The Makings of a (good) Antagonist

If we were to describe, in the most basic of terms, what an antagonist is, it’d probably be something along the lines of “a character or entity that actively opposes the leading cast of characters in any given story”. In this regard, we can throw any number of character types in the position of opposition, but what is it that makes an antagonist “good”?

Is it indomitable power or intellect?

Is it based on how much the viewer comes to despise or sympathize with said character?

Is it how well they actually aid the narrative?

Or perhaps even simply that they push our protagonist to become better?

Let’s take a moment, here, to look at some different antagonists.

I’ll try to keep things fairly vague, but there may be some spoilers ahead.

Takano Miyo (Higurashi no Naku Koro ni): The antagonist driven to villainy

takano

At the start of the series, Takano is known only as the beloved clinic nurse. Toward the end of the story we learn that she’s actually the primary antagonist. Takano’s desire to madden and destroy an entire village of people wasn’t inherent, though; it was cultivated. Her parents died when she was a young child. As a result, she was sent to an orphanage where she and the other children were neglected and abused. She was rescued and adopted by Takano Hifumi, an old associate of her late father.

Soon after, she began studying medicine alongside Hifumi. He was on the verge of discovering “Hinamizawa Syndrome”, a parasitic disease that causes extreme paranoia, and can lead those infected to commit acts of violence under certain circumstances. However, Hifumi is never taken seriously. In fact, he ends up becoming a laughing stock. The truth of the matter, though, is that the Takano’s were right. The illness did exist, but the government and associated scientific community refused to accept it as truth because of the potential political implications. A lifetime of research and effort is deliberately ignored, and Hifumi’s reputation deliberately destroyed. Miyo chooses to continue Hifumi’s research after he dies. She’s desperate to prove the existence of the disease, but is met with the same hostility and basically labeled an occultist freak.

It is a lifetime of unfortunate and unfair treatment that ultimately turns Miyo into a homicidal villain obsessed with immortalizing the Takano name in history.

But even when she’s scheming to eliminate an entire village to prove her point, we see that in many ways she’s still the same lost child looking for someone to believe in her the same way she believed in her adoptive grandfather.


 

Gilgamesh (Fate Series): The seemingly indomitable foe

gilgamesh

Sometimes the fun of it all comes from wondering just how on earth our heroes are going to take down someone or something that is exponentially more powerful than they are. Gilgamesh in the role of Archer in the Type-Moon Fate franchise is one of these types. Known alternatively as the King of Heroes, this demi-god was the origin of all man-made heroic legends. Hence, he possess all of the Noble Phantasms and can seemingly annihilate most other legendary figures with little effort. The OG’s borderline OPness is part of what makes him such a great antagonist. The attributes can’t be the only thing there, though. In Gilgamesh’s case, his outright arrogance and condescending attitude are what really makes the viewer (me) want our heroes to overcome him.


 

Bondrewd (Made in Abyss): The antagonist we can outright despise

bondrewd

Then there’s this type—the one we’re supposed to just outright hate. Bondrewd is one of the legendary White Whistles of the Abyss. He’s credited with making many discoveries, but he does not give a damn about morals or ethics. While the Lord of Dawn, himself, may feel that the exploitation of children serves a greater purpose, it’s extremely difficult for any sane viewer to sympathize with his cause.


 

Gary (Pokémon): The rival

gary

There’s no rule that says an antagonist has to actually be a villain. In essence, all they have to do is provide some kind of obstacle for our protagonist(s) to overcome.

Gary is Ash Ketchum’s first adversary. Like Ash, Gary wants to become a Pokémon Master. The two have very different training philosophies, but the role Gary serves as an antagonist is different from that of Team Rocket. The “rival” is pretty common in sports shows. I think Hakone Academy in the Yowamushi Pedal series is a good example of that, but I’ve seen the trope in other genres as well.


 

There’s also something to be said for the emotional impact that hits when our protagonists—and even sometimes our own expectations—are betrayed. If done properly, the traitor-type antagonist can be one of the best types.

Griffith (Berserk): The traitor

griffith

Berserk is told primarily from the perspective of antihero Guts, but Griffith is the driving force of much of the narrative. He’s rather cold and calculated, but his outstanding charisma, leadership, and egalitarian ideals earn the absolute trust and allegiance of those who follow him. Over time, though, Griffith comes to believe that even his closest followers are lesser beings than him. This feeling—amplified by an unfortunate occurrence, and strong desire to have a kingdom of his own—result in Griffith eventually betraying the trust of his Band of the Falcon in one of most egregious ways imaginable.

