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Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Editorial: Top 5 Anime Villains, 2014-2015.

Hey, guys, just a quick word on some of the delays these past few weeks: Without delving into too much detail on here, there are a lot of real world problems coinciding at the same time, which is something of a sap on my time and energy - that's liable to continue for at least the coming week, but I will still be trying to keep roughly on schedule.

Top 5 Anime Villains

So. Villains. Originally, this was going to be a 'top ten anime villains', divided into two parts, but I eventually decided against that, because in an entertainment form as vast and varied as anime, I think picking out ten would have been nigh-on impossible to me.

So, instead, we're looking at the top five anime villains in the last year - from the Spring 2014 season of anime through to the Spring 2015 season. Anyone who was in an anime that had at least one episode aired in that time span, or one film released on home media during that span, is eligible, but to be honest, it was tough picking five, and not because I was spoiled for choice.

The opposite, actually - while three of these were no-brainers, two of them were just me reaching into the bottom of the barrel and scrabbling around until I could find one.

5. Mendoza, Garo: Honoo no Kokuin.

Ah, Mendoza. What can be said about Mendoza? Well, until the final few episodes of his canon, he's a nigh-on useless villain who never really does anything. There's that. I could absolutely say that about him.

Once the anime hits its last four or five episodes, though, he starts making up for lost time by kicking his villainy into high gear - he kills off a main character and nearly kills off several more, kicks the proverbial dog by turning his devoted servant into a monster, and transforms himself into a god without then being ripped apart from the inside by the demonic creature he used to do so.

I want to highlight that last, because 'fuse with a Horror to become as a god' is always the evil plan of human Garo villains, and it always ends in them having godlike power for about twenty seconds before they're torn apart and devoured by the creature they consumed and/or allied with. Except Mendoza, who somehow manages to escape that fate, and at the end of the series isn't even really dead - just trapped in Makai in constant struggle with the protagonist's mother.

4. Benisuzume, Knights of Sidonia / Knights of Sidonia: Battle for Planet Nine.

The Gauna of post-post-apocalyptic mecha anime Knights of Sidonia already make very effective monsters, being simultaneously immense and threatening, grotesque and fleshy, and deeply mysterious. While the characters all have extensive knowledge of their biology - they are essentially immense masses of malleable flesh protecting a brain at the centre - everything else about them, from their origin to their motives to even the origin of the only method of killing them (the spearheads that can destroy their cores were found in an empty but gigantic floating structure, and are of entirely unknown composition) are all utterly mysterious, with theories ranging from 'they are AI gone wrong created by the same civilisation that created those spearheads' to 'they are eldritch abominations who merely wish to understand humans'.

Benisuzume stands out amongst the Gauna, though. In a sea of interchangeable flesh monsters, Benisuzume has a clear and distinct identity - a Gauna that absorbed one of the Sidonia's mechs and its pilot Hoshijiro, Benisuzume replicates both pilot and mech (and sometimes combines the two) and is the first Gauna to communicate with the characters, taunting them with well-placed parrotings of their own words. Benisuzume strategises, uses her environment, and appears to be not just hostile but actively vindictive, but it isn't clear why.

Was Hoshijiro secretly a psychopath who hated the Sidonia? Are the Gauna, in fact, massively and willfully hostile, and all of the guff of 'maybe they just want to communicate' and 'maybe they aren't intelligent' is just guff? It's not clear, but Benisuzume is intriguing, presenting both a physical and an emotional threat to the protagonists.

3. Kamui Kirito, Psycho-Pass 2.

I feel like I have less to say about Kamui than most of these guys, despite the fact that I do find him very interesting.

The premise behind Kamui is somewhat silly - a boy who was used as an experiment in creating criminally asymptomatic people, who had pieces of other people's bodies and brains stuck into him, and now is invisible to the all-seeing computer that runs the society of Psycho-Pass - but his execution was, at times, very strong.

I'm talking partly about the revelation that Kamui essentially farmed identities, allowing him to switch between them at ease and take the place of dozens of people in society at will, which was a very sinister little reveal that I think was pretty well-received by fans. I'm talking mostly about the fact that Kamui, in contrast with the moustache-twirling villainy of the previous series' villain, is always presented as a very soft-spoken, very gentle person, even as that's contrasted with the acts of extraordinary brutality that he perpetrates.

There's some effort at the end of the series to make him something of an anti-villain, a rightfully furious avenger who seeks to mete out justice on Sibyl, and while I think that was a fine path to take, those later storylines ran the risk of forgetting that this is also a man who committed and enabled acts of startling violence. 

2. -----, Blood Blockade Battlefront.

-----, or Blank, or the King of Despair, is the anime-only main villain of Blood Blockade Battlefront (or Kekkai Sensen), a story about a young man with all-seeing eyes in a magical version of New York. While information on Blank is scarce and the series is not yet done, he appears to be a Blood Breed, a vampiric entity of immense power who can only be stopped by using his true name. Possessing the body of a young psychic, Black, Blank shares time with him, with the two switching back and forth in accordance with a Faustian deal made several years prior.

Blank is an interesting one, being personable and even having friends, but also unquestionably being an arch-manipulator with designs upon destroying the world. It isn't clear why, nor is it clear as to whether he's a leader amongst the Blood Breeds or a free agent, but what is clear is that he's at least somewhat conflicted about it - both laughing and crying over his plans, letting Black use their shared body despite having no need to, and remarking to Black's sister White that neither of them have any choice but to play the game he started, likening it to a poker game in which all the bets have already been placed.

(As someone with a writing project that has a somewhat poker-themed tragic villain, I am absolutely using that analogy at some point.)

There's two episodes of the series left, which isn't nearly enough for my tastes, in which we should be seeing a lot more of Blank, Black, and White - and hopefully getting some closure on that flashback where Black and White's father remarked obliquely on what White should do if she sees Black 'hurting animals', because that was weird.

1. King Arthur, Nobunaga the Fool.

These top two positions were close, and I hrmed and harred for a while over which one should take the top position, but I eventually, reluctantly, settled on King Arthur. My reluctance was, in part, because his evil plan is totally incoherent - in the latter half of the series, nearly every episode introduces a new facet of the plan: He wants to rule both worlds, he wants to become the messiah, he wants to create evil magical ash that will kill all life so that only his chosen zombie people will survive, he wants to resurrect his dead girlfriend, and so on, and so forth.

Weirdly, the tangled, overly convoluted plan kind of works in his favour. Arthur is mysterious to the extreme - you do not even see his face until the final episode, instead seeing either the radiant light that exudes from it or the faces he shows to select people, those of their 'ideal' person (Caesar sees Aphrodite, Alexander sees Hercules, and Mitsuhide sees his father). Even when you do see it, very little becomes clear: Who is Arthur, where did he come from, how did he get these abilities? The anime tells you in no uncertain terms that it doesn't matter - that in the end, Arthur is just an old man dreaming of the past, and that all of those powers and schemes and military might are just so much dressing over that fundamental truth.

It's that revelation that puts him at the top of this list, because it makes the convoluted nonsense that is his plan, and the mysterious never-elsewhere-replicated abilities he show, all kind of work, because Arthur isn't a diabolical manipulator, he's just some guy, desperately scrambling to make himself something special and important in a world where he just isn't - and in the end, his death isn't dramatic, it's accidental, the byproduct of two much greater forces clashing.

I could ramble about the philosophy of Nobunaga the Fool for hours, by the way.

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