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  • Identities in in Death Note by Michelle Leitner
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                Death Note is a series about a boy who finds a Death God’s notebook, called a Death Note, and starts playing God.  He kills people using the person’s name and face.  Due to this, almost every character in this series has an alias in order to hide who they really are.  It may seem obvious after watching this series as to why they have aliases, but it’s not that simple.  The characters are constantly switching names, as well as identities, throughout the series; even the two main characters use a few different aliases. An identity is something that we as people have created for each other. It is more than just a person's appearance, it is their name. Identity reflects and evokes the idea that social groups are put together with the bases of an individual's self-respect.(3) People are sometimes personified a certain way based on their identity. Without this key part Identity is a large part of this anime because without a person’s identity, which is his face and name, the main character could not kill people. Death Note looks at the idea that identity can shifting and deceptive because characters are constantly changing identities.

                There are two names that are most often switched around to different people throughout the whole series: L and Kira.  There are several characters that use the name L.  In t he beginning, Watari uses it to help hide the real L’s identity.  Throughout­ the rest of the first half of the series, L uses his identity as well as a few others.  After the real L dies, Light uses L’s name to “try and find Kira.” However, another character, Near, uses the name L to get help to seriously find Kira.  The name Kira was given to the unknown killer who has the Death Note.  The names L and Kira become an entity in its own right, meaning that it can change hosts when it needs to.  For example, when Light needs to clear his name as being Kira, he gets rid of the Death Note, for the time being, and becomes just plain Light again.  Another example is when L dies, both Near and Mello want to become L, or take over that identity.  These two names are most often switched because these are two very important names in the series.  They are not necessarily the protagonist and antagonist, but the names are enemies to each other.

                There are also two characters that use multiple aliases throughout the series: L and Light.  L uses different aliases to constantly hide his identity from the outside world.  He only gives out his name, L, to those he sincerely trusts.  He hides his identity from the world because he fears being found by the enemy and possibly killed.  By using the name L most commonly, he successfully hides who he really is. Some of the different names he uses include Ryuzaki, Ryuga, Coil, and more.  L is a character who takes on different identities and discards them without hesitation. Although Light does not assume as many identities as L, his identities play a more important role in the series.  At the very start he is just Light, but soon after he declares, "I am Kira!", showing that he has taken on the identity of Kira.(2)  After L dies, he becomes the next L and assumes himself to be God.  Light uses the identity Kira because he fears death.  He knows that if he is found to be the one killing everybody, he will killed himself. These two characters are shown most often shifting identities because they both fear death.

                It may seem that L puts on an act of not fearing death throughout the series.  He does all that is necessary in order to figure out who Kira is, including revealing himself to a suspect.  However, he never really gives out his real name, to anyone.  Everybody calls him L, even his handler, Watari, calls him L. This is not just to confuse people.  He is hiding who he really is because of his fear of death. Light uses the reason of "justice" to justify his reasons for killing so many people. This justice he hides behind is named Kira, and to much of the world he could be called a savior.  If his identity were to be revealed, he would be worshiped, feared, and possibly killed.

                Although it seems that Light is fully aware of the distinction between Light and Kira, it is not absolute in his mind.  When Light gives up the Death Note in order to clear his name as Kira, he loses a part of himself, and his personality changes completely.  However, treating the identities of Light and Kira as completely separate identities does not work. Light, without his Kira identity, is constantly pondering the fact that many of Kira’s thought patterns and actions are similar to what he would do.  In the end, Light doesn’t even consider the fact that he could kill thousands of people, but rather he considers that he might have forgotten it all.  Another identity Light assumes himself is “God”. Light’s desire to rule over the world like a God, soon leads him to believe that he is God himself.  At first, he believes he is God’s right hand, killing all the criminals of the world.  In the end, his belief that he is God leads to his downfall.  When Near proves to everyone that Light is Kira, Light is portrays and completely naked and traumatized, and the Kira persona in Light takes over. This is what kills him in the end.

               At some points in the film, Light loses his identity.  Within this loss of identity, he loses himself.  He loses his identity because he is constantly changing it.  In some parts, he is Light, then in others he is Kira.In the anime, one way that it is shown is the way he is drawn.  The artist purposefully makes his eyes redder and his appearance darker to show that he is Kira.  When his appearance become lighter and his eyes become softer, it is easy for the viewer to tell that he is using his identity of Light. These two images show the way the artist uses the character's appearance to form his/her identity. 

                Light and his other main identity, Kira, are similar to Tetsuo in Akira.  When Tetsuo awakens his powers his identity changes to a Tetsuo who is consumed by the powers.   However, he does switch back to the regular Tetsuo at certain times during the movie.(1) Light and his other identities are always in conflict.  When he is revealed to be Kira, he loses his Light persona.  He had always previously kept his identity as Kira a secret unless it was someone who he knew was about to die or was a true Kira supporter.  He used his Light persona, the young genius in college, as a mask.  As soon as he can no longer hide behind that mask he loses control of everything, completely becomes Kira, and dies soon after.

               Identities are an important theme in the Death Note series.  An identity creates a person because without one person would just be another person in the world.  An identity is the way a person defines oneself.(3)  In Death Note, identity is used to define who people are.  The identity Light could be thought of showing the "lighter" side of his personality.  The Kira identity defines a person darker side, hungry for power and possibly evil.  The identity L is used to define the greatest detective in the world (for the series).  Any person who took on this identity, would automatically be considered this, even if they weren't really L.  An identity is supposed to be given to one person and always used to identify that specific person, but in Death Note, it defines one's personality and being.


1. Steiff, Josef, and Tristan D. Tamplin. Anime and Philosophy: Wide Eyed Wonder. Chicago, IL: Open Court, 2010. Print.



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  1. Great idea expressed in the first paragraph but you need to expand it a little to create the thesis..something to the effect of "Death Note explores the idea that identity is shifting and misleading."

    You then need to expand and discuss the idea of identity within the explicit, implicit or symptomatic levels of meaning. your discussion is completely referential which I don't want. What does the uncertainty of identity mean at a deeper level?

    References need to be cited within the body of the text, showing where you got information. you can't just list a bibliography - you have to prove you used it in the essay.

    Great idea but you need to develop it and do some research.