I recently watched an anime series called Death Note.
The plot goes something like this: Highly intelligent student (Ironically named Light) comes across a notebook with these instructions written in it:
How to use it:
1. The human whose name is written in this note shall die.
2. This note will not take effect unless the writer has the person's face in their mind when writing his/her name. Therefore, people sharing the same name will not be affected.
3. If the cause of death is written within the next 40 seconds of writing the person's name, it will happen.
4. If the cause of death is not specified, the person will simply die of a heart attack.
5. After writing the cause of death, details of the death should be written in the next 6 minutes and 40 seconds.
He initially takes this as some sort of joke, but on a whim, writes the name of someone currently holding hostages and making demands. They die. This is the turning point for Light. He decides that he will be justice, and 'god of a new world' that he will create, with no crime or evil. He begins writing criminals names, which leads to attention from law enforcement, which is where the central story picks up, Light vs. those trying to identify and stop this vigilante they call Kira.
The story line itself is interesting, seeing each side try to outsmart each other, but what I want to get into is what I think the underlying message is behind the series. An interesting thing happens mid story, where Light loses his memory of the notebook. (If the owner of a Death Note relinquishes ownership, they lose all memory of having it.) This is especially interesting because you get to see Light without that crucial knowledge of his power, and he is completely different, moralistic, loyal to his family, and interested in catching Kira. The message here seems to be that power corrupts, but the act of seeing it happen in reverse makes this apparent.
This, however, is not what I think is the central message. I think that the central message is that dualistic(binary, black and white) thinking can lead anyone, given the right set of circumstances, from where they are morally, to their polar opposite. Rigid, black and white ideals, lead to extreme actions.
The problem with this black and white thinking is that it's a faulty model of reality. Things are rarely if ever black and white, the world is filled with shades of grey. Every moral decision is different, and needs to be evaluated on it's own.
We see Light go from killing criminals, to simply whoever is standing in his way, including his family, because he sees his actions (evil as they may be) as a representation of the greater good. But there is an even darker truth behind Light's actions, and that is that Light loves the game, the power.
This corruption of will through power, along with an extremely simplistic view of morality, leads our anti-hero to his death.
If you ever come across a 'Death Note' , burn it.