Recently, I’ve finished watching Death Note as well as finished reading the Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. The similarities between the two were unbearable for me. I read the book as I watched the show and sometimes my brain couldn’t tell the difference. Well, I just took my English final where I did a timed write on Dorian Gray, and I finished watching Death Note with my mother (who didn’t see ever single episode but still… a big feat!) and you know what? I’m going to write about it.
(I did include spoilers for both the book and the anime, but Death Note has been out for just about 10 years and Dorian Gray has been out for 126 years so I just assume you know how they both end… and If you know how one ends, you know how the other ends as well.)
Light Yagami / Dorian Gray
Both of these characters start out as young innocent men. Light and Dorian have it all, status, stability, security, but they also carry one thing with them that ruins these things for them. Boredom. Light and Dorian are bored with their ordinary, specifically innocent lives.
Enters the supernatural object that gives them new perspective. For Light, it’s the Death Note which can kill anyone who’s name is written inside. For Dorian, it’s a portrait of himself painted by his friend Basil that starts to grow old, showing the inside of his soul the more crime he commits. With their new power, Light can punish criminals, and Dorian can become a criminal.
Both characters are driven by self-want. Light wants a new world, Dorian wants to get away with murder. As they change, they wish the world around them to accommodate their new personality. They use their supernatural weapons to mold their world to their liking.
Misa Amane / Basil Hallwald
These are the character’s who’s biggest purpose is to develop the main character. They don’t exactly encourage the hero to go deeper into his wrong doings, they highlight the character’s motives before they take action.
These characters both define their lives because of the hero. They make their living from the existence of them. Misa is completely obsessed with Light and making him love her. Even when she doesn’t know he’s Kira, she still stays by his side with obsession. Because of this, she is willing to do anything and everything for him without thinking of the consequence of her actions.
Basil is a painter who’s career takes off after he paints a picture of Dorian. He puts an incredible amount of passion and love into creating the picture because as he paints it, he realizes how Dorian embodies his own personal philosophy of art. The more he paints Dorian, the more he adores his innocent and blemish lacking soul. It’s because Basil puts so much effort and love into depicting Dorian’s innocence in the portrait, that Dorian is able to visual see the change in his soul before and after corruption.
After completion of the picture, Dorian begins to leave his innocence behind and peruse forbidden knowledge, which starts to taint his soul. Basil then takes it upon himself to preserve that innocence he first fell in love with since without it, he can’t be a great painter. This trek eventually ruins him as Dorian realizes that Basil through painting his portrait has a certain level of custody over his soul that he wants to take back.
Dorian invites Basil into his house to see the painting, which has started to age at an alarming rate, blames him for his own downfall, then kills him with no second through. Basil’s death, through it’s graphic and bloody nature, represents the process of rebirth, specifically resembling the horror of childbirth. With Basil dead along with his quest to preserve Dorian out of the way, Dorian can more easily move down the gray path.
For Misa, the moment she dedicates herself to Light, she becomes a slave of sorts. She gives up her old life to completely dedicate herself to Light and Kira’s cause. It’s her “death” that gives Light a straighter and easier path towards darkness. Even thought he is at first bound to protecting her because of Shinigami blackmail, Misa’s help is vital to beating L in the end.
Ryuk / Lord Henry
Ryuk and Lord Henry are pretty static characters. They do not undergo and significant development. Their role in the story, is to present and tempt the hero with the path of darkness. Ryuke and Lord Henry have no problem holding our hero’s hand and escorting them further into their darkness. At times, they just stand by and watch, but they never try and give the hero a different perspective. They float between being for the hero and being neutral.
Lord Henry lives in a very self-centered world. He is rich with status, so he thinks of himself as a god over the lower classes. Like Ryuk, he doesn’t fully understanding the human soul at the beginning of the work so he spends much time investigating the human that intrigues him so. Ryuk watches Light and ponders his motives enjoying the entertainment. Lord Henry socializes with his class and brings Dorian along, and watched him develop. Lord Henry however, is not completely aware that what he is teaching Dorian, and the direction Dorian is taking his life, is dark and evil. Still, where Lord Henry is ignorant, Ryuke is not. Ryuk does not have any opinion of Light’s behavior in the darkness. Since he is a god of death, death is not wrong or right, it just is. Lord Henry see’s the world and human souls as just things to take up space, and cannot define them as either good or bad.
In class I pointed out that Lord Henry, when Dorian can still be classified as innocent, is giving Dorian permission to be morally “gray.” I wonder if Oscar Wilde choose Dorian’s last name on purpose. Many of my classmates rolled on the floor laughing at hearing that, as we were having class on the floor for some reason.
