Death Note: Was Light Yagami justified for his actions? Breaking down the barrier between good and evil

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One of anime's longest-running debates still has no clear, objective answer or end in sight (Image via Madhouse Studios)

One of the most popular debates within the anime and manga community centers around Death Note. The series, originally written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, focuses heavily on moral themes such as good vs. evil or the judgment of death.

Within Death Note, protagonist Light Yagami takes the mantle of judge, jury, and executioner throughout, as he feels it is his job to rid the world of criminals and those he deems immoral. Light’s actions and their justifications have been a hot topic even over 15 years since the anime and manga series concluded.

While there is no right answer as to whether or not Light was justified in his actions, breaking down the barrier between good and evil allows for an honest discussion on the matter.

Actions of Death Note’s Light Yagami still a popular debate within the anime community

One of the most intense debates in the anime community is whether or not Light Yagami’s actions in Death Note are justified. However, there is no right answer to these queries, as the canonical series also did not comment on the appropriateness of Light’s actions.

Those who argue in favor of the validity of Light’s actions point out the rampant crime in the world’s setting at the time of his discovery of the titular "Death Note." Even on the day he finds it, Light witnesses a horrific crime scene where several bikers rob a store and a woman outside of it. In Light’s own experience, the world is a crime-ridden place.

Although fans are never exactly shown the international status of crime in the world, Light takes it upon himself to describe and deal with the global crime situation. This creates somewhat of a bias for viewers, with the protagonist of Death Note assuring that the state of the world justifies his actions without viewers ever being shown the world’s state.

This is a key factor as to why it’s impossible to give an objective answer on whether or not Light’s actions are justified. Without being given a perspective on the world’s general crime rates and status, viewers have no way of knowing whether or not the world was as bad as Light made it to be. While the protagonist isn’t shown to be an unreliable narrator, the possibility of bias for his own actions does exist.

Assuming everything Light says is true, it is arguable that his actions in Death Note are justified. However, if he had been exaggerating or embellishing the state of the world even a little bit, it becomes harder to argue from this standpoint. Thus, a major factor in picking sides for this debate boils down to a subjective belief on whether or not Light is an unreliable narrator.

Suppose Light is not an unreliable narrator, then an argument can be made for his actions being just. His targets, mainly criminals, supports this theory, but a major chink in the armor is Light’s execution of people he deems immoral. This is also the major argument for those who feel Light’s actions to be unjust, citing the flaw in his self-imposed role as a judge, jury, and executioner. In any case, it’s clear that the answer to this query will remain ambiguous.

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