Anime is ridiculously good at telling stories with engrossing villains. Whether it’s classics like Char from Gundam or a certain cell from the recently-released Cells at Work, compiling a list of great villains would be a major struggle. Limiting the headache somewhat, I decided to highlight a number of anime villains whose stories were particularly cruel towards them.
Bad guys forced into crime by circumstances beyond their control. Sympathetic villains who are likable despite their misdeeds. Or even sad individuals who are but puppets to a master manipulating them—hey all deserve a little love. If you have contributions of your own, I encourage you to share them in the comments below.
Justin Law – Soul Eater
“You worshipped Lord Death and depended on him! But a God is just a concept or a lifestyle, not a friend.” -Tezca Tlipoca
“You’re the monkey who only moves with his faith. Ultimately, if your approach changes, anything can be your God” -Tezca Tlipoca
Justin Law is first introduced in the story of Soul Eater as the protector of Europe on behalf of the DWMA, as well as the youngest weapon to have ever graduated from the academy. However, those who are perceptive could see parallels between how Justin behaved and how his quirks appeared awfully similar to those of Asura; the story’s ultimate villain.
Justin was only 18-years-old, yet had a lot of responsibility thrust upon him owing to his skill and religious nature. However, in a story about weapons and meisters working together—a story about partners fighting as a duo—Justin exclusively worked alone. He shut out the outside world by always blasting music straight into his ears. In reality, Justin never truly grasped the finer ideals of the DWMA. As Asura’s madness began to take hold in the world, it too reached the conflicted Justin.
While the anime failed to adapt his story arc and kept him as just another goofy ally, the manga fares better. It shows his rapidly deteriorating sanity as Justin turns traitor and takes up arms against former friends. He grows deranged, unreasonable, scarred, and is eventually slain by the very people who once called him a friend, but who he could never truly trust in return.
Wolkenritter – Lyrical Nanoha
“We can’t stop! If it’s to protect our master’s smile, we’re prepared to abandon everything but our honor as knights. We’ll give up our life for hers!” –Signum
The Wolkenritter are an ancient order of 4 knights bound eternally to the mystical tome known as the Book of Darkness. Whenever the book finds another owner, its master is promised unimaginable power. So long as the knights manage to fuel it with enough magic, which has to be stolen from mages and monsters that possess it. That changes when the book falls into the hands of the terminally ill Hayate Yagami.
Hayate has no desire for power and instead takes in the knights as family. They begin to live together and, for once in their existence, they feel treated as people rather than tools. The knights acclimate to their new life and grow deeply attached to Hayate. That is when her illness makes a turn for the worse. Hayate’s sickness begins to spread at an alarming rate and she probably has mere weeks, if not days, left to live.
Thus, the Wolkenritter set out anyway. Not in a bid to grant their master great power, but in the feeble hope that completing the book might save her life. They begin assaulting mages across worlds and push themselves beyond their breaking points to hunt enormous monster species. The entirety of Lyrical Nanoha A‘s shows how the knights are driven to desperation and their chances of success grow slimmer as the good guys begin to close in on them.
Roberta – Black Lagoon
“Una bendición por los vivos, una rama de flor por los muertos.
Con una espada por la justicia, un castigo de muerte para los malvados.
Así llegaremos en el altar de los santos.” –Lovelace Family Creed
Roberta is a beautiful and lovable maid working for the wealthy Lovelace family in Venezuela. She is both an employee and a friend to her masters, but she hides a dark secret. Roberta was once a guerilla warrior who murdered enemies and innocents alike, earning her the nickname “The Bloodhound of Florencia”.
But her war was a lie. The noble ideals of her commanders were a facade and she was, in fact, merely a protector of their hidden drug operations. She hoped to join the Lovelace family and start anew, to make amends for her past deeds, but Black Lagoon does not let criminals escape their punishment. Tragedies would soon befall the Lovelace family, first with the kidnapping of Garcia. As Roberta journeyed to Roanapur in a bid to retrieve her young master, seeing his beloved maid murder her way through an army of gangsters left Garcia in such shock that he begged Lagoon Company to take him away from her.
While the kidnapping case could be sorted out, a second incident killed Garcia’s father. Roberta once again traveled to Roanapur as she pursued vengeance against an American special ops unit. This war would drag up all the ghosts of her past and take a physical and mental toll on Roberta. It forced her to take copious amounts of drugs to keep up with all the violence, but these caused her hallucinations and paranoia. In the end, the ex-soldier turned loving maid was once again reduced to a murderer. This time, it cost her almost everything. The OVA concludes with Roberta partially blinded and almost entirely handicapped, with the happy life she had created for herself shattered into pieces.
