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The Dual-Hero's Journey in Death Note

The hero’s journey is a method of creating a story based on a protagonist, who, through the introduction of a specific object or a specific experience in his/her life, then deviates from his usual activities and ventures into a different world of its own league either by exploiting the object or learning from his past experience, however specific it might be. He/she is set to overcome various hurdles or trials as one may call them, and follow his own ideals whilst putting them either against the society’s views, which are usually on the opposing side due to previously laid custom or habit, or even against naturalistic occurrences themselves. Many anime and manga follow this pattern where the hero must overcome these challenges while respecting his own ideals. It is usual for the audience to share the same ideals as the hero and this is done quite cunningly especially when the hero has to go against society as it is not customary for a regular individual to go against the already set standards and beliefs. After overcoming these hurdles, the hero is usually rewarded with something which he/she may or may not, depending on his character, use for his own benefits or for the society. It is usually experience which the hero receives and utilizes in overcoming the next hurdle in front of him, and this cycle continues on with the development and changing of his morals and ideals. This is applied to stretch and extend an anime over enormous lengths of time and it is quite rare to see an anime, now-a-days at least, which doesn’t apply the concept of hero’s journey for plot building and story lining.

Death Note, an anime which is a cluster of various genres adapts to this method of story casting in quite a unique way. In this anime, the term hero can actually be divided into two people, Yagami Light, who is the main protagonist, and L, who is also a main character. Both of these characters serve a different audience all together and can be seen as Light Versus Dark, or as the two sides of the same coin. This can be taken as symptomatic point of view as both of them, Yagami Light and L, could be considered good and bad in their own way according to different parts of the society. This anime also has elements of darkness which are appealed by a certain audience and is a style of animation which grasps the attention of an even broader audience (Drazen, Anime Explosion!).


I: Departure

1. The Call to Adventure

This is the point in the hero’s life when he is introduced to that object or experience which shall change his life forever and engross him/her into the world where he/she shall accomplish his goals and fulfill his layout of morals while travelling on his own ideal path.

In Death Note, the scene when Yagami Light picks up the book describes the start of this phase and with him taking the book, after being overwhelmed with curiosity, with him clearly signifies the start of his adventure into a dark world. As for L, the start of his journey can be noted by his interest in solving yet another mind boggling quest as a detective as he was quite bored of solving easy mysteries and when he came to know about Kira, his interest in the subject engrossed him into events which even he was unaware of.

2. Refusal of the Call

This is actually the part where the hero refuses to heed to the call for various reasons ranging from fear and insecurity to obligation.

This phase could be related to the moments where Yagami Light was hesitant to pick up the book while being under the impression of it being some kind of a play on him.

3. Supernatural Aid

Once the hero has accepted the call to adventure, usually, it is followed by the arrival of help of a supernatural nature, which provides guidance towards the hero’s forthcoming journey and help with overcoming the oncoming obstacles.

In Death Note, it can be said that only Yagami Light, now under the alias Kira after using the book, meets a Shinigami, which is described as a Grim Reaper in the Japanese culture or death personified (Wikipedia), who arrives shortly after Kira starts using the book to deliver justice upon the criminals. This Shinigami, Ryuk, doesn’t help Kira with any additional powers or magical objects but rather provides feedback and information regarding the use of the book, as it was originally his book and he has more experience with this book. Ryuk, invisible to people who haven’t touched his death note, also helped Kira in situations where it would have been impossible to succeed. There is no supernatural aid given to L in this anime as he is depicted as the society’s moral and law, and is in the attempt to solve the mystery of Kira purely from his passion for his work and his curiosity and hunger for a challenge.

4. The Crossing of the First Threshold

This represents the point where the hero actually does set out on his/her adventure, whilst forgetting or, leaving, their daily habits and concentrate more on their morals and ideals.

In Death Note, Yagami Light crosses his first threshold when he delivered judgment upon a criminal by writing his name into the book and accepts the fact that he shall be held responsible for all his actions, but his view about society is at an extreme where he does not even hinge from his stand point. L initializes his play into the plotline when he investigates the method of death which Kira utilizes to deliver judgment upon people (criminals) and confirms that Kira doesn’t need any nearby presence through a television news show and also confirms that Kira resided in Japan. This is actually a breakpoint for both, Kira and L, of the heroes and officially puts them into the gameplay.

