“Absolute power corrupts absolutely”
If I had to use a single quote to describe the moral of this show, it would be exactly that. Light Yagami goes from high school honor student to sociopath with the drop of a book (pun intended), and his descent into madness is one of the most psychologically prevalent aspects of the show.
One of the words that are thrown around to describe our murder happy friend is “god complex”, and it’s obvious as to see why. Many, MANY times in the show, Light has eluded to becoming “god of the new world”. It’s his goal. To rid the world of all sinners and to deal judgement onto the criminals which are not allowed to exist in his perfect world.
Whether this is ethically justifiable is another matter in itself, but what really can’t be denied is how the notebook impact light’s mental state. His ‘perfect schoolboy’ image degrades quickly and he breaks down, both literally and metaphorically.
So now, let’s put on our psychology hats and diagnose Light Yagami and see if he really has a god complex.
God of the new world?
Now just as a refresher, let’s see why Light Yagami may be accused of having such mental instability.
It cannot be denied that Light Yagami is one of the smartest characters in the show, and I would even go as far to say one of the smartest characters in Anime. However, his Achilles’ heel lies in the fact that his inflated image of godhood led him to be arrogant in the end, leading to his demise. His own image of grandeur led him to act impatiently, which ultimately led to his demise at the hands of N.
However, he wasn’t always like this. The show makes this buildup gradual. Light does have a god complex at the start, but it is only later in the show when the god complex ruled over his character.
When first faced with the notebook, it is clear that Light sees himself as some sort of ‘chosen one’. Psychology calls this a phenomenon of ‘Personal Fable’, where adolescents may engage in risky behavior due to their own belief that they are destined for greatness or chosen to accomplish incredible feats. Being an adolescent himself, Light Yagami would surely qualify for a personal fable. Being the only person ( to his knowledge ) to have the power to end lives by writing names may lead him to believe that he has a responsibility – a responsibility to purify the world of evil.
To quote from the very first episode, Light makes this comment when contemplating the value and moral of his actions:
“The world is rotten and that rotten people should die. Someone…Someone must do it! Even if it means sacrificing one’s conscience and life! Things can’t stay like this… Even if someone else had picked up the death note, would they be able to erase unwanted people from this world? No way! But I can… I can do it! No..only I can do it. And I will, with the power of the death note, change the world.”
Light’s goal was simple : to punish all criminals. And through doing so, people would be discouraged from committing crimes. After all, under the watchful eye of a god that can kill whoever they please, nobody would want to do evil. As such, under Light’s eyes, the world would undergo some sort of evil purification.
However, the police didn’t agree with his stance, and shortly, things became complicated.
Combining his intellect with the death note, Light hid from the police while ending the lives of the accused. It was a one-sided war – until the introduction of L.
L was a world-renowned detective who never left a case unsolved. It wouldn’t be too farfetched to call him the best detective in the death note universe – and Light knows this. To Light, L was at the top of the intellectual world, completely untouched.
We see in the anime that for a large part of the first half of the show, Light’s goal was to kill L. Light wanted to kill L even more than he wanted to kill criminals – evident when he gave up his killing power to get closer to L and clear his suspicion. But if he truly was bent on saving the world and killing criminals, why did taking out L become such a large part of his plans?
Of course because if L found out that Light was Kira, his path on the way to becoming god would end there and then. He would be convicted as the murderer ‘Kira’. But that’s not all there is between the two. The battle between L and Light is also one of intellectual pride.
In order for Light to become god, he needs to understand what a god is.
A common definition of god is simply the idea that “nothing can be greater”. Saint Anselm, a famous philosopher from the 9th century, states simply ” God is that than which nothing greater can be thought”. So of course, with the power of the Death Note and his intellectual ability, Light certainly has a right to assume a position where he looks down on other humans.
Which is why taking down the unbeatable L was such a driving motive for Light.
If Light were truly to become god, a person such as L, whose intellectual capabilities parallels (it not even surpasses) that of Light cannot be allowed the right to exist. After all, a god can’t truly be god if a human can be deemed smarter.
Hence, Light Yagami takes great pleasure in L’s last moments. That was the moment when he realized that there was nobody greater than he was. After all, he had just beat the unbeatable. The detective who had never failed a single case before was struck down. Thus, Light’s’ confidence peaked, and he truly thought of himself as a god.
In his battle against Near, it was obvious that Light never saw Near as intellectually competent as L. He never quite held N to any high standards. After all, he had just beat L, the person N worked his whole life to try and overcome. Although he looked straight ahead to L, he always looked down to N in some extent. In fact, the only time when Light felt intimidated by N was when he was reminded of L’s lingering influence.
This complex, in the end, led to undesirable traits like impatience, hastiness and arrogance sending him to his demise. So his god complex took him by the hand and walked him straight to the end of his life.
Doctor, I think…I have a god complex.
