Thursday, March 24, 2011

Inside the Koma: Soichiro Yagami (Deathnote)

I loved Deathnote back when it first came out. When the manga was just starting its English translation it was an unknown gem that was a refreshing change of pace for Shonen Jump and a fascinating series that encouraged interesting debate and analysis.

… then the anime came out, and now you can’t mention Deathnote without some fanboy screaming “Kira was right” or “L should have won”. Trying to convince a Deathnote fanboy that both of the characters were flawed is like trying to convince a Naruto fanboy that Sasuke is a broken character—i.e. you’d have better luck convincing Ronald Regan that Rega-nomics were a bad idea and he’s dead. I’ll admit I don’t enjoy the series as much anymore mostly because the fanbase has really made it hard to be taken seriously when you say you enjoy Deathnote, which is rather upsetting because Deathnote is a great series. I think most infuriating is that when you say you like Deathnote you must automatically get drafted to a side like Team Jacob or Team Edward. What if I didn’t agree completely with the way Light or L tried to issue justice? Yeah, that’s right, I thought both of them were rather flawed and the character who I supported all the way through was none other than Light’s father, Soichiro Yagami.

Soichiro Yagami is police officer who is made leader of the Kira investigation team once the series of mysterious deaths began to sweep Japan. Obviously having his father as a police officer made it so Light could easily use his connections for his advantage, but things take a turn for the worse when L deduces that this connection could easily make Light and his sister prime suspects in the Kira case—thus Soichiro must authorize surveillance equipment be placed in the rooms of his children because there’s a chance one of them might be a serial killer. Just imagine being placed in a position like that and you can start to see already what makes Soichiro so appealing. Though eventually Light’s own clever planning manages to convince L to remove the surveillance equipment, it’s not enough to fully convince L that Light isn’t Kira, and this is a constant fear that Soichiro must live with as we’ll see later.

The stress of dealing with the idea that his son is murderer weighs heavily on Soichiro’s mind, and as the manga continues you can see him start to lose weight and become more haggard as time goes on. I feel depressed just writing about him again because the toll this case takes on Soichiro is massive as evidenced by the heart attack he has that hospitalizes him just as the idea of a second Kira starts to take. But the reason his tragic self-destruction is so hard to watch is because he never lets his sense of justice falter even after his health plummets and he has to investigate his own son. Why I respect Soichiro so much is that unlike Light or L who seem to be participating in a game of Chess, Soichiro is in constant pain and suffering but he never lets that stop him from pushing forward.

This is best shown during his time hospitalized following his heart attack. While he’s laid up in bed the rest of the investigation team has to deal with a new attack by Kira where the killer seems to be picking off seemingly innocent people using a broadcast from a local television studio. Obviously they try to stop it, but it seems anyone who gets close to the TV station dies as they try to enter. It appears Kira now has a way to learn people’s names on sight and anyone who enters the studio is doomed, meaning that Kira’s horrid message will continue uninterrupted. L, the world’s greatest detective, is at a loss at what to do, but this is where a policeman willing to do anything for the case comes in handy. See, Soichiro gets out of bed, leaves the hospital, steals a police van, and then crashes it into Sakura TV so that he can get inside the building without Kira seeing him.

This is awesome in so many ways. First, it’s crashing a van into a building, and destruction is always cool. Second, it’s brave because there are still a lot of unknown things about Kira, and a simple slip up will cost him his life. However the biggest factor in making this a Crowning Moment of Awesome is the fact that this is a man still recovering from a heart attack who only hours ago was laid up in a paid with IV fluid pumping into him. This is what I mean about Soichiro being so awesome yet so tragic. You gotta realize his health is in complete shambles at this point, but that’s not what is on his mind. He’s a self-sacrificing policeman who will do what needs to be done to serve justice. Also the ending to his adventure might be the coolest thing ever drawn in a manga. After crashing the bus into the studio so he could take the tapes Kira sent to Sakura TV, he now has to deal with escaping. How can he possibly get out when Kira can see everyone who enters and leaves?! Oh simple, the rest of the police force will show up to form an enormous shield to keep him safe. Bad. Ass.

At this point I feel I should comment on Soichiro’s mortality because well it was obvious he wouldn’t live through the series. The fact that he was so close to Light but unaware meant that at some point or another he’d die. There were plenty of opportunities where it seemed Soichiro was destined to die, but he pulled through and remained a pleasant surprise… up until Mello came along. Sadly, Soichiro couldn’t live forever, and he died after taking a fatal wound during a dangerous mission to investigate Mello’s hideout and apprehend the criminal.

