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.↩︎