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This was actually going to be an in-depth character analysis of how Yagami Light from Death Note and Rodion Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment were the bromance that was not to be.

Blame the impromptu renewed interest in Fullmetal Alchemist fanfics. There was one in particular that caught my eye, a one-shot written by NinjaSquirls back in 2007. It’s a poignant character exploration of Edward when he’s stranded in Munich (first series-verse, not Brotherhood) and in a moment of weakness, seeks out a Catholic priest hoping to find some reprise from his emotional wounds by confessing his sins. As an atheist, he has no idea where to start and when the priest asks if he’s at least familiar with the Seven Deadly Sins, he laughs bitterly, the irony of the statement not lost to him.

Digression aside, the fic (which can be found here) inspired this post, a listicle of sorts that discusses how Yagami Light, the villainous protagonist of Death Note, manages to touch on all seven deadly sins. Death Note owners may not go to hell, but one can imagine how Yagami Light would be a surefire candidate for any of the nine circles of under-worldly suffering  as outlined by Dante Alighieri’s Inferno.

Lust (luxuria)

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Though we’ll never know if any fruit was borne from the interesting bedroom arrangement that was necessitated from becoming handcuffed to each other 24/7 (headcanon says yes), lust isn’t quite the first sin you might peg Light down for. Though clearly portrayed as an object of womanly sexual desire (Misa-Misa insists on the universal beauty of those burning auburn eyes), Yagami Light’s affectation of his sexual drive is just a masquerade. But while lust is usually thought of as excessive sexual desire, it also can involve the obsessive desire for other things such as worldly goods, fame or power. And is Light power hungry?

Hell yes.

Gluttony (gula)

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"I'll take a potato chip...AND EAT IT."
“I’ll take a potato chip…AND EAT IT.”

This scene pretty much speaks for itself. Gluttony is the sin of excessive waste, overindulgence, and maliciously depriving others of material necessities. Though Light’s dangerously anorexic weight (according to the manga, he’s 5’10” and weighs 120 pounds, or 178 cm 54.4 kilograms for those from locales who are smart enough to use the metric system) suggests that maybe Light really needs those greasy carbs of dehydrated potato goodness, his indulgence in destructive sport a la writing criminals’ names down under the pretense of “studying” is pretty gluttonous. The average gluttonous person maliciously deprives others of their fair share of food and water. Kira deprives criminals of their share of life.

Greed (avaritia)

"If I can't have it, no one can" mentality. Light's fire trap to hide the Death Note.
“If I can’t have it, no one can” mentality. Light’s fire trap to hide the Death Note.

Yagami Light wants everything. He wants to be the god of the new world; to kill L; to eat his darned potato chips in peace. Personal gain is his game, however he may dress up his murderous actions. There’s some overlap with greed, gluttony and lust, as they’re sins centered on obsessive desire. The distinction with greed is that it’s applied to a very excessive drive to pursue material possessions. Crimes such as hoarding, theft, and manipulation of authority are associated with greed. And while Light isn’t exactly looking to become the richest man on earth, being a God with deep coffers and a lot of media influence certainly doesn’t hurt.

Sloth (acedia)

Light's happy go lucky killing spree
Light’s happy go lucky killing spree
Gosh, it sure is hard work writing all of these names-have to watch out for carpal tunnel.
Gosh, it sure is hard work writing all of these names-have to watch out for carpal tunnel.

What makes the Death Note evil? It isn’t so much its ability to kill that makes it evil (a weapon isn’t inherently evil, though a case could be made for the Death Note since it’s a supernatural object), it’s how easily it does it. With just a few strokes of a ballpoint, a human life winks out of this plane of existence. The Death Note’s method of killing is so innocuous, so mundane, so magical that it distances the user from the emotional and moral repercussions of taking a life. Not that murder itself is good work to begin with (it isn’t), but lazy murder is even worse.

