Morals are something that most people struggle with. Even if you don’t believe that you care about morals, others around you will do things that you disagree with. The question becomes if their motivations are immoral, amoral, or moral.
The following assumes you have seen the Death Note anime (or read the manga) and seen the movie.
Death Note Compared
The anime and movie for Death Note are very different beasts. The anime series deals with moral questions, character progression, and is extremely clever in giving you the tools to solve what might happen but having K, L, M, and N a step ahead of you. The movie is just based on action sequences with the morals completely cut out.
One thing that is important to me in a story is the agency of the characters. In a story that deals directly with deep moral questions, it becomes even more important. In the movie, Light starts using the Death Note by killing a school bully, a mobster, and a hostage taker. There is no grand plan initially, and the moral conundrum becomes that the Death Note when not used in this version of the story will pass to a new owner.
Once the story picks up and the FBI agents die, this new version of Light does not have the moral conviction of the anime version. Instead of being sure he is doing the right thing and those who oppose him help evil, he seems to just be wary of what the new owner of the Death Note may do with it.
The movie does not ask a moral question clearly. Once the question is hinted at, it is ignored. Light struggles for mere seconds with what he is doing and never develops an end goal for what his actions will lead to. This is the exact opposite of the anime.
Deep Morals in the Death Note Anime
In the Death Note anime, you are forced to ask yourself if Light is doing the right thing in almost every episode. There will be times where you want Light to be caught and stopped. There will be times when you want Light to succeed. You will have an emotional attachment to the characters and their actions.
Throughout the whole of the Death Note anime, you are forced to question at what cost should the Utopia be created. Should someone create a Utopia at all? How else would the Utopia happen besides one person with ultimate power? If a person has ultimate power but cannot directly control the actions of others, how else would he create the Utopia without killing those who are preventing it from being made?
In the anime, Light and L see themselves as moral characters. L and N both think that Kira is damaging society as a whole by having the powers he does. He makes himself into a God. Every character in the anime has an opinion on what Kira is doing and their actions and words express it.
There are impactful choices made by characters like Matsuda that show how they really believe. It makes you question how you really believe. What decision would you make when faced with the reality as all the characters in the show see it? Would you bow down to a God and do his bidding? Or would you support the systems and society of man?
Lack of Morals in Death Note Movie
In the movie, Light does not see himself as a moral character. This becomes even more muddled when you add Mia into the mix. The girlfriend clearly isn’t moral. She isn’t even amoral. Mia is immoral and seems to only think about the power that can be brought through the Death Note. She has no grand plan and merely is blood thirsty for an unexplained reason. There is no ghost in her past that explains why she wants criminals dead at all costs. Mia seems to just want people to die.
Instead of the coldly logical characters with a different moral conclusion we are given in the Death note anime, the movie saddles us with an L who is emotional and childish. He flails around a gun after a high speed pursuit and is purely driven by emotion. The L character in the anime represents a form of justice. The L character in the movie represents nothing that I can discern, other than a character to drive the plot modeled around the anime L.
Light is a character who does not see himself as justice in the movie. There is no depth to the character and moral code that drives his actions. He is reactionary to everything. The only character with meaningful agency is Mia. Mia is an insane, immoral person who is lashing out for no reason that I can discern. It makes the movie hollow for me.
What Death Note the Movie is?
The Death Note movie does not ask a moral question. The characters don’t struggle with their choices. Even the choices with terrible consequences are forgotten in the following scenes. This is an action movie set in a universe similar to that of the anime. When viewed in this light, it isn’t a terrible movie. I still can’t help but feeling like I was promised a steak and then given watered down broth instead.
I’ve been struggling with my own morals for a while. I’ve written a small amount in the past about Daniel Shaver being shot and have in general been disgusted by the way the police interact with society in many cases. There is no justification for what happened in so many cases, I thought.
I still have not changed my mind that these things are wrong. My focus on thinking about these things has shifted onto other areas though. When walking myself through what I would do if someone I loved were killed in this manner and there was a not guilty verdict from a jury, I knew I would take my own form of justice and apply it.
I’ve been struggling with if that is right or not. My current belief is that it is not.
I believe that in order to avoid the emotional situation of requiring vengeance against the world, I would need to forgive the person who was on trial. Further, I would need to forgive society for creating the environment that allows these kinds of things to happen.
I am working my way towards accepting how we have arrived at the situation we are in. It is a truism that the present is the way it is because of the past. There is something to be said about needing to be aware of the past so you can understand the present. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to change the present. It does mean we shouldn’t discard our past, since it will remove our links to the reasons for the present.
I have decided if I am going to act outside of society’s rules, I need to rethink what I am doing. I need to find out how to stop myself from being any version of Kira and casting myself as God. A good first step is forgiving those who I would cast judgement on.