First problem, I don't like a lot of villains. What can I say? I'm a sucker for the Good Fight, though I also do like inflicting pain... *Ahem* Most bad guys are just not that interesting to me (though there are always exceptions), and when I do like antagonists it's usually based, at least at first, on some quality that I suddenly and inexplicably latch on to and become wholly fangirlishly obsessed with. Usually this "random quality" is the shallow one of being drop dead gorgeous (this pertains mostly to the visual medium). Or shiny. Or BOTH. Another prerequisite is that they are usually quite capable somehow of pwning you dead. There's a sense of power there, a sort of lofty arrogance. I think the key, though, for the ones I'm really head-over-heels over is shadiness. Ulterior motives coupled with one or all of the aforementioned qualities and I'm enlisting in that Dark Army.
Let's take a look at a few of them. These are all going to be ani/manga references because I can't for the life of me think of a book antagonist/villain who does anything for me. I can't even think of one that I really hated, which means I should maybe read more? :/
*Um, SPOILERS up the wazzu--though I'll try to keep it vague/general--for Code Geass, Loveless, Death Note and Bleach to follow.*
Schneizel El Britannia (Series - Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, R2)
2nd Prince of Britannia, and all he's really guilty of is looking kinda evil. Early in the first season, he is set-up to be an antagonist when he is mentioned as knowing something about the MC's mother's assassination. Then for the rest of Season 1, he's not much more than someone who's connected to characters in play. He doesn't physically show up until the last third of the season, and when he does, he's, well, very princely. He's courteous, charming, and not only looks nice but actually IS nice to everyone, including his subordinates. He doesn't look smirky or otherwise nefarious the way he kind of does in his brief appearance in the opening. Yet, his actions, while not outright suspect, indicate much calculation and manipulation. More hints are also dropped about his dealings, and we're reminded that he is the only person from our MC's past who ever beat the MC in a game of strategy. This continues to build the expectation that he will eventually challenge the MC in some huge, plot-turning showdown of doom (though not Doom because Schneizel is NOT the main antagonist).
But see, everything is hearsay, speculation, and rumor. While he may have manipulated a few events, he manipulated them all towards the good of his country with minimal bloodshed, and did I mention he's ridiculously nice to like everyone? He's every bit the competent and dutiful prince, except with this undercurrent of his being up to something. It's this "what is he up to?" question that has me obsessed with this guy. His motivation and his true intentions/goals are as of yet still unclear.
Really though, his actions in the series wouldn't seem half as shady if he didn't also look kind of evil/shady to begin with. Thanks opening credit animation for preemptively biasing me! Alz has suggested that perhaps we're horrible people for expecting the worst of him simply because he looks it. Come on though, no one this good-looking is that nice without ulterior motives! Either way, I support the Rebellion, but Schneizel has me considering switching sides.
Seimei Aoyagi aka Beloved (Series - Loveless)
I actually wasn't interested in him much until recently--that is, until I reached a point in the series where it became very clear that he was one big Antagonist, if not The Big Bad of the series. The start of Loveless is focused on the MC (Ritsuka) and his introduction to the Sacrifice-Fighter dyad world Seimei belonged to. Character and plot developments all more or less tie into the mystery of Seimei's murder, and so for the first volumes, Seimei was little more than a plot and character development point for me (though a pretty one). Plus, all we learn of Seimei at first is that he was murdered, he was kind and deeply loved his little bro (the MC), and his dyad, Team Beloved, was reputedly unbeatable.
Flash forward some chapters/volumes and Seimei has me by the throat and wholly fascinated. He emerges out of background character status to Lead Villain. Hints get dropped about his having abusive, sadistic, and neurotic tendencies. Where the MC only knew him as a kind, protective, and affectionate older brother, others knew Seimei as cruel, merciless, and destructive. He was close to no one, and as Ritsuka (as well as the readers) begins trying to reconcile Seimei's two vastly different personalities (gentle and kind brother vs. sadistic and cold Sacrifice), surprise! Seimei turns out to be very much alive and up to no good.
His motivations and intentions are murky. He retains a strong attachment to the MC, saying that Ritsuka is the only person he truly loves and cares for. It makes for a pretty twisted relationship since Seimei is of the mind that "you hurt the ones you love most" and is bent on testing Ritsuka's love for him, but that appears to be only part of it. There's something bigger afoot that has yet to be revealed. Shady, right?
And he is still really pretty, and it was in fact a rather pretty panel of him that re-caught my attention. Then, he had me and it was over. With a name like Beloved, Seimei just commands and demands love and despair.
