How I Loathe Thee: The Search For A Compelling Villain

When it comes to a good villain I like my villains to be complicated, more than the villain caricature of mustache twirling and maniacal laughter, and having a catalyst for setting them off onto the road of evil. These components always have me rapt at attention to both hate and sympathize with my villains.

Nakago – Something Sinister Lurks Behind That Beautiful Face

I realize when watching anime and reading manga, there aren’t too many villains I find compelling. A lot of the villains I have encountered end up being entertaining for a while before I forget about them and move onto the next thing. My all time favorite villain from anime/manga has always been and still is Nakago of Fushigi Yugi. This is one villain that’s hard to shake off. He leaves a lasting impression on you. You hate him and yet you cry over him. He is deliciously wicked and also horribly tragic at the same time. You never really know whether to hate him or mourn for him.

I’ve already gone into detail about why Nakago is my favorite villain. He is by far the toughest villain act to follow when it comes to watching anime or reading manga with villains in them. Others don’t quite have the same allure as him, and I wish more villains do. Yuu Watase created the perfect balance to his personality and history. You know you’ve got a great character on your hands when you can’t stop thinking about them on occasion even after you’ve moved onto another series. He’s just that good.

Villains will always have a reason for their evil deeds. The difference is whether the author/creator makes those motives feel trite or so carefully constructed and intricate that you can see that not every thing is as black and white as it seems. I find it difficult to find a villain as engrossing as Nakago in anime/manga. He’s the kind of character who is so richly layered that you really have to peel back everything to get to the core of who he is.

I may have a hard time finding a truly good villain in anime/manga, but I don’t have too much problems in television. One instance of this is ABC’s new hit show Once Upon A Time. There are actually two villains on the show: The Evil Queen aka Regina, Mayor of Storybrooke and then there’s Mr. Gold aka Rumpelstiltskin. Between the two, I prefer Regina over Mr. Gold. Both have the components for a really well-written villain, but there is something about Regina that’s hard to shake off after every episode. I’ve also expressed in a past post just how much I adore this new show.

Regina from the episode, “Stable Boy”

Regina’s “origin story” of how she became the Evil Queen is revealed in the episode, The Stable Boy. Here, we get a very different side of Regina in the fairy tale world. Rather than have her always be evil, we find that she was once a good person. She never cared for power, titles, or money. She was a simple kind of girl who wanted one thing––to marry and be with the man she loves, a stable boy named Daniel. However, her mother has other plans for her daughter and it’s to marry for wealth and power. It becomes pretty convenient when an opportunity to do just that arises when Regina rescues a young Snow White after the little girl’s horse goes wild.

Regina doesn’t realize that her good deed comes with a price. As Snow is the daughter of the king, he requests an audience with Regina and her mother. The king expresses his gratitude to Regina for saving and befriending his daughter. He also comes to the conclusion that he wants to marry her. The king views Regina as a suitable woman to act as his wife and Snow White’s stepmother. Before Regina can refuse the offer, her mother gladly accepts on her behalf.

Knowing her mother is not to be reasoned with, Regina decides to tell Daniel they need to run away before the king comes to claim his bride-to-be. Snow accidentally drops in on the two secret lovers and overhears their plans. Regina tries to explain to Snow while she thinks the king is a good man Regina doesn’t love him like she loves Daniel. She manages to get Snow to understand, but she begs her not to tell anyone. Not even her mother. Snow promises Regina, only to prove later on just how naive and easily manipulable children can be.

Regina convinces Snow to keep her secret

Suspecting something is up, Regina’s mother spins a pretty convincing tale to Snow about how Regina is distant and doesn’t confide in her. She then tells Snow how she wishes to be close to her daughter if she would only let her. Considering Snow lost her own mother and she genuinely believes she is doing the right thing, the young girl decides to tell Regina’s mother what her daughter’s plans are in the hopes that mother and daughter will reconcile their differences and be brought closer together. This proves to be a mistake.

The night Regina and Daniel are supposed to sneak away to start a life together, Regina’s mother intercepts them before they can go. Her mother being the cold, heartless woman she is does the unspeakable which is to kill Daniel right before Regina’s eyes. She takes the one thing that ever made Regina happy and forces her daughter to honor her marriage arrangement to the king.

Regina realizes Snow betrayed her trust

On the day Regina prepares for her wedding, she finds out that Snow broke her promise by telling Regina’s mother her plans. Snow innocently thinks she has done the right thing and thinks her mother would only want Regina’s happiness. Horrified, betrayed, angry, and consumed with hatred for the young Snow, Regina decides not to tell the girl what really happened to Daniel and plays it off as it wasn’t meant to be and her marriage to Snow’s father is the right thing for her now. It’s in this moment where Regina embraces the dark side and becomes what her mother wanted her to be––cold and ruthless like her.

In a lot of ways, Regina of Once Upon A Time reminds me of Nakago. Both have experienced tragedy in their lives, both already had the capacity for good if life didn’t give them the bad hand they were dealt, and both know how to stay one step ahead of their enemies by being conniving and manipulative. I think what makes villains like them really great to watch or read is how one action in their past can unravel the very foundation of goodness blooming within them in an instant. How they handle the tragedy in their lives is also interesting. Instead of trying to find a way to move past it in a healthy way, they turn to revenge and destroying anyone or everyone who gets the happiness that has been cruelly taken from them. Granted, Regina takes her revenge out on Snow instead of her mother who is the real culprit for destroying her happiness and Nakago prefers to extend his revenge beyond his attackers and his molester by taking it out on the entire world, but you can understand why they get to the dark places they get to.

