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Mumbling Kitsune: Death Note: Two Endings
Why is the end of the Death Note anime inferior to the conclusion of the manga?
By Nadia Oxford
July 13, 2008
© Viz Media
Last week's Mumbling Kitsune took an in-depth look at Light Yagami, the twisted genius at the head of Death Note. Was his ambitious desire to wipe out the scum of the world by writing their names in a bewitched notebook a worthy endeavor, or was he just plain nuts?
There's no easy answer to the question, but one thing's for sure: Death Note, which has finally completed its anime run on Cartoon Network and YTV, has a couple of themes that are worth re-visiting.
The motivations and individual goals of Death Note's cast are memorable and bloggers are forever discussing them. But something else that's worth looking at is how the twelve volumes of the manga measure up against the anime adaptation—particularly the ending, which was changed quite a bit in the latter.
(Consider this your handy-dandy Spoiler Warning.)
To put it shortly, the fate of Light Yagami in the anime made him seem like a sympathetic character, whereas he utterly unraveled in the manga. Though Light still acted like a wounded animal, his death brought him a melancholy peace. Which ending rounded out the story and made for a more suitable finale?
The best thing that can be said for the ending of the Death Note anime is that it was artistically done, particularly Light's last moments running through the snow and a bloody sunset that signified the end. Not only the end of his life, but the end of his schemes and vision. It's a very nicely done bit of animation; the bite of winter feels very close.
Light's end comes when his name is written in the Death Note by Ryuk, as Ryuk promised would happen when they first teamed up. The same fate is doled out at the end of the manga, but the presentation is very different and far more intense.
Panic Versus Calm
Throughout the manga, it's made very clear that Light is a calm and collected individual. He seems to have more spastic moments in the anime, where he's taken by excitement far more often and completes even simple tasks with a flourish (Light will never live down that line about taking a potato chip...and eating it). But such moments are rare in the manga, which makes his falling apart a very surprising event. Even after killing thousands of criminals, he's terrified of his own death. He calls upon the Shinigami, Ryuk, and demands that Ryuk kills his captors. Sure enough, a name is written down: Light's name. Light spends the forty second lapse between his name being written down and his inevitable heart attack pleading and screaming. Even Ryuk points out that Light is acting very undignified and childish—which is appropriate, since at the start of the series, L himself remarked that Kira was childish and hated to lose.
What makes the manga's ending superior to the anime's is the manga's recollection of rules and terms readers had long forgotten. When Ryuk first told Light he'd be the one to write down Light's name, it wasn't uncommon for readers to promptly forget. Ryuk, on the other hand, never forgot.
The ending of the Death Note anime also cut short the Shinigami's most vital bit of development: his neutrality. Ryuk seemed a little sorry for Light at the end of the anime. He even granted Light the courtesy of a dignified death by killing him quietly and suddenly. In the manga, Ryuk made it clear that he was not Light's friend, nor had he ever intended to be an ally. Light was nothing more than a piece in a game he initiated to relieve Ryuk's own boredom, and he told him as much during Light's final moments. Once that was done, he returned to the Shinigami realm with no more regard for past events than a human looking back on a good game of chess.
Even Light's dead body has significance. His empty stare at the end of the manga is haunting, especially as it's sandwiched between the last two rules in the Death Note: “All humans will, without exception, eventually die.” “When they die, they go to nothingness.” At the end of the anime, Light looks out at the world with puppy-dog eyes and the impact is dulled.
The End of the End
The anime also neglects to show the world after the death of Kira, which more or less reverts to a globe full of rude and grumpy people. There's a bit of discussion about whether or not Kira had the right idea, but more importantly we see that the officers and Near have moved on to solving everyday crimes like smuggling and drug deals. The members of the task force look a little happier and far more relaxed. Good is still struggling versus evil, but the problem is tangible. There are no games of cat-and-mouse, no supernatural powers to deal with.
Also missing from the anime is the ghostly pilgrimage of Kira's followers , indicating that they still exist and are willing to rise up to the task he started...if they are ever given the chance to do so. Among the pilgrims are men, women, children, babies and the elderly—literally every kind of person from every walk of life. It's a final testament to the people whose lives were indeed touched by Kira's deeds and it's a good indication that not all of them were corrupt power-seekers.
Death Note's ending feels far more complete in its manga format, but the ending presented in the anime has considerable artistic merit. The obvious solution: Watch/read both. Then judge for yourself.