The ending of Death Note was highly anticipated due to the intense suspense it had built up within its story. It was a shock to many when its main character, Light Yagami, failed to survive the series finale. His defeat was unexpected and left some viewers feeling confused or unsatisfied. Some fans felt that Light wasn’t given a fair chance in the last few episodes and were unhappy with the resolution of his story arc. Others had speculated that an alternate ending could have been written to allow him to live while accepting justice for his actions. The jury is still out on whether this would have been a better way to end the series, but one thing is for sure—Death Note’s ending certainly sparked conversation, debate, and enthusiasm among its fan base. Let’s dive into how the Death Note manga ended in detail.
Death Note ended with the defeat and death of Light Yagami, also known as Kira. The final confrontation was between Near and Light, including all the SPK and Japanese Task Force investigators and Teru Mikami. Light had told Mikami to peek from behind the door and write the names of everyone present except him in the Death Note. Since Mikami had the Shinigami eyes, he could see all their names and faces. Thinking he had already won and couldn’t contain his laughter, Light exclaims, “Near, I won!” at the 40-second mark, thinking everything had gone according to his plans. However, nobody died because Near had replaced Mikami’s notebook with a fake one. Light attempts to write Near’s name on a small piece of the Death Note he had hidden in his wristwatch, but Matsuda shoots him in several non-critical points, not letting him do it. As Light lies injured on the ground, he begs Ryuk to kill Near and Matsuda, but Ryuk writes Light’s name instead.
The ending of Death Note is quite complex, but it can certainly be understood if we analyze it piece by piece. By looking at the plot lines and characters’ stories in detail and examining their intersecting points, we can gain a deeper understanding of the finale.
Setting the scene
In typical Death Note fashion, the actions of several characters influence the story. If we don’t understand the setup, the payoff of learning all that information and the satisfaction of seeing all the pieces click into place isn’t there. Let’s talk about the roles of Kiyomi Takada and Teru Mikami.
Kiyomi Takada was a news anchor and the main spokesperson for Kira. She knew Light since she was classmates with him and even dated him for a short time. Using this fact to his advantage, Light makes Tadaka the middleman between himself and Mikami.
Teru Mikami was a crimincal prosecutor and Kira fanatic. He is initially approached by Light to act as Kira to stave off suspicion. He was the one that elected Takada to be a spokesperson for Kira.
He was known to be orderly to an extreme degree. For example, he always used up a single page of the Death Note every day, went to the gym at the same time despite holidays, and overall adhered to a strict daily schedule. This made it easy to spot when he deviated from his schedule.
For some time before the final confrontation, Takada performed the routine killings of criminals. Light had Mikami take out five pages from the Death Note, send them to Takada, and create a fake Death Note that looked identical to the original. Mikami hid the real Death Note at the bank but was using a fake one. While Takada would carry out the killings, Mikami would also write the names in the fake Death Note. This was set up to trick Near into thinking Mikami was the currently acting Kira, as Near’s spy would see that Mikami is writing in the Death Note and report that information back to him.
Light also told Mikami to say to himself, “That Shinigami just gave me this notebook and left….” Light did this so that when Near came into contact with Mikami’s fake notebook and didn’t see a Shinigami, he would think nothing of it.
Light was hoping to trick Near into thinking Mikami had a real Death Note, so he would switch his notebook with a fake one, but Mikami’s notebook was already fake. This way, Near would think he had the real Death Note, but he would only have a fake one, while Mikami could bring the real Death Note to the final confrontation and kill everyone.
Eventually, Near did switch Mikami’s fake notebook with another fake one. Mikami had been instructed by Light to check the notebook with a microscope every day. When he notices the switch, he tells Takada and Light. At this point, they think they’ve won.
Mello’s role in the final showdown
Mello did contribute a lot to Kira’s arrest, though indirectly. Right after the notebook swap, Mello creates a distraction and kidnaps Takada. While Halle, a member of the SPK, was there with Takada, she encouraged her to “escape” with Mello. This points to the fact that Near and Mello communicated with each other and came up with this plan together, with Halle as the middleman. Light warned Takada about Mello and instructed her to keep a piece of the Death Note if this happened.
