I'm into this new Death Note drama now. Drawn in hook, line and sinker. No longer dutifully checking out - for the purpose of this blog - something which the armchair critics already panned. They were wrong and I'm excited to find another episode ready to air.
After all these years obsessed with the same story, it's a beautiful thing to have new twists to entangle; a fresh take to embrace.
And for those bored with seeing the same old storyline retold with no obvious deviation from norm, then there is a whole world of background iconology and themes to explore. I know that I'm having fun with that!
For episode two of the Death Note TV drama, it seemed to me to be all about reflections/mirror images and/or projection. Even of itself.
Reflections, Polar Opposites and Mirror Images in Death Note (2015)
This 2015 Death Note Light Yagami has an inferiority complex underpinning his actions in episode two. For example, when he learns that Misa's life is in danger, he comments, "I can save her without Kira's power. Even I can do that." (Though ultimately he can't and has to fall back upon that preternatural scribbling.)
He's become his own polar opposite; a fundamental trope turned on its head.
Sometimes it seems like the whole adaptation is showing through a glass darkly that original telling. There was a genius Light, who here is merely average intelligence. Yet their strategies are mostly the same.
It always appeared as a plot-hole to me that Death Note's geniuses weren't precisely genius in tactic, deed nor thought. This version reflects that right back at canon, while ironing out said plot-hole by making Light smart, but not to the point of hyperbole. It adds another layer of realism over a quite fantastical tale.
Light's Lucky Number Seven in Death Note, or the Letter L Inverted
I noted in the first episode that Light owns a trash bin sporting a Lucky Seven design. Like many cultures around the world, Japan regards this number as fortuitous - a tradition with its origin there in Buddhism. The implication is clear - rubbishing L is lucky for Light. Fair enough.
Episode two saw a profusion of iterations of the number seven. It turned up everywhere! Some that I caught:
- Misa's life was to have ended at 7pm;
- There were 7 people on the bus;
- The bus was hijacked on 7/7 (July 7th - actually celebrated as Tanabata (Evening of the Seventh), a national holiday in Japan; though as a Briton, the hijacking of public transport on that day seemed a little in bad taste).
I'm still reading this as Kira in the ascendency, as represented by Light's 7, while L's fortunes continue to flounder beneath. Though that situation seems poised to change. The last scene saw Light's luck finally running dry.
Light's Sun; L's Cresent Moon
Though she's been 'red' from day one. It's her Ichigo Berry colour. Interesting to see how, or if, this theme continues.
Our protagonist's solar credentials are right there in his name - Light. But also in some of the random articles dotted around his room: two depictions of the solar system (one cylindrical, the other a poster) for a start, and, more tenuously, various sources of energy, like the propeller/windmill and transistor. Then there was a whole scene with Light standing before a box labelled Sun Flower (in English and written as separate words).
L for lunar now, is it? When I first spotted his signet ring, I thought the design was a horseshoe - something also thought to be lucky here. His answer to Light's seven.
Then I saw his night-time desktop avatar screen. His trademark L against a midnight sky, alongside a brightly waxing crescent moon. The 'horseshoe' suddenly clicked as a crescent too. Smooth out a corner and the letter L could be a crescent, but only if it's waning. Otherwise it's that 7 again.
Dualism and Personas Projected in Death Note (2015) Television Drama Episode Two
Meanwhile, I was taking another long look at the items dotted around his room and wondering if Light's subconscious knows about his inferiority complex. There are so many references there to dominion, empire or Godhead.
Above the aforementioned Sun Flowers, there was another small box simply bearing the word 'imperial'; those globes could be interpreted as owning the world (several times over), ditto the universe/solar system references; plus the emperor penguin.
- Panda - prominently adorning Light's desk this episode. In Japan, pandas are believed to ward off evil spirits;
- Unicorn - on the wall beside Light's bedroom door. The Japanese unicorn is called a Kirin. It's the most powerful of all mythological creatures, signifying the arrival of a sage or ruler. They are seen as being pets of the deities. Kirin have the ability to discern guilt from innocence, punishing the former and bringing peace and serenity to the latter. Kirin sounds VERY close to Kira, as well as performing a similar kind of murderous/judgemental function;
- Stag - on the wall beside his bookcase. This isn't actually a stag, as we in the West have been incorrectly identifying it. It's an older representation of the Kirin (antlered dragon). So see above.
- Giraffe - on the shelving unit beside Light's desk. The Japanese word for 'giraffe' is 'kirin' - see above again. Ditto the zebra on the bookcase, also associated with kirin;
- Polar Bear - standing at the back of his desk. Bears are viewed as gods in some parts of Japan;
- Owl - on a shelf in the centre of Light's room. The animal form of one of the seven Gods of Luck in Japan.
L, Near and Mello: Wammy Boys Projecting in 2015 Death Note Episode Two
To all extent and purposes, it seems like this whole scene involves someone projecting their thoughts/opinions/personality onto another. Whether it's Near's ventriloquism (we see that his lips don't move when Mello speaks) onto his puppet, or Mello's accusation, followed by Near's counter-accusation.
Here's the dialogue for you to judge for yourself:
Scene: Camera pans down from the ceiling (which seems in a state of disrepair), lingering upon Luca Giordano's painting The Fall of the Rebel Angels (1660-1665), before which Near has twice appeared with her Mello puppet. She's heard, then the camera continues down to find her below the artwork talking into a 'phone with L.
L: Shinigami? If they exist, I'd love to meet one.
MELLO: If you met one, you'd die.
L: Shut up! Listen to me. Don't get in Near's way.
MELLO: Shut up, dummy!
NEAR: Don't worry. I'll be fine. Goodnight, L. *disconnects the call*
MELLO: *sniggers* I know all about it. Deep down inside, you think you're better than L.
NEAR: I think you're projecting, Mello.
MELLO: *close up on puppet's smiling face*
But I'm not sure that's what is going on at all. I'm not convinced its the puppet (or its owner) actually talking.
We've seen that Near's lips don't move, but neither do Mello's. The mechanism is patently there, yet never once has that puppet mouth moved. Near is only working the eyes.
Moreover, Near doesn't look at the puppet when addressing Mello. In both this scene and that in episode one, she peers over towards the only wall left unseen in all those tight, claustrophobic camera angles. (Why are we always creeping up to Near? Or seeing her through the bars of chairs? Whose POV IS that?) In this episode, Near appeared to be looking towards the half-glimpsed padded chair adjacent to her own.
L's response means that Mello's voice can be heard in real life - not as a figment of Near's imagination - though L's 'shut up... don't get in Near's way' is downright cruel, if he is addressing his real heir. The only other explanation being that BOTH Near and Mello exist solely inside L's head. He's the one projecting them, as a dualist approach - good cop, bad cop; or angel and demon sitting on his shoulder.
He certainly looks suddenly quite shaken, scared even, when Mello speaks. L pauses for a beat or two before snapping 'Shut up!' And what precisely is that reflected in the light of L's eyes?
What's your take on it all so far? It's invigorated my interest in a way I really didn't see coming, as you can probably tell!