What makes a good anime antagonist?

art by @nanaboodraws on twitter

The dark, the evil, the cunning and rebellious.

Forcing the protagonist to their knees, letting the world despair and taking everything they need to achieve their own selfish goals.

The antagonist.

But is that really all the antagonist is? A bad guy?

After establishing the importance of a good anime protagonist in the last blogpost, it is now due time to look at the other side of the story.

Why is it so important for the protagonist to have his equal impact from the other side?

Let’s find out together in this blogpost and answer the question of what makes a good anime antagonist.

Antagonist vs. Antihero

To start we will need to get some definitions straight, so the question we beg to ask is the following: 

What is an antagonist?

Contrary to popular belief, the antagonist is not the same thing as the antihero.

The Anti-Hero is actually just a hero and who doesn’t exhibit the same heroic traits as the hero does. They might have the same or even a similar goal, but the anti-hero does not shy away from using illegal or even extremely harmful ways to get to that goal. 

Often clashing with the protagonist because the hero does not approve of the anti-heroes mannerisms he might seem like the bad guy, but the role of a true antagonist is a very different one.

The whole idea of the protagonist is that he is the one who leads the plot, even if that might not happen in the literal sense, metaphorically it is the protagonist that strives to push everyone forwards. 

A protagonist can turn the tide of the story in any direction. When he deems a force to be evil or against his ideals, he will at least try to defeat it. The protagonist is for justice, love, friendship or general harmony in life, which shows his idealistic thinking in wanting to build a safe world.

Now you might know the many saying of how the good can only survive with the bad right?

How the brightest light will cast a shadow, or that happiness has no meaning without disaster. 

This is a very important principle especially in this blog post, because the actual other side of the protagonist is the antagonist.

The protagonist comes from the greek word ‘prōtagōnistḗs’ which means first fighter. It resembles the driving force he exhibits, the one who assembles his team of fighters next to him or the one who is brave enough to fight back against the impending doom. The protagonist has a clear goal in mind, a track that goes from point A to point B.

The antagonist, coming from the greek word ‘antagonistēs’ meaning competitor or contender is the very reason why the protagonist is pushed to his limits.

The antagonist ideally has goals that directly contradict the ones of the hero. Be it that he wants to rule over the world or wants to take away the hero’s crush it doesn’t matter. The important part is that on the street from point A to B, the protagonist is being held back by the antagonist.

Two sides of the same medal, the protagonist and antagonist have a push and pull relationship, as they can’t get to their own respective ideal world if the other is still there.

Types of Antagonists in anime

In anime, just like in any other media out there, we have very different stories and genres to cover. While individuality is very prominent in any genre, we also have some stereotypes and overlapping themes we can have a look at.

If we take shounen anime for example, we have some very nice examples of the role of the antagonist.

While everyone has different theories and ways to explain types of antagonist, there are some that overlap very often.

The most typical of them all is the antagonist that has a hunger for power and has a knack for evil plans, a person that just wants to see the world suffer and rule in the chaos of it all.

The malevolent villain.

Good examples would be Light Yagami from Death Note, a young student who turned into a power hungry being ready to ‘rid the world of the filth’ to become its ruler. Malevolent villains are the antagonists you may find in most media, the often used trope of someone who craves the satisfaction of ruling over everyone and everything.

While the villains are the most common, there are still other kinds of antagonists that reside in anime, next in line would be the one who was once good, but turned out to be different. A perfect example of how everyone can be tainted by evil, or crippled by a wrong choice.

The ally-antagonist.

Coming from the word ally also known as the companion, is the antagonist who used to be in between the ranks of the protagonist. A hero who turned to the wrong track because of a choice they made or a betrayal of trust. 

An example for that is Sasuke Uchiha from Naruto. 

Starting off as a part of team seven, he may have ulterior motives but his ambitions were good and never faltered to the bad side. While one might argue that in the end Sasuke finds himself back with the good guys, it is definite that he betrayed his friends and had a long character arc of being an ally-antagonist.

While a lot of antagonists are human or at least comparable to something human, a driving force against the protagonist doesn’t have to have a specific form. This would lead us to another type of antagonist.

The force of nature.

Most often seen in survival and horror-mystery animes but also in some other sci-fi or fantasy genres, the force of nature is as the name suggests not tied to a person or organization. It merely shows that nature itself can be the divide between the protagonist and his end goal. Be it a sickness or a zombie apocalypse, the surroundings of the protagonist can be purely natural and still have the antagonistic role.

Force of nature is often a side antagonist and not always the main threat. Sometimes it’s not even focused on nature itself but any non-malicious and non-human entity like time or distance. When Deku from Boku no Hero Academia needed to get Kota to a safe place after defeating the villain Muscular, distance and time are both forces that work against his goal.

The last part of the antagonist types is the inner Saboteur.

This type of antagonist is more often than not a main character or even a protagonist who is inhibited by his own insecurities and self-sabotage.

This often happens to characters who live in world’s that are very overwhelming. It also shows that the protagonist is under pressure to succeed and get to his goal, while other  problems like his own uncertainty and self-doubt cloud his judgement.  The protagonist endures a lot of perils and a lot of challenges to help the people around him or to save the world for example, so it comes to a shock to the viewer when the person who took care of everyone is suddenly influenced by his own emotions. 

And turning to the bad side.

The example I would like to show is Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion. 

This time it is not about a character who has gone from good to bad, but rather about somebody who has never seen himself in the protagonist role. Shinji is so detached from life in general that in the moment where he needs to bring his A-game to save the world his own inner saboteur is his worst enemy. Shinji has no real support in his life, both of his parents leaving him behind. He felt useless and unworthy of living, his very existence unbearable. He had no friends and nothing to live for, convincing himself that he is useless. Then he is suddenly the only one who can control the Evangelion and everybody dotes on him. 

He is the only person who doesn’t believe in himself, therefore sabotaging new opportunities and relationships as he feels comforted in his own misery. 

So after looking at all of these examples what is it that makes a good antagonist?

The protagonist and antagonist meet to work together in an  almost symbiotic way which means that they need each other and they need the conflict to know their story. The protagonist would not find a good ending without going through the hardest parts of his life beforehand. And sadly enough the antagonist wouldn’t be able to come to his own villain’s story without seeing the good in everything first.

It is about the fact that in the eyes of the antagonist our protagonist is the villain and vice versa. 

The antagonist has fulfilled his role when he inhibits the protagonist from going further but technically he has also fulfilled his goal when he is defeated. 

The main characters can only have their epic fights with the presence of the antagonist, and as we all know, most antagonists pull on our heartstrings with their origin stories.

A good antagonist is a character who might do horrible things, but when you look at him you might think to yourself, “I kind of understand where he’s coming from”. 

What kinds of antagonist ahve you encountered so far? Are there any that have especially captured your interest? Leave them in the comments!

Until the next tea time~


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