As writer, I believe there is one character far more important than the rest: the villain.
It’s their job to drop that first pebble in the water, causing a fun series of events to ripple out. If there were no Iago to terrorize Othello, the war hero would have lived a happy life that we’d never read. When you get down to brass tacks, there really is no story without an antagonist… or, at least, there isn’t a very interesting story.
Beyond actually having a villain, having an interesting fiend is just as essential; You wouldn’t see as many comic sales if Batman chased regular robbers all day. Nowhere is this more true than in anime, where weird and interesting have a vice-grip. In fact, I dare say anime fashions some of the most heinous, horrifying villains I’ve ever seen: Father from Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, The Millennium Earl in D. Gray Man, and others.
Why yes, I did decimate half of London and start a Vampire Apocalypse, why do you ask?
But what makes a good Villain in anime? Because for every master assassin, or every genius mad-scientist, there’s the sad bad-guy who’s better left forgotten. So, for where they fail, how do others succeed? As always, I have a theory.
Style Is God
Let’s put on the Captain Obvious cape for a sec and make this known: Anime is a Visual Medium. Second universal truth: a stylish villain is always a win.
Humans judge by apperance, whether they like it or not, and will gravitate towards a character that’s well dressed. Even if that character is slicing heads and throats right and left, we will follow if they know their way around a wardrobe. Even better, if the character sports a ludicrous monkey-style, I.E like they get dressed in a clothing hurricane, we’ll follow and remember that character much more. and it makes us gravitate towards characters who sport more ridiculous styles than others. Because the more flamboyant and frilly, the more people will hunker down and rubberneck like highway drivers at the scene of an accident.
Now enter Anime, the visual medium mentioned. Enter second Mr. Solf J. Kimblee from Fullmetal Alchemist (above) and Jango from One Piece(To your right).One sports a crisp, sharp look while causing murderous explosions; the other looks like a hellish combination of Micheal Jackson and Ozzy Osborn. Both are very different specimens but both make an positive impression in your brain.
It’s Nice When You Enjoy Work
There’s something rather charming about a bad man who loves his job.
If I may venture outside of anime for a brief moment, one of my favorite baddies is a fellow we call The Joker, the Clown Prince of Crime. The Joker has gone through many incarnations, but one thing tends to remain true for all of them: he adores the work he does. Because hey, if he doesn’t get a kick out of being evil, why should anyone else?
Steering back to anime, the best villains are villains who love the terrible things they do. There’s something to be said about the stone-faced baddie who commits mass-murder with a deep-cut frown, but there’s just something fun about watching the Millennium Earl dance and sing while forcing an Akuma into the skin of their loved ones. When the villain is having a good time, everyone else will follow suit.
Let’s REALLY put a smile on your face
Challenge Me, Sempai!
The point of any antagonist is to challenge the main fellow, in one way or another. This can be a simple challenge of skill, a la a sports rival, or a moral challenge, where the line between good and evil is all blurry. Either way, there is no story without the villain there to act as an obstacle, allowing the protagonist to strut his/her stuff for a captive audience.
Anime has to accomplish this too, but they have extra baggage to go with it. Most Shounen needs to carry viewers for well over three seasons, keeping the attention span of a youngish audience for years. Thus, big baddies that make earth-shattering challenges are their bread and butter. Best example comes from Dragon Ball Z, the Grandfather of Long-Running Shounen anime, which produced about three large baddies in total, not counting GT (I.E Freeza, Cell, and Majin Buu). These three carried the show, allowing writers to build them up before knocking them down in the most glorious of ways.
I Wanna Hate You for What You Do, Not Who You Are
A terrible villain, terribly written that is, will often be the source of abounding hatred. A villain who does terrible things, but written as best as the writer can, will be hated and loved all the same time.
Since the antagonist is often the source of attention in any story, a figure to be seen many times over, it’s essential that the audience be one of two things: afraid of them, or in love with them. An audience who hates your character, hates the very ground they walk on, will not be as excited to see them. Sherlock would fall flat if the fans hated Moriarty, and Avatar: The Last Airbender would be a thing long forgotten if Ozai or Azula were met with terrible press.
This, at the end of the day, is the key to making a villain in anime who will be remembered, feared, and loved all at once. None to me make this more obvious than the terror that is Envy from Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, a cold monstrous creature who will murder without question and gleefully use humanity as a series of test subjects. Whilst I will always feel anger at the sight of Envy, I feel begrudging respect for his well-written character, and that makes him one of the best written villains anime has ever had.
What do you think makes a great anime baddy? Leave a comment below, and like and follow for more material just like this.