Anime and manga have come a long way since series like DRAGON BALL Z and SAILOR MOON broke ground for international audiences, especially in the United States. One of the more popular series of the 2000s was the DEATH NOTE franchise. The series revolved around the titular notebook, dropped into our world by a Shinigami or Death God, which possessed the ability to kill anyone whose name was written inside.
The notebook is found by teenage prodigy Light Yagami who wants to use the powerful tome in order to cleanse the world of evil while going by the codename of “Kira”, ultimately seeing himself as an actual god with control over life and death. All the while, Kira is opposed by a mysterious master detective who only goes by the codename “L.” Being a lauded dramatic story, it should come as no surprise that it became a magnet for controversy, especially when DEATH NOTE seemed to have inspired real events.
One chain of infamous incidents lead to the supposed investigation and banning of DEATH NOTE replicas and the manga itself in China. In 2005, several schools banned a replica book that many children repurposed into the titular notebook after students were found having written the names of peers and even teachers in them. A couple of years later, China’s Cultural Market Administration ran another investigation in Shenzhen and confiscated nearly two hundred replica books, even providing psychological counseling for students in conjunction with the local PTA. In 2015, the series was outright banned nationally along with several other popular series in a sweeping blacklisting of ‘subversive’ and ‘violent’ anime titles.
Similarly, in 2007 in Pingtung County, Taiwan, the local education bureau warned parents to watch out for the DEATH NOTE series, fearing that a story revolving around a student’s obsession with murder could be a negative influence on readers. Another group then formed defending the comic, stating that it was incredibly well written and urging parents to discuss the themes with their kids rather than outright ban them from reading it.
There have also been several incidents over the years of people in the United States, mainly students, caught with replica Death Notes listing the names of enemies, peers, celebrities and authority figures all leading to further controversy. The first major report was on November of 2007 at the Franklin Military Academy in Richmond, Virginia. A senior student was suspended when teachers discovered he had a replica book with the names of fellow students written inside. A similar event happened shortly after in South Carolina, and this was by no means a dying trend.
As recently as 2015, a middle schooler in Pennsylvania was suspended for creating his own Death Note book and writing the names of fifteen students within. And the media mimic phenomena is still going overseas. In Australia, an unidentified middle schooler was caught with a Death Note of his own making that listed the names of peers and teachers as well as how he wanted each of them to die. And most disturbing of all, his notebook included a “Battle Plan” to set up bombs around his school in order to kill as many people as possible.
Perhaps the most notorious case related to DEATH NOTE was the vile “Mangamoord” or “Manga Murder” of Belgium. A mutilated and dismembered corpse was found in Dudenpark of Forest, Brussels in 2007. Next to the body were two notes referencing the series, reading “Watashi wa Kira dess” which roughly translated means “I am Kira”, a reference to the secret identity/title of god that Light goes by in the story. Police were at first baffled, even fearing a serial murderer was on the loose. The case remained stagnant for years, until 2010 when three suspects were successfully tried and convicted for this strange crime. The murderers apparently knew the victim and killed him during an argument. As for the messages about Kira, they stated they were fans of the series.
What are we to take from all this? I can’t help but think back to that classic line from SCREAM- “Movies don’t create psychos! Movies make psychos more creative!” Though DEATH NOTE is a supernatural thriller, one of the underlying core themes is that a human does not have the right to take life from another human being. And considering the millions of well-adjusted fans of the acclaimed series, that’s a lesson well learned.