A continuing look at tarot cards, archetypes
and symbolism in Death Note
with Death Note News columnist
~ This time exploring how
Near uses tarot
in the manga one-shot
to represent all that is going on
The Death Note One-Shot Special was published in Weekly Shonen Jump's February 2008 edition. Created by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, this 46 page stand alone chapter acted as a sequel to the events in the main Death Note manga.
Well, yeah, as long as he accepts that his opponent really is Kira. If not, then why take a Fool's Journey along the same old pathway, as directed by an imitator. Near's already taken those steps and learned those lessons. He's already in possession of that world. As underscored and illustrated throughout this one-shot Death Note manga sequel by use of tarot imagery.
L's successor - now L - quite literally occupies The World in tarot. He's created a whole world from the cards!
Near's Position in the Death Note Manga One-Shot
The story takes place nine years after Light Yagami received a Death Note from the Shinigami Ryuk, and three years since his serial killing persona Kira was killed by the same. All of which was not only orchestrated and witnessed by Near, but he also obtained custody of said Death Note AND calls the shots on what details enter the public sphere. There is some intelligence known for certain only to Near - like the whereabouts/Fate of that deadly notebook - which he expects others simply to take his word on trust.
Near not only has the keenest overview of this world as far as Kira concerns it, but he is able to determine all future aspects of Kira within it. Light Yagami might once have thought himself God of This New World. But in reality, it turned out to be Near.
He and/or the Death Note creators - Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata - choose to express that with use of the tarot, tarot cards and the Fool's Journey through the Major Arcana (though the latter is largely implied). And by 'Near's world in tarot cards', I mean that quite explicitly.
Our First View of Near in Death Note One-Shot
We see this urban sprawl first. It's a telescoping within from tower, as context and location, to room as specific spot wherein lurks the current L. But it also emphasizes the fact that we're seeing their environment/territory/universe. At its centre, there's Near; architect and creator of the cityscape in cards.
The world he's constructed in the wake of the previous Kira tops that being introduced by this new one.
The World in Near's Tarot Card Tower
The World's meaning is to return to the beginning but, as the poet says, see it again for the first time. Those in control of The World, or in a World state, recognize the signs for an environment in which they originally tramped through in all ignorance. Only this time they have the overview; experience from lesson's learned and teachers along the way; and incorporate within their own personalities the archetypes enacted by the previous arcana.
To enter The World is to complete the circle, thus finish the story. Typically, the possessor of The World will ape the stance of The Fool from card zero. Only instead of blithely heading straight towards an unseen cliff-edge, they will note the abyss before them, smile knowingly and step right over it. Then they fly.
It achieves a bird's eye view of everything below in manageable, surmountable, graspable miniature. All they survey, they know. The World is their oyster; it belongs to them entirely.
Thus is Near situated here. Warning Lidner and Rester not to 'knock over his tarot card tower' - The World he holds; built of all he mastered in the journey towards its construction - because that would indicate a brand, new world for the making. But first, he has to double check. Only then can he soar over his cliff-edge in complete (intellectual) ownership of all he surveys.
Contemplating L - Original Wammy Fool of the Death Note Universe
As his Wammy predecessor on the original Kira case, L may be viewed as the original Fool. The first one to undertake this journey, which Near then inherited. Therefore all cards in the tarot would pertain to L.
And to Near too, upon the same journey. He and L together may take an overview through the way-makers and ponder the states learned, mastered and/or understood. His insight isn't into one specific point, but them all. If Near knew less about the tarot, then he might have opted for a single card, one which he knew intimately and/or triggered the pensive subject.
Moreover, because he inherited this case from L the original Fool, it's to L's mindset Near must return to identify the start. There to recognize it most fully when it's viewed again from the end. 'What would L do?' pretty much delineates the boundaries of this quest; the rules of the game, determining failure or success; and what Near must consider most important of all in concluding the same right now.
If you like, L drew the lines in the sand to begin the battle. Now Near has to return to where that was, in order to draw a line under the Kira case, so to end it.
The Death Card and Light Yagami
We never see the card which Near pulled out to muse upon with, and about, L.
However we are privy to that which followed, pertaining to Light Yagami as the original Kira. It was the major arcana tarot card Death.
