In case you missed it about 10 years ago, ‘Death Note’ is a (thankfully) fictitious book granted by a death god (Ryuk). Its keeper can write to actualise the death of anyone in any manner, as long as the name and face are known. Ryuk is more like a gleeful demon than godly, who knows how tempting it is for humans to (ab)use the book. Having passed the book, he simply watches and laughs at the foibles of human-nature. Just when you think he might have a devious trick up his sleeve, he does not – as humans are ‘perfectly’ capable of messing up lives with easy deaths.
Ryuk is also reminiscent of Mara in Buddhism, also a demonic tempter god. Mara means ‘desire and death’, which can be synonymous with ‘sex(ual indulgence) and violence’ as the greatest forms of greed and hatred, the first two of the three poisons. Desire and death can come together as a ‘deathwish‘ too. The Death Note is essentially a Deathwish Book, a record of keepers’ giving in to dark desires for others’ deaths. Likewise, Mara does not really ‘make’ anyone do any dark deed. All he has to do is to lurk in the darkness unseen to offer suggestions to our own inner demons.
When Light receives the Death Note, he quickly plays the harshest judge with it. However, his use of it to kill is more to ‘exact’ vengeance than to mete out justice. L, the detective tasked to apprehend Light seeks justice instead. With much cunning, Light plays (death) god while trying to appear innocent, gathering fame as a fearful unseen force to be reckoned with. However, he forgets that there are larger forces at play, such as karma itself. Even if attempting to express others’ assumed ‘deserved’ ill karma, his murderous ways creates ill karma. He too cannot escape death later.
The Death Note is intriguing because it offers the extreme yet ‘easy’ option of taking the life of anyone. However, death as ‘punishment’ is always too harsh for anyone, even hardcore criminals – because it offers no opportunity for repentance and reformation. How do the evil make amends if they are simply killed? Death’s damage is too ‘ultimate’. People are not so straightforwardly deserving to only either live as they are or die. Perhaps the Death Note creators should have spin-offs such as ‘Partial Injury Note’ or ‘Moral Shame Note’, as alternatives to the death sentence!
Moral Notes Within ‘Death Note’ (2007)
Life Notes From ‘L: Change the World’ (2008)