Still, this sort of thing isn't hard and fast. In a recent discussion with Alz while I was in the midst of writing this post, I considered a few other antagonists, who by the above mentioned qualities should totally float my fangirl boat but they don't. Here's one.
Light Yagami (Series - Death Note)
Actually, quite a fascinating "villain," Light is the boy genius MC of the series. The series is a psychological thriller (with a touch of the supernatural) where Light gets his hands on a Death Note (a notebook which kills the human whose name is written in it) and decides to use his newfound power to create a better world. What makes Light an interesting character is that his intentions are good, but power and his drive towards his goals makes him into the kind of murderer he's trying to rid the world of and corrupts his nature towards ruthlessness. He is aware of this inherent hypocrisy, but he justifies it as a necessary "sacrifice" for the betterment of society. Opposing him is the enigmatic L, the world's greatest detective, and what ensues is a cat-and-mouse chase based on intellect.
Given his qualities, Light seems like the type of bad guy (I can't call him an antag because he's actually the protag!) I would usually go for. He's attractive, charismatic, super smart/competent, and if his huge God complex says anything, he's got that air of confidence/arrogance that I generally like. But he doesn't do it for me. I don't even particularly like him much. I think it's because his intentions and motivations are pretty straightforward. It's also hard to have any attachment-like emotions to him beyond fascination or grudging respect because he becomes so cold. Everything he does is calculated; even when people he cares about are involved (i.e. his family), it comes down to a cost-benefit analysis of the situation. He loses his humanity, and while he's fun to watch, he's hard to love.
I will say that I was rooting for him half the time, but with the series centered on him, I couldn't really help but cheer him on, at least a bit. In fact, there are a bunch of people who want him to win out along with the bunch of people who want him to fail. Even then, it's not so much that I want Light to fail, it was more that I want L (antagonist but probably who we would call the "good guy") to win. And L, by the way, is not at all typical of the kinds of ani/manga characters I adore. He's blunt, socially awkward, weird, and while not "ugly," he's kinda strange lookin. It's all these quirks, plus his considerable ability that make him lovable, even if he too is about as emotionally distant as Light is.
Aizen Sousuke (Series - Bleach)
I was always sort of ambivalent towards him, and he (like Seimei) became more interesting once he showed his true colors. While his fans will claim he got hotter after going to the Dark Side, I'm not fond of the new look (mostly the hair). In any case, he was always a good looking-ish guy, becoming more good looking as the series continued because the mangaka's style has changed some. In more recent chapters, in flashbacks when he has his pre-Dark Side appearance but is looking shady or outright evil, I have to say, I'm kinda starting to see the appeal.
He's got more What Makes Krispy Like Antags qualities than Light has because not only is he pretty good looking, smart, competent, and with that air of arrogance, he's also friggin' SHADY. (Light isn't so much because like I said, his motivations are clear and his actions speak straight to his intentions.) Aizen gives this vague, God-complex-like answer as to his motivation. At face value, his answer is about obtaining power, becoming/surpassing the gods--that sort of run-of-the-mill Villain Reason for Being Evil--but Aizen comes across as more complex than that. Also, it's unclear what he wants to do once he's reached his goal (change the system? take over the world? destroy everything and start anew? build sandcastles in the sky?). The extent of his power/skill is also unknown. See, very shady. I don't understand him, much like how I don't really get why Seimei is so twisted.
Despite having the magic combo, Aizen does nothing for me. He does less for me than Light does. He's interesting but not much more. As with Light, I find Aizen distant. Light has the advantage of being the protag of his series, and thus I at least get the intimate details of his thought process and can see his logic; there's a kind of connection. Aizen, on the other hand, remains mysterious, and coupled with my tenuous grasp of his personality (a trait I share with most of the other Bleach characters it seems), he is bafflingly inscrutable rather than intriguingly shady.
In conclusion, Alz and I have no idea what we're talking about. When I started this post, I thought I'd figured out the qualities that help me like them. I realize now, at the end of this post and after discussion with Alz, that it's not that simple. We think there's just a certain ineffable characteristic that really gets me weak in the knees. Our current antagonists lack that spark, making it difficult for me to breathe life into them. I can talk motivation and pasts with Alz, but when I don't care, all those details come across as character stats. It's fine for describing the antags in a nutshell, but I have my doubts about how that will hold up written out in depth if I have no feelings for the characters themselves.
Still, this exercise was good for me because it made me realize that I have a thing for people with ulterior motives. This might not be easy to put into our antags here (since I need to actually know what our kiddies are up to in order to write it), but it's something to keep in mind.