“Risking your life and doing something that could rob you of your life are exact opposites.”
L (エル, Eru) is a world-renowned detective who takes on the challenge of catching the serial killer known only as Kira. In his investigation, L becomes highly suspicious of Light Yagami and makes it his goal to prove that Light is Kira.
L is a very slim, tall young man with messy black hair and dark eyes. One of his most noticeable features is the shadow below each of his eyes, a result of him being an insomniac. L is always shown to be wearing blue jean trousers and a long-sleeved white shirt. He almost never wears shoes or socks, preferring to go barefoot, even while in public. This was shown when he visited Light Yagami's school and was seen barefoot while sitting on a bench, not bothering to wear his shoes until he got up to walk.
L is quite secretive, and only communicates with the world through his assistant, Watari. He never shows his face to the world in person, instead representing himself with a capital letter L drawn in "Old English MT" or "Cloister Black" typeface. It is more likely to be "Cloister Black" as Watari's "W" is different in "Old English MT."
After meeting the Japanese Task Force, he requests that the task force refer to him as "Ryuzaki" as an additional safety measure. The Task Force never learns his true name, and it is revealed in neither the manga nor anime.
L is very intelligent, though his disheveled and languid appearance masks his great powers of deduction and many question his abilities upon viewing him. L tends to second-guess everything he is presented with, and is extremely meticulous and analytical. He is good at deceiving his opponents, and is willing to take drastic measures to solve a case. Some of his tactics are quite bold, such as having death row inmate Lind L. Tailor pose as himself on live TV in order to draw out Kira, while others seem bizarre to those involved, such as handcuffing himself to suspected-Kira, Light Yagami. He is also shown to have a dry sense of humor, and he isn't above making sarcastic remarks to people. Although he tends to be polite, to some (such as Task Force member Shuichi Aizawa), L can seem condescending at times.
Using subterfuge, misinformation, disinformation, and an analytical knowledge of human nature to help lure a suspected murderer into a false sense of security and possibly make him carelessly over-confident, L sometimes gets what he wants through abnormal or possibly criminal channels. Whenever L gives percentages to indicate how much he suspects a person of committing a crime, such as "five percent," he may in fact be over ninety percent convinced of their culpability. Although L tells Light that he is among the least likely suspects with one of the lowest percentages of probability, in reality L is "pretty certain" that Light is Kira. As series writer Tsugumi Ohba said laughing, making light of L's tactics: "The truth is, he's a liar."
He also has several quirks, such as preferring to crouch rather than sit, eating only sweet foods (like desserts, candies and fruits) and holding items by using only a thumb and a finger. He also has an unusual way of sitting, with both of his feet on the chair. He claims that if he sits normally, his reasoning ability would drop 40%. Interestingly, in the manga, he is seen sitting on the floor in a pose similar to how one would meditate, while thinking deeply about the Kira case. He is often seen arranging objects and very intently stacking, or in other ways playing with, his staple food items. L is almost always encountered while performing actions that are considered inappropriate or rude in public. These actions/habits include biting fingernails, placing feet on furniture, slouching, chewing with an open mouth, talking with his mouth full, and calling out personal observations that may offend others.
Although he is often seen sitting and inactive, L retains a high athletic ability. L stayed in England for five years, and during that time he was the tennis champion in the England Junior Cup. He also has a knack for martial arts, which is demonstrated in his brief fight with Light. In chapter 38 of the manga, L suggests that even though he eats only sweet foods, he remains underweight because the brain uses the most calories of any organ in the body.
When asked about L's ethnicity, creator of the series Tsugumi Ohba responded, "I think of him as a quarter Japanese, a quarter English, a quarter Russian, a quarter French or Italian, like that." Ohba said that L is the most intelligent character in the entire Death Note series because "the plot requires it." He added that he personally views L as "slightly evil."
