In looking at the character of Near from Death Note, and at Near’s quotes in particular, it is worth starting with the fundamentals. Near is frequently, well pretty much constantly really, shown playing with toys, finger puppets and puzzles. It’s like the creators have taken all the child-like traits of L, and, Spinal Tap style, cranked them up to 11.
So I guess the first question is, just how old is this pint-sized genius Near anyway?
What age is Death Note’s Near?
According to the Japanese version of Wikipedia, Near’s Date of Birth is 18 years old in the anime version of Death Note (with a birth date of August 24, 1991), 19 years old in the dramatized version (with a birth date of August 24, 1996). He is 22 years old in the “special edition” and 27 years old in the “new special edition”.
So if, like me, you got into Death Note through the anime series, than Near is basically and 18 year old teenager.
How many 18 year olds do you know who are playing with finger puppets? Not many, right? (excluding the odd one doing it as some weird sexual thing perhaps…)
But then, how many 18 year olds do you see fronting major supernatural crime thwarting special units?
And how many have a weirdoid name like “Near” (he should have had a sibling called “far”, right?)
So what does the name “Near” mean anyway?
Of course, “Near”’s real name is “Nate River”, which is a bit more normal, in Western circles at least. Japanese people have a bit of a thing for making weird abbreviated nick names – I once had a friend and Japan that everyone called “rare”, because she had lived several years abroad as a child and so was unusual, or “rare”.
So, perhaps “Near” isn’t so “rare”. Or something like that 🙂
What kind of character is Near?
Either way, Japanese people often see the character of Near as being quite cute.
Whether being constantly hunched up on the ground playing with kid’s toys as a legally-adult-in-many-countries aged man is a kawaii or not is an open question. But Near is clearly prodigy-level, intellectual wunderkind, so we can cut him some slack.
What Do Near’s quotes say about the Death Note “world-view”?
Aside from exhibiting near-computer level brain processing oomph when it comes to sleuthing, Near also has some great one-liners that reveal a lot about his world-view.
Of course, Near’s world-view very much fits into the larger philosophical outlook of Death Note.
Death Note presents a largely non-monotheistic view of the universe. Which is to say, you don’t really see any all-powerful, omni-present God like figure.
The Role of Shinigami in Death Note
Sure, you’ve got the numerous shinigami Gods of Death. But these, like Ryuk, are presented as petty, inconsequential figures who go about the business of taking human souls in a matter-of-fact, languid, stupor.
Death Note’s shinigami are more like half-hearted workers at an Amazon fulfillment center than gods as we usally think of them.
The main shinigami, Ryuk, is actually quite clownish in many ways, from his buffoon’s personality through to his pierre-cum-emo-punk appearance.
He’s like Ronald McDonald in leather and spikes. Or Ronald with the the power to kill, at a quicker rate than the burger giant’s food stuff’s care capable of. Compare some Ryuk quotes here and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Questioning “Good” and “Evil” in Death Note
Death Note paints a world where everything can be good or evil and asks us to think about how we make the decision about which is which.
Is Light Yagami correct when he says that it’s actually justice to kill criminals in order to create a better world? Is he justified when he sets himself up as a kind of God of Judgement? And, if we don’t agree with him, what does that mean for the many societies of the world that use the death penalty and do routinely pass judgement on other souls?
Death Note questions the role of morality in a Godless world.
It is worth remembering here that Japan is a polytheistic society where kami deities are seen to dwell in everything from rocks to vending machines. Shintoism doesn’t tend to tell you what to do in the same way that the monotheistic religions do, either. So many Japanese people approach morality the way atheists do – by being pragmatic.
Near quotes from Death Note
I’ve gone back to the original Japanese language versions of these quotes to do new translations that fully get across the essence of what was being expressed in the original. Unfortunately, you see a lot of sub-translations of these going around.
The Death Note world view can be seen in perhaps what is my favorite Near quote, one that sees him being quite the philosopher:
…もし神がいて神の教示があったとしても 私は一考し それが正しいか正しくないかは自分で決めます
nani ga tadashī ka tadashikunai ka nani ga seigi ka aku ka nante dare ni mo wakarimasen
… moshi kami ga ite kami no kyōshi ga atta toshite mo watashi wa ikkō shi sore ga tadashī ka tadashikunai ka wa jibun de kimemasu”
Of course, this idea that “good” and “bad” are just human creations is hardly new. Think of the Shakespeare line,
“This Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
The bard had the same idea several hundred years ago. Either that or he was an anime fan.
The interesting thing about the Near quote version of this idea is that he says that even if there were a monotheistic God, that he would still take the time to decide whether he agreed. Now that is a commitment to rationality and skepticism.
Perhaps Near would get along well with famous atheist writer Richard Dawkins? Maybe someone should introduce Dawkins to Death Note author Tsugumi Ohba?
In fact, above all else, Near seems to value reason.
He makes a revealing distinction between people that commit crime for their own benefit, versus those who seem to commit crime for the fun of it. Near places Light Yagami in the latter camp, and finds him all the more hard to comprehend because of it:
shiri shiyoku no tameni tsukai, nan nin ka koroshiteshimau ningen no hō ga mada watashi wa rikai dekimasu shi, matomo da to sae omoimasu.”
Near, though at all times appearing calm and calculating, barely manages to contain his hatred of Light Yagami and all he stands for when tells him in the penultimate scenes:
anata wa tada no hitogoroshi desu.”
Light Yagami has spent the proceeding 30 or so Death Note episodes building himself up in his own mind, to the point of being a capital-G style God. In fact, he has built himself up to be more than simply “a” god, like the shinigami he spends his days rubbing shoulders with. He sees himself as somehow “chosen” or innatelyh above others, mortal or not.
