Death Note is a manga series written by Tsugumi Ōba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, and whose anime adaptation was directed by Tetsurō Araki. Since its debut, Death Note had become one of the most important anime and manga series. Its thrilling plot, combined with its great characters, is what made the series great, and even now, many years since its debut, fans are still vehemently debating it, the characters, and its ending.
The ending of Death Note has proven to be one of the most controversial endings in history. It is not so much the ending per se as much as the whole second part, i.e., everything that involved L’s successors. Near wasn’t really loved by fans, and the ending that the authors wrote for Light was also shunned by most (Light) fans. In this article, we are going to reveal to you what happened at the end of Death Not and also tell you whether the series was a disappointment or not.
Death Note ending explained: What happened?
When Misa is kidnapped by the SPK just before the New Year, her bodyguard doesn’t offer any resistance. Meanwhile, Mello decides to kidnap Kiyomi. Light, who previously told her Mello’s real name, orders her over a phone call to kill Mello. Afterward, Light kills him with the help of a hidden note he kept hidden in his watch. Light and Near agree on a meeting of all members of the investigative team as well as the SPK. Light plans for Teru to take part with the real Death Note to kill everyone.
Near reveals to Light that Gevanni swapped pages from the book so they wouldn’t die. However, he believes that Near is not assuming the book is forged and shouts his victory just before the point at which the investigators and the SPK team are supposed to die. However, when no one dies, Near informs Light that he not only swapped out pages from the fake, but also the original Teru had hidden on the bench.
Because Teru thought that Light’s hands were tied, he went to the real Death Note’s hiding place and wrote Kiyomi’s name there as well. Gevanni noticed that Teru was worried for the first time that someone was tailing him. He then managed to take the real book and exchange it for another fake. Teru is then arrested and the book that was in his possession is confiscated. It contained all the names of the people present, except for Light’s. The missing name is the final proof of his guilt.
Light then admits everything and explains why he wanted a better world. He tries to use the hidden note in his watch to kill Near, but Matsuda manages to shoot him. Desperate, Light tries to get away again, eventually even begging Ryuk to help him. It becomes clear that Light has finally lost and will be imprisoned. Finding it boring to stay by Light’s side in prison until Light’s death, Ryuk decides to kill Light. He writes the name Light Yagami in his own Death Note, and then dies.
A year later normality has returned. Near now goes by the name “L” and works with the police. Led by a woman – who, according to an interview by the authors, is not Misa despite all the similarities – a new Kira-centered cult has emerged. At the end of the director’s cut of the anime, after the death of Light Yagami, a mysterious shinigami with similarities to Light is seen searching for Ryuk to learn more about the human world. Ryuk tells the unknown Shinigami the story of Light, after which the unknown Shinigami makes his own way to the human world.
Was Death Note a disappointment?
Well, ultimately, it all comes down to this – you’re either a Light/L fangirl or you’re not a Light/L fangirl. Not to be offensive, but most people yours truly had talked to about this issue are simply die-hard fans of either Light Yagami or L or both. What they enjoyed was their story and as soon as it ended, they lost interest in anything that Death Note actually had to offer, and the second part offered a lot, despite all the controversies.
We can understand why people liked the Light-L dynamic from the first part of the story. First of all, Light Yagami was the ideal villain that everyone wanted. He was handsome, he was popular, did well in school, and was generally perceived to be a great guy up until he realized the power he received from Ryuuk and his Death Note made him a god. He got corrupted by all that power, but despite all of that, the facade of the former Light remained, while underneath it, a monster was growing larger and larger with each name written down in that cursed little notebook.
On top of that, Light actually started off as a hero, of sorts, as he only punished villains and bad guys, people who have done something horrible, until he actually got lost along the way and started killing off everyone who got in his way or was perceived as a danger to him.
This is actually what should have made Light a much-hated character, yet – despite all of his wrongdoings – Light became even more popular. This is because his twisted sense of moral justice spoke to the populistic ideals that called for Hammurabi-style retributive punishment, with a final logic that goes something like this: if you rid the world of all villains, only the good guys will remain.
And that is what Light actually intended and since the series’ biggest fans were teens and young adolescents who usually have very high and very black-and-white ideals, it makes sense that Light actually spoke to them through his populistic facade of benevolence and humanism. No one really bothered to question whether such a moral system was wrong in its core, because – who would not condone killing off a pedophile rapist and murderer, right?
And while the latter might be true – although that is really not justice and there is no moral in all of that, that is just simple retribution – it is also inherently wrong because it’s not humanistic. An ideal that fights for humanism using inhumane manners cannot be called humanism; that does not make sense. Especially if all the power is put into the hands of one individual with absolutely no control whatsoever.
That is why Light is such a deplorable character and why it is utterly wrong to support him from the start. But, we’ve strayed off topic a bit (although we could write about Light and his moral system for ages); this was necessary to illustrate just how far Light Yagami fans will go to defend their favorite character and that was clearly reflected in the reception of the series ending.
A similar set of remarks could be given about L as well, although L was never really a villain and he was a true hero. He stuck to his ideals and although he was able to defeat Light, he did not want to resort to his methods, opting to remain true to himself, which ultimately cost him his life. And sure, L was the smartest character in the series, as confirmed by Ōba, and the fans loved him, but what they loved more was the dynamic between him and Light, as the due made up the core of the series. There was no Death Note without Light and L and everyone expected the story to end with an epic clash between the two, but it actually did not. And that was the problem for most.
