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Fascinating Religious Background of ‘Death Note’ on Netflix

Picture of Ryuku from Death Note
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Netflix Movie based on Anime Blends Eastern and Western Religion

Netflix released last Friday their live action adaption of Death Note, a hugely successful Japanese anime.

The story is about a teenager who finds a book that allows him to kill anyone in any manner by writing their name. This book also creates a connection between the boy and a god of death, named Ryuk. Not only does having the power over life and death for people create theological discussions, but there are several religious connections in the show.

Fascinating Religious Background of ‘Death Note’ on Netflix[/tweetthis]

The first is the intersection between Japanese and Western religion. The character Ryuk is based on the Shinigami. The Shinigami are supernatural spirits that guide individuals toward death. Shinigami did not exist in Japanese religious beliefs until the 18th to the 19th century after interaction with Christianity. The Shinigami came from that interaction, as it is similar to the Grim Reaper. The difference is that Shinigami are a group of spirits, not just one; they are not seen as an evil force, but part of the cycle of nature, and they work in pairs.

Death Note changes this because humans with the book get to upset the natural order by deciding on their own who dies. There are also scenes in the Japanese anime that have been heavily linked to Christian symbolism, like Jesus washing feet of his disciples, the use of doves (which represent the Holy Spirit) and crosses. Even the rules of Death Note (the anime has dozens of rules about the use of the book) state the owner of the book will not go to Heaven or Hell, but after death will go to Mu, or nothingness.

Ryuk tells the teenager Light that death and misfortune happen to those that use the Death Note book. This could be implied to be the dangers of the use of omnipotent power. The capriciousness and inability to fully process the consequences of actions have been a core component of morality tales from fairy tales to modern media. Even though the TV show has been getting mixed reviews, the blending of Western and Eastern religious symbols and concepts could be part of the reason it has had such popular appeal.


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