What makes a great anime villain?

With the ending of the 15-year run of the <em>Naruto</em> manga, I think it&rsquo;s time to look back on the villains that have defined the show, the ones that make it memorable, no matter how much you have seen. Of course, not all antagonists, rivals, deuteragonists, anti-heroes, and so on, are &ldquo;evil,&rdquo; and therefore not villains in the strictest sense of the word.

There&rsquo;s a certain satisfaction of watching the good characters prevail over evil, even if it was never a possibility that they might lose. Villains are the other side of the coin, the element that throws the &ldquo;good&rdquo; into the situations that they have to think their way out of. A well-written villain, with just a glimpse of humanity for you to empathize with can elevate the opposite character into a position of ideological conflict, and that&rsquo;s when a story gets interesting. Of course, characters that are cast as villains can sometimes be a misdirection from the &ldquo;true&rdquo; villain in the story.

I&rsquo;m sure you could rattle off a list of villains that have killed important characters with decisive brutality (Frieza from <em>Dragon Ball Z</em>, for example), but over time, I started to think a little deeper about what villains don&rsquo;t work. It&rsquo;s easy to write a bunch of thieves doing the same thing week-after-week (&ldquo;We&rsquo;re blasting off again!&rdquo;), but that might be the part that is endearing about them.

&nbsp; There are plenty of villains that reach meme-status for their antics. <em>Puella Magi Madoka Magica&rsquo;</em>s Kyubey &mdash; a logical, deceptively cute monster &mdash; preys on the expectations of the genre and uses &ldquo;lying through omission&rdquo; as its method; Light from <em>Death Note</em>, with his dramatic penmanship, morphed from idealistic young man into a misogynist killer. Dio Brando of <em>Jojo&rsquo;s Bizarre Adventures</em> with his shouts of &ldquo;MUDAMUDAMUDA&rdquo; has has a special place in my heart for being the most evil character I can think of &mdash; simply because he&rsquo;s evil because <em>he can</em>, and he&rsquo;s brilliant at it. This makes him a formidable enemy for the Joestar family, as he&rsquo;s the opposite, and yet similar to them.

Villains might even grow old with you, and you start to see them in a new light. I had watched <em>Princess Mononoke</em> many times growing up, and it endures as my favourite Studio Ghibli film. I hadn&rsquo;t thought too much about Lady Eboshi when I was younger and had simply labelled her as the main &ldquo;villain.&rdquo; I really bought into what I had thought was an idealistically environmental message. However, as I grew older, I started to empathize with Lady Eboshi a lot better as she&rsquo;s a multi-faceted character set in a political and social environment that wasn&rsquo;t friendly towards women. The grey zones in the film are plenty, which adds to the rewatch value.

Empathetic villains with just a hint of humanness are much more complex than ones that are cut-outs for the protagonists to take down. The main character being &ldquo;too overpowered&rdquo; is a classic side effect of floppy vilains. Fighting for fanservice&rsquo;s sake supports nothing in a story. In a way, physical fighting in a story should only come as a reflection of the struggles that came before.

Complex villains are not about dressing the enemy in Nazi-esque outfits and assuming that is enough of a motivation.The <em>Berserk: The Golden Age Arc</em> movies avoids this effectively, and, if you haven&rsquo;t had any experience with the series, you are in for a ride. <em>Berserk</em> is effective in building up Guts, Griffith, and the rest of their mercenary group as characters that have a common dream... and then causes you to break out into sobs of horror by the time you hit the third movie. Perhaps the greatest villains are the ones that believe themselves the main &ldquo;good&rdquo; protagonist of their own story.

There are shows that examine the good/evil dynamic as a trope, most notably in the surprising backstory of <em>Tiger &amp; Bunny</em>&rsquo;s vigilante, Lunatic, or the meta-week-to-week style of <em>Samurai Flamenco</em>. The struggle between &ldquo;good&rdquo; and &ldquo;evil&rdquo; will persist over time in all literature and media, and anime will not be any different. So, you&rsquo;re free to laugh or cringe every time someone reblogs that <em>Fullmetal Alchemist</em> &ldquo;Happy Father&rsquo;s Day&rdquo; post.