Death Note and Dr. Faustus: Transgression, Fate, and Religion’s Influences

Before plunging into my analysis/comparison of Dr. Faustus and Death Note, the following is to briefly establish the premises and general plot-lines for each of them should anyone be unfamiliar with either work.

Dr. Faustus is a play that was written in the late 16th century (written in the 1590s and the first edition published in 1604), telling the story of a man who is interested in mastering “magic” but in order to do so, must make a deal with Mephastophilis (a demonic figure) in exchange for the eternal damnation of his soul. Faustus takes the deal, grapples with the idea of whether or not he ought to repent and accept God’s forgiveness, and after finally deciding that he is incapable of repenting, Satan comes for his soul and drags him into Hell.

Death Note, the anime being from within the last 10 years (first aired in 2006 and ended in 2007), follows a very similar premise in that Yagami Light accepts the fact that he cannot go to Heaven or Hell in exchange for ownership of Ryuk’s (the demonic figure he makes the deal with) Death Note–a notebook which, by writing a person’s name in it, causes the person to die. Light attempts to impose his own sense of “righteous judgment” on his society in order to create a better world, but ultimately falls prey to investigators of the law.

For those of you who are interested in checking out either work, here is an online link to the entire text of Dr. Faustus (Note: this version of the text does not have page numbers).

And here is a link to an English dubbed trailer of Death Note (personally, I cannot stand English dubbed trailers but unfortunately I could not find one that was subbed; this is just to give you an idea though):

Thus, with that out of the way, let’s get into the interesting part.

Main Characters and Motivations

Light gives up going having the option of going to Heaven or Hell for the power of the Death Note
Light gives up having the option of going to Heaven or Hell for the power of the Death Note

While written at different times, various parallels can be drawn between Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and the anime Death Note. Faustus is presented as a brilliant student with a heightened sense of superiority in that he feels he is too good to settle for professions which countless others have followed before him: “A greater subject fitteth Faustus’ wit” (1129). It is also mentioned in the prologue that Faustus comes from humble beginnings, “Now is he born, his parents base of stock” (1128), and achieved his doctorate based on merit shown through his studies, “That shortly he was graced with doctor’s name,/ Excelling all whose sweet delight disputes” (1128-29).

The character Yagami Light from Death Note mirrors Faustus in that he is a student who is “top of his class” and also comes from humble origins as is indicated by the fact that he is part of an average hard-working family—his father rose through the ranks in the police force to become chief deputy; he also later states that he believes “hard-working” people deserve to live while the rest are rotting: “… a world filled with those I’ve judged to be kind and hard-working.”

Faustus agrees to receive supernatural powers in exchange for the eternal damnation of his soul
Faustus agrees to receive supernatural powers in exchange for the eternal damnation of his soul

While Faustus becomes involved in dark magic out of a desire for knowledge and power, “O what a world of profit and delight,/ Of power, of honor, of omnipotence/ Is promised to the studious artisan!” (1130), Light’s encounter with the supernatural arises by sheer chance—yet his sense of superiority leads him to firmly believe in the idea that he was specifically chosen out of everyone else: “If someone else had picked up this notebook, someone else could erase all the unnecessary people from this world … But is there someone who could do that. No, there isn’t. But I can. In fact, I’m the only one who can do that.”

Thus, while driven to the supernatural by different circumstances, the similarities between these two characters indicate that the idea of becoming “god-like” is a timeless subject that is often revisited by writers and society. The role of religion and society’s perception of morality actively shape both Faustus’ and Light’s thoughts—the notion of predestination urging the former to deal with the Devil while for the latter, the idea of what he considers is best for the greater good. Yet perhaps the most striking difference between the two is how Marlowe’s play focuses on religion and morality in terms of the individual’s relationship to God, while Death Note focuses on religion and morality in terms of the individual’s relationship to society.

A Shift in the Framework for Morality

When Faustus agrees to exchange his soul for supernatural powers, Mephastophilis tells him of the consequences which one suffers as a result of rejecting God: “Think’st thou that I … Am not tormented with ten thousand hells/ In being deprived of everlasting bliss?” (1136). In this exchange, the notion of “consequences” is framed in the relationship between God and the individual. The significance being that Marlowe may be saying no matter how a person may deal with another, the ultimate authority which they will have to answer to is God—as opposed to the authoritative figure of an emperor.

