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10 "Death Note" Rules You Didn't Know About

Jeremy enjoys anime when not working as a chemist or building manager.

Death Note Rules

Most fans of the manga/anime Death Note know the titular notebook's basic rules; the human whose name is written within shall die, the user must have their target's face in mind so that other people with the same name are spared, and so on.

But some of the rules never come up in the main series, creating some interesting lore that most fans aren't aware of. So, what other Death Note stipulations are you dying to learn about? Here are ten Death Note rules clarified in the manga that anime-only fans have probably never heard of!

Spoilers ahead.

The Death Note's age limits.

The Death Note's age limits.

1. Age Limitations

Specified in: Chapter 13: Countdown, Chapter 36: Father and Son, Chapter 41: Matsuda

  • The Death Note will not affect those under 780 days old.
  • The god of death (Shinigami) must not hand the Death Note directly to a child under 6 years of age based on the human calendar.
  • You cannot kill humans at the age of 124 or over with the Death Note

Here are some interesting rules regarding age; basically, you're safe from the Death Note up until age two or past 124—not very reassuring. Shinigami also can't hand Death Notes to children younger than six; that said, another rule mentions that notebooks can be used regardless of age, so if a child somehow obtains one, they could operate it just fine. Yikes.

Misspelling names in the Death Note

Misspelling names in the Death Note

2. Misspelled Names

Specified in: Chapter 13: Countdown, Chapter 49: Potted Plant

  • The Death Note will be rendered useless if the victim's name is misspelled four times.
  • If a Death Note owner accidentally misspells a name four times, that person will be free from being killed by the Death Note. However, if they intentionally misspell the name four times, the Death Note owner will die.
  • The person whose name was misspelled four times on purpose will not be free of death by a Death Note.

These are some of the most confusing rules; here's my take. The Death Note won't work if you misspell a name four times by accident, and if for some weird reason you do it on purpose, you yourself would die. Plus, even when you misspell a name four times, that victim doesn't become permanently immune to the Death Note; if their name was finally spelled correctly, they'd die as normal.

These rules were likely created to prevent users from trying to protect people; misspelling a name can't indefinitely shield anyone, and even if it did, you'd die after purposefully miswriting their name.

Using the Death Note with multiple names

Using the Death Note with multiple names

3. Writing a Name More Than Once

Specified in: Chapter 25: Fool

  • When the same name is written on more than two Death Notes, the note which was first filled in will take effect, regardless of the time of death.
  • If writing the same name on more than two Death Notes is completed within a 0.06-second difference, it is regarded as simultaneous; the Death Note will not take effect and the individual written will not die.
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These rules don't come up in the main series, but the first one plays a major role in the Japanese live-action films (specifically Death Note: The Last Name). Here, detective L purposefully writes his own name to die as far into the future as the Death Note allows (23 days), preventing Kira from killing him in the meantime.

As an aside, I find the first rule poorly stated, as it cites an example where a name is written on more than two notes (meaning at least three), but I believe the intent is simply to explain what happens when a name is written on two or more.

How to sidestep the 23-day rule

How to sidestep the 23-day rule

4. Breaking the 23-Day Rule

Specified in: Chapter 40: Allies

  • If you write "die of disease" with a specific disease's name, but without a specific time, if it takes more than 24 days for the human to die the 23-day rule will not take effect and the human will die at an adequate time depending on the disease.

Normally, the Death Note only allows one to set someone's death up to 23 days in the future. However, the above rule provides a caveat that can circumvent this, letting you kill someone using a long-term disease. Conversely, an earlier rule states that "there must be a sufficient amount of time for the disease to progress", meaning it's difficult to kill someone immediately using diseases.

A side effect of the 23-day rule is that Death Note users can only control a victim's actions for up to 23 days, but I wonder if using this disease loophole could potentially use them for longer? Unfortunately, this isn't clarified.

Using the Death Note on already-doomed targets.

Using the Death Note on already-doomed targets.

5. Inability to Alter Immediate Deaths

Specified in: Chapter 41: Matsuda

  • You cannot kill humans with less than 12 minutes of life left in human calculations.

Simply enough, this tidbit prevents notebook users from eliminating people with less than 12 minutes of life left. Seemingly, this would rarely be an issue; if someone's about to die anyway, you shouldn't need to manually kill them.

However, since only Death Note users who have traded half their lifespan for the Shinigami eyes would know whether their victim is about to die, it's possible (albeit very unlikely) that a plan could fail based on this rule. Take Light Yagami's encounter with Naomi Misora. If his name-writing failed and she had an extra 12 minutes to live, she could very well have used those minutes to inform someone of Kira's identity (Light revealed himself to her after writing her name).

