In the mega-popular manga franchise Death Note from creator Tsugumi Ohba, a brilliant teenager named Light Yagami uses a supernatural, cursed book — which belongs to the Japanese gods of death, the Shinigami — to kill the world’s worst criminals just by writing down their names. Here’s how it all works. Here are just 13 of the Death Note’s most important rules newcomers should keep in mind.
1) “The human whose name is written in this note shall die.”
The most basic rule in Death Note is this: Whoever’s name is written in the book will die. The default cause of death is usually a heart attack, unless the owner of the death note specifies a different cause. In the anime and manga, Light — who initially thought the Death Note was a bad prank — wrote in the name of a criminal who was holding people hostage. When they died of a mysterious heart attack, Light’s world changed forever.
2) “This note will not take effect unless the writer has the person’s face in their mind when writing his/her name. Therefore, people sharing the same name will not be affected.”
If you’re wondering why writing a name like “John Smith” won’t kill all John Smiths, it’s because of this rule, which becomes a major plot point in the original Death Note. Without a specific face to attach to a name, the Death Note’s effects don’t take hold. So, you have to think really hard about someone’s face and write their name at the same time. Otherwise, it won’t work.
3) “After writing the cause of death, details of the death should be written in the next 6 minutes and 40 seconds.”
Light experiments with a number of unique, interesting deaths when he first starts out as “Kira” in order to test out the Death Note’s limits. When this happens, he figures out how long it all takes.
4) “The human who touches the Death Note can recognize the image and voice of its original owner, a god of death, even if the human is not the owner of the note.”
If you touch the Death Note, you will see that Note’s original Shinigami owners, which can be terrifying if you’re not properly introduced. A serial criminal finds this out the hard way in an early episode of the Death Note anime when Light experiments to a crazy degree how accurate the Death Note works.
5) “The person in possession of the Death Note is possessed by a god of death, its original owner, until they die.”
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Light’s Shinigami companion, Ryuk, stays with him until the very end in the original anime and manga. Their relationship is, complicated, to say the least.
6) “Gods of death, the original owners of the Death Note, do not do, in principle, anything which will help or prevent the deaths in the note. A god of death has no obligation to completely explain how to use the note or rules which will apply to the human who owns it unless asked.”
When Ryuk first comes to Light, Light tries to wrangle out of Ryuk more information about the note. Ryuk has no obligation to, which forces Light to experiment with the Note by himself.
7) “A god of death can extend their own life by putting a name on their own note, but humans cannot.”
In the original series, it was revealed that Shinigami — who aren’t immortal and can observe over the living world — can extend their own lifespan by taking human lives away by using their Death Note. One poor Shinigami, who fell in love with a human from afar, prevents the person’s death, at the cost of their own existence. That human, by the way, turned out to be Misa, a major character who arrives a little later in the anime/manga.
8) “The human who becomes the owner of the Death Note can, in exchange of half his/her remaining life, get the eyeballs of the god of death which will enable him/her to see a human’s name and remaining life span when looking through them.”
This one is huge. Early in the series, Ryuk tells Light about a “hack” that lets you see anyone’s name just by looking at them. This is the eyesight of a Shinigami, all in exchange for half of his remaining lifespan. This hack tempts Light, whose greatest nemesis is the enigmatic L who operates only under pseudonyms. Seems even the Death Note has its limits.
As the series progresses, Light’s temptation to use Shinigami eyes eventually comes to a breaking point.
9) “The conditions for death will not be realized unless it is physically possible for that human or it is reasonably assumed to be carried out by that human.”
Weirdly, Death Notes are not all-powerful. In the anime, Light tried the limits of the Death Note by writing the names of one imprisoned criminal in Japan with the cause of death being a jump off the Eiffel Tower. It didn’t work. Meanwhile, fatal diseases run their course over time.
10) “One page taken from the Death Note, or even a fragment of the page, contains the full effects of the note.”
In key scenes, this rule enables Light to kill his enemies without carrying his whole tool of destruction. When he’s under suspicion, Light hides pieces of Death Note paper in a bag of chips.
11) “The individuals who lose the ownership of the Death Note will also lose their memory of the usage of the Death Note. This does not mean that he will lose all the memory from the day he owned it to the day he loses possession, but means he will only lose the memory involving the Death Note.”
Late into the original Death Note anime and manga, Light strategically loses ownership of his Death Note — and with it, memories of even being Kira. But the gamble, which Light did to throw off suspicion, eventually pays off.
12) “The number of pages of the Death Note will never run out.”
In case you’re wondering, it’s a never ending book.
13) “It is useless trying to erase names written in the Death Note with erasers or white-out.”
Don’t mess with the Death Note, basically, a rule that Light learns at the end of the original series.