Character Of The Month: Death Note

This month’s Character Of The Month is a battle royale! With news of the pending Death Note live action movie coming to Netflix (2018 can’t get here fast enough!), Editor Sandy and I decided to showcase the two main leads to Death Note: Light Yagami and L.

*Note: This character study is based off the 2006 anime.

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Character Basics – Light Yagami
Age: 17 (at the series beginning)
Brief Intro: Light is a dedicated high school senior who always gets A+ and will have colleges competing for his attention. He comes from a middle-class family and is beautiful. Light isn’t the “prom king” kind of popular, but he’s definitely on the cool kids’ radar.
Plot relevance: Light is the main character of Death Note. He’s a tragic hero (more on that below), but his actions drive the plot. When Light finds the Shinigami’s notebook, it’s his use of the murderous book that starts the story. And ultimately, it’s Light’s failures that cause his death, and the series’ end.

Character Growth

Like all tragic heroes, Light begins the series as someone everyone would want to know. He’s friendly – if a bit distant – with his classmates, family, and friends. When Light first finds the death note, he is appalled by its actions. Curiosity eventually gets the better of him and Light begins to experiment with how the murderbook works.

The turning point for Light is when he uses the death note to kill the FBI agents trying to discover the true identity of his alter ego Kira. Once Light succumbs to the power of the death note, he is irrevocably lost to the need to keep that power.Light’s growth is a malignant downward spiral into the evil capabilities lurking in the human mind.

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Why He Needs To Be Celebrated
Light is fascinating! There’s a million and a half discussions on what would have happened to Light if he never found the death note. A brilliant student on the cusp of greatness and it all goes downhill after finding a magical item. Watching Light outsmart his enemies, trick gods into doing his bidding and sneak his way into victory kept viewers on the edge of their seats. It was hard to root for him – he ruthlessly kills innocent FBI agents – but it was hard to root against him too.

What Writers Can Learn
As a viewer, Light and his constant battle to be the best drove the conflict in the show. Writers need to remember that the main character has to be the catalyst for plot developments. Light may seem like a perfect person – smart, attractive, able to plan ahead effortlessly – but he’s arrogant, conceited, ruthless and an asshole. Light thinks of himself first and foremost. He sees everyone in the world not as a people living, but as tools to justify his ends. Light is kind of person who says “the ends justify the means” and thinks that justifies his asshole behavior.

Every positive trait comes with a negative. Light’s brilliance overshadows his cognitive ability to the point where Light gets tricked because he doesn’t stop to think. So sure of himself, Light walks into a trap thinking he’ll survive because he’s “better” than his enemy.

Make your characters flawed! That’s how they change, that’s how they act. That’s how they affect the plot.

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CHARACTER BASICS – L

L contacts the police by computer, hiding his voice and face so he can’t be identified, when the police have no other option, being unable to find and apprehend Kira. L shares many traits with Light, having a superior intelligence and not letting his emotions get in the way of his goal. He will stop at nothing to find Kira and stop him. Every time Light makes another move, L is right behind or right ahead of him, figuring things out so well that you almost feel like he is living inside Light’s head.

RELEVANCE TO PLOT

While the focus of the story is on Light, the real protagonist is L, whose sole intent is to stop Light/ Kira from his killing spree. If L did not show up in this series, there would be no hope of Kira being stopped, and the world would be ruled by this mass murderer. He provides some sort of balance to the good vs. evil. The story also progresses much faster with Light having to worry about being caught – L’s presence prevents Light from moving too quickly because he has to stop and think about how to save himself. This also prevents him from being too careless, because he, like L, has to calculate his next move with efficiency. L also has a surprising amount of knowledge about the Shinigami, which helps him get closer towards proving that Light is Kira.

CHARACTER GROWTH

How does a character grow when he’s already way more intelligent than most of the people around him? Well, in the TV series, L slowly comes to trust the few policemen who decide to risk their jobs to work with him. He never tells them his real name, of course, but he meets with them in person, showing them what he looks like, which is still plenty risky. By this point, he understands that the killer needs to know what a person looks like in order to be able to kill them. He’s ruled out all these men as the killer but suspects the son of one of them, so this is a very brave move. Each time it seems that he might get stumped, L pulls through and comes up with another plan to stump Kira.

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WHY HE NEEDS TO BE CELEBRATED

L shows us that, as much as you don’t want to believe someone you love could commit such horrible crimes, you never know what someone is capable of until they are given immense power. He also shows us the benefit of trusting others to help you and to try to stay a step ahead in order to succeed. Throughout this ordeal, he never gives up, no matter how impossible it may seem and despite the severe risk to his own life.

AS A WRITER, WHAT CAN YOU LEARN

This is a strong character portrayal. You can clearly see his motivation, his determination to catch Kira, and, despite the fact that he’s the only one who is a match for Kira, you can see his flaws. He uses logic without letting his emotions get in the way, having no qualms about putting others’ lives in jeopardy to reach his goal for the greater good. In a way, it shows what it means to truly be human, or to not to in his case. Yes, he gets the job done, or at least works towards it and in doing so, he saves everyone else from having to make difficult decisions that would be harder with the emotions that these characters feel.

(Featured image by Fco. Kutral, from Flickr)

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