Portrayal of Antagonism in Naruto Shippuden & Death Note

I decided to introduce these concepts as I recognise their intertwinement with Anime, especially with the portrayal of antagonists as the way they came to be normally derived from their conflicts with their own. The mentioned concepts are what I find relevant to this autoethnography and act as my analytical framework. Contemplating which anime series should I choose to be the case studies for my autoethnography, I went with “Naruto Shippuden“, since it was my first Anime encounter and the global renown “Death Note”, as this series is short and concise (in case you intend to watch it after my blog, there’re only 37 episodes compared to that 500 of Naruto Shippuden, so you’re welcome xx).

Why is deviance considered normal and essential for a healthy society?

In order to maintain the stability of a society, shared beliefs of social standards, morality, which is known as collective conscious, must be established. Functioning based on these social facts, there’re behaviours that are deemed deviant and unacceptable for society. Durkheim (1958) has stated that deviance isn’t just something that only belongs to certain individuals, but it is “an integral part of all healthy societies” as crimes are universal phenomenons that can be found in all kinds of societies and that the significant decrease or increase of crime rate would indicate a malfunction in the organism of society as a whole.

Additionally, propositions regarding the function of deviance in a community were proposed by scholars including Durkheim (1960), and Erikson & Dentler (1959). Propositions being resembled in animes are discussed below:

Deviation helps to strengthen the bond of the community 

In one of his timely work “The Division of Labor in the Society”, Durkheim stated that when an individual violates the social standards which are followed and respected by the entire community, the mutual opposition against such acts can be seen among the people. And it is this common response being provoked by deviant behaviours that develops a tighter bond among the entire community.
“The excitement generated by the crime, in other words, quickens the tempo of interaction in the group and creates a climate in which the private sentiments of many separate persons are fused together into a common sense of morality.” – Erikson, 1966. 

Deviant behaviour functions in the enduring groups to help maintain group equilibrium

According to Erikson and Dentler (1959), to maintain the balanced state for a society, deviance has a role in different aspects such as group performance, rewards, but the one I find to be most relevant is its role in maintaining the social boundaries. In, day-to-day setting, we as members of a society can sometimes lose sight of such boundaries, and, hence, the interaction between the “control agencies and the deviance can effectively locate and re-illuminate these social boundaries (Erikson 1966)

There’re conditions for the change in deviance rate

Now that we have understood the essential existence of deviance for society, I would also want to introduce Durkheim’s theory regarding the conditions in which the change in deviance rate is caused. These conditions are:
(1) Forced division of labor
: This is common within a society where social and occupational positions are still developing, resulting in rapid change or where people are positioned bellow or above their capabilities.

(2) The development of anomie: this condition refers to when an individual’s needs and desires can not be fulfilled within the framework of the collective conscious which lead to that individual feeling lost and alienated within the society.

(3) When the cult of the individual runs amuck when individualism is pushed to an extreme, an individual would disregard the entire community to follow and fulfill only their desires and personal goals.

Madara Uchiha – Naruto Shippuden’s Ultimate Antagonist


Madara Uchiha was born and raised in an era of war and eventually named as the leader of his clan – Uchiha. The clan had been at war with their long-term rivalry, the Senju, and it was so severe that even children were to be sent to the battlefield. While nothing was achieved from this constant bloodshed, Madara’s three brothers were killed under the enemies’ hands. Losing all of his loved ones had caused Madara great agony, and he started questioning the functionality of the society he was living in, resulting in his utter desire to establish a new system – a village, where children can live in peace without being sent to war. Such a dream was also aligned with the one of Hashirami – the leader of Senju clan at the time – and they had called a truce to build the village of their dreams, together.

Although this may sound like the ideal ending for an era of constant purposeless fights, the underlying motives of these two leaders were rather different. While Hashirami purely wanted to stop the bloodshed of children from both clans, Madara’s motivation was more personal, as he mainly wished to protect his last surviving brother, who was severely injured during the previous fight. Additionally, the Uchiha clan considers this truce as a loss and expressed hatred and suspicion towards their own leader. Hashirami’s brother also resented Madara, as he believed that Madara was too pessimistic and skeptical and would eventually turn evil because of that. And what had finally led Madara to became completely alienated was when he found out that the resolution of forming a country with different clans only led to the bigger fights against alignment.

wordswag_1506418790327.pngAll of this tragedy and contradict has made him believe that the only way to gain the absolute peace, was to create an illusion and since then, he has bred many more antagonists, manipulated them to agree with his ideology and eventually led to the ultimate destruction of the world.