Thus, by making light of Faustus’ exchanges between himself and other humans—as observed in the various pranks he pulls—and by focusing throughout on Faustus’ internal struggle with reconciling his desires with what society deems is moral—as manifested in the good and evil angel characters—Marlowe conveys society’s emphasis on how the consequences of a person’s actions are of far more importance with regards to that individual’s relationship to God rather than to the rest of society; for it is only for his transgression against God that he is punished rather than for the pranks he pulls.

This contrasts heavily with our present-day society’s placing of the individual in relation to the people around him. Light’s questioning of whether executing certain people is within his authority is posed with regards to present-day society’s perception of morality—which lies within the framework of the legal system: “I began to think of it as ‘tidying up the world’ and continued to write down the names of the most monstrous criminals. Eventually no-one will be able to commit a crime.” This passage is important to consider because it indicates Light’s focus on those who commit “crimes;” the vast majority of people who Light executes are those who have already been arrested or who society deems to be a threat. Instead of pondering on whether or not people’s actions go against what religious figures in society might think is moral, Light constantly reinforces the notion that he acts out of a sense of “justice.”

Do the ends justify the means?
Do the ends justify the means?

Thus, the significance is that unlike Marlowe’s culture, where morality is placed within the framework of religion, morality in the present-day is placed within society’s legal framework. However, this is not to say that certain elements of religion are absent or that they don’t play a role in shaping people’s sense of morality. When Light encounters the demonic figure, Ryuk, the notion of morality is implicated in the consequences of using the death notebook: “… there is the fear and suffering that is faced only by those humans who use Death Notes … Don’t assume that a human who’s used the Death Note can go to Heaven or Hell.”

In this instance, the demon’s referral to the “fear and suffering” implies that all human beings have some sense of what is moral; the fear and suffering arising out of the guilt of ending lives when society and religion has taught us that no one has the right to murder. The emphasis on not being able to enter Heaven or Hell also has a strong religious connotation. This TV show may be implying that systematically murdering people dehumanizes the perpetrator to the extent that they are cast out from God’s society because the perpetrator is incapable of salvaging whatever remnant remains of their former humanity.

Despite Light's claim that he acts out of a sense of righteousness, the show portrays him in a crazed and evil manner
Despite Light’s claim that he acts out of a sense of righteousness, the show portrays him in a crazed and evil manner

Thus, the decision of both Faustus and Light in choosing the power of the supernatural over the salvation of their souls, and the dire consequences which they suffer as a result, reveals a kind of continuity between the beliefs of Marlowe’s society and the present-day: the notion of morality, whether a part of a legal or religious framework, is pertinently connected with overstepping “human” or societal boundaries and will inevitably lead to the condemnation of the transgressor.

The Inevitable Consequences

Instances within the play and the show that evoke the perceptions of the supernatural and humans’ involvement can be observed in the portrayal of Faustus’ and Light’s motivations. For example, when Faustus is speaking with Valdes and Cornelius, he asserts how much he detests the subjects which members of his society propagate: “Philosophy is odious and obscure,/ Both law and physic are for petty wits;/ Divinity is basest of the three,/ Unpleasant, harsh, contemptible, and vile” (1132). In this passage, Faustus discusses how his society is made up of philosophers, lawyers and doctors, or religious persons—all of whom he wants no part of as he refers to them as practicing “unpleasant” and “vile” professions.

Instead of conforming to society, Faustus wishes to break away from traditional norms by having the power to do as he pleases: “Letting him live in voluptuousness … To give me whatsoever I shall ask,/ To tell me whatsoever I demand … And always be obedient to my will” (1136). Faustus’ decision to become involved with the Devil however is influenced by his uncertainty as to whether or not he is a reprobate or among the elect. There are moments in Marlowe’s play when Faustus firmly believes he is inevitably bound towards hell, “The reward of sin is death? That’s hard … If we say that we have no sin,/ We deceive ourselves” (1130), and at the same time there are times when he very nearly repents for his actions because society has taught Faustus to believe that if one repents, God will always forgive.