Usually I sigh when this turns up in fictional media, as it invariably means something other than is obvious to the non-tarot reading viewer. Death indicates more of a transformation than actual base and physical death. Though that can factor, insofar as it is a transformative state.
However, this does mean here what the dialogue requires Death to mean.
It's never stated what Kira did (any Death Note fan reading by now will already know), only that his actions brought about a transformation in crime rate and war. Both for the better, as the tarot's Death state is wont to achieve too.
In Near's personal life, Kira represented something of a watershed too. Before Kira, he was a jigsaw puzzling student at Wammy's House. During Kira, he became a world-class detective, putting his life and liberty on the line in order to solve the case.
In that regard, the Death tarot card is a perfect representation for Kira here.
The Foolish C-Kira of Death Note's Aftermath World - a Cheap Copy Kira
In contrast to the game-changing transforming qualities of encountering Light Yagami's Kira, we have Near's condemnation of this new Kira.
The tarot card he chooses to represent this interloper is The Fool.
Numbered zero in the major arcana, The Fool is the signifier, or subject, of the whole story to follow. The protagonist of the plot. But that case journey undertaken by L, then Near, already had one of those in the form of Light Yagami's Kira.
Therefore Near identifies this new Kira not as Light's successor, but the instigator of a whole new tale. It's not the quest he (nor L or Mello) was on. It's incitement to enter into another Fool's Journey; a separate quest entirely.
By 'identifies', I mean that Near quite literally pins this one down. Spearing straight through the hidden cards indicating the rest of this Fool's story.
He uses a dart to do so - the prop of his own Foolish days. As when Near first appeared in the Death Note manga as a contender for the L Code on the Kira case, his only 'toy' was a single dart. The rest - tarot cards, transformers, puppets etc - all came later.
Near is stating symbolically, as well as verbally, that he's been here before. This is a different story, with all the lessons already learned from the first, therefore why should he be interested in it at all?
The new Kira as a Fool setting out on a different journey from the first is reiterated in Near's conclusion, wherein he labels the killer 'some idiot'.
Fool, in one of its earliest connotations, was 'an idiot' - the folly of which still overhangs some modern usages of the term.
Thereon to label the imposter as C-Kira - a cheap copy of the original - and therefore nothing to do with Near at this stage, unless he chooses to accept the case as something new in its entirety.
The Other Tarot Cards on the Floor in Near's Tarot Musings
First there's Strength, which is pretty much what it says on the packet. That's the sheer endurance and brute force intellect required to survive The Wammy House for Gifted and Talented Orphans. Followed by The Priestess - the inspiration for entering the quest, or reason to be upon that great Fool's Journey - aka Roger telling Near and Mello that L was dead and Kira was reigning unchecked.
Both are already on the floor by the time Near picks out a card to contemplate with L. Later panels show that to be The Hermit - the isolated light in the darkness, which both Near and Mello would have represented at that time. In short, Near's own instance of inheriting L's Fool's quest, and bringing himself up to speed in following the clues rippling out from L's investigation.
This is followed by The Star, which could be summarized as 'hope', i.e. when Near sourced the means to fully integrate himself into the Kira case. Then Death - Kira - and The Fool - C-Kira.
It could be that Near is merely hunting through a tarot deck looking for the two that will illustrate his mind-set and direct his musing, discarding all others along the way. Or it could be that he's spelling out the story thus far, in order to reach his conclusion. Revisiting major markers on his own journey to this moment, so to recognize the reality of the situation in which he now finds himself.
Seeing The World for the cliff-edge it is, thus finding the courage to soar above it.
Toppling Near's Tarot World - Clearing The Decks with the Analytical Hermit?
It's difficult to see which card acts as a catalyst for chaos; signifying such a lapse in Near's concentration that it begins to collapse the self-imposed prison barricade of his tarot card tower.
However, it seems significant that its with the fingers adorned with puppets of himself and Mello that Near swoops in to redeem its placement, whilst holding L in a watchful aside from his other hand.
Particularly since both panels give clues as to the nature of the card itself.
