Villains are fascinating. Often more so than the boring, goody-two-shoes heroes they are meant to oppose. Last time we took a look at anime with villains that we could easily sympathize with and that was certainly a challenge. This time, I am flipping things around and we are going to piss on the graves of those bad guys that ticked us off to no end.
This idea was inspired by the depiction of Lu Bu in Beyond the Heavens, a villain in Chinese history, but also very much my personal nemesis as a lifelong Dynasty Warriors fan. I found his depiction in the anime lacking and that got me wondering what other shows did detestable villains better.
To clarify, this is not a list of bad villains. What makes these entries interesting is that they are well-written characters, who just do a great job at making you want to see the heroes kick their face in. So no cheap entries like the 12 different flavors of torturing rapists featured in any Akema ga Kill episode.
Beware for spoilers.
Moyuru Koda – Devilman Crybaby
Definitely an entry that inspired this list. Moyoru Koda is a young athlete and one of the Devilmen, which are people who have become affected by demons without losing their minds to them. Even so, Koda killed his lover when he first transformed, and then continued his career as a sportsman using the unfair advantage he gained when becoming a devilman.
Throughout Devilman Crybaby, protagonist Akira puts a lot of effort into confronting Koda and getting him to join his side, alongside fellow Devilman and career athlete Miki Kuroda. When exposed, Koda turns into his demonic form during a tournament and ends up killing several young, innocent athletes, all as part of a ploy by Ryo to reveal the existence of demons to the world. Koda is just barely saved at the cost of many lives and remains in hiding under Akira’s protection. However, as the war between demons and devilmen heats up, Koda betrays Akira the moment it becomes even slightly beneficial for him to do so.
Koda is an unthankful, selfish coward. A lot of effort was put into saving his miserable life and even more forgiveness was required to forget about all the death & destruction he caused. He not only dismisses these efforts and betrays the trust of his allies, he then also has the gall to show up in the final battle and try to act superior because of it. Needless to say, he is immediately killed in a single attack.
Job Trunicht – Legend of the Galactic Heroes
In my review of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, I addressed that it’s really a show about conflicting political ideologies. And yes, with feudalism an idiot might inherit the throne, but in a democracy, that same idiot can cheat and lie their way into leadership. The only difference is that, at that point, we all share in the blame for letting it happen.
Job Trunicht is the elected leader of the Free Planets Alliance and a self-serving, corrupt, and incompetent buffoon. He hasn’t served a day in his life, yet uses the war between The Empire and The Alliance to boost his own public image. He casually throws millions of lives away, claims a share of the victory if they win and shifts the blame elsewhere if they lose. He uses and abandons everybody to get what he wants and never has the spine to stick with any faction or political motivation.
And the frustrating thing is that Trunicht keeps coming back. When civil war erupts as a result of his action, he goes into hiding with an extremist group and just emerges to retake control after others have sorted it out. Every time something happens that might oust him, Trunicht somehow ends up worming his way back into a place of relative comfort. He just casually stumbles his way into leadership positions and complicates life for billions of people, each of which would be better suited to do his job.
The merchant – Dog of Flanders
Several characters could be argued to be the villains of Dog of Flanders, but most of them at least have some excuses or justification for their actions. Hans is arguably a villain, but he is far outshined by the nameless merchant in Antwerp.
He stores his wares in an oversized cart and has the canine protagonist Patrasche drag it around town and back to his home outside the city every single day. With Patrasche getting on in age, he struggles to keep the unwieldy cart rolling on the uneven roads, which his master mercilessly punishes. Anytime Patrasche struggles, he is immediately whipped and berated, even as he goes for hours without water or food to keep him energized. And the merchant has no common sense; if the cart gets stuck, he’ll whip the dog for minutes and keeps shouting until it’s fixed, even though the problem would be resolved in seconds if he helped for even a moment.
All that animal abuse is some top tier villainy already, but when Patrasche gets sick, the merchant ditches him by the side of the road and leaves him to die. Patrasche is then rescued by Nello and his aging grandfather. They take him into their home and take a serious hit to the finances in order to support and nurture the dog back to health. When the merchant learns about this, he accuses them of stealing Patrasche and extorts the old man for a hefty sum of money. Nello’s grandpa is forced to pay in installments and their house is trashed, spiraling their family into further poverty and ultimately ruining their lives.
Manfred von Karma – Ace Attorney
Ace Attorney protagonist Phoenix Wright has a healthy rivalry with his childhood friend Miles Edgeworth throughout the AA games and their 2016 anime adaptation. While things can get ugly between these two, Miles’ bending of the law pales in comparison to his mentor and adopted father Manfred von Karma.
Von Karma is an undefeated lawyer with a 40-year track record of guilty verdicts, obtained largely through manipulation, obfuscation of evidence, and other underhanded methods. When Edgeworth’s father managed to get Manfred penalized during a court case, Manfred murdered him and framed an innocent man for the crime. He then adopted Miles and indoctrinated him to follow beliefs completely opposite to that of his late father, turning Miles into a ruthless, cheating prosecutor like himself.
This changed during Turnabout Goodbyes, where Manfred forged a plot to murder another defense lawyer that wronged him and pin the crime on Miles. This is where his winning streak finally ended for good, as Phoenix was able to clear Miles’ name and expose Von Karma’s many wrongdoings.
Jigo – Princess Mononoke
Many villains will pretend to have some noble goal or complicated justification for their crimes, but for many their desires just come down to money and power. The best that can be said about Jigo from Princess Mononoke is that he is at least honest about this ambition. That’s also the only bit of honesty this slimy monk is capable of.