L was found by Watari as a child and was taken to the orphanage known as Wammy's House, a home for gifted children. Sometime after, Watari realized that L had incredible intelligence and later assisted him in his cases.  L became a detective at a young, unknown age and eventually gained a reputation as the greatest detective in the world whose opinion is highly valued.
L begins the Kira case by having undocumented death row inmate Lind L. Tailor introduce himself on television as "L" and say that Kira is "evil." This provokes Kira into killing the man on the spot, which in turn proves to L that the Kira killings are not a coincidental succession of heart attacks amongst criminals but the designs of an ingenious serial killer who will murder any and all who try to stop him. It also reveals Kira's location, since the broadcast was televised only in the Kanto region. Not long after this, because of the time of day during which the criminals die coincide with out-of-school hours, he deduces that Kira may well be a student. He tells those assisting him with the Kira case early on in the investigation that he suspects that Light Yagami is Kira, but he can not obtain any concrete evidence. In several situations, Light seems to be proven innocent by the circumstances, but L remains skeptical. If Light were Kira, the case would be solved, and L has trouble letting go of this simple and complete solution. L can easily present his conclusions publicly at any time, and due to his reputation as the best mind in the crime-fighting business, his thoughts and words are always taken very seriously.After his initial suspicions of Light, and in order to take his investigation to its next stage, L decides to enroll at To-Oh University (東応大学, Tōō Daigaku) - the very same college that Light attends - using the well-known name of a popular singer and actor, Hideki Ryuuga. L attends To-Oh because he feels confident in his reasoning and interrogational skills and wishes to test his theory concerning Light's hidden identity by confronting him and perhaps provoking or tricking him to admit that he is indeed Kira. He intends to tell Light that he can "go on the offensive." L is well aware that this is something of a gamble, and knows full well that his act of direct confrontation could prove fatal, but as he's convinced he understands Light's thought process, he feels confident that the adversary will not yet risk revealing his secret identity by killing him.
When L introduces himself as Ryuuga, Light becomes alert and somewhat alarmed but recognizes that it would be pointless to attempt to kill him - the name is conspicuously fake. Light has no way of knowing whether Ryuuga is the real L or a proxy acting under orders. He also reasons that L would have already introduced himself to Light's father earlier, and thus, were he to somehow kill L, this murder would instantly unmask him, proving that he is indeed Kira. If this person proved to be L's proxy, and his name really was Ryuuga, he might die, true, but L would live and know his identity, without ever having had to reveal himself to Light, so that L will have gained all the advantage. Also, while writing the name "Hideki Ryuuga" into the Death Note, the face of the pop singer bearing that name might enter Light's thoughts involuntarily, and that would cause the death of pop singer Ryuuga, which would also lead L to the obvious conclusion that Light is Kira. As such, L's expectations about the outcome of his daring opening gambit prove true, and Light finds himself in a stalemate situation, unable to act for the time being, as any attempt to rid himself of his hunters would result in confirmed suspicions, his subsequent and unavoidable unmasking, and, ultimately, his undoing. Light has no other choice but to bide his time.
When L is finally able to corner him, Light puts his master plan in practice. He temporarily gives up his Death Note to his Shinigami, Ryuk, erasing his memories about his time as Kira. Rem, Misa Amane's Shinigami, under instruction by Light to give the Death Note to someone who would use it selfishly, gives it to Kyosuke Higuchi of the Yotsuba Corporation. Now unaware of the fact that he was the original Kira, Light accepts L's offer to join the Task Force to hunt down Higuchi, known as the third Kira, although he is handcuffed to L throughout the entire case. L and Light work well together when tracking the Yotsuba Kira. When Higuchi is finally captured, Light touches the Death Note, thereby regaining his memory of when he was the original Kira. He then proceeds to killing Higuchi by using the Death Note paper he put in his watch before he lost his memories.
After killing Higuchi, Light tricks Rem into killing L for his own personal gain, making her believe that she must kill him for the sake of Misa's life. L's last sight before death is Light triumphantly smiling over his defeated rival, and in his last moment L confirms to himself that Light is the first Kira. In the anime, prior to L's death, Light and L talk to each other for one last time on the roof of the investigation building; the tone of the episode left some viewers believing that L, somehow, knew his death was drawing near.