Yet because Faustus is incapable of following through with repenting, he is ultimately condemned to Hell; the significance of this being that it reflects the beliefs of certain members of Marlowe’s society regarding Calvinism and the notion of predestination—that there is no way to fight against one’s fate as it is already predetermined from the beginning. Another instance where the notion of predestination is evoked is when Faustus exclaims, “My heart’s so hardened I cannot repent!” (1143). The significance of this line is that the notion of having a “hardened heart” is a feature which was believed to be common among reprobates; thus, even though Faustus expresses at various times a need to repent, he feels as though he is spiritually prevented from doing so.

In attempting to impose his "justice" on society, he  simultaneously struggles with escaping the law
Time and time again, I feel as though I’m being backed into a corner

However, while Marlowe’s play does not provide the reader with the perception that predestination is something which Faustus definitively believes in, Marlowe’s allusions to Calvinism nonetheless indicate that there were people of his time who did believe in it. Marlowe’s play can thus be a representation of one man’s struggle, representative of all humanity, to reconcile the inability of escaping one’s fate with the belief in one’s free will. The notion of struggling with one’s fate can be observed in Death Note as well.

Light expresses at various times that he is unhappy with the state of his society: “This world is rotting. Those who are rotting deserve to die. Someone … someone has to do it. Sacrificing their own life and soul, because the world just can’t continue like this.” Thus, like Faustus, Light indicates in this passage that he wishes to break away from the “rotting” society he is a part of—a thing which can be accomplished by using the death notebook and thereby sacrificing his soul in exchange of becoming more god-like.

Despite the fact that Light clearly does not believe that he cannot escape his demise, the message of the show strongly invests itself in the idea that escaping one’s fate is impossible. In addition to a few moments of foreshadow—Light stating “the consequences can’t be light” and “No matter how much time I have, it’ll never be enough”—Ryuk indicates that every human being has a set lifespan that runs out at the designated time. Thus, the notion of not being able to escape one’s fate can be observed as a belief that has continued to be a part of society’s beliefs since Marlowe’s time, continuing into the present-day; of course, this is not to say that every person in present-day society believes in predestination or fate, or even believes in God for that matter, but the TV show, like Marlowe’s play, is interested in portraying how the subject of religion is an inherent part of human society for it is the thing which helps to maintain some form of order and stability.

Decline of Religion’s Influence

Light is determined from the very beginning to put down all those who go against them
Light is determined from the very beginning to put down all those who go against him

The perception of what becomes of people who acquire supernatural powers also seems to be consistent since Marlowe’s time to the present-day; the fact that Faustus focuses more on pulling pranks on people instead of world domination as he fantasized is mirrored by how Light spends the majority of his time asserting his superiority through rivalry with brilliant police investigators rather than changing the world as he originally intended. Regardless of the fact that Light manages to follow through, in brief moments, with his original intentions, the fact that Faustus and Light use their powers to assert their superiority is a common theme between the two. An instance of this can be seen in Death Note when a brilliant police investigator named “L” comments on Light’s actions: “Instead of backing down from my provocations, they’ve been aggressively returning them.”

The same can be observed in Marlowe’s play when Faustus gives the Emperor’s knight horns on his head: “Are you/ remembered how you crossed me in my conference with the/ emperor?” (1154). This is important to consider because it reflects how society perceives an individual’s egotism as potentially harmful for their relationships to the people around them, or perhaps it explains how the notion of self-entitlement is intertwined with overstepping societal boundaries. Such a notion seems to be even further exaggerated in Death Note in terms of how society comes to view Light when he gains his power as compared to how Faustus’ society reacts towards him: Light is perceived as a powerful threat to the status quo whereas Faustus is simply viewed as a kind of “traveling magician.”