Disclaimer – although I am a Psychology major in university, I am nowhere near qualified enough to give any solid diagnosis. I’ll be doing this article with what limited knowledge I have, so take this with a pinch of salt.
In the realm of abnormal psychology, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual or Mental Disorders (The DSM, currently at its 5th edition) acts as the bible for diagnosis of mental disorders. From Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to Schizophrenia, the DSM5 lists out specific criteria that must be met in order for a patient to be qualified (or several criteria out of many).
However, the term ‘god complex’ isn’t in the DSM5. In other words, it is not a clinically diagnosed disorder that people can be classified as. Instead, ‘god complex’ serves more as a descriptor that encompasses many other smaller personality characteristics. As such, unlike with OCD or Bipolarity disorder, there is no 100% set definition for the meaning of a god complex.
To amalgamate many definitions, I think a god complex can be defined as such
“A held belief that one has privileges, rights and infallibility that mirrors that of god. One may act arrogantly in a manner that they see themselves as divine, even though they know themselves not to be. They see themselves as unbeatable and destined for greater things.”
With that, we can see why such a disorder is not in the DSM5. The criteria to have a god complex is too vague. Many other disorders all encompass inflated self-image and arrogance, like Schizophrenia or Spit Personality disorder, so it makes sense that a loose interpretation of being god really can’t be accurately diagnosed.
That doesn’t mean Light doesn’t have a god complex – the imagery and implications in the show makes it clear to us that he certainly does. It’s just that psychologists can’t just settle with a term as loose as ‘god complex’.
It can be broken down even further in abnormal psychology terms.
In the DSM5
If Light went to a psychiatric ward, he wouldn’t be diagnosed as having a ‘god complex’. Instead, the psychiatrist would likely look at the DSM5 and see which traits best fits the mold of Light, and here are a few possible answers:
Megalomania, also formally known as Grandiose Delusions, is a type of delusion in patients that exhibit behaviors of fantastical beliefs – something that clearly fits Light. Although these delusions vary (we don’t have mind reading technologies yet, so we have to rely on patient’s word), it is clear that Light, at least to some extent, has a severely inflated ego. He sees himself as divine, and he thoroughly believes that he has a right to ascend to divine greatness.
Symptoms of megalomania include exaggerated beliefs of self-worth, power, knowledge, identity, and an exceptional relationship to a divine being or a celebrity. Their goals are often set too steep and ambitious, as in their own mental state of mind where they are incredibly competent, such goals are barely within their reach.
Light’s ideas to rid the world of crime and rise to become god is clearly something that is too far-reaching for any single human to take. He sees himself as capable, and as such, acts in such a way that he never doubts that he can’t reach his goal. In his mind, he has been touched by god (literally, in the case of Light and Ryuk), and as such, he must be special in a way. He must rid the world of evil and ascend into a higher being. Light was drunk on his own power.
Light Yagami could be classified as a megalomaniac.
This disorder involves the breakdown and degrading of thoughts, thus leading to a skewed perception of the world around them. As such, patients with schizophrenia often fail to recognize reality and have a sense of mental fragmentation. People diagnosed with schizophrenia may exhibit changes in mood, cognitive behaviors and even speech.
I am trying very hard not to “take a potato chip…AND EAT IT”
There is a link between patients with Schizophrenia and patients with Megalomania, with half of all patients diagnosed with Megalomania also diagnosed with Schizophrenia.
Light clearly sees himself as something that he is not. He is human, but is never really aware of his humanity. He detaches himself from sentiments and behaves in a manner where he expects the world to play his game of climbing to the top. He commits acts that demonstrate his detachment from reality, like when he spends his last moments with his father begging to kill someone, or using Misa like a tool in his toolbox.
Light sincerely believes that he is the god of the new world, meant to clean the world of evil.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Less so than Megalomania, Narcissistic Personality Disorder describes someone with dangerously inflated self-confidence. They have an exaggerated idea of self-importance and have a sense of entitlement. They require constant admiration and acts in an arrogant manner
Although Light doesn’t tick all the boxes – the DSM doesn’t require every single symptom to be met for a correct diagnosis. It is clear that he does see himself as important (god is pretty important after all), and he sees everybody around him as tools to be used for him to reach his end. From Misa to his father, he did not see anything wrong with using them as means to his end because in Light’s eyes, that’s what they should be doing.
The word “Narcissism” is defined as an exotic self-interest in oneself, and this disorder hinges on an overabundance of that trait. It is no lie that Light believes that he is superior to all other humans – and he has no issue ending good lives in order to further his cause. A single look at his blatant murder of Ray Penber shows this well. Although Ray Penber was fundamentally a good person, working as a detective to catch a dangerous murderer, the simple fact is that Ray Penber stood as a potential threat to the credibility of Kira, so in Light’s eyes, he had to die.
