name? (A thorny area of phi­los­o­phy.) The Death Note seems to re­quire birth names or at least the first name a per­son is called—but not the full name. If we think about it, any other kind of name would cause prob­lems. One can­not sim­ply use the per­son’s ‘cur­rent’ name, since that would be am­bigu­ous (be­sides fur­ther dis­ad­van­tag­ing the de­tec­tive hunt­ing a Ki­ra), and some­one’s cur­rent name is an un­clear con­cept. What is the name of a per­son you meet on a street? You can get his at­ten­tion by call­ing him ‘Blondie’ or yelling ‘Hey, plaid-shirt guy!’, & no one would think it odd if you con­tin­ued to use that as his name. We think in­tu­itively that surely that’s not re­ally his name—but what is a name but use? Would the Death Note re­spect a le­gal name-change or would it in­sist on the old one? Would it ac­cept a Ro­man­iza­tion of a Japan­ese name, or the Japan­ese ver­sion of a Ro­man name? (To kill Drac­u­la, would Light have to write ‘Drac­ula’ or ‘Dracura’?) What about vari­ants in kanji or katakana? Would the Death Note ac­cept a lit­eral trans­la­tion of a name like ‘May’ into the re­spec­tive Japan­ese mon­th’s name? The wrin­kles are end­less.↩︎