Such a jarring difference between society’s perception in Marlowe’s time compared to the present-day may be the result of a decline in the pertinence of religion in most people’s lives. After all, Dr. Faustus was written during a time when England was a police-state that enforced the following of Protestantism under Queen Elizabeth’s reign—any deviance could lead a person into grave trouble with the law and so it was perhaps believed that fewer people would be willing to commit serious crimes.

Queen Elizabeth's reign provided stability after a period of turbulence and instability in the State of England
Queen Elizabeth’s reign provided stability after a period of turbulence and instability in the State of England

However, Death Note, created four centuries later, takes place in a society where the existence of religion has little or no effect on people’s actions and crime is often rampant without going unchecked. An instance of this is shown at the beginning of the show when Light translates a few lines from English into Japanese as part of a class exercise, “Follow the voice of God and he shall calm the waves and protect us from storms”—these lines are immediately juxtaposed with news anchors reporting in the background a few murders which had occurred over the past couple of days as if it were simply a part of ordinary daily life.

It is important to consider this drastic change in the decline of religion’s influence in people’s lives in the context of how Faustus is not perceived as a threat whereas Light is, because it implies that in a society where morals are as loose as they are portrayed in Death Note, it is believed that people who acquire great power will automatically succumb to their darkest desires and wreak havoc against society.

Therefore, the similarities and differences between Death Note and Dr. Faustus offer an audience the ability to see how society has shifted emphasis from religious codes of morality to legal ones. Of course, there are religious overtones in Death Note but they are not as integral to the story as they are in Dr. Faustus where the story revolves around an individual transgressing against God rather than society. Regardless of the change from a religious framework to a legal one, the notion of the inherent dangers in becoming more “god-like” has persisted since Marlowe’s time to the present-day—the subsequent demise of the main characters furthers society’s long-held belief that the transgressor will not escape the fate of those who attempt to transcend societal norms.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Graduated from the University of Connecticut with a major in English. I'm a lover of literature, film, and anime, and I can be followed on Twitter @AlanPolozov

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46 Comments

  1. Lovely article. Regarding similar character, I would make a note of anime character Lelouch. He succeeded in having his vision of the future come to fruition mostly and they are very similar characters.

    • CriticalOtaku

      I haven’t really seen much of Code Geass as I’m not a big fan of mecha animes, but from what I know about his character, it probably would make for an interesting article to analyze the two of them and compare. I guess it just shows how often writer revisit the idea of transcending societal norms; don’t know why that is, but it does make for entertaining shows. Thanks for the read btw!

  2. Melida Enriquez
    0

    Light as a person is evil, since he was planning to kill Misa for doing the same damn things he did. He also thought nothing of getting Rem to give the notebook to somebody who would kill innocents. However, what Light was doing in general was good, since it was the only way to fix the world. It’s not the perfect solution for the world’s problems but it was the only realistic one(in-universe) while the notebooks were available for use…

    • CriticalOtaku

      I definitely agree that Light abuses his power–for someone to suddenly get that kind of ability in their hands, I think we generally assume the worst. I personally don’t think it’s right for anyone to kill anybody, but everyone has their own sense of “personal justice” which I think the show does explore really well. Thanks for the read!

    • Joe West
      0

      What I got out of the anime is that they were all evil. I’m not going to go into full detail but Light is evil because he is passing judgment on people he doesn’t even know personally and giving them the ultimate punishment. L and N are evil because even though they don’t believe in harsh punishment they still pass judgment. Also with N stopping Light he has just raised criminal activity. People will die because of him. So it’s like the only way to stop evil is to be evil. This is actually how the real world works. You can either believe that we are all evil or that there is no such thing as evil or good. That there is only your believes and the believes of others.

      • CriticalOtaku

        oh absolutely; I think even from the second episode when you see L bait Light with the fake L that L’s sense of morality already comes into question; he says that the fake L was a prisoner who was scheduled to be executed that same day, but even so, he essentially used another person’s life in order to figure out where Kira is in Japan

  3. Siegler
    0

    DN is most brilliant and intelligent anime i watched so far. I enjoyed every second. And I admire the craetor so much!

