The best villains are known for more than their laugh
When you hear “villain” what do you think of? Perhaps a goon in a cape ramblings about evil plans for world domination. Perhaps someone with wild eyes and a kooky laugh. Most can agree that the one thing you will imagine when you hear the word villain is something or someone evil. Because, that’s what a villain is supposed to be, right? What if I told you that I like villains who AREN’T exactly evil? That villains who go around wanting to take over the world and kicking every puppy in sight could be found in any Powerpuff Girls cartoon and are boring? …Well, that’s what I’m saying right now.
I’m not trying to be a hipster here when I say that the whole “whole domination” motive for villains is getting old. I believe you shouldn’t fix what isn’t broken, and something common isn’t advertantly BAD. But it’s become such a default mould for villains that it’s often a tempting choice instead of constructing a thought-out bad guy.
I want something a little different and a tad more believeable. What would you even need the entire world for? Nevermind that, the goal itself is nigh impossible unless the character is absurdly overpowered. It’s offputting to see villains with that goal since no normal person would even dream of it, and I want characters I can at least vaguely relate to. It’s like trying to picture how big the universe is, it’s just too grand a scale to wrap my head around and see a point to it. I can relate to wanting to take over a city, but not the entire world.
Typical “I’m evil because I was written that way” villain
Basing an entire villain around world domination is just one problem for designing a villain, and it often stems from just wanting a villain to be evil and stopping there. “Oh, we need someone to oppose the hero? Well, make him heartless, wretched, and eager to hurt anything that comes in his path. That’s original!” How many anime villains have wanted to take over the world or just be a royal pain in the ass for no reason aside from being designed that way? (or maybe a depressing past, but that hardly warrants the birth of a megalomaniac).
Villains who are evil for the sake of being evil lack a real purpose. What’s there to motivate them? I find that the best villains aren’t the demented ones who try to take over the world, but the ones who exist in a sort of moral grey area. They have a set goal in mind that almost sounds just, but their means of achieving it are morally unsound. If anything, they seem like they have misguided morals and could be coaxed back to the right path. What makes them so tragic is that they’re putting so much effort and talent towards all the wrong things. This sort of evil hits a lot closer to home than those who torture the protagonist with sharks and laserbeams for me.
The Moral Grey Area
SO WHAT THE HELL AM I TALKING ABOUT WITH THIS GREY MORAL AREA THING, HUH? Death Note’s Light Yagami is a perfect first example of this. Nice, smart boy with unlimited potential. He comes across a source of power and starts using it for what he thinks is the right thing – killing criminals. It almost sounds like the right thing to do. That is, until he gets drunk with power and starts whittling down the population so that anyone he deems as unworthy gets the axe. Light kills a lot of innocent people, but he’s convinced that his goal is for the greater good. It’s really hard to say if it is. What made his battle with L so interesting aside from the clash of wits was the clash of morals. The story would be a lot different if Light just killed indiscriminately without a goal. KILL EVERYONE Light would be impossible to sympathize with. “I am doing the right thing…” mindset Light has the possibility of convincing others to take his side.
By placing characters in a position that is neither objectively wrong or right, it forces the viewer to really think and decide what they believe to be good or evil. Shiki does this perfectly, so that by the end of the series it is YOU who ultimately decides which person is the real villain. Both the humans and shiki are equal in terms of morality. Both kill each other out of necessity to survive, although often times they enjoy the killings more than they should or get too carried away. Who is in the wrong: the vampire who needs to kill humans so they survive or the humans who kill the vampires so they won’t murder everyone in the village? Both sides can be argued and neither side is right…It’s intricately set up to be subjective, and I love that.
Time for everyone’s favourite villain this year: Kyubei from Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica. Some slight spoilers here, but Show ▼
Despite having good intentions, Kyubei is probably one of the most despised villains in anime to date. If you haven’t seen fanart of him being eaten, shot, punched, dropkicked or blasted to death, you haven’t been around enough. The beauty of moral grey areas is that sometimes the standards set in our society will tend to shift in one way more than another. For poor QB, that would be to the despised side. He’s as much in the not-too-evil-not-too-good Goldilocks area as anyone, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone supporting the little fuzzball.
On the slightly darker grey section of the moral scale lie characters like Orihara Izaya from Durarara!!. They do some good, they do some evil, but overall they just do whatever tickles their fancy. It’s hard to call them outright evil…but they sure do some evil things. It’s hard to pull off well-rounded characters like that who sometimes bat for the other team, but it really pays off. If you’ve seen Slayers, Xellos also pulls this off quite nicely. He follows Lina around when it suits him, even protecting them at times if they’ll lead him to something of interest. As soon as their interests conflict, oh, it is ON. The flipping from good to bad to neutral really makes these characters unpredictable and great sources of shock value of the non-corny variety.
Just making a character with ambiguous morals isn’t the only thing needed for a good villain. I find that most of my favourite villains are in this category, but that isn’t the only thing that makes them stand out. Character design, backstory, how they interact with the “hero” and even how awesome their laugh is dictate what makes a good villain. It’s hard to peg down one ultimate must-have for a character, since characters should be multi-dimensional. Heck, I absolutely adore some villains who are just batshit crazy and like to kill people just because THEY DO. But they aren’t necessarily well-designed now, are they?
Now it’s your turn
So you’ve heard my thoughts, I want to hear yours. Do you think morally ambiguous villains are the best type of villains? Prefer the pure evil type? Have a favourite villain you just want to talk about? Feel free to drum up a discussion, I want to see what kind of evil-doer tickles your fancy! This is my first editorial, but don’t be afraid to speak your mind!
Mini Picspam of Some of Cool’s Favourite Villains:Show ▼