Villains

My Take on Villains

Ok...here's an article (with a few additions) that I wrote a little while ago on the fictional insitution of the hero versus the villain in a story. I bet you can hardly wait...but really, this answers some questions that some people seem to have about my dislike of Nakago.


Ok, lately, I've been getting a lot of questions/comments on how Nakago is the villain, so there wouldn't be a story without him, so, how can I hate him?

Easy, easy, easy. This all comes down to very basic fictional writing, of whatever flavor you go for, be it sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, historical novels, romances (GACK!)...the list goes on and on. In 90% of the stories out there (though you occasionally run into ones that somehow manage to avoid this) there is a time-honored tradition playing out; good versus evil, in some form or another. In a story, there must always be a protagonist and an antagonist. This is a rule that has no exception, not if you want there to be a story to write...there always has to be someone in the actionary role and someone in the reactionary role. Now, normally, the protagonist takes the form of the hero, the man/woman/being that fights on the side of good, and the antagonist takes the form of the man/woman/alien/AI/government agency/evil spirit/demon/toaster that is utterly intent on making the hero's life a living hell, and a short one, at that. Most stories are written in this time-honored fashion, though there are some in which the protagonist is an actual, honest to god anti-hero (on of the best examples I know of is Michael Moorcock's Elric Series, which I heartily recommend) and others where there is no real hero or villain, and both the protagonist and antagonist are just normal, every day Joes that just happen to be mixing it up for some obscure reason (Frederick Pohl's Gateway series is a bit like this)...but in every other book you will ever read, there must be a hero, and there must be a villain. This is as prevalent in anime as it is in written stories; Ninja Scroll, Rurouni Kenshin, Fushigi Yuugi, Flame of Recca and any Macross are good examples of this, while Akira and Kodomo no Omocha are stories in which there is no real hero and no real villain...all the characters seem to be equally good or bad. If you want a good example of an anime in which the hero is actually an anti-hero, I would reommend that you watch X/1999, as Kamui is a very classic example of such.

I suppose that is because in human tradition, the fight between good and evil has long been fascinating to us. Good is the embodiment of all qualities that we find laudable in ourselves, while evil is the basest representation of all those parts of our personalities that we'd really like to forget exist. And so, we project this from ourselves and into the playing field of our mind, creating epic battles between heroes and villains that are really nothing more than our own personalities. This has been going on throughout human history; you see it in the myths and legends of all the ancient societies, though in those days, the embodiments of good tended to be a lot more human than they are in these days. Go back even further, and you see the fear that early man had of the dark, the unknown where frightening, perhaps even evil things lurked, waiting for the hapless to stray from the fire. But perhaps the best example of the epic, eternal struggle within every person between what is good and what is bad can be found in any monotheistic religion, where God and Satan (or his equivalent) seem to battle constantly for the souls of men...and of course Satan, being bad, cheats. All the time.

So this is not a new thing that writers have just recently invented. There will always be a good guy and a bad guy, who will always clash, and the bad guy will always do things that at least some of us find less than savory, because he is, well, BAD. The entire function of the villain of a story (unless he is genuinely sympathetic) is to be despised. You can't go wrong writing a nasty, disgusting villain, because it will only make the hero look better in comparison. Really, the only way you get in trouble in a good versus evil story is when the audience dislikes the HERO and doesn't care what happens to him. (Now, this is a small pitfall in Fushigi Yuugi, I'll admit, but while I dislike Miaka a great deal, I care deeply for some of the other heroes, namely the Suzaku Seishi.)

There are all sorts of villains...the sympathetic villain, the incomprehensible villain, and the very EVIL villain. Every villain is a facet of the struggle between good and evil; the sympathetic villain, who was perhaps conned into being evil in some way (Soi is a good FY example, I think); the incomprehensible villain, who has reasons, but not ones he cares to share, and who seems very cold, remote, and frighteningly manipulative (this is how I see Nakago, to some degree); the evil villain, who does things not because he has a reason, but because he simply likes being evil (Tomo all over...it has been said before, and I heartily agree, that Tomo is no so much immoral as amoral..he simply has no sense of right or wrong). We see these in our every day lives; political leaders who don't believe in human rights, serial killers, businessmen that care only for their own monetary gain.

One of the greatest challenges a writer faces is keeping the hero and villain separate and in character; the hero must be the sympathetic character, because he is fighting for right against odds that are normally not in his favor, and being good, he always has to do the honorable thing, even when it screws him over-should he deviate from the path of the right, he loses the sympathy, and is no longer really the hero (though there are MANY exceptions to this...). The villain CAN'T be a sympathetic character, not really. Sympathy from the audience takes away his villainy, makes him less effective as an antagonist. At times, a little of putting yourself in the villains shoes can be good, especially when the villain is similar to Nakago, with reasons for his particular brand of villainy...but all the same, he is, and will remain, the bad guy. So where would the story be without him? No where. The villain is almost always in some way the motivating factor in the story...because without him, what would the hero have to fight besides a paunch from too much good living?

And perhaps the biggest challenge of all, no matter what or who you are writing, is forcing a reaction from the audience. You know that a book or story is well written when it moves you to tears, anger, shock, or laughter. Only the best crafted characters can produce a genuine emotional response, because you have to care at least a little about them to feel anything, and who would care for someone that is patently unreal? Writing itself is an act of creation; you create a person with words, one that walks, talks, feels, has loves and has hates. To share that with the audience and make them feel with the character is perhaps the greatest achievement in writing. So thus, the hero becomes someone that we care for and cheer on, when he is well written, and the villain becomes something that we despise and are disgusted with...when he is well written.

So there is the answer. Of COURSE it would be impossible to have the story with no villain [antagonist]. And yes, it is very possible to love a story, yet hate a character or element in it...because to love a story, it has to be able to provoke some kind of emotional response in you, so what is like or dislike of a character, if not an extension of that response? I am frightened of Hannibal Lecter, disgusted by him, and I hate him a great deal, but I love the books that he appears in, because they are incredibly well written...and Lecter himself is an incredibly well crafted character, to provoke the depths of emotion that he does from me.

To bring this back to Fushigi Yuugi, perhaps you now see the point of this page. Nakago is an incredibly well-crafted villain, to be able to provoke such depths of hatred in me, and Fushigi Yuugi is very well written, to make me love it so much; I have cried during the story, been angry, laughed, and been afraid for one of the characters. Only the best writers can make people from words, people that we actually care about, either liking or disliking them.

So there you have it...there might not be a story without the villain, but that doesn't mean we have to like him for it.