WARNING: Religious topics, particularly those discussed in the book of Genesis, will be used in this analysis. If that’s not your cup of tea, skip the post and move on!
What would YOU do, if you had a book that would kill anyone whose name was written in it? This is the dilemma presented to one Light Yagami, who chooses then, to become “Kira,” God of the new world.
Death Note has earned a huge following since its release all the way back in 2006, and for good reason. Providing a very, very unique concept that enthralled the minds of many, the idea of owning a “Death Note,” the series has become an anime legend. In the series, this concept was supplemented by massive amounts of symbolism, adding huge amounts of depth to the series that made it extremely memorable. That being said, I would like to take a quick look at just one of many aspects of the symbolism that can be seen in the series- sin, and how Light’s eventual downfall reflects the Fall of Man.
Despite being based at least partially on research and analysis, this is very much an opinion on how Death Note uses religious concepts, so if you do wish to continue reading, you can take whatever opinions I throw out with a grain of salt. There are many, many ways in which to interpret Death Note, but what’s for certain is that there is certainly meaning to find here. And of course, it might go without saying, but spoiler alert. Without further ado, let’s get into the intricacies that Death Note has to offer us!
Perhaps the most blatant symbolic object in the world of Death Note, apples are seen everywhere in the series. Being the favorite food of the most prominent Shinigami, Ryuk, the main character Light often uses them to bribe the death god into doing tasks that he, as a human, cannot. However, the most blatant appearances of the apple, that truly show deeper meaning is in the first opening sequence of Death Note- the intro.
One of the first shots of the intro parodies “The Creation of Adam,” the famous painting by Michelangelo, except in place of God, Ryuk is there, handing an apple to Light. The parody of such a famous illustration already has interesting context- context that is all but unnecessary with the final shots of the intro.
The apple disappearing, being replaced with the Death Note make one thing clear- the apple is certainly referring to the Fruit of Knowledge of Good and Evil, of Biblical infamy. In corrupting Light, and giving him the power to act on his beliefs of the world, comparisons can be made to the Fruit, which introduced sin to the previously innocent Adam and Eve. However, these are very basic comparisons, right? The Death Note essentially being sin, anyone with basic literary knowledge can see that! What strikes my interest though, is not this usage of symbolism- rather, it is Death Note’s striking parallels to the whole of the book of Genesis, and the Fall of Man.
The Book of Genesis
For this comparison to make sense, I will need to explain just a bit about the literary structure of Genesis, and break down the first four major events of the book. As many people know, the first parts of Genesis detail the Fall of Man, the introduction of sin, and its repercussions on the world. However, what not many people know, is the existence of a pattern in the first part of Genesis- a pattern that details how people gradually moved further and further away from God.
First, came Adam and Eve. They lived in the Garden of Eden, until the fated day when the serpent, commonly known as Satan, tempted them to eat the one fruit God prohibited them from eating. This became the first sin, which caused God to expel the two from the garden. However, with this expulsion, God promised mercy, that despite all harsh conditions, Adam and Eve would live on. We see this pattern throughout Genesis- there is sin, God punishes it, and he gives mercy. There are three more events in Genesis that follow this pattern- at least, until the last event. Essentially, this is the structure of Genesis:
- Adam and Eve eat the fruit, are driven out, but are blessed with protection.
- Cain murders Abel, is driven away from his family, but is again blessed with protection.
- Noah is told to build the ark, God purges the world using the flood, but then promises to never do it again.
- The Tower of Babel is constructed out of prideful desire to reach the heavens, and God scatters the people involved across the world.
It is at this point that God stops giving mercy, and leaves the people to struggle by themselves as punishment, for hoping in some small way, to play God. The structure is pretty evident at this point: sin leads to punishment, which God promptly follows with a single act of mercy, eventually leading to humanity growing further and further from God.
I propose that Death Note follows this exact structure- and that the four significant deaths of the series parallel the four large sins of humanity. Curious about how? Let me explain.
The Fall of Light
The first murder of the series is a turning point in the character of Light. Running across the Death Note, he doesn’t believe much in its power, and as such, is shocked when he tries using it, killing a man as a result. Despite this shock, he continues on this path, filling pages and pages with the names of criminals, before Ryuk the Shinigami ever meets Light. This, as you might have guessed, is representative of Adam and Eve when they tried the Fruit for the first time, losing themselves for the first time in sin.
From this point, Light enters a rivalry with the genius detective L, the other most prominent character in the series. For 25 episodes the two exchange wits, Light trying to kill L, before L finds out that he is the killer, “Kira.” In the end Light is able to kill L, further cementing his place as the God of the new world. As a result, Light’s “punishment,” the people Light has worked with throughout the investigation become wary of him. In the end, however, they believe that Light cannot be Kira. Light’s victory here represents Cain’s murder, and similarly to Cain, Light is ultimately safe, another example of the potential mercy that is shown in Genesis.
The third death is that of Light’s own father, Soichiro Yagami. Caught up in the fight to find Kira, in a world that is undoubtedly becoming worse and worse, Soichiro ends up hurt, close to death. Light is saddened by Soichiro’s imminent death, but because of the situation they are in, Light begs his father to use the Death Note, in order to kill a target that he needs to die. Soichiro refuses, instead passing on, his last words being that he’s confident that his son is not Kira. The punishment here, rather than the death of the world, like with Noah’s Ark, is the death of Soichiro, the act of mercy being his insistence that Light is not the killer.
Finally, Light faces off against the next great detective, N, in a final showdown. N is able to corner Light, proving without a doubt that he is indeed Kira, the one who called himself God. Light is desperate to escape, and for a moment, it looks like he might, thanks to a slip in judgment by the men surrounding him. However, Light’s mercy has run out- Ryuk, the one who gifted the Death Note to Light in the first place, is the one to end his life, and with that, Light’s aspirations to become God are over. Similarly to the story of Babel, similarly to the Fall of Man, Light paid the price for his pride. With this, the victory of N and the death of Light, the story of Death Note ends.
To Sum This All Up…
Death Note serves as a very interesting parallel to the structure of the Book of Genesis, and it only makes the thematic intricacies of the series THAT much more interesting. There are so many other symbolic design choices in Death Note to be explored, from tarot cards, to the usage of the Gods of Death, to a more in-depth look at apples, it’s kind of mind-boggling to think about. Wait…hold up.
“However, in Death Note 13: How to Read, Tsugumi Ohba states that there was no underlying reason for his choice of apples. He is quoted as saying that he liked the way the red apples contrast with Ryuk’s dark appearance.”
Well damn. So for all we know, apples don’t even actually mean squat. Shoot.
Hey, at the very least, Death Note is pretty interesting to watch. And, intentional or not, the parallels Death Note has with many great literary works, the symbolism it may or may not carry, make the series very much worth talking about. But that’ll be for another day.
So, what do you guys think about this? I had a ton of fun researching and analyzing the series for this article, and I feel like it makes a surprising amount of sense. Leave a comment down below, or a like, if you were picking up what I was putting down!