    • CriticalOtaku

      Agreed 😀 it’s fantastic. If you’re into really intelligent animes, I highly recommend checking out Shinsekai Yori; it aired in 2012 and ran for 25 episodes. The setting is a supposedly utopian society where every human is born with a telekinetic power; there are themes commenting on war (as you can imagine people would have tried to misuse such an ability), slavery, communism, same-sex relationships (albeit briefly), evolution, and it explores, like Death Note, the notion of whether the ends justify the means. Plus, the show is just incredibly entertaining and filled with suspense

  4. Mary Awad

    The comparisons you make are spot on. I love Death Note and I can see the parallels you draw really nicely. Both great pieces in and of themselves. Thanks for the read!

  5. Alexander
    0

    Light tot me was nothing but a stuck up bitch I don’t think he really wanted to help people but become god. Sure i thought he was alright in the beginning, but he became immoral by the end. I could never understand why a perfect little prissy boy wanted to change the world anyway? i mean if you had something bad happen to you then yes, but he didn’t. I honestly don’t like him that much sorry i just couldn’t relate/sympathize to him but i do respect that he was smart and far more intelligent then i’ll ever be.

    • CriticalOtaku

      That’s totally fine, I don’t think we’re supposed to like him anyway considering how extreme his sense of morality (or lack thereof) appears

  6. Yan-Swift
    0

    This is likely one of the most interesting posts I’ve read on Death Note for a while. Very different to the usual poor written review. Great job!

  7. Jason H.
    0

    Liked Death note, it starts off really strong, but it goes downhill in the middle. It doesn’t get bad, but it turns into light doing something and predicting how L will react, but L saw it coming and does something that Light saw coming and reacts but L knew how Light would react and it does that for a really long time. After about episode 25, it skips forward a few years and picks up again with a whole new host of characters. The last few episodes pick up again and become really interesting, and it ends on a strong note, but it’s a bit too long. If it was at least 7 episodes shorter, it would be much better.

    • CriticalOtaku

      Hm, well, I definitely agree that it slows down a bit after he loses his memory and imprisons himself; and after L died I just wasn’t as entertained anymore, but I do think the latter half of the show does a very good job in terms of portraying Light’s effects on society, his abusive treatment of women, his hubris, and there’s even a moment where they actually portray him as incredibly vulnerable well before he’s killed which was something I was not expecting and was definitely impressed by the 3-dimensionality of his character–I think it becomes more of an intellectual thrill after that rather than being purely for the sake of entertaining audiences

    • I liked it up to 2/3 or so, I was not fond of the last arch. I still would rate it ‘good’ because of the first twenty something episodes, but later on it became a bit muddled. I do not think the ending was that terrible, it was decent.

      • CriticalOtaku

        I can definitely see where you’re coming from. When I first watched the show, I stopped at episode 25 because I just didn’t think the writer could make it as interesting as it was when L was chasing after Light. Part of the reason why I may just have a greater appreciation for the show now in its entirety is because I’ve looked closely at the sequence of events and depictions of characters after that and found a lot of redeeming qualities, and while I agree that I don’t find it as entertaining as the first two-thirds, I still appreciate some of the gutsy moves the writer pulled and ultimately, I found the finale to be very well executed

  8. Great analyses, first time I hear about Dr. Faustus play but I’ve been an avid fan of Death Note since its original Manga release.

    • CriticalOtaku

      Thank you! I personally don’t find Dr. Faustus to be as entertaining as Death Note, but by comparing the two of them, I think it makes for interesting commentary–you really get to see how much society’s sense of morality, religion, and even the question of who has the authority to judge has changed over the course of a few centuries. I also haven’t looked into the manga all that much, but I did read a little bit of it after finishing the anime–I love the drawing style

  9. PerkAlert

    Very interesting! I’ve never thought about comparing Dr. Faustus to Death Note. I love your analysis of the framework for morality. I feel like there are some moral imperatives (“Life is sacred” and “Suffering once detected, should be alleviated”) that are defended no matter what framework they’re presented in. You also imply an “honor of martyrdom” theme with Deathnote. Essentially, martyrdom is only martyrdom if it’s *actually* martyrdom. In Deathnote, Light believes he’s a martyr because no one else can do what he has to do, but in truth that belief just blinds him to his own greed–the same greed that Dr. Faustus more obviously exhibits. Overall, fantastic article. You’ve taken a classic story and analyzed it with a modern topic.