When the second part started, L was gone. So, the fans actually lost one of the two main pillars of the whole series. As we have said, Light and L were Death Note; there was nothing beyond them and the story stopped making sense to many fans as soon as the first pillar disappeared.
Sure, Light was still there, but without L, no one would really be a challenge to him, right? But, the authors introduced us to L’s successors, Near and Mello. Now, while both Near and Mello were intriguing characters in their own right, the fans perceived it as this: L, their favorite character, was replaced with a white-haired kid and a blonde enfant terrible whose loyalties were all over the place.
This was a slap in their faces and while Mello never really did much to redeem himself, Near actually did everything L did not – he deduced Kira’s identity, he tricked Kira, and he became the new L – and yet, he is still hated by fans.
Yours truly doesn’t think that this is actually fair, because Near was a truly intriguing character and when L died, both Near and Mello were introduced as solid replacements. They also had this intriguing Sherlock Holmes-Mycroft Holmes dynamic with a twist, which made them even more interesting to begin with. The issue was that people perceived Near and Mello through L’s prism and they simply weren’t enough. Death Note is a rare example of a series where the fans were so attached to a couple of characters that even though the story dictated it, they simply did not want to see them go.
This happened with L and no matter how quirky and special Near and Mello were, there was simply nothing they could do to become more popular because they were not L and they were deemed as unworthy replacements, which is ironic because – in the end – Near did more than L in his career. He even stopped the “new” Kira with a simple announcement, denouncing his seriousness. This led the wannabe Kira to kill himself as Near, the new L, simply rejected chasing him. Near was that smart. But it did not matter.
The second thing that ultimately led to the denouncement of the second part of the manga was Light’s death. Okay, that was bound to happen at some point, it was even foreshadowed from the very beginning, but people did not want to accept that that same white-haired kid killed and bested Light. For them, it was utterly disgusting and they simply rejected it.
There are several factors why this happened, actually. For one, Light was so beloved that everyone wanted him to be the final victor of this series, a twisted perspective we have already discussed above. Secondly, everyone had hated Near by then, so no one really cheered for the good guys in the end, because Near was the embodiment of the good guys, which is also quite weird.
Finally, Light was perceived to be so superior to everyone (which is absolutely wrong) that fans rejected the possibility of Near defeating him, regardless of the fact that Near was – in the official books – described as being the smartest character in the series, smarter than even L (although we have discussed in a previous article that this was a mistake, Near certainly surpassed his mentor as the years passed).
And when all of this happened, when Near actually managed to outwit Kira (Light) and his followers, their whole world was destroyed. And that was a problem. A big one. And the fans simply rejected it. A lot of fans will even tell you that the second part should not be (or is not!) canon. Yes, that is how far they are willing to go. But, they keep forgetting several things.
The first important thing one must consider when evaluating the second part of the Death Note manga is that it was the only natural ending for the story. Sure, the authors might have ended it with L’s death and Kira’s victory or they might have changed the original ending and written a shorter manga, but why would they do that? Why shorten the story?
The whole story was set up in such a way that Kira would seemingly become the victor, only to lose because he was an evil tyrant and no hero at all. Kira was the villain of the story and villains should not be allowed to win, especially if they’re simply populists and sadistic narcissists, something that Kira definitely was. There was no way for Kira to win and that is why his loss was so natural.
As for his “slayer”, sure, it could’ve been L, but the pacing of the first part was such that keeping L around for much longer wouldn’t have made sense. The whole idea would’ve become boring after a while and people would’ve probably been sick of the whole idea.
That is why the authors decided to bring something (or someone) new to the story and that was a great thing to do. Namely, they not only gave L a very natural – although a bit ex machina – exit, but they also replaced him with characters who were quirky like him but very different and very distinctive, thereby avoiding repetition. L himself was preparing for this and why should we have a problem with this, then?
Also, there is the fact that Death Note had to evolve the story even further and that seeing Kira and L fight for x additional volume or episodes would’ve really been boring as it would all amount to the same thing. L’s death shook the franchise and also refreshed it, giving it more sense than it would’ve had, had the story simply continued without progressing in any way.
The novelties helped move the plot forward and we really have to say that once L died and Kira seemingly triumphed, seeing a new L in the form of Near (and Mello) was quite exciting and intriguing, because it actually broke the whole illusion established after part one ended.
Ultimately, the fans forget that the second part of Death Note was the most thrilling set of twists and turns that an anime has ever seen. Everyone was present in one room and nothing big happened, but things kept changing from the very second, and based on everything that had happened, you simply had no clue what was coming. Sure, you expected or hoped for something, but it could’ve easily been different. Of course, one cannot say that the ending of the first part wasn’t thrilling, but it had a lot of very convenient ex machina moments, something that was worked out much better when Near defeated Light because it was all explained and shown perfectly.
The ending of the manga actually gave us what we should’ve gotten from the clash between Light and L, and people often disregard that. They simply forget that the second part did a lot of great things and that it was an exceptionally thrilling ride.
This is why the ending of Death Note is not and should not be perceived as a disappointment. Could it have been better? Yes. Could it have been worse? Definitely. No manga ending is ideal and no matter how much one tries, there will always be someone who’s better than the author and who understands a world better than the guy who created it.
Death Note is a truly great example of this and an additional reason why we should respect an author’s original ending. As stated, Death Note is not a disappointment in the end; people simply like Light and L too much to even consider all the positive aspects that the second part actually brought. And with this, this text is complete; yours truly honestly hopes that he has been helpful and that this article was, ultimately, of some use to you.