Unbeknownst to Light, however, L had arranged things so that if he should die, others could take over, and consequently when his true successors Near and Mello start their own respective investigations of the Kira case, Light is haunted by the memory of L whenever he communicates with them. The cooperation of Near and Mello in the Kira case eventually leads to Light's unmasking as Kira. Thus, L was able to posthumously defeat Light through his successors.
In other media
L retains many of the same characteristics seen in the original series. At the end of the first film, L eats potato chips in front of Light; Light understood this to mean that L was still suspicious of him, as Light had used a potato chip bag to hide a mini LCD television from security cameras while L filmed his room.
As there is no time delay between the first and second films, the second film begins soon before L supposedly dies. Unlike the manga and anime, in the second film, his original "death," caused by Rem writing his name in her Death Note, does not take effect, as L had written his own name in Misa's Death Note earlier. It is his self-sacrifice that allows him to stay alive for a longer duration (as he supposed that Kira would kill him on that day), and allows the investigation team to apprehend Light. After Ryuk kills Light, Ryuk offers L the Death Note. L refuses, and Ryuk, while saying that L is boring, leaves.
Twenty-three days after writing his name in the Death Note, and after burning all the remaining Death Notes and having a conversation with Soichiro Yagami, L dies peacefully while eating a chocolate bar, with a picture of Watari lying right beside him.
L: Change the WorLd chronicles the 23 days that L has left before he dies. L decides to solve one last case. He is in charge of stopping a deadly virus from spreading across the world. Ryuk comes to his aid on behalf of Kira's last wishes. Hideo Nakata, the director, told The Daily Yomiuri that he wanted to exhibit L's "human side," a quality which was not made all too apparent in the Death Note series.
Conception of L in the films
Shūsuke Kaneko, director of the films, said that L's role was the most difficult to cast; as the starting date of the shooting schedule drew near, many of the "big name" actors had other projects. Kaneko decided to offer the role to Ken'ichi Matsuyama, "very much a newcomer". When Matsuyama spoke to him of his intention to "live as L", the young actor had "clinched it", declares Kaneko.
Matsuyama admits having experienced some difficulty in trying to portray L, and he worried about his performance. In the end, he decided to interpret L as an individual who does not "quite understand other people on an emotional level" - the actor reasoned that L rarely interacted with others, and as a consequence, his social skills and emotional expressiveness may not be those of a socially active person. Matsuyama, describing himself as "not very flexible physically", encountered difficulty in emulating L's postures. The actor also ate sweets that L would eat, and carefully considered the details of L's signature gestures.
Matsuyama said that he and Fujiwara became "so immersed" in their character portrayals, that they did not talk to one another while on the set; only when filming ceased did they converse, and they "went out for a drink or two."
Matsuyama described L and Light as having "such unique characters that they’re impossible to understand" and that "the inside of L’s head remains a mystery" to him. Matsuyama said that L and Light are "extremely" alike in that they have "very strong sense of justice".
In the novel Death Note: Another Note the reader is led to believe L under the alias Rue Ryuzaki is helping Naomi Misora solve a murder case. She was recruited for the case by L because she was on leave from the FBI. This Rue acts very much like L and shared many characteristics like crouching to sit and consuming sweets. In the end of the book the reader learns that Beyond Birthday detective name B, who was an another candidate to replace L along with Near and Mello, was not only the killer but also Rue Ryuzaki in disguise under heavy make-up. He was trying to make a case L could not solve to prove his superiority to L. In the book the only certified reference to L was the phone conversations Naomi had with him to discuss the case. In the very end of the book as Naomi was going back to work she sees a man similar to Rue, who the reader is led to believe is L (and probably is, considering that Mello earlier stated that this case was the first time that L had shown himself in public under the alias 'Ryuzaki'). This man attempts to give Naomi a hug which she counters in self-defense and sends him tumbling down a flight of stairs. She then catches up to him and asks him his name, to which he replies, "Ryuzaki".
