The apple, a biblical reference of truly biblical proportions. The apple is the fruit of the tree of knowledge in the garden of Eden. The bible says “God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.” (1) Adam and eve were not meant to eat that fruit. The fruit corrupted them in the eyes of God to the extent that he kicked them out of the garden of Eden. The forbidden fruit, the power that corrupts that also is the tale of “Death Note”. The death note is a notebook that comes from the shinigami, or death god, realm. These notebooks are used by the death gods to kill people. As the rules of the notebook say “The human whose name is written in this note shall die”(2). What would a human do with this power, with one of these notebooks. The power to control death itself. Throughout the story told in the Death Note anime many different people gain this power and they use it in several different ways all of which reflect the innermost feelings and desires of humanity. Yet they are all corrupted by the power of the notebook. As all humanity was corrupted by the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden. Throughout this paper I will look at how different people react when given the power of the death note and how it is not the death note that corrupts them, rather the power it gives them merely magnifies their inner self.
Shinigami is literally translated as god of death. It is a relatively new idea in japan originating during the Meiji era. The idea of the shinigami came to Japan from Europe and it is merely Japans view of death, the grim reaper. The Japanese merely use the term shinigami to define any sort of deity who controls the power over death and is no reference to any sort of god in the Shinto beliefs, the religion of Japan.(3) So if the shinigami is based on the grim reaper from western myth why would a shinigami seek to corrupt people? Does the grim reaper go around corrupting people, creating evil? No he comes at the end of life to lead you to the next. Sometimes even revealing inner truths of your life. So shinigami are not like Satan trying to corrupt the people of the earth rather they are like the grim reaper coming at the end of life to reveal and transcend it.
Light wasn't a homicidal maniac killing people for no reason. He saw it as justice. He believed that with the power of the death note he could change the world, and make a real impact on society. Light was given this great power and he had such far reaching world changing goals but the death note corrupted him. Rather it wasn't the death not but the power given to him by it. Neither Ryuuk nor the death notes nature seemed to affect Light. He took advantage of both the shinigami and the Death note. They didn't corrupt him rather he used them to gain the power to do his will. And it was that power that corrupted his sense of justice him and led him to believe that the ends justify the means.
Misa is perhaps the best example of how shinigami and the death note don't corrupt people. Just like Light she merely uses her death note as a tool to help with her ambitions. Early on her ambition is to help Kira, but eventually it transforms to Love. It is that love that best defines Misa as a character. She is a caring person and her love is what motivates her. She has a friendship with her death god Rem. A relationship that Light does not have with his death god. With this we see how caring she is. Compared to light Misa is good and pure, we see throughout the series how Light who takes advantage of her love. Misa is led by her love to kill many people. Love is generally thought of as a pure emotion but in Death Note we see how with that added power any emotion can become corrupted.
Higuchi used the death note to gain power and prestige in the business world. Higuchi was already corrupt so the death note nor the shinigami corrupted him. The power given to him by the death note allowed him to advance farther and faster in his business than would be faster otherwise. So yet again it did not corrupt him rather it amplified his previous goals and his inner ruthlesness. Teru Mikami, or Kira X, was another who was given the death note. Before he was given it he blindly followed and worshiped Kira. This continued once he got the Death note. Yet again it was not the death note that corrupted him, it merely gave him the power to do what he already wished to do.
Apples are a re-occurring symbol throughout the anime. They are consistently linked to Ryuuk, the death god that brings the death note to light. Ryuuk is addicted to the earths apples, and without them he goes into withdrawal. We can chose to view this one of two ways. The apple can represent Ryuuk's urge to corrupt humanity. Or the apple is merely a lure that brings the shinigami and the temptation their power represents to earth, where their mere presence causes corruption. As the fruit of the tree of knowledge was merely a lure that tempted Adam and Eve into defying God. It wasn't the knowledge they gained from eating the apple that got them kicked out of Eden, rather it was the fact that they went against gods will. So it is not the shinigami that corrupts people but the power they bring. It is not the God's who corrupt people but rather the temptation of god like powers. As it is said “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”(4)
4.quotation by John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton,