“Where is the Justice?” My thoughts about Death Note


Death Note.

Surely most of you have heard of the manga/anime and its two most popular/well-known characters, Light and L. For those of you who don’t know about Death Note or these two characters, let me try to give a quick summary.

Light is a highschool student (at least in the manga, I don’t know if it’s the same in the anime), brooding about the lack of justice in society when all of a sudden he finds a Death Note, a notebook dropped on earth by a Shinigami. The Death Note’s instructions mention that if one writes a person’s name in it, the person will die of a heart attack. Light is skeptical, but he tries it out. The end result? He ends up killing two people. Light then decides that he can use it to kill criminals and clean up society as a result, going forth and using the Death Note as he pleases.

Meanwhile, investigators and detectives get concerned about the sudden deaths of criminals all over Japan, and soon it catches the attention of L, one of the world’s greatest detectives (but also a detective who has never really shown his face to the public).  L and Light soon end up playing this game of cat-and-mouse, with L trying to find out who is killing all the criminals while Light tries to find out L’s true identity and kill him.

Death Note makes me think of two certain philosophical concepts: Utilitarianism and Deontology, which I mentioned in my previous post. Utilitarianism is when an act is judged whether it is good or wrong by the consequences of the act, not the act itself. Deontology is when an act itself is judged for whether it is good or wrong.

For example, with Deontology, the act of murder is bad. But for Utilitarianism, the act of murder might not be considered too bad depending on what the consequences were. If the murder was done for no good reason (like revenge or anger or something like that), then it’s bad. But if it was in the case of protecting someone or yourself, for example, Utilitarianism would see that as a good thing.

L and Light’s views of justice seem to be very mixed between Utilitarianism and Deontology. Both of them see justice differently. Light believes that using the Death Note to kill others will cleanse the world of suffering because it would reduce criminals in the world, while L seems to believe that killing others in general is wrong. Looking at that, Light would be leaning more towards the Utilitarian side of the Utilitarianism vs. Deontology spectrum while L would be leaning towards the Deontology side of spectrum. Because both have different ideas that lead to one or the other side of this Utilitarianism vs. Deontology spectrum, all of us end up taking the side of Light or L in the manga because we might lean more towards to the Utilitarianism or Deontology side of the spectrum.

Both L and Light declare “I am justice!” for obviously different reasons at one point in the manga/anime before they even have the chance to run into each other in person, both characters determined to do what they believe is right. L wants to figure out who the murderer of all the criminals (dubbed “Kira” by the social media in Japan) and give him punishment for killing them while Light wants to make sure no one gets in the way of his creation of a new world via killing all criminals possible with the Death Note.

And now I want to take a step back and really take a look at Light and L. Obviously their ideas of justice are different.

But doesn’t L and Light’s ideals of justice reflect a lot of the ideas of justice in everyday life? We have a lot of events that involve something that includes law. We hear of laws being put in, laws being changed, laws being removed, people begging for certain laws to be changed or for appeals involving certain laws in court, as well as verdicts in courts for criminals all over the media and so much more! And of course, everybody has a different view on the issue, but most people’s views ultimately take one way or the other in my opinion. In my view, people’s views on matters like this go the way of the Deontologist similar to L, and they stand by the decision that no matter what factors were involved, the act that the criminal/bad person/stupid law/etc did was bad or good, or they go with the Utilitarian view similar if not completely like Light, believing that yes, this act might have been good/bad but one must take in the consequences and factors that went into doing this act.

What am I getting at with this? Basically, my theory is is that the goal of Death Note was to expand on our own thoughts about justice and think deeply about how people view justice, that no matter what the situation there are people that will take one point of view or the other when it comes to a situation and see it as ‘right,’ and I think it has really worked when it comes to that expansion in our views, as I feel that the Death Note series really gets to the core about the concept of justice and what people’s ideas are about it.

What do you all think about Death Note and its views about justice? Do you take Light or L’s side concerning justice and their ideas about justice, but most importantly why?

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