Kiyomi Takada / Sybil Vane
Dorian meets a young girl names Sybil Vane and seams to fall in love with her. She’s a low class actress who has a passion for her art. She plays many different roles in Romeo and Juliet, but it’s her performance of Juliet that Dorian falls in love with. They soon get engaged and Sybil is beyond happy. Even not knowing the name of her love, she gives away her life to him in a heartbeat. All she calls him is “prince charming”. After they are engaged, she reprises her role as Juliet, but preforms absolutely terribly. After the show, she tells Dorian that she is in love with him now, and she can’t feel the same love and passion she once did for acting when he met her. Dorian shrugs and tells her that he can’t love her anymore because she doesn’t understand art is she lets love be an excuse for it’s downfall. She falls to the floor and begs him to take her back, but he leaves and takes a delightful walk down the road admiring the scenery. Destroyed, Sybil kills herself.
Light also takes advantage of woman. Kiyomi is a woman Light went to college with, and even dated for a little while. They part ways for a time, but Light eventually comes back into her life. He promises her that she has been chosen as the queen of his upcoming world of peace and perfection and he wants nothing more then her at his side. She falls for him, but like Sybil, still doesn’t really know who he is. She knows and praises Kira, but her submission is blind just like Sybil’s. She continues to serve Kira, even to her last moment. When Kiyomi is kidnapped siting naked in the back of a van, she finds a way to kill Mellow her kidnapper, and get his phone. She calls Light and Light gives her more instructions even though she’s been stripped of all her pride. She obeys Light and in the process, Light writes her name in his Death Note and kills her with suicide to cover up his tracks. She dies for him, still loving him, just as Sybil did for Dorian. Both women commit suicide in the end.
Rem / James Vane
Rem and James Vane both have a special duty – to protect their loved ones and seek revenge is they are to die. James, Sybil’s sister, spends 18 years looking for Dorian not knowing his name or face. When he hears someone call a certain man “prince charming” he runs at the chance that that might be the man whom his beloved sister once addressed as “prince charming”. His suspicions are correct, but still Dorian is able to pry his way out of the death threat by proving that he appears to be a man much younger then the killer James is looking for. Dorian manipulates James into letting him go free without breaking a sweat.
Rem tells Light that is Misa dies because of him, she will kill him. At first, Light takes responsibility for Misa’s life since he does not wish to be killed by Rem, but he eventually manipulates the situation and makes it so the only way Misa can survive, is if Rem gives up her life. Light weasels out of a death threat just as Dorian did.
At the deaths of Rem and James, the hero’s breath a sigh of relief. Light takes it as a sign of him winning the game. Dorian believes James’ sudden death from a bullet in his hunting party is a dark omen that his end is to come soon, but upon seeing his dead cold face, Dorian smiles believing he has won.
The Death Note / The Portrait – How they Contribute to the Hero’s Death
The Death Note and the Portrait are the supernatural elements of the story that the character uses to get his way. It physically records the wrong doings of the heroes but each hero takes a different level of guilt from seeing this recording.
The Death Note is a tool to literally murder, but the portrait is a tool that gives Dorian a way to get away with murder. Years after Sybil kills herself, the portrait still keeps Dorian looking young. When Dorian runs into Sybil’s younger brother who swore vengeance against him, he’s able to persuade James Vane not to kill him because he appears much younger then the real killer should be. James buys this completely and lets Dorian go, even apologizing profusely. Dorian doesn’t use the portrait to kill, but it is a vital tool in keeping Dorian safe from rightful punishment – for a while at least.
Dorian eventually can’t bare to look at the portrait because it gives him too much guilt. It’s old and ugly face represents the turmoil and darkness in his soul. He doesn’t want to be forced to live with it anymore. He takes a knife and stabs the painting. Instead of the painting being destroyed, all the years Dorian should have aged over the 18 years are transferred from the painting to him and he dies in the same place where he killed Basil – the knife in his own heart. The Portrait is eventually responsible for his death and downfall.
Light is eventually discovered as Kira by Near with help from Mellow. All of L’s hard work does not end in vain. In a furry, Light is shot four times after the reveal but is still persistent of making his get away. He runs outside as far as he can. He climbs to some stairs and Ryuk reminds Light that at the very beginning of Light’s journey, he told him that he would die at the hands of his own personal Death Note. Ryuk writes his name down and bids Light goodbye. The Death Note is eventually responsible for his death and downfall.
In the end, the hero’s are shoved up against the measuring stick of the moral world and die in hopeless shock. As wicked people, they get what they deserve. But we can’t help but fall in love with them, and weep as they take their last breath.