The society upon which the entire storyline of Naruto Shippuden was built has all three of the conditions that cause the change in deviance rate, and this change was massive. A shinobi (ninja), was forced to be in a position of a leader of an entire clan, and to face a significant change from knowing only of war to the vague introduction of peace (1). And ever since the beginning of reforming the social structure towards a peaceful world, there has been a great conflict between the leaders’ ideology of a peaceful society, as well as disbelief against one of the founders, Madara (2). And finally, when everything just didn’t feel right anymore, Madara has taken upon himself a mission to “rescue” the world and has bred this idea into many more villains later on (3). Madara’s sense of community has been damaged throughout his life, after having to witness the deaths of his many loved ones, and his own people doubting him, Madara seemed to feel like he has no reason to trust people, and he’d only use them to fulfill his own desire.

Light Yagami of Death Note – The journey to becoming the God of the new world

Unlike the case of Madara, the giphy (1)description of the society in which the global renown antagonist Light Yagami, also known as Kira, was rather a brief one. However, understanding the entire scenario is important to comprehend Kira’s perspective, why he believed in his ideology to an extreme, and why I consider Light as an antagonist, not an anti-hero.

Light Yagami was portrayed as a bright high school senior with a promising future. But right at the first minutes of the series, he was all gloomy and disappointed, especially at the world he lives, as crimes are reported daily. Soon after that, he saw a notebook with the title “Death Note” which was dropped by Ryuk, a spirit of darkness who draws people towards death. Realizing the supernatural ability to inflict death by writing someone’s name in the notebook, Light has decided to use Death Note as a tool to cleanse the society, and it all went downhill since then (for Light I mean, but definitely an uphill for anime fans).

giphy (2).gif

“Someone has to do it so why not me? Even if it means sacrificing my own mind and soul it’s worth it because the world can’t go on like this, Is there anyone out there other than me who’d be willing to eliminate the vermin from the world? […] eventually, no one will ever do anything evil again. The world will start moving in the right direction. It will be a new world, free of injustice and populated by people who I’ve judged to be honest, kind, and hardworking.” – Kira, 2006.

While Naruto Shippuden where the scenario was different from the reality we live in, Death Note resembles modern life, and to see such a reaction and despair from Light was indeed confronting. That crime happens every day seems to be something that we have accepted but definitely not disregarded (due to the fact that we have an entire system of laws to be reinforced) makes me feel less sympathetic towards Light as we understood and could relate to his world. In the case of Light, the change in deviance rate was mainly caused by condition (3), the rise of individualism. Putting this in the perspective of Japan’s actual society, when it is considered to inherit both individualistic and collectivistic characters, Kira’s desire to be the world’s ultimate justice is not mainly conditioned by the society, but rather the specific situation created by his own acknowledgment of his intellectual ability, his despair towards criminality and the killing tool – Death Note. His motive was personal, with the desire to be the only one with the right and power to judge people and their worth. Condition (2) is also relevant here because instead of working alongside with the current system, Kira disregarded its role completely and eventually fought against them. This also explains why I consider Light Yagami as a Villain, because anti-heroes, despite having their own method in dealing with crimes and being resented by the established system, their goal wasn’t personal.

The inevitability of Antagonism

Throughout my experience Anime, I have been repeatedly amazed by how the producers can portray social philosophies in a way that is approachable for all ages. With Madara Uchiha and Light Yagami, the producers have done an incredible job in showing that deviance also a crucial part of remaining the balanced state for society and for the establishment of collective conscious.

Madara Uchiha aimed to create a simulation of a world with no hardship and only peace, but how do we know peace without putting it in comparison with war? How do we know happiness without experiencing pain? And how do we know what’s good and acceptable without knowing all the bad and unacceptable? How do we know the boundaries without not knowing what’s on the other side? And didn’t Madara Uchiha’s extreme desire for peace derives from all the pain he endured?

The fact the Light’s desire for a world with absolutely no crime has made him become the ultimate criminal without even realising it. His justification, at the end of the day, was that he committed crimes to eliminate all crimes using a deadly weapon, so how is that for the establishment of a world with no crime at all? An ideal world created by a criminal? Does it sound like a healthy society?

Both figures show the distortion in the desire to entirely eliminate deviance, which proves the socialists’ argument that deviance is an integral part of a society, and it was mind-blowing to see abstract philosophies conveyed via such approachable means.

And so that’s a wrap! I hope it was interesting enough to keep you reading until the end and to start watching Animes.

I also love great conversations, so feel free to comment!


Durkheim, E 1958, The Rules of Sociological Method, The Free Press, New York.

Durkheim, E 1960, The Rules of Sociological Method, The Free Press, New York.

Erikson, KT 1966, Wayward Puritans: A Study in the Sociology of Deviance, Jon Wiley, New York.

Erikson, KT & Dentler RA 1959, The Functions of Deviance in Groups, Social Problems, Vol. 7, No. 2, pp. 98–107.

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