Shinigami can't always kill Death Note owners

Shinigami can't always kill Death Note owners

6. Shinigami Killing Limitations

Specified in: Chapter 48: Give‑and‑Take

  • The owner of the Death Note cannot be killed by a god of death who is living in the world of the gods of death.
  • Also, a god of death who comes to the human world, with the objective to kill the owner of the Death Note, will not be able to do so.
  • Only a god of death that has passed on their Death Note to a human is able to kill the owner of the Death Note.

Shinigami have several advantages over humans; they can't be killed by Death Notes or injury. That said, even the gods of death have limits on using Death Notes; the above rules clarify that only Shinigami who were already in the human world can kill Death Note owners, and only if that wasn't their purpose for entering the realm.

Shinigami and gender

Shinigami and gender

7. Shinigami Reproduction

Specified in: Chapter 52: Split-Second

  • There are male and female gods of death, but it is neither permitted nor possible for them to have sexual relations with humans. The gods of death also cannot have sex with each other.

If for some morbid reason you ever wondered, this rule specifies that despite having gender, Shinigami literally can't mate with humans or even each other (how exactly they come into being is never mentioned). Interestingly, the Death Note wiki does mention that "despite this, Shinigami may still carry emotions pertaining to the opposite sex", so they can still evidently romance one another.

Shinigami law

Shinigami law

8. Shinigami Government

Specified in: Chapter 70: Tremble

  • There are laws in the world of gods of death. If a god of death should break the law, there are 9 levels of severity starting at Level 8 and going up to Level 1 plus the Extreme Level. For severity levels above 3, the god of death will be killed after being punished. For example, killing a human without using the Death Note is considered as the Extreme Level.

We know little about Shinigami society, but here we learn about their laws and punishments; Shinigami are forbidden to kill humans without using a Death Note, and they also die if they use a Death Note to extend a human's life (which goes against their deathly nature). The rule mentions they can be killed if they violate a rule, but details on this execution are scarce (after all, Shinigami are invulnerable to physical attacks, at least by humans).

Only six humans can own Death Notes at once

Only six humans can own Death Notes at once

9. 6-Notebook Limit

Specified in: How to Use It: XLIX, How to Use It: L

  • Only 6 Death Notes are allowed to exist at a time in the human world. Of course, the Death Note that the god of death owns does not count. This means only 6 gods of death that have passed on their Death Note to humans can stay in the human world.
  • One god of death is allowed to pass on Death Notes to only 3 humans at a time.
  • It is possible for a single god of death to hand out up to 6 Death Notes, for example, by handing 3 humans 2 Death Notes each.
  • In other words, one human could own all 6 Death Notes.

The number six often appears in Death Note rules (like how you can only alter details of a death within six minutes and 40 seconds), and it emerges here as the total number of Death Notes simultaneously allowed in the human world, not counting the notebooks retained by Shinigami. If a seventh notebook appears, it's rendered useless until one of the others is destroyed or taken back to the Shinigami realm.

The Death Note only returns memories six times after regaining ownership

The Death Note only returns memories six times after regaining ownership

10. Memory-Regaining Limits

Specified in: Chapter 54: Inside

  • You will lose memory of the Death Note when losing its ownership. But you can regain this memory by either obtaining the ownership once again or by touching the Death Note. This can be done up to 6 times per Death Note.
  • If the 6 times are exceeded, the person's memory of the Death Note will not return and they will have to use it without any previous memory of it.

In the main series, Light removes his own memories by forgoing ownership to cast suspicion away from himself, eventually reclaiming his notebook and resuming activity as Kira. A clever plan, but here we see that users may only cycle ownership and memories this way up to six times. You can do more, but if you do, when regaining ownership for the seventh time, you don't reclaim previous Death Note-related memories, although it's pretty unlikely someone would lose ownership that much.

Other Death Note Rules

In addition to today's clarifications, the Death Note was originally planned to have a "Death Eraser" that lets you save a name written within (before they die, anyway). A similar power exists in Netflix's Death Note film, where you can save a victim by burning their page. Both of these contrast the main anime and manga, where a person whose name is correctly written has their fate sealed (you can alter details of the death before it happens, but not the death itself).

Sometimes the rules are tweaked across media (for instance, Netflix's film only lets users control victims for two days), but the notebook itself remains a fairly-consistent tool—or, as Near, would call it, weapon. But for now, as we await more notebook clarifications, share your thoughts on the Death Note and I'll see you at our next anime countdown!

© 2019 Jeremy Gill

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