Few anime shows are as enduring as Death Note. Love him or hate him, Light Yagami is one of the most memorable and intelligent anime protagonists, recognizable even by non-anime fans, making the end of his character arcs one of the most unforgettable endings in recent anime history. Death Note owes its success partly to its wealth of mind games. As such, you might need to watch its ending twice to fully appreciate it. If you still have questions, here's the ending of Death Note explained.
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Death Note Ending Explained: Light's Defeat
Death Note made a bold and heartbreaking move in killing L, Light's primary antagonist and only equal in terms of intelligence, two-thirds into the show. Near, L's successor, failed to capture fans' hearts the same way, simply because he was too similar to L to stand out in his own right, and lacked the quirks and details that made L so beloved. That being the case, some viewers kept watching the anime believing that Light could escape and keep pursuing his narcissistic dreams. So, how was he defeated?
As L's successor, Near came into Kira's case later, and lacked personal connection with it. Yet, he eventually managed to outsmart Light all the same. When Light and Near finally meet, each with the intention of getting rid of the other once and for all, Near proves that he had anticipated everything Light had planned.
Light thought he had managed to obtain a real Death Note page and persuade Near that they are fake. He had hoped that this plan would allow him to kill everyone who ever opposed him, but Near thought otherwise. Having foreseen the plan Near tampered with the pages of Death Note. Light was therefore tricked to use regular pages, and, as such, he was revealed to be Kira, since his name was the only one missing from the list.
But Light didn't even wait long enough to witness this defeat. At that point, his megalomania had reached such levels that he declared his victory while his intended victims were still alive, declaring his own guilt for everyone to hear.
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Light's Demise Explained
Following the revelation of his identity as Kira, Light attempts to write everyone's names on a piece of Death Note paper he had hidden in his watch, but he doesn't have enough time to do so, as Matsuda immediately shoots him.
This is a very powerful and memorable moment, given how Matsuda used to idolize Light. As one of the youngest and most naive in the group, Matsuda hadn't shown such capability of violence before, and, by the time he shoots Light, he openly weeps, showing his disillusionment.
But it isn't Matsuda's bullets that kill Light; for all its mind games and crime thriller elements, Death Note was a supernatural anime first, and it had to come full circle.
From the very first episode, Ryuk, the shinigami who gave Light the Death Note, had mentioned that a person who chooses to use it cannot go either to heaven or to hell. When a heavily wounded Light escapes, Ryuk decides to write Light's name in his own Death Note - and end the story. Reminding us that it all started as a game to alleviate his boredom.
Ryuk suggests that if Light was arrested, no one would know when he would die, but, in the meantime, a defeated Kira would no longer be entertaining to the Shinigami. The heavily wounded Light as he runs is juxtaposed with composed images of his younger self as he was at the beginning of the series, suggesting he could have led a normal if boring life had he not accepted the Death Note.
As Light lays dying alone - as he lived - the ending credits begin, along with a short sequence of Misa at a terrace. While Misa allowed herself to forget all about the Death Note, she was still devoted to Light. What happened to Misa is not explicity stated, but it's heavily implied that she committed suicide in the end.
Some fans disliked the ending of Death Note as they would prefer a more subversive one, where the bad guys would win, or understand the hollowness of his purpose. As it is, the ending is still very powerful, reminding us how easily a human can be corrupted and reminding us that, for all of Light's efforts, he was just a pawn in the game of powers he could not understand.
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