Why Sexist Writing is Lackluster Writing (Death Note pt 2)

Spoilers for Death Note to follow.

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Meet Misa. A strong, independent 19 year old model and actress. She has a gothic sense of style– fluer-de-lis jewelry, short skirts, red lips, and lots of black. Unlike the cold and calculating Light, Misa is impulsive, excitable, and determined. Misa wants one thing–to meet her hero Kira, the person who brought her parents’ killer to justice. She isn’t as bright as Light or L, but she manipulates the media with a series of Kira videotapes and a careful clue: a “journal page” with a dozen entries. One entry, only obvious to another who wields a Death Note, spells things out: we showed off our notebooks in Ayoma.

Once she finds Light’s identity, Misa immediately finds him. She tells him her tragic backstory–how he killed the man who murdered her parents–and offers her undying devotion. She wants him to… wait for it…

Be her boyfriend.

But surely it’s because she so admires Kira and his strong sense of justice. Right?

Nope. It’s love at first sight.

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And, like any woman in love should, Misa loses any semblance of intelligence or independence  She happily obeys Lights commands, even offering to kill the friend who handled the Kira tapes for her. Light can’t be her boyfriend (can an emotionless psychopath be anyone’s boyfriend), but he can pretend. Like any good woman should, Misa compromises, accepts the deal, devotes herself to making him love her. Poor traumatized girl is only 19, doesn’t realize this never works.

But, at first, I feel confident for her. This girl is no dummy. She gets things done. She has a successful career as a model. She lives alone. Takes care of herself. I feel excited for interesting plot developments. Excited for the tension between the always calculating Light and the impetuous Misa.

But I am let down.

Misa is captured, loses her memory, and devolves into a whiny anime stereotype. Her only personality is in GASPS, upbeat cheer, and endless devotion. From this point forward, she follows Light’s command, never fighting with him or questioning him.

But people agreeing is not interesting. One character blindly following another is not interesting. CONFLICT is interesting. Dissenting opinions. Suspicion. Jealousy. Arguments. These are interesting.

The series throws away a scene with amazing potential. When Light asks Misa to relinquish her Death Note (again), she agrees. She is HAPPY.

Let me get this straight. This woman who wants more than anything to be useful to Light doesn’t object to giving up her spot on the Kira – Second Kira team. She’s happy to lose the memory of all the things (granted, most of these things are murder, but murder is still a shared experience) that brought them together? She happy to be a “normal woman.”

Where is the fight? Where is Misa screaming that she is doing this for Light. That she loves him. That she is unwilling to leave his side. That she is unwilling to give up this thing that binds him, to give up her memories. Sure, Death Note isn’t a romance. We don’t need an episode profiling Misa and Light’s non-relationship. We don’t need to see them making cold, heartless love.

And do you expect me to believe that the endlessly devoted Misa won’t take issue with Light “pretending” to date another woman? He’s meeting her in hotel rooms for Christ’s sake. But impulsive Misa does nothing rash to stop this. She never tries to break it up. Never gets in the way of Light’s evil plan.

Because Light is the smart one. Cold, calculating, asexual (or homosexual?) Light, a guy who can’t understand why women have these horrible feeling things, is the smart one. And the only people who truly stand in his way, his only true adversaries, are men: L and Near.

Thus, when (spoilers) L dies at the end of episode 25, the series serves up more of the same. We get an L knockoff–Near–an irritating kid with the same baggy white shirt and unkempt hair. He even has his own cool eccentricity–he plays with toys. Great. Settle in for the 12 most boring episodes of the series.

With a notable exception.

One episode is nearly Near free. The episode where Light beings his romance with/manipulation of Takada, a Kira supporting newscaster. Always the expert manipulator,  especially when he’s tricking women with their dumb feelings, Light convinces Takada Misa is a pawn–she doesn’t have enough brains for him (the IRONY).

This subplot serves up the only interesting scenes in the final arc. The best is a dinner between Misa and Takada. The women spar, Misa’s vitriol and desperation contrasting with the reporter’s calm exterior. Both believe Light loves them. Both are pawns in his machinations. It’s a fascinating scene. It’s a scene with emotion, subtext, hidden motivations.

These episodes had potential. If the writers had given Misa and Takada some agency, the writers could have written an interesting arc. What if Misa grew suspicious of Light’s late nights, his need to seduce another woman, and threatened to kill him with her Death Note? What if Misa refused to give up her Death Note, instead challenging L to a battle of will? What if Light, with all his endless logic, overlooked feelings, and Misa’s jealousy and need she was on the verge of turning him in? What if Takada and Misa realized they were pawns in Light’s scheme and worked against him, together?

There are hundreds of possibilities. We already saw Light beat L. We already saw the logic vs. logic battle. But, because the writers have so little regard for women, they never consider that the next adversary could be a woman. Could be someone completely unlike L. Someone impetuous. Someone rash. Someone who understands feelings.