With this Death Note piece, she kills Mello and calls Mikami to kill as many criminals as possible. Takada was able to call Light when he was with the Task Force and plead with him to save her, but Light had already made up his mind to kill her.
As Light and the Task Force tracked Takada’s call and were driving to her destination, Light sat in the back of the car and wrote her name down on a piece of the Death Note that he had hidden in his wristwatch. Light killed Takada because if she were found with the Death Note piece and interrogated, she would be vulnerable. That, and she had exhausted her usefulness in his eyes.
Not knowing Light had already killed Takada and thinking he could not act, Mikami took matters into his own hands and retrieved the real Death Note from the bank. Because Near and the SPK were watching him, this critical error in his judgment made them aware of the existence of the real Death Note. They then replaced that notebook with a fake one too.
The final showdown
Near called Light, saying he had something to show him regarding the Kira investigation. He told him they would meet in an abandoned warehouse alongside all the investigators in the Task Force and SPK. Someone from the Task Force, other than Light, would be carrying Light’s Death Note so that he wouldn’t have access to it. Light agreed to these conditions and went to meet Near.
When they arrived at the warehouse, Near was wearing a mask. He said he would only wear it for 30 minutes to ensure his safety. After the time was up, Near removed his mask and smiled. The creators of Death Note confirmed that Near smiled because he could see the Shinigami Ryuk and knew he had already won.
Near claimed that the currently acting Kira would arrive to try and kill everyone present except Light. After some protests from the Task Force, who were scared for their lives, Mikami arrived.
He peeked through the warehouse’s door, saw everyone’s faces and names with his Shinigami eyes, and wrote them down on his Death Note. Mikami thought he was writing on the real Death Note but didn’t know that Near had switched that notebook with a fake one too.
Thinking that Near hadn’t planned far enough for this, Light could hardly contain his laughter. He and Near invite Mikami to enter and ask him how long ago he wrote the names down. Mikami comes in and starts counting down the seconds.
At the 40-second mark, Light becomes overconfident and says, “I won!” But nothing happens. After an awkward silence, Near explains everything and all the evidence they have against Light, pulling out the real Death Note. Light tries to say that Near is framing him, but his panic clouds his judgment, so he admits to being Kira.
Light claims that Kira is justice, and the dropping crime rates are proof of all the good he’s done in the world. Near counters, saying that Light is just a murderer and that’s how he’ll go down in history. The moral questions the show raises are incredibly rich and philosophical and are left up to the reader to answer.
As they try to arrest Light, he moves out of the way. While out of their view, he tried to open the compartment in his wristwatch that contains the Death Note piece. When he tries to write Near’s name on it, everyone panics.
It seems like they won’t be fast enough, but Matsuda is the one who’s quick enough to shoot the pen out of Light’s hand. While Matsuda is usually the goofy comedic relief of the show, his moral sense shines in this scene. He demands to know how Light could kill his father to achieve his goals and is unsatisfied with his answer. He shoots him a few more times in non-critical spots until the rest of the Task Force stops him.
Light is bleeding on the ground, so he pleads with Ryuk to kill Near and Matsuda. However, Ryuk was never on Light’s side. He was simply looking for some entertainment.
Ryuk tells Light that he can’t wait until Light gets out of prison. He writes Light’s name down in the Death Note, and Light dies of a heart attack in front of everyone.
This is the key difference between anime and manga’s endings. In the anime, Mikami kills himself with a pen, buying Light enough time to escape. As he’s running, Light lies down on a set of stairs when Ryuk kills him by writing his name in the Death Note. His lying down in the middle of a staircase signifies that his soul won’t go to Heaven or Hell but to Nothingness, like all Death Note users.
Mikami loses all faith in Kira, and Misa is implied to have committed suicide soon after. Light’s family never learns about Light being Kira, though the Kira cult continues its operations even after Light’s death.
In the end, Light was just a human being who confused himself with a God. After all his efforts, he died the same death he inflicted upon everyone else.