SPOILER ALERT AND SLIGHT TRIGGER WARNING
When it comes to the media’s representations of mental illness, they’re either obviously false and laughable, extremely accurate, or convincing enough to seem unerring. Death Note, a Japanese manga-turned-anime that follows a 17 year old genius, Light Yagami, through his journey of turning into a cold-blooded vigilante serial killer with the help of a dark book called the Death Note, has been the subject of debate in the world of psychology ever since it first got published as a manga back in 2003. Within a decade, Death Note has become adapted into an anime, TV show, video games, movies, among other things, and needless to say, has gained worldwide recognition and love. The main reason for this being its thrilling and unique storyline, captivating characters, and profound rivalry full of mind games between Yagami and L, the detective assigned to catch “Kira”, which is Yagami’s alias as a serial killer. Along with keeping you on the edge of your seat whether you’re reading or watching the plot unveil, Death Note will enable you to witness the psychological process of a hardworking high school student with high moral values slowly turn into a ruthless murderer. Me being a huge fan of anything Death Note related and even watching the anime 50 million times made me stumble upon an online forum that housed an argument of whether or not Light Yagami was a psychopath or simply just had an immature sense of justice. Immediately, I got my computer out and started doing research into the matter and today will share all my findings with you. Just a quick disclaimer, I am not a mental health professional by any means and this is just an opinionated post. Please find all the respective citations at the end of this article.
Light Yagami is a very interesting character. He’s a manipulative, calculative and extremely cold mastermind. Despite him being well known in school, he doesn’t seem to have any interest in making friends. As a matter of fact, the first episode of the anime features him negatively judging his peers and not giving them the light of day (no pun intended). However cold he seems to be, he still cares about his family. Especially his father, who is the police chief. Yagami seems to be on the edge when it comes to criminals and regularly thinks that it’s not fair for his father because crimes are never going to stop. In the first episode, news of a crime is announced via neighborhood speakers–a common occurrence in Japan–as Yagami is walking home from school. He sighs and mumbles to himself, “Day in, day out. The same news on permanent repeat. This world is rotten.” Judging from that quote, it’s pretty clear that he believes that nothing is going to change unless an extreme event were to occur, foreshadowing his own future.
Later on in the episode, Yagami gets his hands on the Death Note dropped by the Shinigami Ryuk. He soon learns that the Death Note is a supernatural book that has the ability to kill people just by writing their name on the pages. After thinking it’s a prank and trying the book’s power out by killing two criminal offenders, Yagami realizes the actual extent the book could go and gets obsessed with the idea of creating a “new world”, ultimately a world without any criminal behavior. This screams vigilantism and is quite similar to movies such as Death Wish and Cold Pursuit that focus on the idea of getting revenge on the people who hurt loved ones. In this case, Yagami’s loved one was his father. The anime didn’t do a very good job at portraying this objective, however the Death Note live action TV show did since it showed how Yagami’s father was held captive by a serial burglar, which motivated him to use the book in the first place since he just didn’t want to see his father ever get hurt again by criminals, therefore taking justice into his own hands.
This brings up the question at hand: was Light Yagami a psychopath, sociopath, or simply a regular teenager with an immature sense of justice? Well, I did my research into sociopathic and psychopathic behavior to see if it corresponded with Yagami’s throughout the anime and live action. It didn’t.
Let me present my case.
Firstly, Light Yagami was seventeen years old when he first got his hands on the infamous book. Seventeen. At seventeen, nobody can be legitimately labelled as a psychopath or sociopath. The main reason for this being that the human brain develops from the back to the front. The last portion of the brain to develop is the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for most cognitive understanding, decision making, and complete personality development. This part of the brain fully develops around age 25, which is obviously a few years ahead of Yagami’s time, even at the time of his death in which he was 23 years of age. This does not mean that it would be impossible for him to be a psychopath or sociopath, but it’s more likely that this was just a case of narcissistic and anti-social personality disorders.
There’s no doubt that Light Yagami was suffering from a bad case of narcissistic personality disorder. As mentioned earlier, he had always claimed to be “too good for everyone else” and cold as can be.
For a little insight on the disorder, narcissistic personality (hereby referred to as “NPD”) is a condition in which *surprise surprise* an invidual has an extreme sense of self-importance. These people tend to lack empathy for others and find enjoyment in being the center of attention. NPD was named after a mythological Greek figure named Narcissus, who became infatuated with his own reflection in the lake. His vanity led to his demise since he could not bear to leave his reflection. Sounds familiar, right? Yagami’s narcissism also led to his demise, however he wasn’t obsessed with his looks but rather his intellect. NPD also accounts for “God complex” or when someone believes that they are some sort of divine entity.
Light Yagami didn’t seem to hide this idea of his in which he would be the god of said, “new world”, especially during the last few episodes of the series.
For instance, when Yagami exclaims, “I am justice! I protect the innocent and those who fear evil. I’m the one that will become the god of the new world that everyone desires!”, you can see that he had acquired some sort of god complex. Furthermore, when he is dying at the very end of the series, you can see him on the staircase reaching up, as if trying to reach god (or heaven since whoever uses the book does not go to heaven or hell).
All in all, Light Yagami from Death Note was a pretty interesting character to analyze. In most online forums that I had come across, many people argued whether or not Yagami was a psychopath, sociopath, or something cruder. I, not a mental health professional but an avid internet nimrod nonetheless, have concluded that Light Yagami was simply just a depraved human being with an immature sense of justice and was also desensitized towards death. The idea of creating a new world ate him alive and corrupted him severely until at the end, his life had no other motivation than the book, which he became fully dependent on. Sure, he may have turned into a full-blown psychopath or sociopath if he had matured more and continued his ways. Luckily, all he could ever become was a reserved young adult with megalomaniacal tendencies and delusions of grandeur, brought on by power far more immense than the human psyche is prepared to wield.