Death Note's Solemn Lament

Death Note's Solemn Lament

Death Note's Solemn Lament - YouTube

Death Note is a story whose popularity has lent itself to a reputation largely characterized by flair - Tetsuo Araki’s incredibly effective direction having a tendency to elevate the mundane to the legendary, the operatic music contributing to a sense of grandness, the epic proclamations of Kira being iconic in their impact and the entire story being punctuated by consistent psychological battles that never seem to cease. But where it finds it’s most impact, I think, is in the absence and quiet - in the contrast. Because stripped down, Death Note is about the inevitability of cycles of power, of how simple humanity means that we will likely never find a stable period of prosperity - and that is not something to be taken lightly. As much as it is a grand orchestral story of epic proportions, it is also a requiem, a solemn lament of a story that appreciates this tragedy. The most telling example of this is in one of the most important scenes of the series, wherein without words and with a simple, blunt, and effective series of shots, we see that L has conceded his loss to Light.

There is a quiet conviction in his words here. Surely knowing Light is Kira, he accepts it. Rubbing his feet as a symbol of his defeat, of pseudo praise and near worship of superiority. He struggled and struggled, refusing to give in, refusing to die, being caught in a high stakes battle for pride until he was found with no way out.. until he finally accepted that he had lost and that his struggles were in vain. The sadness of this death is magnified when you compare this picture of L, the smirking fighter, to the US - we like to believe that our struggles are worth something.. which is why L dying forces the audience to see a brutal reality. We don’t like to be confronted with the idea that our ambitions, our struggles, our battles will end in defeat, so L’s death is tragically symbolic in a way and almost automatically triggers a psychological defense mechanism that romanticizes all the times in which he was alive.

As long as L is still being quirky and weird and indulging himself in this cat and mouse game with Light, we can feel better - perhaps even about our own battles in life. But the minute Rem writes his name in the Death Note and his eyes glaze over, the symbolic representation of the struggler, the person fighting against the tides of a malevolent god resembling something close to fatalism itself - is dead and gone. We yearn to be free, and L’s death suffocates the audience with its impact. We may not find him totally relatable, but a lot of us are L in spirit - and when he dies, we lose something as well. Speaking personally, my first watch of DeathNote was exceedingly fun, but the minute L died, I found myself somewhat depressed and unmotivated to watch the remainder of the series. I didn’t even want to see Light defeated, which could have spurred me on further in my watch - I just found myself missing L - his characterization, his dynamics, and everything he stood for. Without having seen the final act of the series, I artificially buffered my appreciation of it simply because it made me feel uncomfortable and unfulfilled.

Power and Dominance in Death Note - YouTube

Death Note is, in many ways, a morbid story. A deceivingly deep and profound work that covers themes of power and dominance, justice, tribalism, and more, and approaches these themes in a way that does not paint humanity in a very positive light. And I propose that this hits it’s a most depressing peak with L’s death, because whether you stand on the side of Light, L, neither or both, it is undeniable that the meek, submissive acceptance of oblivion from someone who was always so determined and playful is sobering enough to negatively taint one’s impressions of anything for which L is not present. It is only natural. Enter Near and Mello - L’s spiritual successors. I’ve always thought of these two as the two distinct aspects of L separated - a sentiment which is elaborated upon as a defense against the notion of Near being an L clone in Kato’s video entitled “The Importance of Near-death Note”. L was a narratively ideal mix of analysis and humanity - otherworldly intelligent enough to put him on a level playing field with Light and make their mind games so enthralling but filled with unmistakable humanity that made him easy to root for - his loneliness and solemn nature made the sadder, melancholic moments hit hard while his childish thirst for victory made him genuinely likable and extremely honest.