Quiche – Tokyo Mew Mew
“Why Ichigo? I went through the trouble of coming to pick you up… Now come with me… Just the two of us… To a world with nobody else, and without fighting.” –Quiche
Quiche is a member of a species that once ruled the earth, but were forced to flee due to climate change. However, his race landed on an inhospitable planet and life only became worse for them from there. They worked for generations to return home, only to find out that humans now lived on earth and are polluting it once more.
Quiche’s quest is one of genocide, but he takes a lackadaisical attitude towards it. Spending much of the early show being an absolute prick and sexually harassing main character Ichigo. He physically assaults and kisses her, deliberate ruins her dates with the boy she loves, and grows a twisted fascination for her. This goes terribly wrong for him when Ichigo begins to grow stronger and more girls join the Mew Mew Project to help protect the earth against Quiche’s people.
As Ichigo grows more capable of resisting and defeating him, Quiche becomes desperate and pathetic. He almost begs her to become his wife and ramps up his advances, all while still very much trying to actively kill her and her friends as well. It gets bad enough that he ends up stabbed and wanders around Tokyo with an open wound for several days, trying desperately to find Ichigo again; only to collapse the moment he does. His own allies end up abandoning him and then taking him back anyway, just because they find him too pitiable to leave behind. It’s strange to sympathize with a sexual harasser, but Quiche’s story is a wild and sorry one.
Homura Akemi – Madoka Magica
” I will save you. That’s the one thing I wished for. That’s how it started. And now, it’s the only thing I have left to guide me. And it’s okay if you don’t understand anything I’m saying. But please, please let me protect you.” –Homura Akemi
Stories about time loops fascinate me, especially in regards to what they do with the mental stability of the character doing the looping. Madoka Magica offers an interesting take on this with Homura Akemi; a magical girl who received the power of time-travel. Her wish is to rescue Madoka, her dear friend who died before her eyes.
Homura would relive the events leading up to the story’s final battle countless times, which also meant experiencing the death of all her friends over and over again. This changed the once timid girl into a cold and aggressive warrior, somebody that so effectively shut down her own emotions that she almost appears inhuman. Once this took hold, her former friends no longer trusted her on subsequent loops. Even Madoka would grow to distrust her. Homura shouldered all the resentment towards her and kept fighting anyway, because only she understood what was at stake.
Even sadder is that her quest ultimately fails. Madoka herself steps in to solve the problem and becomes a goddess who recreates the world to be more fair for the magical girls protecting it. However, this came at the cost of Madoka erasing her presence from this world. Homura is forever changed. She can’t go back to being the meek, lovable girl she used to be. Thus she resumes a lonely life of fighting in the new world, clinging to faint memories of the girl she loved so much and failed to protect.
Oyage – Humanity Has Declined
“So why did you chase me down?! You never received an order to come after me! You also… wanted to come home.” –Oyage
Could you imagine floating around in the vast endlessness of space? Alone and in silence, for years upon years. Now imagine returning to earth with your mission complete, only to find out society has collapsed and humanity has declined. Your mission was, ultimately, pointless.
This is the story of Oyage and Pion, two characters who are a play on the Voyager and Pioneer satellites. After returning to earth, Oyage went into hiding and turned an old research facility into his lair. While he suffered from amnesia, this actually brought him much joy, because all he remembered was that there was something frightening in his past that he wanted to dearly forget. However, Oyage would eventually be defeated and this triggered a system recovery, returning his memories of floating in the emptiness of space for decennia.
Oyage and Pion would be reunited once more and the remnants of humanity, desperate to recover a shred of glory, plotted to launch the satellites back into orbit. Their desperate plea for help was only heard by The Mediator, but the only way to prevent the launch would be to sabotage the power supply and let Oyage and Pion deplete their battery. Sure, they never would have to perform another mission, but this plan also effectively left them in a vegetative state for all eternity.
Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade – Monogatari
“There’s no way that’s possible. Are you an idiot? However, there is a way for everyone to be dissatisfied.” -Oshino Meme
“I just wanted you to find me.” -Kiss-Shot
Kiss-Shot was once a mighty vampire and the master of Monogatari‘s main character Koyomi Araragi. Tired of her lonely existence, she sought to trick Araragi into killing her. Both to end her life and to restore the humanity he sacrificed when entering her service. She wanted to repay her debt to him in that way, but Araragi found out and refused to participate. Instead, he turned the tables and made Kiss-Shot his servant instead. This reduced her power significantly, while leaving him still cursed with vampirism; albeit a reduced form of it.