It is revealed that, prior to the series, L once told Mello three stories regarding his previous solved cases — the Los Angeles BB Murder Cases, detective wars against the real Eraldo Coil and Deneuve, and the story how L met Watari.
Although following closely the storyline of its film counterpart - with the exception of a few creative changes - the novelization reveals various attributes of L. It is revealed in the novel that the initial "L" has two meanings: L stands for "Last One," meaning no one could surpass or match him, but also for "Lost One," meaning a gifted entity who has dropped down, or was cast out from heaven.
The novel also states that L helped in the prevention of World War III when he was only eight years old.
In the novel, L takes a few capoeira lessons from Suruga. This is most likely a homage to the on-going fan speculation of L's capoeira like fighting style in the Death Note manga and anime
Also, in the novel, L for the first time completely loses his composure and calm attitude: when Maki is kidnapped by Blue Ship, L breaks down and screams toward the sky after realizing that this was what Light meant about feeling helpless to protect the people he cares about. L also states at one point that "his heart hurts". His feelings about Light are also revealed, and it is described that L did consider Light to be his friend, going as far as holding on to Light's broken watch as a memento and saying, "Light, I'll see you on the other side. Let us explore the world of nothingness together."
According to the timeline that is presented on each page of the novel, it appears L was to have only 272 days left to live prior to writing his name onto the page of the Death Note. Based on this bit of information it's obvious that L's remaining natural lifespan at the end of the second film would only have amounted to less than a year.
According to page 151 of the novel, it is revealed that the reason why L has acquired so many eccentric quirks is because of the heavy strain of upholding the name of L. From the novel:
- How L did not and could not forget the faces of thousands of victims. "Who could comprehend the man who had lived his life, and had to live confronting all the lives ended prematurely, the tears of the grief stricken survivors, the devaluing of life as a daily reality. How was it possible to measure the pain of such a man? Was it a strain so heavy that L's back curved under all its weight? Was it an agony so terrible as to leave the indelible dark circles around his eyes? Was it a feeling so bitter that every bite he took needed to be coated in sugar? The chronically rounded shoulders, the inevitable dark circles, the eccentric tastes---L suppressed the pain of being a champion of justice, but the evidence of the pain was molded into his very body."
L's detective skills are also explored. In the novel L manages to disguise himself from Kujo and the Blue Ship members by wearing lipstick and putting on a women's wig. He even goes as far as playing the part, and calling Suruga "Honey" while in disguise, much to his annoyance.
Death Note 13: How to Read describes L in the Death Note yonkoma as the "holder of the world's greatest mind" and having the "powerful ability to act like a fool." Death Note 13: How to Read adds that in the yonkoma, "it's like [L was] born to be mocked."
L's role in Death Note: The Musical is essentially the same, but there are some notable changes to the plot. L does not create the Task Force; the Task Force is formed prior to his involvement, and Soichiro Yagami calls L in to assist on the case.
The ending is also very different. Light convinces Rem to not just write L's name in the notebook, but to also write the manner of L's death. As written, L goes to meet Light at a warehouse in Daikoku Wharf and he takes a gun. Light reveals himself as Kira and allows L to touch the Death Note and see Ryuk. L shoots Light in the leg, but Light reveals that this is all according to what's already been written, because Light intends to make it look like L himself was Kira and Light exposed him. Light guides the gun in L's hand to L's temple, and L pulls the trigger and dies.
L is portrayed by various actors for the different musical productions. Teppei Koike (小池徹平, Koike Teppei) portrayed him in the 2015 Japanese production, and he will reprise the role in 2017. Kim Junsu (김준수) portrayed him in both the 2015 and 2017 Korean productions. Jarrod Spector voiced the character for the New York studio demo recordings.