Near brings him down a peg or two by telling him that he is nothing more than a rank crook. And the worst kind. The murdering kind.
Near also finds the supporters of Kira unconsciounable in their actions. He makes a telling comment when he says:
motomoto kira o shijisuru mono wa jibun e no kigai dake o kirau bōkansha shita de abareteiru no wa jibun ga tanoshikereba ii jikochū desu.”
This exposes a truism about human nature. We tend not to care about other’s safety if it’s going to impact on our own entertainment.
Perhaps the most obvious examples of this a blood sports, like the gladiators in the arenas and the Christians being fed to the lions.
And are martial arts so different?
There are plenty of other areas that you could list where people take pleasure in other’s misfortune as long as they are safe. Natural disasters, financial ruin, emotional break downs that don’t concern you personally.
We really are a bunch of shadenfreude loving low-lifes in many ways.
But Near puts it in an interesting new way when he says “raging beneath the surface is the self-centered thinking that the only thing that matters is your own pleasure.”
There’s a certain pleasure in that well turned phrase.
Near once again expresses his anger at those capitulating, or taking pleasure in Kira’s dastardly deeds when he hears the American President announce that they will no longer be actively opposing Kira.
fuzakeru na! kira o mitomete ii wake ga nai”
Interestingly, this is one of the few times you hear Near talking in non-polite des/masu Japanese. You get the sense that Near is speaking from a primal place, deeply and individually moved by the gauling injustice he sees.
Near and Light also both constantly talk in terms of a “competition”. You almost sense that their whole tussle is something of a game to them, which is certainly different to how you would say if you were, say, the family of one of Kira’s victims.
Check out these Light quotes if you want to hear how he expresses this sense of rivalry.
You can hear this competitive language from Near in quotes like:
ge-mu wa katanakereba, pazuru wa tokanakereba tada no haisha.”
Here, the focus is not on crime, or justice, victims, but very much on the investigator and the perpetrator.
You get the sense that with each of the main players, Near, L, Mello, Light, there are strong senses of pride at play.
This sense of competition and rivalry is not only between the ostensible “goodies” and “baddies” though. You also get this competitive language between Near and Mello, Near and L, Mello and L. Check out the competitive language in these Mello quotes and L quotes.
This can be seen in Near’s language in the penultimate seen where Near shows Light both humility and pride when he acknowledges that he is no match for L, but is able to “suprass” him in combination with Mello:
tashika ni, watashi ichi nin de waeru o kosemasen. shikashi, ni nin naraeru to naraberu.eru o oikoseru.”
Interestingly, this competitive language actually comes pretty close to some of the most famous advertising slogans out there. Have a look at how close this Near quote sounds to Nike’s “Just Do It” catch phrase:
dekirudekinai de wa naku yaru n desu”
You could that on a t-shirt with a swoosh logo beneath it and noone would bat and eyelid.
You get a sense of just how much of a straight shooter Near is. Like many heroes, he has keen sense of what he believes in, a strong conviction, and sticks to what he believes in. His language reflects this.
Which is not to say that he is courageous for courage’s sake. In fact in quotes like the following, you see that he actually has a very pragmatic view about when it is worth taking a risk, and when it is not:
kowai no nara, nigereba ii. shinde waikemasen.”
Once again, you can see this working on a t-shirt – although perhaps not this time matched with the iconic Nike swoosh.
It’s nice to hear your heroes say something like this though. Bravery isn’t stupidity. Near seems to be saying that you need to choose your battles.
In another seen, he echoes a similar sentiment by saying that he himself is going to stay put and avoid danger. He clearly acknowledges his own fear and doesn’t try to hide it in any way:
kowai mono wa yaranakute ii desu. koko kara denaide kudasai. watashi wa kowai node demasen.”
And it is sometimes said that greatness requires vulnerability. And you can certainly see that here in Near’s ability to be honest about the fact that he is afraid, and is going to keep himself out of harm’s way.
In the following quote, he also acknowledges that he doesn’t always get things right. And says that that is okay.
In fact, he goes further and says that being will to get things wrong is necessary to the investigation process:
sōsa toiu no wa kimetsuketekakari machigatteitara” gomennasai” de ii n desu”
And isn’t this true of many things in life? Isn’t much of what we do an investigation of one kind of another? Whether you are an artist, writer or creator trying to bring something new into the world by trial and error, or a businessperson attempting to create a new way of getting things done, or a student trying to find your own way of completing a task to the best of your abilities, isn’t it always be best to be open to making mistakes and acknowledging that you don’t always ahve the answers?
At times like these, it is worth remembering Near’s words and being open to saying “sorry” after the fact?
一度 戻ってもらい 一緒に日本へ
watashi wa ichi nin de hikōki ni noru tetsuzukitō o shita koto ga arimasen ichi do modottemorai issho ni Nippon e”
In our final Near quote, we get a sense of the eccentric, “cuteness” of the child-like character. We find that Near, although he is capable of conducting high-level, international crime investigations and cracking genius criminal cases, barely has the everyday life-skills to take care of his own travel particulars.
Presumably this is because he is too busy solving mysterious police conundrums and, well, playing with his dolls.
All of these Near quotes taken together paint an interesting portrait of a character that is inspirational in his unwavering commitment to both truth and justice. Near represents the innocence of all human kind, the child0like nature that is within all of us, the honesty of youth.
And that is a more positive note to end on than a Death Note.
See also: Death Note L Cosplay guide.