Kiss-Shot was now forced to aid Araragi and lived in the abandoned school building, forgotten and largely ignored, growing increasingly jealous of the many people Araragi worked hard to rescue. Eventually she ran away from him, but their relationship began to improve when he came looking for her. The two became partners once again. The wounds from Araragi’s betrayal began to slowly heal.
However, the Mayoi Jiangshi arc provides us with insight into an alternate timeline. As the duo pulls time-travel shenanigans, they arrive in a world where Araragi could not find Kiss-Shot in time and he was eventually killed in battle by an enemy he could not handle on his own. This restored Kiss-Shot to full power, but made her realize that her childish act of running away caused the death of the one person she felt close to. The grief she felt made her unreasonable and sent her on a genocidal campaign to destroy the world. When her rage subsided and she realized what she had done, she attempted suicide and failed; leaving her crippled.
She unwillingly became the immortal enemy of what remained of mankind. Living in perpetual pain and grief, awaiting yet another opportunity where somebody might end her miserable existence.
Akiko Natsume – All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku
“Are you watching THAT video tape again?” –An assistant who is not afraid of being fired
Motherly love is among the most powerful forces in the universe, yet it can also compel one to villainy. Akiko is the heiress to the powerful Mishima Heavy Industries; a company specializing in robotics and weaponry. However, her husband would one day steal an experimental android body over ethical concerns and goes into hiding together with their son.
Akiko acts as a villain who concocts many schemes to try and retrieve her company’s property, which has since been turned into the robot cat girl Nuku Nuku. However, her main motivation is to be reunited with her son. While played partially for laughs, it’s clear that Akiko feels upset and betrayed. She literally spends days in the office rewatching the last videos she has of her son.
While sending giant robots to attack her husband and his android creation may not be strictly legal, neither is one-sidedly deciding that you are divorced now and abducting your own kid. Her husband is clearly in the wrong there, and yet, Akiko doesn’t have any way to fight it. He won’t get back together, he won’t surrender their son, and he sure won’t go to court over it. At that point, maybe you really do need giant mechs to resolve the dispute.
Rena Ryuugu – Higurashi: When They Cry
“I guess it all ended in failure, huh? And I was fighting so hard against the aliens… If humanity perishes now, it’s all your fault, Keiichi.” –Rena
Rena is one of the five kids making up the group that is at the center of Higurashi; a horror mystery revolving around a town with a curse. She is an excitable, cute girl. A bit of an airhead, but somebody who cares deeply for her friends. However, story arcs in this time-looping mystery that revolve around Rena reveal a different side of her.
She and her family once moved away from the town, but had to return after a series of violent incidents, These happened after Rena first discovered that her mother was having an affair. While returning to Hinamizawa seemed to return Rena to normal and she made new friends, she also began to feel like she was being watched over by the town’s vengeful God Oyashiro. Meanwhile, her new friends remained oblivious to her struggles, often treating her as little more than a goofy classmate.
In actuality, Rena was struggling a lot. The Atonement chapter—acting as the final arc of the anime’s first season—reveals that her father has been falling for a catfishing scam and is plunging the two of them into debt. As her problems intensify, the curse strengthens its grip and drives Rena into deeper paranoia. While her friends swoop in to help her when she begins to fall apart, she starts to suspect they too are actually plotting against her. This arc sees Rena abandon all reason as she becomes infatuated with town folklore and conspiracy theories. She begins to scratch open her skin believing there are maggots in her blood, and her paranoia pushes her to fight back against people who are actually trying to help her.
Her story makes for an emotional conclusion to the show’s first season and explains just why Rena is the poster character for the entire franchise.
Wolf – Ringing Bell
“Life deals out few things besides pain, but from that pain you grow sharp, strong fangs, though they may not be the kind you can see.” –Wolf
“For now, I think of you as a father.” -Chirin
Fairytales often star wolves as their antagonists, but the most memorable one, to me, is the Wolf of 1978’s Ringing Bell. The movie lives on drawing a contrast between the cozy farm life of its sheep protagonist Chirin and the harsh wilderness from which The Wolf hails.
After slaying Chirin’s mother, The Wolf finds Chirin chasing him into the mountains and trying, with all his might, to pick a fight to avenge its mother. The Wolf knows how lawless and cruel the world is. He was shaped by it and has made the rules his own. He is a predator with no equal, yet allows himself a moment of weakness and accepts the determined sheep as his apprentice.
For years, The Wolf trains Chirin to be a fighter of his caliber and bonds with him. He reforges the tiny sheep to be a creature of the wild. Chirin himself comes to see The Wolf as a father figure, but when his final challenge arrives, the sheep who became a wolf can’t push himself to kill a fellow sheep. In the end, Chirin betrays The Wolf and slays him. The king of the wild, undone by the one and only act of kindness in his entire life.