The first depicting it practically glowing with a halo of light against the darkness. The second affording a glimpse of what appears to be a staff, or torch held high and similarly glowing. Both representing aspects of The Hermit then; the same card previously associated in Near's view with L.
The Hermit is a great card for Near now. An indicator of what is to come.
There are times when we have to step back, reflect and meditate upon our progress so far. This analytical retreat is necessary to shine a light upon those dark, overlooked, sometimes secret corners of the mind. Cleaning out the cobwebs and seeing things much more clearly than ever before, simply by stopping in order to see them.
However, The Hermit also symbolizes a solitary time, when the thinker is at their most anti-social.
After all, you need space and silence in which to effectively contemplate the past and all its clues; to sift through the rubble of self and experience to find context for the present; to peer into those half-forgotten places of the mind in recollection of lived memory, enlivened by passing insights from retrospect and other people's points of view.
This is not a state in which to take on board the perspective of third parties, unless as recollection sparking previously unexamined aspects for meditation.
Thus the insertion of Mello and L, as finger-puppets causes some measure of chaos for Near in his tarot world. Despite them being figures from the past.
Unless, of course, Near purposefully degrades his tarot card tower with this introduction of Mello as a puppet - the chaos ran rife during his rivalry with his Wammy House peer in life too. Given that Near has expertly and precisely placed every other card in a vast and intricate tower to date, this seems likely.
For Near as The Hermit, Hal and Rester's continued presence is a distraction. Knocking down his own tarot tower serves to momentarily shut them up, and provides him with a reasonable excuse to send them away. Albeit delivered in Near's own brusque, polite-but-rude manner.
Death Note One-Shot Special: Near Claims The World in Tarot
In mastery of their dominion, those claiming The World in tarot cards may even dictate its reality to others (though such elevated, returning Fools in symbolic reality generally feel no need to; displays of power play like that not only appear trifling but meaningless too in the face of other Fools and other realities).
Thus Near finishes his contemplation of The World by opting out of it. But not before he's seen pronouncing his conclusion through an overview of everything, as represented by a whole wall of tarot cards, each carrying their own component towards the whole picture.
There are elements in the latter which recall the former - Near's finger twisting around a lock of hair; proxies in props for the real thing (puppet; tarot cards); his utter bluntness in calling the murders for what they were, stripping away all intrigue, justification and quasi-divine mystique - yet all is changed utterly.
Three years before, Near was smug, but also uncertain in his smugness. He peered down to speak, still thinking it through, before sneaking a look at Kira to see how his words had been received. Then felt the need to reiterate a point, this time a little more flowery, therefore losing some of its stark impact.
This time, Near's pronouncement is unfettered and direct. His gaze straight and sure. His confidence in the latter no doubt stemming from his living through the precedent set by the former.
In some ways, publicly giving clues to how the 'real' Kira was diminished by this public re-enactment, though only he and a select few will ever know that.
His world-view viewed through The World, as a wall of tarot cards.
The Hermit's illumination, with Mello in hand (literally) to spark the courage for chaotic dismantlement, quickly escalated into Near knowing to pull down his own tarot card tower, and build the whole thing anew. After all, Near now owned The World.
Or put another way, this is Nate River conversing with Near right at the point when he mentally and emotionally accepts that he is L. When he steps free of The World as delineated by L. Lawliet and embarks upon new worlds of his own discovery, and journeys of his own destiny.
From Sun to World: Near Steps Out of L's Shadow via Tarot Symbolism
We travel through the story, witnessing Near's final leap from Wammy heir to the L Code to one actually in possession of it, mentally as well as physically. There is no Lawliet by the final depiction of Near, in the manga's closing artwork. Though Near now looks more like L than ever before, and sits confidentially beneath a shining tag proclaiming the same - backwards, forwards and in black and white.
It's the final stage before Judgement calls and, beyond that, The World.
There are fewer indicators that the last piece of artwork in Death Note's canon series depicts Near as archetype of The World. Nor can we totally dismiss it. There are no symbol creatures in each corner, but that central topmost circle could pass for a globe, and Near himself - L-esque as he appears - could arguably be perched with his back against a cliff-top; or at least the dark unknown.
Nevertheless it's a stretch, so we'll leave this here.
~ Tarot Mikami