Out of the DSM5
Of course, Psychology is imperfect, and some argue that a human being’s mental state can’t simply be defined with ticked boxes in a book. So stepping outside the psychiatric ward, what other terms can be used to describe Light Yagami?
Light has a deep-rooted sense of pride – and why wouldn’t he? He has the intellectual ability that ranks on the top of the nation and he’s also got a magical notebook that can stop hearts. Oh, and he also thinks he is god.
Pride is something that we see Light haul around for a large part of the series – although the part where this trips him up the most is his impatience in killing Lind. L . Tailor in place of L.
The manner that we see Light writing down L’s supposed name is different to any other name we’ve seen before. The names previously were neatly aligned row by row. This name was simply splattered in the middle of the page. Of course, it’s ultimately meaningless as the Death Note itself states that it cannot run out of pages, but the difference between Light before he was challenged and after he was challenged really can’t be ignored.
The normally calm and collected Light was suddenly turned impulsive when L outright declared him to a challenge – one that he ultimately lost. Having the tables turned on him so quickly, Light was quick to break down and set his sights on L. In his prideful demonstration of power, Light narrowed the playing field down for L drastically, decreasing the search range from the entire planet to the religion of Kanto in a matter of seconds.
It was pride that compelled him to go head to head with L, and pride that acted as the anchor for his defeat against N.
The Messiah Complex describes somebody with the idea that they are ‘the chosen one’ – destined to do great things and become the savior of the world. Uncategorized by the DSM5, the complex simply states that through inflated self-image or an overabundance of self-confidence, one may believe that they have a responsibility to drift to greatness and somehow make a world-changing impact.
Light’s first encounter with the death note wakes this underlying complex in his psyche.
Light knew he had the power to kill people from an untraceable distance, and he brought upon himself the responsibility to rid the world of criminals and execute the accused one by one. He could have just as easily killed someone he wasn’t too fond of, or even just take the book and put it away on his shelf somewhere. However, he felt like he would be doing the world a great service, and by doing so, he would rise to a saint-like status.
It was because that Light convinced himself that he was destined to become god of the new world that he chose to end the lives of criminals. He wants to rid the world of evil, because in a world where Light is god, evil cannot be allowed to prevail.
But for him to see himself as a god in the first place demonstrates fundamental psychological instabilities.
So, how can we treat Light Yagami?
Diagnosing him is only a small part of the problem – now we need to provide our dear patient, Light Yagami, with the next steps so he can be on his way to recovery.
Sadly, many of the disorders that we have diagnosed have many terrible things in common. They are all long term (if not life-long) , relatively socially stigmatic and has an unsteady psychological foundation. However, there are things we can look at to bring Light Yagami down to earth.
The obvious answer is medication – psychological disorders mostly boil down to a fundamental chemical imbalance that medication can help to amend. Taking antipsychotics, medicine that helps to reduce the symptoms of psychiatric conditions like the aforementioned Schizophrenia and Megalomania, would at least provide a short-term solution to Light’s issues.
Of course, as the body grows resistant and gets used to the dosages, the dosages may have to increase to maintain the same initial effect, so this isn’t a real feasible long term solution.
Breaking down Light’s fundamental beliefs and having them rebuilt is something that Psychiatrists and Clinical Psychologists can do. Through looking at support groups, rehabilitation and cognitive therapy, Light’s issues can be tackled from the inside out.
Of course, this relies on Light admitting that he may not be as powerful as he believes, and his willingness to share information about the Death Note may dissuade him from talking to therapists, but it is possible.
Something extremely important to note is that this is entirely different to the nature of “talking it out”. Having the process be done by experts is crucial, as a specific, personalised process can be undertaken. It would be horrendously ineffective if Light’s dad just went “Light, we need to talk about your issues”. Remember, Light sees everybody else as grossly inferior. There would literally be no point in listening to them. Instead, an expert needs to come up with a personalized counselling session sequence to ensure the safest, most stable and most reliable road to recovery.
Light’s descent into mental chaos is quite evident in the latter half in the series – especially after his victory over L, and honestly, that was the main cause of his defeat.
“Absolute power corrupts absolutely”
We don’t see Light before he got the death note too often, but we can assume that he was a hardworking, honorable and mentally sane high school student. The immense power of the death note brought out Light’s inner demons, and pushed him to the brink of insanity. Power generally does that – it brings out the worst in people. And a power as absolute as a magical, murderous notebook? That’s going to corrupt light, absolutely.
Light was simply a victim of his own psychological issues. The death note acted as a catalyst for him to see himself as something he wasn’t. In an ironic twist, it was the death note that made Light arrogant. It was the death note that convinced Light of his godhood.
It was Light’s encounter with the death note that, in the end, led to his death.
Remember : “It would be a dark world without Light”
This has been An Idiot’s Guide to Light Yagami’s God Complex – but hey, don’t take my word for it. I’m just an idiot.