It really isn’t enough for me to just hate the villain. I really want my villains to be multidimensional and not one-dimensional. An example of a villain I truly hated, but wrote off just as soon as it came time to be rid of him comes in the form of a video game character named Kai Leng of Mass Effect 3. Kai Leng is a Cerberus agent and super assassin whose only purpose in the game is to impede Commander Shepard’s efforts to stop the Reapers. Not only is he an annoying boss fight in the game, he’s just plain annoying. He’s like a bug you want to stamp the hell out of until you are certain it’s dead.

Kai Leng of Mass Effect 3

When Kai Leng is introduced to the player, there isn’t any real history or actual motivation for him being evil. You really have no idea why Kai Leng does what he does. All you know is that he’s a smug, cocky, Grade A class jerk. When it comes time to really kill him and you get a cutscene where Shepard sticks it to him good, it’s satisfying but satisfying in a way that you’re glad to be rid of him finally. Nakago’s death pulled out a lot of emotions from me. He made me feel something for him when no other villain ever could. The story of Regina from Once Upon A Time is far from over, but I am already feeling a variety of things for her too. Kai Leng, well, I didn’t give him much thought after Shepard killed the annoying bastard.

I want the emotional high I feel when I get invested in characters to last a long time. I prefer it over feeling something fleetingly and then forgetting about it later. Characters who make you think and who are not so easy to pinpoint as one specific thing gives us the best lasting impressions in my opinion. They are accessible, and it’s fun to dream up various alternate lives they could have led if they didn’t walk the path of evil.

How about you? Do you want your villains to leave a lasting impression on you? Who is the one villain you have encountered that you couldn’t stop thinking about and why?

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7 thoughts on “How I Loathe Thee: The Search For A Compelling Villain

  1. You know, I find it kind of funny how mothers are always the evil marriage makers and push their daughters into marriages based on wealth when in reality this was often the decision of the father. Is media afraid that making the father have total control, like he did back in the day, will make sexism all too real? I’m always perplexed and somewhat amused by this phenomenon.

    Anyways, back to the topic at hand. Yes, I much prefer a humanized villain and they definitely make a bigger impression on me. Some of my favourite villains come from Basara because unlike most villains, they aren’t even really evil. They are just doing what they must to survive (and some of them have even the exact same ideals as the “good guys” except they try to accomplish them in more destructive ways). I’ve never seen anything like it, which is why the villains are so memorable. I also like Reika from the Ojamajo Doremi series. She’s not really a villain, but she’s the resident mean girl, yet her backstory is really sympathetic and it’s easy to see why she turned out the way she did (totally spoiled by her rich parents, who adore her), yet she’s really lonely and there was one particular episode where she said something racist (and was rightfully shunned by the main characters), but then you see how much it hurts her to be shunned (and how much she regrets saying what she said and she tries really hard to make it up to Momoko). Eventually the girls make up and I actually felt really happy for Reika. (I don’t think I ever felt so bad for a bad character).

    As for Nakago, I haven’t finished Fushigi Yugi yet and I haven’t even seen his backstory, so no opinion on him for now. Do you remember which volume has his backstory?

    1. I actually forget which volume it is, but I think based on the volumes you recently purchased you may be coming close to the one where they detail Nakago’s backstory. All I remember is Watase details his painful past nearer toward the end of the arc of Suzaku vs. Seiryu, before the final showdown.

      I do find myself super picky about villains in anime/manga. I really wish I found more who are engaging as Nakago was. When you get to his backstory, you have to let me know what you think of him.

  2. I don’t recall any of the villains on stories I’ve read, except one….. Prof. Umbrage of Harry potter. For some reason, I hated her more than Voldemort. I found Voldemort more of a tragic character , see. He had a back story that was pitiful.

    Other than Umbrage, most of the villains that I hate are shoujo romance villains… the bitchy rivals of the heroines. *smile I know, it’s lame.

    1. I enjoy really hating a villain, but sometimes, like in manga/anime I very rarely find a villain who has more to their character other than, “I’m so evil because my reasons for being evil are so petty.” I couldn’t help but realize that Nakago breaks that mold of evil more than any villain I’ve watched in anime/manga.

  3. Like you, my favorite villain is Nakago because he manipulates everyone in the series – he’s what makes Fushigi Yugi so interesting. Most villains don’t hold my attention because I find their motivations to be shallow or they don’t have any personality, so they don’t capture my attention. The only other villain I really like is Gauron from Full Metal Panic!, but he stands out to me because of how crazy he is rather than because he’s fleshed-out, whereas Nakago I pay attention to because of how truly evil he is. And female villains always end up being cackling witches who aren’t particularly unique or interesting – the best female villain I’ve encountered has probably been Takako from Pretear, and she’s in many ways not really a villain.

    1. I think Watase really nailed the perfect villain for anime/manga with Nakago. A lot of her other villains in her other series don’t quite measure up to him. Mikage of Ceres is evil too, but not as remarkable or noteworthy as Nakago. It’s weird because when I wrote this post I was thinking why I can’t seem to find a villain as good as Nakago in anime/manga.

      Like you said, there may be good villains in other series but they aren’t necessarily evil in the usual sense of the term. I actually wish there were more compelling female villains. They do end up coming off as the same “cackling witches who aren’t particularly unique or interesting” to use your words.

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