    • CriticalOtaku

      Hmm, I actually never really thought of greed as a motivation for Faustus. One thing that I didn’t talk about in the article that is an interesting feature unique to the play is that when Faustus reads the line “the reward of sin is death,” he only reads half of the line that’s in the bible; if he would have finished the line, he would’ve read “… but the gift of God is eternal life.” In other words, if Faustus had simply finished the line, he would’ve seen that even if a person does sin, he or she will still be forgiven and accepted by God. It’s a very bizarre element of the premise considering that Faustus bases his reasoning on dealing with the devil just because he decided not to finish reading the second half of the sentence xD. One could interpret this as the possibility that Faustus is so full of himself that he thinks he doesn’t need to finish reading a sentence in order to get its entire meaning–which I think is a little ridiculous. But to get back to your comment, I guess I just always saw it as a “superiority” thing in that he just felt above everyone else. But then again, one could argue that this doesn’t make sense since later on the play, he takes orders from the emperor even though, in the beginning, he said that he would make the emperor bow to his will. Faustus is just such an enigmatic character that oftentimes I really don’t know what to make of him, or why Marlowe even has Faustus make some of the decisions that he makes. But thank you for reading!

  10. Thank you for not doing a Dexter VS Light Yagami breakdown!

  11. Jemarc Axinto

    I loved the article, but I have a question.

    What are your thoughts about Light’s “way out” so to speak? I am speaking of course of Light’s elaborate scheme to give up his memories of the book and go seeking out the serial killer (himself obviously). Do you think that, if Light had any form of remorse after remembering everything he did, he could have repented and at least lived out the rest of his days in peace before he died?

    Based on your article that moment just reminds me of the constant pleas by angels for Faustus to repent, but he did not believe he could and kept falling deeper and deeper out of God’s grace.

    • CriticalOtaku

      That’s a really good question and somewhat difficult to answer since immediately after retrieving his memories, he uses that moment to kill Higuchi–and since L discovers the existence of death notes and shinigami at that point, the decision to not kill L would’ve probably led him to believe that Light was the killer soon after; in other words, Light would’ve taken a big risk at that point if he decided to repent. So no, I don’t think he would’ve repented upon immediately gaining his memories back especially since he had it all planned out, as he claims. However, just because Light doesn’t ever repent, doesn’t mean that he never expresses remorse. In fact, there actually is a moment where he seems to break down in the episode after his father dies; in this way, he actually mirrors Faustus a great deal since they both express guilt in each work, but unlike Faustus who never actually tried to BE God, Light constantly asserted that he was one himself. So I don’t think Light ever even considered repentance in the same way Faustus does because Light thinks he transcends God while Faustus always views himself as still lesser than God.

  12. I loved Light as a character, so I wanted him to win. He was evil, and passing judgement and wanting to be god was wrong, but I still wanted him to win.

    • CriticalOtaku

      He is technically the protagonist of the show so I can understand why audiences can sympathize with him at times–admittedly, there were moments when even I was just impressed by how intelligent he was in executing his plans

  13. Madelaine

    I really enjoy this comparison because it’s not only and entertaining subject, but an ethical lesson among readers and audience members who continue interest in such subjects. I think it’s one of the most realistic concepts incorporated in fiction. The fact that “power” more so evil power corrupt these humanistic intelligence’s is a powerful message for everyone. Human’s are fragile, especially when faced with opportunities of “sin” such as gluttony and unrealistic desires. The fact that most people think they are invincible and can overcome any consequences is unrealistic in itself. Especially when faced with manipulation from a world of damnation.