Jigo is directly responsible for pretty much every problem in the movie. He aids and manipulates Lady Eboshi in her campaign against the forest spirits, as he commands an army of riflemen and hunters who corrupt and slay these noble creatures. One such corrupted animal, Nago, then runs off and attacks the protagonist’s village, getting him infected with the same corruption. Jigo swoops in and presents himself as a friend to the movie’s hero, all while continuing his careless slaughter of the forest’s inhabitants and aiding Eboshi’s rampant deforestation.
And his ultimate goal is unapologetically selfish. He wants to manipulate people into slaying the literal God of Life & Death, just so he can run off with the head and present it to the emperor in return for a fat paycheck. Wiping out a forest, local communities, and unleashing an unstoppable force of corruption are just acceptable side-effects.
Ali al-Saachez – Gundam 00
Being a mercenary is not the most respectable profession, but Ali al-Saachez is proud of it all the same. He is a dedicated warmonger that loves conflict and fighting, so when the world gets just a little too stable for his liking, Ali pulls some strings to send countries into turmoil once again.
What makes Ali a dangerous person is that he has intellect and charisma to match his battlefield skills. He is a master of intrigue who always manages to come out on top and walk away from the mess he leaves behind with none of the blame and pockets filled with cash. The height of his villainy would come during the Solar Wars, where he started a cult and indoctrinated children into a false religion. He reformed these kids into an army, had them kill their own parents to prove their devotion, and then just walked away unpunished after all of them died trying to take on mobile suits.
Series protagonist Setsuna was a survivor of this cult and watching him trying to get vengeance on Al-Saachez was my favorite story arc in the otherwise mediocre Gundam 00.
Haraguchi – Genshiken
Every fandom has its fanatics, the gatekeepers who always know better and are always looking to challenge your devotion to the media you love. Haruguchi is exactly that: an elitist anime snob who wants to take over Genshiken.
Compared to the usual stereotype of the introverted otaku, Haraguchi is a smooth talker who is always trying to coerce people into doing what he wants. In particular, he annexes most of the clubs around the college and forces its talented members to join his doujinshi circle. Haraguchi himself has, of course, no talent whatsoever. He just forces artists to create the works he wants and then walks away with the money & recognition for it. He doesn’t even help during the actual conventions, where he just sits back while the other members sell their own books to line his pockets.
Haraguchi is a recurring semi-antagonist. He isn’t outright evil, but he is a hateable manipulator who wants to drag Genshiken into his expanding slave empire of anime & manga clubs. He almost succeeds when Genshiken decides to try its hands at making a doujinshi and run into organizational problems. If only there was an experienced manager available who’d be willing to lend a big, fat hand…
Nanami – Revolutionary Girl Utena
Nanami is your typical spoiled rich girl character given an incestuous twist. She is the local bully of Revolutionary Girl Utena and uses her status and fame to harass and assault her fellow students, but mostly directs that ire towards anybody who dares to get close with her onii-chan Touga.
She will even betray her own friends and lackeys if she suspects they might have an interest in her brother, but her lowest point comes in a flashback when it’s revealed she once rescued a stray cat and gifted it to him for his birthday. A sweet moment, you would say, until she grows jealous of how much attention the kitten is getting, traps it in a box, and throws it into a river where it then drowns.
Nanami herself looks back on this moment as if its a trauma and laments that she didn’t truly intend to kill the cat, but it also hasn’t inspired any self-reflection in her or lessen her brother complex any. In fact, no amount of defeats, criticism, or missteps ever seem to teach Nanami anything at all. She only ever becomes more obsessed and protective of her brother, allowing Touga to easily manipulate her into causing all sorts of trouble for Utena.
Kamineko – Azumanga Daioh
The inclusion of Kamineko should be no surprise to acquaintances of mine, as he has featured as my desktop wallpaper for years and remains my go-to avatar on many services, even at my job. This little furball is a legendary villain, easily rivaling any human.
Kamineko is a spiteful neighborhood cat often found patrolling or sleeping around on the way to the school in which Azumanga Daioh takes place. He is a nemesis to Sakaki, who has a fascination with cute things and has always wanted to own a cat. He tempts her into trying to pet him, only to get angry and chomp away at her hand when she tries. The pain is temporary, but Kamineko also nibbles away at her confidence and grows more malicious as the series continues, eventually becoming the Boss Cat of the neighborhood and ordering his fuzzy allies to also direct attacks at Sakaki and her friends.
He is a jerk in a cute disguise. Cats always kind of are, I suppose, but for most of their kind, the evil is benign and their misdeeds small. Kamineko takes it too far and ultimately pays the price when a stronger and more lovable cat dethrones him.
Director Ton – Aggretsuko
My most compelling argument for including Ton from Aggretsuko would be that he is likely to be the real-life villain to many of us. Ton is the head of the accounting department for the firm at which Retsuko works. He is also a literal and figurative pig.
He has a chauvinistic mindset and looks down on the women who work for him, frequently picking on Retsuko in particular and deliberately making her time at work harder. He runs the department like a slave pit, all while he and his favored lackeys relax all day and practice golf swings.
Ton does have his moments of relative decency and comes through for the company from time to time, but these moments are overshadowed by his constant bullying and favoritism. If his ways of running the department are threatened, he will retaliate cruelly and make sure people know not to speak up about him ever again. It might sound like modest villainy, but it’s a familiar reality for all too many people and the prospect of having to work with a Director Ton scares me far more than any conquering overlord.