Random Rants: The Death God Who Fell in Love

(Warning: Spoilers for Death Note)

Somebody online said that Rem’s character and her love for Misa were only plot devices. Rem is one of my most favorite Death Note characters, so reading that lengthy comment trashing her existence, um, it really pissed me off. That’s why I wrote this rant about the depth, nature, and factors involved in Shinigami Rem’s love for Misa.

Let’s start with a refresher in case you haven’t seen Death Note in a while and your memory gets fuzzy like mine. Rem is a God of Death, AKA a Shinigami, who lives in the Shinigami world. In Death Note, she was the one who gave a Shinigami notebook, the tool for killing humans, to Misa Amane. Then Misa became the second Kira, or killer of criminals, and took her place serving Light Yagami, the real Kira. When the detective L was just about to concretely prove that Light and Misa were Kira, Rem wrote L’s real name in her Death Note. She did it because she loved Misa. However, because she saved the life of a human, the rules of the Death God universe demanded Rem’s death. She passed away, falling apart into a pile of shining, silver sand.

It’s important to note that Rem put on a tough act, but was actually very vulnerable for a Shinigami. It was already clear that she loved Misa, but she denied it. She wanted to respect Misa’s wishes, and that’s why she didn’t kill Light later on. She didn’t want Misa to hate her. And she didn’t want to presume she knew what best for Misa better than Misa herself. Rem wasn’t a good judge of character, if she trusted Light even a little. In episode 26, the Shinigami panicked at the thought of Misa being declared Kira and executed. In those few moments, she thought it over, and realized exactly how powerless she was.

Could she wait and save Misa from the executioner? No. To do that, she’d have to write the executioner’s name and thus die. It would leave Misa as a convincted murderer and a public enemy. Rem had to take action before it was proven that Misa was Kira. Should she kill both Light Yagami and L to ensure Misa’s future? No, she could only kill one of them before dying. The one option was L. All Rem could do with her existence was ensure that Misa survived at least a little longer. She valued Misa’s life more than her own.

So, why did Rem “fall in love”? It’s a bit silly to ask why anyone falls in love; it’s not something that can be easily answered or analyzed. Still, I’ll rant about it. Three possible reasons for Rem’s love are Misa’s human nature, the investment Rem put into Misa’s life, and the time Rem and Misa spent together. The first item basically means that Rem fell in love with the idea of Misa.

Imagine you have lived for centuries– no, a few millennia, even. After a while, memories of the distant past are probably forgotten. That’s the case for the Shinigami. They live forever, and they never change or grow. Their lives are stagnant. But then we have Misa Amane, a human girl who is young, full of life and passion, and still growing and maturing, a little different every day. If I were a Shinigami, I’d fall in love with someone like Misa, too. I would fall in love with the concept of such a beauitful, fragile thing, so different from the grey and invincible things I knew.

(Misa wa kawaii!)

Next, we’ll address investment. For that, we need to understand why Rem became interested in the human world in the first place. Shinigami don’t give a shit about anything but living lazy, comfortable lives in their home world, talking and playing games. Nobody there is interested in the human world. They were once, but now they’ve extended their lifespans by so much that there’s no need to worry about writing human names in the Death Notes anymore. They mostly want to continue with simple lives. But a few of them, like Rem and Ryuk, are bored with what their world can offer. That’s why Ryuk dropped a Death Note on purpose and began to accompany Light. It’s also why Rem took Gelus’ notebook and personally gave it to Misa.

(I’m going to segway here for a just a minute to say that the psychological evolution of Shinigami plays a role in this issue. In the early days of humankind, the Death Gods were probably strongly connected with the human world. As humans evolved and civilizations started, the need to kill humans became less urgent, and by the modern era, there was no reason to be intrigued by the world of humans. In fact, continuing interest would be a danger to the species. Shinigami such as Gelus and Rem died because of their love for humans, which began as a mere fascination with the world of humans. It’s possible that they all became disinterested as a way to stay alive.)

Anyway, we’ve seen that both Rem and Ryuk are unusual Shinigami attracted to the human world and the humans within it. While Rem falls in love with Misa, Ryuk never becomes emotionally attached to Light. Why? There is a big difference between interest and investment. Ryuk is interested in Light and his schemes, but never becomes invested; Rem is both interested and heavily invested in Misa and prolonging her life. Light’s life is for Ryuk like watching a ballgame. But Misa’s life is to Rem like a precious jewel she spent time refining and shaping, or a flowering plant she grew painstakingly.

That brings us to the nature of Rem’s love for Misa. One thing that determines if people will fall in love is whether they spend time with each other and get to know each other. That’s a third reason for Rem’s love. But does that make sense from the point of view of a Shinigami who has lived for several millennia? Investing effort, care, and time into a human, who lives for a century at most, is strange. Then again, anyone who’s kept a garden might understand that, in a certain sense, you come to care for the short-lived flowers and herbs you grow. Is Misa like so, just a flower, in the eyes of Rem? That can’t be. She must be more than a mere potted plant.

It’s hard to classify what sort of love Rem feels, and I can only look at it from a human perspective, of course. Rem is charmed by and attached to Misa, much like a person experiencing romantic love. However, she doesn’t have a problem with Misa romantically loving humans, and rarely touches her even to embrace her. Perhaps it’s more like the love of a friend? No, Rem’s love much be of a deeper kind than that given that she sacrificed her life for the girl.

I think Rem’s love also resembles a mother’s love. Never underestimate a mammal mother’s love for its offspring. It is a feirce and truly altruistic form of love in many cases. Misa is like Rem’s child, in a sense. Motherly love can easily explain why Rem sacrificed her life for Misa. However, this still doesn’t adequately describe the Death God’s love. So there is one more point to be made. Misa gave Rem’s life a sense of meaning. Given what we know about the ancient Shinigami race and the state of their world and their lives, it’s possible Rem never felt like she had a reason for living. Loving Misa gave her that for the first time. If someone else’s life is truly one’s reason for existing, then, like Rem, one would give their life for that person without a doubt.

However you look at it, and whatever kind of love it is, there’s no doubt that Rem’s character and her love for Misa are much more than plot devices so Light can beat L. Misa and Rem are important parts of the story in and of themselves. This has been Anime Rants. Ja ne!

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