Death Note: Light Yagami’s Transformation a Ruthless Killer
In the well-known anime, Death Note, Light Yagami goes through a drastic change from a hard working honors student with a high moral standard and a strong sense of justice into a ruthless murderer who will take innocent lives in order to achieve his own goals. This change starts when he picks up a death note, a notebook that, when a person’s name is written inside, that person dies in whatever manner the writer chooses. Deciding to punish criminals using the notebook, he takes on the name Kira as he changes, a name given to him by his supporters, derived from the English word killer. While Light progressively moves away from the justice that he claims to seek, there is a definite tipping point early in the first season where Light is shown to be irredeemably evil: when he kills Naomi Misora, an innocent former FBI agent, who has incriminating evidence against him. The evil standards for this article are intense immorality and a severe lack of empathy for other humans. In addition, evil connotes someone who does not care about the lives lost for their cause, but rather sees only the results or benefits from their deaths. From this point on Light’s actions speak far louder than his colorful words about justice or purging evil from the world. He murders innocent people as well as criminals, and gives no thought to killing off his closest supporters when it suits him.
Light’s Climb to Corruption
In the seventh episode of season one, titled “Overcast”, Light kills Naomi Misora, an intelligent former detective. However, he does not succeed at first, unknowing that she used an alias when she introduced herself. Light becomes flustered and agitated at careful Naomi; he even considers taking her down by force before he calms down. His obsession with winning a game rather than creating a just and moral world is made evident as he considers killing many innocent people even though his entire reason for killing is to rid the world of evil people who kill or commit crimes. He is juxtaposed by justice and lawlessness as he murders murderers, but when he starts killing innocent people in order to get his way, he becomes a criminal himself.
After Light smoothly cons Naomi into giving him her real name, by convincing her that he works for the task force that is searching for him, he turns into a taunting manipulator. When asked why he keeps checking his watch, he responds “It’s because I’m Kira”. Naomi’s look of horror in her last moments of consciousness connotes not only her fear of death, but the fact that her incriminating knowledge would be lost forever, and this terrible murderer may never be caught.
During the episode before Naomi’s murder, Light’s eyes and hair turn red as he plots her demise. This is the first time this art style is used in the series. Throughout the rest of the series, whenever Light is scheming as Kira, the background dims and he has a red filter put over him. In contrast, anyone who is plotting against Kira has a blue filter put over him or her. In Death Note, red and blue are symbolic of the fight between Kira and L–Kira’s sworn enemy, and the best detective in the world; during the time that Light loses his memories of the Death Note, he never turns red. When the filter is used, Light’s features also become more prominent and there is a greater contrast in the sharp angles of his face. He looks more severe, as a killer might, instead of the rounded baby-like face he has in the beginning. It is not to be dismissed that red is a color of lust and blood, connoting both Light’s lust for power and the blood that he has shed in his supposed search for justice. While the blue filter also sharpens the edges of the other character’s features, blue is more symbolic of calmness, as L is always calculating the movements of Kira and their possible outcomes when he is in blue. The filters add a new dimension to Death Note, putting the scheming characters into a new realm as they fight their battle of wits. The red filter adds an emotion driven and power hungry atmosphere, while the blue filter is calculating and precise. This is the decisive evidence that Light makes his transformation when he meets Naomi. Being the first time the filter is used, it is evident that it is no longer the search for justice that Light is working towards, but his own greedy hunger for power.
After Naomi is fully under the notebook’s control, Light taunts her possessed body as she walks towards her suicide. He sarcastically asks where she is going and if she still wants to call his father, the director of the task force, even though she can no longer do anything outside of the Death Note’s specifications. It is this childish mocking that leads to the conclusion that the protagonist has changed from a moral and law abiding citizen into a hypocritical murderer. He does not taunt her in order to win any sort of prize; he is being a sore winner, gloating about his success like a child. He is no longer concerned with keeping evil from the world. He is more interested in winning a game, where all the players are disposable pawns.
The Aftermath of Light’s Change
Warning: Spoilers ahead
Throughout the rest of the series Light goes on to directly and indirectly be responsible for the deaths of innocent people and even his own supporters. It is clear that he does not care about the lives of his subordinates. He sets up Misa for death (though Rem, a Shinigami, or god of death, saves her in the end), who has been a loyal supporter of Light and Kira since the beginning. He pretends to not know Mikami, who has been carrying out Light’s work while he was unable to move freely. He kills Takada, the public voice for Kira, when she gets kidnapped by man who wants Kira brought to justice, because he fears someone might find a piece of the death note. And Light doesn’t seem to mind laying waste to innocent people such as L or Soichiro Yagami, his own father. While not directly responsible, if it hadn’t been for Light’s greed for power, they would both be alive. Even at his father’s deathbed, Light is angered that his father didn’t kill Mello, and he begs Soichiro to tell him Mello’s real name, not caring that his father died trying to bring Kira to justice. In the case of L, Light set up a situation in which Misa’s life would be endangered so that Rem would feel obligated to kill L, who was to be responsible for Misa’s death. Not only did Light endanger Misa’s life, he also set the stage for L’s murder. His willingness to put others’ lives at risk is more characteristic of a Shinigami than a human.
Light’s growth into a murderous person with a God complex that even Kira would want dead is a drastic change from the trembling honors student who felt guilty about killing people in the first episode. His metamorphosis accelerates exponentially after his murder of Naomi Misora, and marks the point of no return for his justice-seeking soul. His childish taunting combined with the artistic change in his character leads to the conclusion that it is the murder of Naomi that changes Light Yagami into a ruthless killer who’s only objective is to gain power by being “the God of this new world” as he told Ryuk in the very first episode.
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