Wrath (ira)

Challenge me again, I dare you. *manic grin*
Challenge me again, I dare you. *manic grin*

Under the facade of pleasant composure is an insanely angry person. Wrath is the root of murder and violence. It is the opposite of righteousness, and scorns law and justice. Intolerant of all world views and philosophies that don’t align with its own convoluted “justice”, wrath is ultimately self-serving. Described by Dante as “a love of justice perverted to revenge and spite,” wrath is narcissistic, destructive, and void of empathy. It also often masquerades around as self-righteousness. Light as Kira spends a lot of time proclaiming his anger at the world, but we all know it all started when a certain British genius detective outsmarted him via the Lind L Tailor incident…

Envy (invidia)

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Envy, like Lust, was a bit harder for me to pin down. Jealousy isn’t something that Light experiences often, simply because being insecure of himself would go against his enormous God-complex. He does bear a strong hatred for L as his opponent in their epic game of morality chess, and centers his goal on taking L down.

L, the greatest detective in the world
L, the greatest detective in the world

Is Light ever envious of L? It’s hard to say. He respects L (with condescension, of course) and considers him a worthy opponent to dispose of.  The two of them are alike in so many ways and although the anime does a fantastic job of exploring the psychological mindsets of our two young geniuses, we never really get a ton of feedback on Light’s emotional feelings toward L, other than the standard “I-will-defeat-you-and-prove-Kira’s-justice-is-right.”

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I will make a brief comment on one similarity that they share–their insanely high intellect isolates them emotionally from society. While Light’s learned to affect a social mask that is charismatic and friendly–in other words, trustworthiness–L seems to revel in his social isolation and flaunts his social awkwardness. And while L might not be particularly liked, he does have the respect of the most powerful people in the world, without ever having to go through the trouble of pretending to be a different person. Of course, this is now headcanon territory, but I think it’s relatively safe to draw the conclusion that L’s freedom of self-expression–of not having to maintain a performance–is a power that Light would covet.  Or maybe it’s the fact that L can also get away with some pretty sketch interrogation methods without answering to the police.

Pride (superbia)

Ryuk's response to Light's plan to cleanse the world of criminals.
Ryuk’s response to Light’s plan to cleanse the world of criminals.
The logic behind Light's reasoning for his immunity to moral depravity eludes me...
The logic behind Light’s reasoning for his immunity to moral depravity eludes me…
How do you go from perfect test scores to God?
How do you go from perfect test scores to God?

Out of the seven sins, pride is the worst, and is known as the father of all sins. It arises from an excessive love of self and spurred on by a desire to be more important and a lack of regard for others. This self-love is self-destructive in nature, and according to Christian thought, extreme self-love was the ultimate sin because it was a feeling that spurned God. You can’t exactly love God if you love only yourself.

In less religious terms, pride leads to self-absorption and a lack of consideration for others. Which really fits Light like a glove. In fact, you can argue that the main seed of conflict that started the whole plot in Death Note was borne from an act of pride–a brilliant, bored genius who thought he could become a god.

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Some heavy-handed, vaguely Christian symbolism for your viewing pleasure.

It’s also hardly a coincidence that a clear parallel can be drawn between Light and Lucifer (which means “morning star” or “light-bringer” in Hebrew), the fallen angel who committed the first sin of pride (i.e. trying to overthrow God). Pride perverts even the most brilliant of lights (pun intended) and is most appropriately, the most prominent of Light’s many flaws.

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8 thoughts on “Yagami Light Touches the Seven Deadly Sins in Death Note

  1. I’m not convinced by your sloth argument… yet.

    Is killing “easily” more wrong? I mean for example, is a guy who signs orders to kill a family worse than another guy who carries out those orders and shoots them from close range?

    Writing in a notebook isn’t really associated with someone dying, so I can see what you mean by distancing the user. But Light did use it to kill people who he actually saw die, e.g. the guy who he killed when testing the Death Note. I think Light is fully aware of the consequences and feels no remorse for killing in order to further his goals, whether he’s near the person or pretending to study in his room. I don’t think Light experiences emotional or moral repercussions anyway.

    Going back to my first point, even if he did feel repercussions, which were lessened because of the often impersonal way of killing, would that make it any worse?