5. The Belly of the Whale

When Kira is finally engrossed with his plans to create an ideal world without any crime, it can be taken as a point where he abandons his old world as a high school student and it can be seen that he is utilizing the dark nature of the Shinigami and the Death Note for his own benefit. He recognizes the potential of the Death Note and utilizes his skills from his “previous” world. As described in the book “Anime and Philosophy”, the hero is always searching for a possibility of perfection. Kira is looking for perfection in the justice done in the current world and rid it of all the crime (Josef Steiff, Anime and Philosophy).

We can relate this to L as well since he too gets engrossed into solving the case about Kira even though he does not obtain any supernatural aid. We can take his example as a case where an external use of the supernatural aid affects his actions thereby challenging his old self and potential.

It can also be concluded that, both Kira and L, are in the same league of intelligence and cunningness, but one has the aid of the Death Note whereas the other plainly uses the resources granted to him from the authority to solve the case. This is a great point to be noted about the different sides of the same coin reference.

II. Initiation

1. The Road of Trials

Kira is faced with numerous trials/tests which make him undergo the process of understanding the Death Note much better. He learns his limits and constraints through these tests put up by L, whereas for L, he learns of Kira’s weaknesses. Again, one can bring resemblance with the two sides of the coin; one’s gain is the other’s loss.

L is also faced with numerous trials and tests as his purpose is to pursuit Kira and capture him but the situations are always such that they are both on par with each other and it is quite hard for them to capture the other. Kira is looking forward to getting rid of L whereas the same can be said about L who is looking forward to capture Kira

2. The Meeting with the Goddess/Woman as the Temptress

As described by Campbell, this stage of the Hero’s Journey represents the point in the adventure where he experiences a love that has the power and significance of the all-powerful, all encompassing, unconditional love that a fortunate infant may experience with his or her mother.

Though there are elements of love, but they are not experienced by Kira himself but by Misa, a young Japanese idol who managed to get her hands on another Death Note, onto Kira himself. He, surprisingly, does not give in to love and instead uses her to his advantage due to her powers, given by her Shinigami, in order to get to L. She is also his limitation as her character is more on the naïve side and gets easily captured by L thereby being a threat to Kira eventually.

3. Atonement with the Father

Using Campbell’s book as a reference again, this part of the Hero’s Journey describes the confrontation with whatever holds the ultimate power in his/her life. In Kira’s case, we can assume that his confrontation with his father would fall under this category. Since Kira’s father worked with the police task force which was in charge of capturing Kira while working under L he had to set his priorities correct and to balance his love for his own family versus his capture. He decided to exploit the fact that his father worked with the secret task force and access all the data via access through the account information of his father. Kira might not have confronted his father in a direct manner but he did make decisions on protecting his family.

L can also be brought in this situation as he too had tried to confront his own limitations, his own self and thinking, which is contrary to what Campbell talks about when referring to the “father”. In L’s case, the confrontation is with his own decisions and the people who he has laid trust in.


All in all we can bring in the similarities between Kira and L, both in nature and personality. They are truly the opposite sides of the same coin. After all the events that happen in the anime series, they can be seen as a chain of actions taken by Kira and L one after another to counter each other’s plans. The hero’s journey is a great way to analyze an anime series deeply. It also is a great method on creating an anime with hero-like elements. Surely Death Note has followed most of the various parts described by Campbell, though ignoring a few elements, but that only acts as a plus given this anime. The story line and plot is carefully written and given a lot of thought into and have certainly captured the attention of numerous viewers. A plot written with passion and creativity is never gone unnoticed as can be seen here.

References :

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. N.p.: Pantheon Books, 2008. 

Drazen, Patrick. Anime Explosion!: The What? Why? & Wow! of Japanese Animation
     Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 2003. Print.

Steiff, Josef, and Tristan D. Tamplin. Anime and Philosophy - Wide Eyed Wonder
     Chicago: Open Court Publishing Company, 2010. Print.

"Shinigami." Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2010. 

"Death Note." Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2010. 

 ~Written by Lalit Tanwar.

1 Comment

  1. Good introduction.

    However, you need to stick to your thesis (light and dark). The essay doesn't really have a point. The hero's journey is hard because there's a tendency to slot things into a formula but this isn't really what the hero's journey is about. I think you need a lot more work on this and you need to cite references within the body of the text. Also, you should look at Campbell's Hero's journey and reference that, the web site doesn't count but you can use it for notes/rule of thumb, etc.