No. Sexism tells them the only worthy adversary is a cold, emotionless man. A man who lacks empathy, kindness, emotion. A man behaving exactly like the stereotype of a man. (Except that he’s a coward).

After all, feelings are dumb. And girls should suffer from their dumb feelings. Light’s sister is kidnapped. Takada is killed (Light writers her name in his Death Note). Misa commits suicide (if the end credits are to be believed). 

Only the robotic Near can beat Light. He never allows feelings to cloud his judgement– something only a stupid girl, or a dude who dresses like a girl, or a total doofus (Matsuda), would do.

The writers of Death Note are as bad as Light. They have no regard for their female characters. Just read snippets of their quotes on the Misa Amane Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misa_Amane (although citations are sorely needed).

They created a unique, relatable character in Misa and flushed her down the toilet to prove that feelings are dumb and logic wins the day.

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5 thoughts on “Why Sexist Writing is Lackluster Writing (Death Note pt 2)

  1. Pingback: Best of 2013 | fionafire

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  3. Finally, someone pointing out some of the problematic implications in Death Note. I love the series, but I’m not one of those people who let’s that blind me to it’ faults. I do like Near though, and the last fifteen episodes to, so I disagree with you on that point. But yeah. I definitely grew to despise Misa, and always felt like the women in the series were very underutilized. It seriously bugs me, even now. I’ve actually played with the idea that the author of the manga (who’s identity I a secret) is actually a woman, and is going out of her way to make the series as patriarchal as possible to avert suspicion of that fact. Probably not, but it’s interesting to think about. I hate Ray Penbar’s relationship with Naomi in particular. Why the hell did such a smart woman agree to marry a man who seems to have wanted her to quite her job to raise kids like a traditional housewife? Sadly, Japanese media, despite giving us some wonderful and strong female characters, has just as many if not, girls that amount to little more than helpless doormats.

    • Yeah, Misa would be the perfect foil to Light’s calm, collected exterior. She’s emotional, demanding, and impulsive but she proves herself competent when she is introduced. She does get what she wants– a meeting with Kira. She’s like a female Jack Bauer. But the writers totally throw away that character when she meets Light and they turn her into a whiny, jealous girlfriend. She still gets to do a few things in the anime (like investigating the head of the corporation) but I’ve heard she does absolutely nothing in the manga.

  4. Glad I saw this! Oh deathnote… and growing up. Watched deathnote for the first time since middle school today and immediately googled “death note sexism” because just need to commiserate haha. Really, Deathnote could have been a million times better if they had female characters who were written as actual people.
    -the first scene where a bunch of guys were about to rape a woman idk it just sets the tone
    -the naomi thing made no sense at all
    -the pronouns for kira and second kira and even L… at least in the subbed version it was all “he”- deductive logical reasonable L and Light didn’t even consider women in their logic?
    -Oh Misa… I had read into her character and given her so much depth but objectively the authors did not write in any. It’s also telling that during some interviews the creators said they didn’t think much about her fate (Idk it said it somewhere on google)
    -also that bondage… that was not integral to the plot
    -REM. Holy SHIT do these authors see female relationships? Rem would NOT have left Misa in that relationship like that. If some guy was manipulating my friend I wouldn’t listen to that man’s orders. She’s already pretty helicopter-y so I wouldnt have put it past her to decide for herself what was best for Misa. The only way that whole scene played out was because of sexism (and yes I am bitter L died)
    -And going back to Misa, they dont show any remorse for Rem dying? And if she didn’t feel any remorse they could have made her character more interesting still. Like she could have been a hedonistic careless manipulator that would have been fun to watch. Not likeable, but she’d be a strongly written person.
    -also its interesting how mellow is kind of flamboyant and also mellow should have been a girl? oh my god that wouldve been SO GOOD. The frustration of the woman being overlooked and second to Near… and we could see how Mellow used femininity to get the mafia to do what she wanted
    -what happened to light’s sister was absurd does the family smarts only go to the men? jk lights dad is pretty useless imo
    -halfway point through the story there are like, 4, named female characters wtf
    -what happened to whats her name… takada? was unacceptable. Like what a rape fantasy way to kill her… he could have just kidnapped her and then shot her tbh but even then they could have thought of literally any other way to make the plot work besides relying on the damsel in distress… yet…again…
    did I miss anything? not a lot of female characters to miss anything about…
    actually it makes no sense that all the women were fawning over Light and that there was no important female opponent. Maybe I’m speaking from a very american point of view, things might be different in japan, but women view the death penalty way more unfavorably than men. Women are also more involved in grassroots activism and community building. If anyone were to oppose Kira it would have been a bunch of women- possibly the spouses or mothers of the convicts killed- covering up their faces and trying to do something. Ok now my suspension of disbelief is completely out the window lol. Oh well

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