L performs the following songs in the Musical:
- The Game Begins
- Secrets and Lies
- Where is the Justice Reprise
- Stalemate aka A Game of Death
- The Way Things Are aka The Unwavering Truth
- Playing His Game aka Into Him
- The Way Things Are Reprise
- Last Moments
L receives major changes in the drama adaptation. Unlike his manga and anime counterpart, this live-action L sits properly, albeit with his feet on tables and his legs crossed, regularly wears shoes, and eschews sweets and candy in favour of energy drinks. He is also portrayed as far more bold, evident in episode 2 when he accuses Light and several other suspects as being Kira over the phone without even using a voice scrambler. He shows more emotions than L does in the manga, screaming during his fight with Light and laughing when he knows he has Light cornered.
L has a much closer relationship to Near in the drama, and the two of them regularly keep in touch over the phone. L is very wary of Near’s “Mello” personality and does not hesitate to scold Mello when he comes out. It is for this reason that L attempts to keep Near sheltered, though he ultimately fails when Near escapes the Wammy House. The two spend time together in person, and L values Near's contribution to the Higuchi case and respects his establishment as a world-renowned detective.
The following information is from Death Note 13: How to Read.
Tsugumi Ohba: Writer
Takeshi Obata: Artist
Ohba created L as a "force of justice" and a "super detective" who stands between Light and Light's goals and advances the story. Ohba believed that the story would not hold much interest if L was significantly older than Light, so Ohba created L as a young adult. Ohba said that for L's name he wanted to use a single letter with a lot of significance; according to Ohba, he considered "I" and "J" but decided that they did not "feel as good" as "L" and settled on it "after careful consideration." Ohba mentions having given L the alias "Ryuzaki" because L is pronounced like R in Japanese.
Ohba said that his favorite human character in the series was L as he believed that L was the "strongest" character in the series "besides Light." Obata also chose L as his favorite due to "appearance, personality, everything." He stated that he could never have created L and that he enjoyed drawing him. Obata added that because of this, L is not "real" to him, and he likes that aspect of L. In response to the question "Who was the most fun to draw?" both Ohba and Obata answered "L."
Ohba claims he left "everything" about L's character design to Obata, who asked Ohba if L could be "unattractive." Afterwards, Ohba would include his ideas about the character into his thumbnails, including L's posture when seated, and notes such as: "he's English," and "he's listless." He also added details regarding L's mannerisms, and his "sweet tooth." Apart from all that, Ohba credits Obata for the character designs.
Obata described the thumbnail pictures of L created by Ohba as having a "plain face with no expression," and no "bags" under his eyes. According to Obata, the thumbnail design was "great, and I wish I could have used it as is." Obata drew L as an "attractive young man" until Chapter 11, when the character appeared in person. After Chapter 11 Obata decided to contrast L's appearance with that of Light's; Obata claims that both he and Ohba held this idea.
Obata speaks of his concern, during the development of the early manga chapters, that L would appear to be "so suspicious that Light would know instantly it was L if they ever met." When Obata's editor told him that he wanted L to have a face "looking cool based on the angle," Obata added black "bags" under L's eyes, and he cited Devilman's Akira Fudou when expressing his belief that black bags "looked cool." In addition, Obata thought of a "dead eyes" concept, which involved L having "all-black eyes" and "mostly no eyebrows." Although he believes that giving it such black eyes tends to make an animated character appear "goofier," he also thinks that the bags "sharpen the character's gaze." Obata suggests that the design evokes "a feeling of mystery" surrounding the character, and as a result, the reader cannot determine L's true thoughts. He adds that the bags under L's eyes also attract speculation about L's lifestyle and past, and describes the bags as "useful." Obata designed L with a "simple" outfit of a white, long-sleeved shirt and jeans in order to convey the idea that L does not put much thought into choosing his attire. In Death Note 13: How to Read, Ohba presented an initial rough draft of L, and said that, with a "cool expression" and without the "bags" under his eyes the rough draft showed "a totally different person."
