Death Note is a fable for the powers of faith, and how too much faith in power alone can only lead to destruction. This is also the danger of celebrity. Fans who believe in aggression as power can be seen wielding it against the idols whom they believe are undeserving of their platform. Taking another look at the much misjudged “Second Kira” Misa Amane, a whole new thematic undercurrent can be found in Tetsuro Araki’s seminal anime – the toxicity of fan culture, and how it can lift the venomous likes of Milo Yiannopoulos and Katie Hopkins to the fearsome heights of celebrity.
When we first meet Misa no longer masked by anonymity, she is in awe of Kira. She worships him to the point that she believes she’s in love with Light. But as impartial onlookers, a viewer can see that her drive is an infatuation, almost an imaginary devotion based on the idea of Kira. How we are directed to look at Misa from Light’s point of view is from a place of eye-rolling disdain. She doesn’t know what she’s getting herself into, his reasons for creating Kira, all he’s sacrificed to arrive at his current god-like status. Alongside Light, we are looking down from the plateau of celebrity at a wheedling obsessive. However, when you take Misa Misa’s career as a multi-media idol into account, the two Kiras (Kirii?) are thrown into contrast on a much more human level. How they treat their fans, in Light’s contempt and Misa’s compassion, lifts a new layer on the natures of fandom in Death Note.
There is no getting around the fact that fan culture is culture. It’s become the basis of how we interact with all media, and in turn, a breeding ground for hate speech. The digital platforms both Kiras use to forge their mythos put these functions into action, at a time when social media was still in its populist infancy. Like Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue, it predicted how social media would be exploited by aggressors. Airing in 2006 as opposed to Perfect Blue’s arrival in 1997, Death Note goes a step beyond to an interconnected global fan culture. Kira says it himself – while the people save face in public, decrying Kira’s actions, behind profiles and avatars in chat rooms they’re venerating him as a vengeful god.
As one of Kira’s most ardent supporters, and aware of his true identity, Misa acts first as a decoy, then as a co-conspirator. Light feigns a growing love for Misa, no other manipulative options open, as Rem has sworn to kill him if he betrays her. But while Misa is smart enough to know none of his affectionate gestures are genuine, she wants to believe in his love as something that can save her. If, for whatever reason, Light had never picked up Ryuk’s notebook, what would she have done without Kira? Might she have stepped up to his missing example in his stead? This self-sabotage, risking her life with or without Light by her side, appears to be her aim. She wants to destroy herself while engaged in a movement that means something. After all, taking her own life in her position, after she’s carefully chosen how she’s appeared to the public for so long, would only become a mark of shame and suspicion after her death.