    • CriticalOtaku

      Thanks for the read! It’s definitely an interesting topic I think–I’m not sure about how realistic necessarily the situation may be, but the difference between how much society’s perceptions of morality have changed is pretty stark

  14. I enjoyed your comparative analysis between Dr. Faustus and Death Note. Being a Death Note fan myself, I always find it interesting to read others’ viewpoints on the dark and psychological anime. However I feel as though you understated Light’s crimes a bit, particularly when you said, “Light is perceived as a powerful threat to the status quo”. I feel that he’s more than just a “threat to the status quo” and what he’s doing isn’t some theater magic that affects no one, he is taking the lives of people, some of them–his father the deputy director for sure–are innocent people. I believe that his crimes were against more than just a religious base; they were against a moral foundation that runs the majority of the world in this day and age. On that point I would have to disagree with you, but otherwise I found your article to be interesting and powerful.

    • CriticalOtaku

      Thank you for your comment! If the diction in my analysis comes across as too “clinical,” I would like to say that it was not done so in order to understate the severity of Light’s crimes; I wrote the article in the way I did in order to avoid alienating any possible readers who have strong opinions on either work. That being said, you are certainly more than welcome to disagree with my argument, though you should know that my interpretation is by no means the “end-all, be-all.”

  15. I agree that we weren’t really supposed to like Light, the way the show demonstrated him as cruel and evil made it quite clear that he was the villain in the story. I enjoyed your comparison between the two plots and the characters in particular, but I can’t help but wonder what you would have done has possession of a Death Note come to you. Personally I believe I might have gone in a similar direction to Light, and attempted to ‘erase the evil of this world’, even if that meant being perceived as evil myself. Though again – I agree that Light pushed those boundaries too far in the killing of innocents. The power he had was more than he could have handled and in the end he cared more for protecting himself than the ideals he had initially set out with.

    So – what would you have done, had you received a Death Note?

    • CriticalOtaku

      If I had received such a thing, I never would have used it. As I mentioned in another comment, I don’t think anyone has any right to kill anyone. In the show, the death notes are originally held only by the death gods–and I think the fact that the show depicts the horrific effects which giving such a weapon to a human can have on society and the individual, conveys the notion that no human being is meant to have such a power. But again, this is just my opinion

  16. I think Death Note is excellent. I’m in awe of the one who wrote the story. Every episode was so suspenseful and intelligent. It made you think as a viewer as well, and not just watch, like every good crime story ideally should. This is one of the best series I’ve ever watched.

  17. NewKirk
    0

    I’m not an anime fan, but I too think death note is great. There’s still anime quirks in each episode that kinda bug me, but it’s a great story and the characters are really good.

    No offense to anime fans, I get why you like it, but it’s just not usually my thing. Animation in general’s not my thing, but If anything has a story that interests me I will give it a chance and this anime did and it’s great. I’m not gonna lie though, I wish it wasn’t animated :/, but it works overall and it’s done extremely and I mean extremely well.

    • CriticalOtaku

      If you’re interested there is also a live action adaptation of it. It’s divided up into 2 films, both were released in 2006, the first one is called “Death Note” and the second one is called “Death Note: The Last Name.” Both are approximately 2 hours long. I haven’t seen them but I’ve heard good things.

  18. I like your analysis. I hadn’t thought to compare these two before, but now I see a lot of parallels.

    One thing I would have liked to see you touch on is the role of those offering the power (Mephistophilis and Ryuk). I find it interesting that Mephistophilis worked hard to corrupt Faustus have hims ell his soul, while Ryuk is content to sit back and watch.

    This also brings up the interesting difference that someone was actively working to lead Faustus astray, while Light fully chose his own fate.

    • CriticalOtaku

      Hm, well, I’m certainly no scholar, so my opinion is definitely up for debate. However, I’m not sure I agree with the idea that Mephastophilis had to work really hard to corrupt Faustus. If you take a look at the moment when Faustus is making the deal, there are a few things to consider: firstly, Mephastophilis was not the one who actively sought after Faustus’ soul as Faustus was the one who had summoned Mephastophilis in the first place. Second, even when Mephastophilis is discussing the dire consequences of selling his soul, Faustus mocks Mephastophilis: “What, is great Mephastophilis so passionate for being deprived of the joys of heaven? Learn thou of Faustus manly fortitude and scorn those joys.” Just considering these two features of the play makes me personally doubt that Mephastophilis “corrupted” Faustus as it seems Faustus actively sought the deal from his own ignorance. In terms of what KEEPS Faustus from repenting once he realizes the mistake he has made, that is left even more ambiguous–considering the, at times, enigmatic nature of Faustus’ character and the fact that Marlowe imbues the play with references to Faustus’, at certain points, belief and, in other moments, denial of the possibility that he may be a reprobate and already doomed from the beginning of his life to go to hell. But anyway, this is just my opinion; if you can point out passages in the play that go against this, I would be interested in seeing them. Thanks for the read!

