I’ve mentioned this before, but I have never seen the Death Note anime. I tried once or twice but couldn’t really get passed the first two episodes. See, the Death Note manga is one of my favorites and somehow, I just couldn’t adjust to the little differences from how I had established it in my head and how it was playing out on TV. As such, I’m not entirely sure what (if any) the differences are between the manga and anime. So, um Spoilers for the Death Note manga which may or may not apply to the anime. If somehow you have not seen or read this series and have not been spoiled yet, you should probably not read this. Also please let me know in the comments as you are probably the only one left!
As I was saying, if you haven’t read Death Note, you may not have gotten the chance to know Mello like I did. I mean even if you have, my interpretation may be slightly different because I’m “special”. That needed quotes AND italics, that’s how special I am!
I adore Mello. He represents an archetype that’s still rather unusual in anime. The over emotional genius and morally bankrupt ideologue. He was also absolutely pivotal in the manga, ultimately creating out one of the most elaborate and satisfying ploys of the story. Mello comes to play and when he gambles he bets BIG.
Some of my more cynical readers may think I’m simply staying true to my general fondness for blondes, others may have correctly guessed that he’s a superb default cosplay as I just need to dig up some of my old goth clothes and get to spend entire con days eating chocolate because I have to! But I honestly think Mello is a fantastic character that gets unfairly overlooked due to having the bad luck of being lumped in with an iconic cast.
You see Mello is an archetype that you rarely run across. He’s written to be purposefully unlikable and yet still clearly embodies the role of the hero. Arguably more so than anyone else.
L is really a big kid who’s playing a game with everyone’s lives. He shows little qualms about crossing some pretty clear moral lines and cares about winning at any cost. Both Near and Mello have been trained by him and share this childish trait. But where L was having a completely singular experience, caring more about the game itself and how it affected him personally, Mello actually took into account other people.
What I mean is, L has lived his entire life as an unparalleled genius. He uses those around him as pawns and tools but isn’t use to truly relying on anyone else. As such, all of his plans depended on him and him alone. On the other hand, Mello grew up in his shadow and was never under the illusion of being the best at anything. This is what allowed him to come up with a solution that would hinge on Near ultimately doing his part and putting the last pieces of the puzzle together. Mello accepted losing a battle in order for the war to be won.
This idea of teamwork would have been just about inconceivable to L and that was a big part of his downfall.
On the other hand, Near is somewhat too complexed. As the youngest and smallest, he’s been isolated and protected all his life, to the point that the idea of acting directly is almost beyond him. This weird mix of fear and pride kept him from taking any big risks and would have put Light completely beyond his reach if it hadn’t been for Mello.
And so in Mello, Death Note managed to create a character that is creepy, antisocial and quite unlikable while believably making him the only one willing to sacrifice himself to solve the case. I’m not going to go so far as to pretend he did it for the greater good but ultimately, that is what happened.
It should also be noted (ha!) that the brashest and most impatient character was the only one to actually take the time to really figure out what was happening, playing the long cat and mouse game, in order to trap Light.
For most of the story, I thought Mello was ridiculous. A sort of reverse Deus Ex Machina. Maybe it has a name. Basically just some half developed character that the plot threw in to create some contrived obstacles and force the other characters in whatever direction the narrative needed them to go. A cheap ploy.
But as the plan slowly came together and all the moving parts were revealed, I couldn’t help but to be impressed. Every action had a purpose. Every reaction was in line with the character’s personality, which itself made perfect sense in the context of his upbringing. When stripped of biased presentation, Mello is more considerate than L and more rational than Near. (Also a it of a maniac.)
And hardly anyone even mentions this character at all. Death Note is still fairly relevant, being one of the best known anime out there and having the Netflix fiasco revive it in public consciousness just last year. I do see and hear about Near now and then but never Mello.
But without him, we would all be worshipping Kira right now. So today, let’s take a minute to remember the creepy blonde sugar freak. He may not have been the nicest guy out there but he was the only one willing and able to do what needed to be done.
Here’s to you Mello, L would have been proud!
ED – A recent conversation with a friend leads me to believe that Misa Misa’s character also suffered quite a bit in the translation to anime. She’s also an intricate and very important part of the manga. A flawed but surprisingly capable mastermind in her own right.