God, can I just say how I’m over the Gary-Stu protagonists we’ve been subjected to in anime in this last decade or so? Like I’d genuinely prefer the bumbling idiot ‘friendship is magic!’ Shonen leads over this wave of the ‘cool guy protagonists. I’m just a stickler for characters that earn their respect, you know? And I can’t help comparing the leads I grew up with, like Light, to more trendy protagonists like Ayanokōji.
Do I think Kiyotaka Ayanokōji is smarter than Light Yagami? First of all, of course not, how dare you? If you think that, you’ve never watched Death Note before. But more importantly, they aren’t even on the same playing ground, let alone intellectual level. Just because Ayanokōji acts perfect, doesn’t mean he actually is. Because truly well-written characters don’t need to be know-it-alls to prove they are superior. Sometimes, what they express is enough. Even when things aren’t going their way.
For sure I can pretend to believe a protagonist will be cool, calm, and collected when it comes to certain situations. But it’s so much more realistic to see those characters show more emotion than just ‘constipated perfection’ when facing adversity. Sometimes, even the smartest people can go a little unhinged. That’s what makes their intellect believable.
And I can’t believe that I even need to make a case for my man Light here. But in any case, welcome to Character Versus – a section on this site where we take characters from across the Otakuverse and pit them against each other to see who comes out on top! Powers, intellect, good looks, we check them all. Though sometimes, we might be a little biased. All’s fair in love and anime! And today we’ll see if the sullen genius from the Classroom Of the Elite can go toe to toe with one of the most iconic anti-heroes of the 2000s. Let’s dive right in!
Kiyotaka Ayanokōji: Perceptive Mastermind, Hidden Agendas
I’ve talked about Ayanokōji before. He’s suave, he’s skilled and he’s quite literally the only hope for Class D. A class that’s conveniently mid-tier so that it could help him disguise his own intellect. And hey, pretending to not be smart is an art in itself.
Ayanokōji is known for being one of the most adaptable and cunning characters in the show. But more importantly, he’s exceptional at discerning the characteristics of those around him. He’s a people reader, and it’s how he survives in a cutthroat environment like that of the Advanced Nurturing High School.
It’s this skill that makes his deceptive nature so insidious, especially when you couple it up with how smart he is. Of course, the training in the White Room plays a part in the sharpening of that intellect. Really, the man’s only true weakness is how bad he is at interacting with people his age.
So, Ayanokōji: Bland, but perfectly acceptable genius.
Light Yagami: He’s Got The Power Of A (Death) God And Anime (Fans) On His Side!
Ah, Light. The baddie himself. The Original Unhinged Genius™. The poster boy of every 2000s kid who was too cool for the Joker.
A lot can be said about Light’s intellect. He goes on a spree of killing people and convincing a Death God to help him with this. He manages to evade the Tokyo Police, a world-renowned detective, and the literal Interpol. The man is smart, yes. But more importantly, he is single-minded in his goal of ‘true’ justice.
His cat-and-mouse chase with L is probably one of the most satisfying rivalries in anime history. Because it doesn’t depend on power levels and might, instead it swerves and curves until L was simply too late. Hell, his two-faced ideology is so iconic, that you can even see his inspiration in one of the bestselling RPGs of this decade, Persona 5 Royal’s Goro Akechi.
He’s not just intellectually superior. He knows how to play with the people around him. Light does exactly what serves him in the long run, that’s his entire point. He plays the long con so well, that even he can’t tell when his justice morphs into something much more sinister.
There’s a reason why Death Note is brought up as one of the gateway drugs into serious anime. And in the conversation of cunning protagonists, Light is in a league of his own.
Winner: Light Yagami from Death Note!
Listen, I’m sure Ayanokōji is very cool and smart. But compared to Light? There is just no completion there. People don’t love Light because he’s cool and suave. His intellect is what pulls you in and you realize that sometimes being that smart, that insidious, isn’t always a good thing.
In any case, Light Yagami is smarter than Kiyotaka Ayanokōji. And hey, just in case Light can’t outsmart them, he can always write their name in the Death Note.