While designing color book covers, Obata assigned colors to characters to "get the atmosphere right." The color he assigned to L was gold.
Obata has stated his belief that traits exhibited by L are best revealed "gradually." He is convinced that if he drew L eating "mountains of sweets" prior to revealing L's face, the character would not have "much credibility as a super detective," and people would question whether L was "crazy."
Obata mentions being told often that L's fighting style is much like capoeira; the artist claims that he did not consider this when he drew L's fights - he was simply thinking of the most effective method of kicking an adversary while being handcuffed to him. In Obata's opinion, if the style resembles capoeira, then this "adds another element to it" and "that makes me happy."
- Although Death Note 13: How to Read states that L's intelligence is 8/10, below both Light's and even Near's, when asked which character he thought was the smartest, Ohba replied, "L. Because the plot requires it. [laughs]"
- L's name, L Lawliet (pronounced "low light"), was first shown in Death Note 13: How to Read on a promotional card at the beginning of the book.
- In the anime, certain characters take on stylized hair colors while the viewer hears their thoughts; L's color is blue.
- L's lifespan in the television drama is 51161121.
- L can tie two cherry stems in a knot with his mouth, as seen in episode 18.
- In the Death Note DVD Behind the Scenes, L's voice actor Alessandro Juliani describes L as an "enigma, and someone, that if you sat next to on the subway with you would probably move to the other side."
- In the Italian version, rather than using the letter "L" to spell his name, the phonetic spelling ("Elle") is used.
- In Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid episode 6, L was briefly seen riding a bike.
- L was one of the Death Note characters made into Nendoroid figures. The L Nendoroid comes with a chair, an extra arm holding a cell phone, another body of L but in his crouching posture, and three other faces, an angry face, a shocked face, and a face looking to the right.
- “Kira is childish and he hates losing… I'm also childish and hate losing.” (Chapter 11: One)
- “Well, to put it simply… I had prepared a little trick to test whether you were Kira… But I didn't even feel the need to use it on any of you.” (Chapter 13)
- “He who moves first always wins.” (Chapter 20)
- “I just can't sit any other way than this. If I sit the way other people do, my reasoning ability drops by 40%.” (Chapter 21)
- “The only thing I see is the abnormal strength of Amane's love for Light Yagami.” (Chapter 36)
- “Light-kun, please shut Misa-san up.” (Chapter 37)
- “Misa-san, take this seriously or I'll kick you.” (Chapter 46)
- “It's not a sense of justice. Figuring out difficult cases is my hobby. If you measured good and evil deeds by current laws, I would be responsible for many crimes. The same way you all like to solve mysteries and riddles, or clear video games more quickly. For me too, it's simply prolonging something I enjoy doing. That's why I only take on cases that pique my interest. It's not justice at all. And if it means being able to clear a case, I don't play fair, I'm a dishonest, cheating human being who hates losing.” (Death Note One-Shot Special)
- “There are…many types of monsters in this world: Monsters who will not show themselves and who cause trouble; monsters who abduct children; monsters who devour dreams; monsters who suck blood, and… monsters who always tell lies. Lying monsters are a real nuisance. They are much more cunning than other monsters. They pose as humans even though they have no understanding of the human heart. They eat even though they've never experienced hunger. They study even though they have no interest in academics. They seek friendship even though they do not know how to love. If I were to encounter such a monster, I would likely be eaten by it. Because in truth, I am that monster.” (Death Note Relight 2: L's Successors)
- “The killer is B.” (Death Note: Another Note, p 104)
- “Light wanted to live like a god. He didn't die like one.” (L: Change the WorLd)
- “Watari, now I want to live in this world a little bit longer.” (L: Change the WorLd)
- “Misa Amane… I hope you enjoy the remaining few years of your life.” (L: Change the WorLd, p 115)
- “Light, I'll see you on the other side. Let us explore the world of nothingness together.” (L: Change the WorLd, p 188)