  19. When I watched Deathnote I initially made a connection between it and Crime and Punishment; the way that Light believed he deserved the power (or even felt obligated) to take care of the useless or harmful people in society reminded me of Raskolnikov’s Extraordinary Man Theory. Your connection between the anime and Dr. Faustus, however, is also very justified. One difference I do find between these two works is that Ryuk didn’t have to try hard to make Light corrupt, he did it mostly to himself- he let the power get to his head. Dr. Faustus, on the other hand, was convinced by Mephistophilis to become corrupt. Also, what do you think about the drive for Mephistophilis and Ryuk to corrupt their respective humans- we know Mephistophilis wants Faustus’ soul, but what does Ryuk want? Wonderful, in depth article.

    • CriticalOtaku

      Thank you for the read! That’s a really cool connection–I actually didn’t even think of Crime and Punishment when I saw Death Note but the motivation for Raskolnikov definitely parallels Light’s. Regarding your opinion that Mephastophilis actively tries to corrupt Faustus is up for debate I believe. IanUlman (the guy who commented right above your comment) actually said the same thing–I’m personally surprised that this is a common thing; but then again, something as ambiguous as Dr. Faustus is certainly subject to multiple interpretations. If you’re interested in seeing my response as to why I disagree with that, I would take a look at my reply to his comment as I briefly go over a couple points that make me dubious to that assertion. In terms of what Ryuk wants, on a surface level, he claims his reason is that he was simply bored in the Shinigami realm–considering the show’s portrayal of that world, that is definitely plausible. However, you could also look at Ryuk as a kind of “agent of chaos” in much the same way the Joker is portrayed in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Not all characters always need a well-defined or necessarily logical motivation for stirring up trouble–some people are simply sociopaths. But this is just off the top of my head. And considering the only dialogue the show has for Ryuk either involves him talking about apples or briefly commenting on Light’s situations, it also leaves things pretty ambiguous and a little difficult to draw a lot of information from. Anyway, thanks again for your comment! It always interests me to hear people’s opinions 🙂

  20. Matthew
    0

    Wow, atleast I’m not the only crazy one. We were studying Doctor Faustus in English literature and I said “Isn’t it possible to make ties between Death Note and Doctor Faustus?” So I thought I might as well Google it and that’s how I got here. I was quite surprised.

  21. Hello,

    I enjoyed reading your essay as I am both familiar with Death Note and Dr. Faustus both of which I consider to be great works of art. I found it interesting how you connected these two works together and the intersection of morality as both a religious and legal trait as represented by Dr. Faustus and Death Note respectively. The resulting idea of Light as being a present-day Dr. Faustus is well worth thinking about and considering. Although it cannot be known whether the author used Marlowe’s drama as a direct source and influence on Death Note (as it is more than likely that he would have known Dr. Faustus). It was a well-written and provoking piece.

    Michael S. Engleking Jr.

  22. uiorra

    Very interesting article! I personally haven’t read Dr. Faustus yet, but I’m just finishing The Picture of Dorian Gray, which in itself has alot of similarities with Marlowe’s play.
    I wanted to point out that I think talking about how society itself, not the police and law-systems, reacted to Light, or ‘Killa’-worshipping this ‘new god’-could be an interesting addition to the article. Since, as you mentioned, religion in society today has little to no effect, this phenomena in the series of people rejoicing in this new righteous god that was imposing his justice on the sinful individuals is a very interesting and important point in the story, and could prove a great comparison between society today and society before; religion today and religion in the past, but maybe that in itself could be a whole article, not part of one.
    In any case, Great work!

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