The second article in a column taking a look at Death Note
through a philosophical frame of mind
A question has been bothering me lately; I mean really bothering me in the way such frivolous things can bother fanboys and fangirls. Were Light and L friends? What was their relationship with one another?
At the heart of Death Note (in my opinion) is this dynamic. That’s not to discount the second season, far from it. But most adaptations of Death Note have focused on the game of cat and mouse between our favourite sociopaths*.
Death Note's Compelling Cat and Mouse Dynamic
I find this a very disappointing answer, as it removes the ambiguity from the relationship that makes it so compelling.
As humans, we find uncertainty far more interesting than simply being told the answer. It’s why the ending of Inception - where we don’t know if the protagonist is in a dream world or not - is so frequently discussed. We don’t like being told all the answers. Characters like Hamlet stay with us because we don’t know whether or not he’s mad; that’s what makes him interesting. It allows us to continue engaging with our favourite series after we’ve watched them.
The series that captures this best is the original Death Note manga and anime. Sometimes I wonder if Ohba (like George Lucas) actually understands what made his series so brilliant.
I also wonder if this is what makes the Yotsuba slightly less popular than earlier parts of the series - because it removed the cat and mouse aspect of their relationship. With Light no longer an evil monster, we’re deprived of seeing him monologue about how he’s going to become 'God of the New World', as well as amazing scenes like the death of Lind. L Tailor.
I’m of the opinion that the author can’t determine every reading of their work. They can give their interpretation, but it’s not the only one that’s valid. A work connects and engages with its reader on an individual level, and everyone takes something different away from it.
With that in mind I want to give a brief overview of how I interpret their relationship. I reject the homosexual readings of the series. This isn’t because it bothers me in anyway (one of my favourite TV shows is Hannibal, which has extremely obvious homoerotic undertones) but simply because I view Light as asexual. To me, Light represents a single minded determination towards one goal.
That’s not to say there isn’t some platonic admiration in their relationship, probably even a perverse friendship.
How did Light Yagami Regard his Relationship with L?
Light is shown throughout the series to be someone who had spent a solitary seventeen years of life. He seems detached from his friends and never once in the series shows interest in someone outside his family, unless it benefits his goals (such as in the instances of Misa and Takeda) with one exception - L.
Light is someone who has been deprived of an intellectual equal his entire life. The existence of L, someone who can keep up with him would be extremely significant to him; some form of validation that he isn’t alone.
On a purely mental level Light has probably understood that there are people as smart as him out there, but I doubt he truly comprehended it before he met L. To Light, I think he viewed L as the perfect obstacle towards his ascension to 'God of the New World'.
Light wanted a challenge, something to make his success more satisfying. L provided that.
How did L View Light Yagami in Death Note?
Outside of that? Well, L is a liar and it seems probable that his comments about being Light’s 'friend' were designed to throw him off guard. But that doesn’t preclude there being some truth in them as well.
A lot of what I have said about Light probably applies to L. This was undoubtedly L’s toughest case, he did lose after all. Like Light, he probably had met few people as intelligent as himself, and never interacted with them on the level he interacted with Light (Near never spoke personally to L).
One of the strongest arguments in favour of their platonic (or romantic) attraction is that other versions of the story portray as it as such. In the drama they have a heart to heart where they basically scream their love for one another (whilst trying to murder each other no less). In the musical there is a similar ending I hear (though it’s more from L than Light).
* Disclaimer: No respected psychiatrist or psychologist has used the term sociopath or psychopath in many years. I just like it.