Villains/antagonists are an essential part of just about any storyline, and anime is no exception. Even within the scope of anime, villains vary greatly, ranging from

Meow.

to your more traditional forms of villain.

I’ll be speaking strictly about anime here, but, of course, many of these will apply to other works as well. They’re mostly random observations of mine that I feel like commenting on.

1) “The other side”

By that, I mean your run-of-the-mill “invading aliens” or other generic/anonymous foes with little or no explanation or development as to their motives, reasons that they even exist, etc. Examples include the invading aliens of Gunparade March, the orphans of My-HiME, and the United Mankind from the Sekai no Monshou/Senki series. These typically only exist as a formality, only existing for the main character(s) to engage in combat or killing off characters when desired. Thus, they are rarely the only antagonist in the story. It’s pretty interesting how these “nameless foes” usually don’t add very much drama, emotion, etc. to a storyline, but are often highly essential anyway.

Note the distinction between anonymous enemy races or organizations as described above and “grunts,” which are similar but operate under a leader and/or an ideal that gives more rhyme and reason to their actions than the examples listed above.

2) “Sephiroth Syndrome”

“STOP COPYING MY HAIR STYLE DAMNIT”

I’m pretty sure that Sephiroth isn’t the sole origin of this trend, but, for some reason, giving the story’s archvillain long hair seems to be the cool thing to do – Gundam SEED’s Rau le Creuset, Bleach’s Kuchiki Byakuya (Yeah, yeah, I know he isn’t strictly a ‘villain,’ humor me), and Cowboy Bebop’s Vicious are all examples. Is it as simple as “long hair looks badass and evil and stuff,” or is there some sort of cultural influence that I’m unaware of here?

3) “Reverse Benedict Arnold Syndrome”

People seem to switch sides a lot more in anime/manga/Japanese RPGs than in Western works. Everyone knows “Superman good, Lex Luthor bad” and “Batman good, Joker bad.” While there’s the occasional complex tragic-hero-turned-villain-who-switches-back-again like Darth Vader, Western works generally seem to have no more than a “sympathetic villain,” or have “good guys” who turn out to be traitors. Rarely in Western works (the only examples I’m aware of are, arguably, the films “The Last Samurai” and “Equilibrium”) do you see enemies-turned-friends; the roles of characters such as Athrun Zala, Aoshi Shinomori, the captains of Soul Society, and numerous other examples begin as antagonists and eventually become allies.

This plot device is most common in the shounen genre, presumably because they need to preserve every developed character (no matter how stupid the reason) in order to increase the story’s length, but isn’t limited to it. In fact, this could actually be why this is more common in anime/manga than Western films – perhaps there just isn’t enough time in your average movie to pull off such a thing. Dunno. Maybe someone more familiar with the comic book world can fill this in? I’m aware of stuff like Megatron/Galvatron making temporary alliances with Optimus Prime to destroy various mutual threats, but I haven’t heard much about characters actually permanently switching sides and making friends with the protagonist.

4) The failure of femme fatale?

I can’t seem to come up with a single example in which a female antagonist successfully uses sexuality to take advantage of the main male character for evil/selfish purposes. I guess there’s Flay x Kira, but that seems like a bit of a stretch. These are all over the place in Western works, but strangely absent in anime (outside of harem comedies, but I’m not counting comedies/parodies here). I see a lot of male characters taking such advantage of female protagonists and female protagonists using sexuality to decieve enemies, but rarely (if ever) the classic “femme fatale” scenario. Certain others will probably be able to comment on this with more detail and insight.

So, yeah, antagonists generally work in anime the same way as they do everywhere else, but these elements seemed to stand out in my mind. One last interesting tidbit is that anime doesn’t seem to have an “iconic” villain like Darth Vader or Hannibal Lecter; the closest I could think of is Char Aznable. Perhaps anime is just that diverse?

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