    Anyway, I really enjoyed this article. Nice to see someone revisiting older anime 🙂

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    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment! Looking back, perhaps I oversimplified the sinful attributes of Sloth. Sloth isn’t simply laziness (though according to Catholic tradition it can be). It’s the state of being spiritually and emotional apathetic to God’s word, to the people around you. While the ambiguous properties of the Death Note make it difficult for us to ascertain whether or not it induces the user to become more evil with every use, there’s no denying that its killing method makes the tendency for apathy all the more likely.

      Killing “easily” is poor wording on my part. What I meant by that was that easy killing is killing with guilt, without emotional baggage or repercussions. You state that even when Light has killed people he actually has met and cited one of the first guys he tested it on Regardless of having committed the murder which happened before his very eyes, Light doesn’t experience any moral or emotional repercussions. This instance is an example of sloth, of emotional apathy. The true antithesis of love is not hate, but indifference. The fact that Light is indifferent to his kills–an apathy partly fueled by the Death Note’s mechanism for killing–illustrates why sloth is apparently sinful. Indifference blocks people from feeling emotions, including love, which is a big no-no for Christianity (and just being a generally decent human being).

      As for your first point, is killing more easily more wrong? Again, I failed to make the distinction between “easy killing” (i.e. killing methods that are emotionally distant and dehumanize the victim) and “killing easily” (i.e. killing without remorse). I’m a pacifist, so both methods are terrible in my eyes. But what separates the two is the presence of intent. The former method may be done out of kindness (i.e. you don’t want the victim to suffer) or cruelty/spite. The latter is a refusal to accept the moral responsibility for having taken a life. Guilt is the unpleasant feeling one gets when one feels one has violated a moral standard. The fact that Light doesn’t feel he’s broken any moral standards is indicative of his sociopathic tendencies. Not that I’m saying a sociopath committing murder is inherently “more sinful” than an empathetic person committing the same act, but that Light chooses to adopt the sociopath’s mindset is, at least in the Christian mindset, equivalent to denying God’s love (which is what Satan did, and that’s considered the greatest sin of them all).

      Hope I’ve cleared things up a little? Are you any more convinced now?

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      1. Thanks for your detailed reply! Probably part of the issues that I had were because I didn’t have a clear idea of some of the concepts, so yeah I get what you’re going at a bit more now. Well, some of it anyway 😀

        Not that I’m saying a sociopath committing murder is inherently “more sinful” than an empathetic person committing the same act, but that Light chooses to adopt the sociopath’s mindset…

        Does he actually choose to become a sociopath? It could be argued that was how he was born. Does sinning via indifference imply that to sin, you need to be able to feel something in the first place? Okay, tbh I think I’m getting out of my depth now but yeah those were just a few things that came to mind. Probably for me to further my arguments I’d need more rigorous definitions of various things. Again, thanks for putting the effort into your response.

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  2. This is definitely an interesting take on Death Note, one that I haven’t considered before. I think that some of the sins are spot on while others (namely Gluttony and like Alex mentioned, Sloth) are a bit of a stretch. That being said, I think you can definitely make an argument for L’s gluttony. I wish I could eat that much cake all the time! Haha. It’s always nice to see another person’s take on a show that I’ve also reviewed though :). I enjoyed your approach.

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    1. L would make a good case for gluttony! I’ll admit that some sins are definitely more applicable to Light than others. But then again, finding someone who ably commits all seven sins would be pretty rare (they would have to be pretty despicable or twisted people). It was an exercise to see how far I could stretch it and of course, some sins just didn’t really apply to Light as well. Hopefully my reply to Alex (see above) might make my argument for Light’s sloth (tldr; The Death Note makes it easy for one to be emotionally apathetic. Apathy is a form of laziness. Light chooses to be emotionally “lazy”).
      I wish I could have made the gluttony argument a little more convincing. Besides the potato chip scene–man, he just had dinner. Crunching on those glorious saturated and trans fat loaded potato bombs seems a tad excessive to me.

      Thank you for commenting! Death Note’s one of my favorite anime. It’s always good to hear people’s thoughts on it.

      Like

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