But in a way, Near and Mello are these two elements isolated and personified. Mello is L’s flawed humanity, and Near isL’s analytical intellect, bereft of ego. Now, of course, there are caveats here - Mellois unmistakably intellectually gifted and we see this consistently throughout, but what sells this to me is that he uses his mind as a vehicle to drive his impulses, instinct, and ego rather than as a greater or even equal contributor to his strategy. All he wants is to prove himself better than near and to be the best. He is rather primitive in that way - an exaggerated representation of what we see in L, something that leads to his downfall as the reverse side of humanity that we’d expect from Mello - a tiny act of compassion - ends up being his undoing. Near, on the other hand, is similar to L in some very obvious ways but different in others, the main difference being that he is largely bereft of ego and pride, almost robotic. To summarize, Near and Mello are two parts of L - Near the egoless, prideless analysis, Mello the hubris drove one propelled forward by a yearning to prove himself and be on top.

In an opposing and simultaneously intertwining fashion with regards to Mello, Light, and L, Near demonstrates one of the story’s prevailing points - that pride and power-lust leads to doom. Near is not very charismatic, not infectious his quirks like L, and not very relatable which helps explain why he is often looked down upon critically. But he is so important because, despite hints at compassion and his fondness of toys and games, he is almost inhuman in his lack of ego. Near still feels a sort of thrill and relishes the chase, but his motives are centered primarily on restoring justice and carrying out L’swill, so personal gratification is far from his primary concern as it was for L and DEFINITELYWAS for Mello. He gives himself totally to the job, not interested in personal successes or battles, willing to be incredibly cooperative just to get things done. And he succeeds. It indirectly drives home one of the main points of the work that I’ve discussed in previous videos - this need from a man to win, this dark humanity being a simultaneous huge benefit and fatal flaw to humanity.

Near did NOT suffer from this, which proves the points just as effectively. He hardly ever got overly emotional, he never got taken over by something greater than his duty; he was nearly as smart as L but he never got caught up in his own pride. And that’s why he won. But we are not Near. We are prideful like Light, impulsive like Mello, and ego-driven like L, and that’s why we naturally gravitate towards them and why some might resent Near’s success. Because Near is selfless perfection and an untouchable standard in that sense, enabling him to work with Mello to win in a way nobody else could have - and thematically, this is the only thing that could have stopped Light. What else could fell a God? Calm analysis carefully dissects and comes to appropriate conclusions as Near did when he defeated Light. Ego clouds judgment. If there were more people like Near in the world then it would undoubtedly be a more functional place. But that’s the point - because there are so few people like Near.

We have this pride, and that is partly why mankind suffers. With L gone, audience reception reaches an incredibly fascinating, meta-commentary on the show’s themes that become an entity in and of themselves. Power magnetism had struck a balance in the crux of the L/Light conflict because the two were on more or less equal footing - but after lights victory, it’s hard to accept that a near God could be defeated by such a human mistake as leaving your fate in someone else’s hands - in uncertain hands. For me, the most interesting idea in the later arc was never about whether or not Light was doing what was right - but about what happens when the public is confronted with ultimate, godly power and judgment? How do we react when faced with an ultimate being? Tribalism dictates that many would want to stick with Light due to association and identity as so many of the populace did, but when he loses, that becomes hard to take because it shines a mirror on the flaws of the common man. Because as much as Death Note says that we long for power, it also says that if we do not lead, we are followers - connected loosely to this power vicariously through association rather than grasping it ourselves.

L Lawliet Character Appraisal (Death Note) - YouTube

Humanity in general seeks this dominance, but there is such a thing as associated, passive dominance - the type of gratification that leaves followers at a loss when their symbol, their leader, is gone. Post-L Death Note represents all of the things that are uncomfortable about human nature and life itself. It takes us to places we’d rather ignore and it can feel underwhelming for the reasons previously stated. The story was only ever going to end with lights defeat. We naturally tend to enjoy watching dance with the devil far more than a slow, solitary lament and defeat against an ego-less machine of a man - and I’d imagine that that has as much of an impact on the critical reception of the last dozen episodes as anything else. But it’s true to life as all hell. And of course, one could say that just because something is realistic does not mean it works dramatically or in narrative terms, but context is everything and for a story intending to reach the deep truths of humanity, the human condition, society, power, and cycles, this is simply where it had to end. Many thanks for reading.