The tragic part is how he died though. He was recovered from the wreckage of Mello’s hideout and taking to a hospital where Light got to see him one final time. Light, now far passed the point of sanity, can’t even focus on the idea of his father dying but is instead desperately trying to get his father to write Mello’s name in the Deathnote. Soichiro however uses this opportunity to look at Light using his Shinigami Eyes that reveals the lifespan of everyone not in possession of a Deathnote. That means that if Light was Kira, he wouldn’t have a visible lifespan. However Light had spent years manipulating the loopholes of the Deathnote, and while he was indeed still using the book to kill criminals, he wasn’t an “owner” and thus his lifespan was visible meaning that after years of doubt Soichiro finally believed his son was innocent.

He died almost immediately afterwards, and his death really carried a lot of mixed emotions. Obviously frustration and sadness from seeing such a noble character die, but there’s a disturbing charm to it in that even though it was a lie, Soichiro finally got to feel peace and believe his son was innocent all along. For a man who had been through so much and endured so much pain as his children were constantly being put at risk, you have to feel at least somewhat happy that he died with a smile and his mind at ease, and yet we as readers know it’s a horrible lie and that Light has been everything his father feared. Scenes like this remind me why I love Deathnote so much and why I hate it when a discussion about Deathnote derails into a debate of Kira vs L. Deathnote is much more than that.

For me, the fact is that Soichiro was just a lot more relatable than either “protagonist”. He wasn’t born with superhuman intelligence or the ability to deduce motives and complex logic in mere moments, but rather he possesses a strong conviction and a morally upright sense of justice. Even Ohba himself has stated that he feels Soichiro was the most “pure” character in the series, and you can see why. He constantly sacrifices himself both physically and mentally for his job, and yet he only seems to suffer more for it. Soichiro is easily my favorite character in the series, and one of my favorite tragic characters of all time. His death easily ranks on my saddest deaths list, and his heroic efforts at Sakura TV easily put him near the top of my Top 10 most badass moments list as well.

It really is a shame that the Deathnote fanbase has made it so difficult to discuss the series amongst fans, but luckily the series does have enough content that you can create a coherent discussion without resulting to a morality debate, and when it does bring up Soichiro and see what everyone says. At least it would be a more interesting discussion that “if you agree with Light you’re Hitler” or “everyone who agrees with L is a cowardly liberal”. And yes, sadly I have honestly heard those arguments multiple times.

Until next time, Namaste!


  1. I alway thought death note as the people that are trap between the decisions and actions of the "protagonists" the normal people that suffer and pay for their actions and that are the ones that the readers relate more. My favorite was Shuichi Aizawa =D

  2. This was a great article. You made some insightful points and I now appreciate the character more. I always liked all the police investigators on the task force personally including Soichiro Yagami (and Mashiro). Maybe you should do a STFU on Death Note fans, that would be fun.

    I'm not really a fan of Death Note. I watched the anime on Adult Swim but everyone says the manga is better. I never really fully liked it, mostly because Lights' transformation into Kira took only 5 days. At no points in the series does it saying that he had those serial killer tendencies before he found the Death Note. I could go all day on why this series is wrong but I wont.

    L was okay, but I prefered Near as the investigator. He seems more like a believable autistic person than L. Plus he's the only one of the three that doesn't have "diabetus" from eating candy everyday.

    All in all I would say the series is very flawed but I still enjoyed. It's also fun to get a friend to watch it with and point out every convoluted plot hole in the series. Or make fun of Light acting crazy. "I take a patato chip...AND THEN SHOVE IT UP MY ASS! Yessssssss! MASOCHISM!"

    Anyway this was a fun article and good luck with the next one. Adíos!

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  4. I enjoyed your article. Honestly I have no problem with the fanboys arguements, it's bound to happen so no point bitching about it. My favorite character in Death Note was Matsuda oddly enough. There is something about the bumbling idiot who only wants to do good and often fails terribly that reminds me of the average joe in their normal lives. We want to do good, we want to help others but often our own personalites and quirks prevent us from being of any real help. I see a grand reflection of the average man in Matsuda which I feel gives a great contrast to the uber-intelligent and driven main characters.

    PS. I know it would be hard but you should give a shout out to one of the un-sung heros in One Piece

  5. You made a really good point. It's like Soichiro Yagami is this story's real hero. He also is a very underrated character. I see cosplayers for light, L, mello, Near, Misa and even a Ryuk [someone managed to pull that off] at every convention. Never seen a Soichiro cosplayer yet.