Ryo (Devilman: Crybaby): The prophesied villain?

ryou 1

Ryo and Akira share a relationship dynamic similar to Griffith and Guts. Ryo and Akira are very close to each other, but at some point, Ryo betrays the trust of our antihero protagonist. One of the key differences, though, is that while Ryo begins as a seemingly neutral childhood friend of Akira, he eventually remembers that he isn’t human. Rather than embrace humanity, he chooses to embrace his former identity, and sets about an apocalyptic chain of events.


 

What, then, if our story’s protagonist is or becomes the villain? Are they technically antiheroes, or do they then become an antagonist?

Light Yagami (Death Note): The curious case of the protagonist transition to villainy

Light-Yagami-light-yagami-18148383-1280-720

Light begins his “hero’s journey” of sorts by trying to rid the world strictly of dangerous criminals. Very quickly, though, he becomes comfortable with outright murder, and takes joy in outsmarting the authorities as they try to track to him down. In Light’s case, the protagonist does become the villain. Lelouch from Code Geass may also fit this archetype.


 

So that’s my take on the anatomy of an antagonist. What do you guys think makes for a good (or bad, for that matter) one? Examples are always a plus.

 

 

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18 thoughts on “The Makings of a (good) Antagonist

  1. Characters? *cough*
    Society can work pretty well as an antagonist…
    But I’ll admit, a good charismatic antagonist can carry a show!
    Dio Brando and Kira Yoshikage are really strong villains. What’s great about them in a world of increasingly moral grey villains, they are both understandable, but never justified by the narrative. They make no apologies and take the audience captive whenever they’re on screen. If you’re doing a straight villain as an antagonist, then these two are great for that!
    Otherwise…
    I’d point you to Kaiki Deishu from Monogatari. He’s a nice grey villain who really fills a nice slot in the cast. He opposes the characters ideologically, but doesn’t have any explicit malice towards them. He shows flaws in the protags without ever claiming to be flawless or right himself. And he’s a fan favorite!
    That’s charisma! The special spice that every great antagonist needs!
    *looks at time*
    Crap, gotta finish up my post! Hopefully this wasn’t too messy!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah society counts. It’s one that can occur in tandem with other antagonistic characters. Like in DarliFra, since I just read your bit about it. The dystopian way of the APE society is an obstacle. That society is dictated by the council of wanna humans tho, who are also separate antagonists.

      Monogatari is on my list of shows to eventually get around to. That and Violet Evergarden. I’m tired of not being able to read everyone stuff about them cuz I haven’t seen em yet haha.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yep.
        I will praise Monogatari every day of the week! But I understand it’s a pretty massive time investment! (And it’s still getting longer! Zokuowarimonogatari this year!)
        I think it’s a beautiful show that’s worth watching for anyone who will give it a shot- but it’s really character driven. It doesn’t have a deep lore or immersive setting. It’s characters aren’t explicitly relatable, and can even seem inhuman at first.
        For some people, those things are what they come to anime for. Monogatari is what it is. I get it. I would’ve hated it if I watched it years ago.
        Violet Evergarden… is not really like that at all. It’s a pretty short show that doesn’t really develop it’s characters too much. The animation and music create a real nice tone though, and it can all come together with the story to create a few really nice moments.
        Basically, Violet Evergarden is accessible. Monogatari isn’t.
        Good luck getting through your list!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Hey!
        You would think it would get old…
        But after rewatching every part like 3 times, I keep finding more and more to love about it…
        *send help*
        It’s terrifyingly good…
        It makes it hard for me to praise other anime it’s so good!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Haha, if you ever write about Monogatari be prepared for edgyanimeteen and I to comment! We both happen to be pretty passionate about the series!

        Liked by 2 people

      4. heh. Discussion can be a good thing, though. Nise is the first one right? Or is it bake? lol All the different season names seem a little more complicated to dive into than 1, 2, 3 etc.

        Like

      5. Although it’s sort of a mess of prequels / sequels, best thing to do is to check the air dates and go by that. Bakemonogatari is the first one to watch, and you could decide after that if you wanted to continue on with the series once you get a sense of it.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Sooo, um. I have a tiny confession to make here. I’m familiar enough with Lelouch as character because people talk/write about the series a lot, but I’ve never actually seen Code Geass. I was thinking about making it the next “Vault of Series Past” venture for the podcast cuz it’s been on my list for for like 6-7 years now, but aren’t there like 2 seasons, a movie, and another spin-off? Might be a better series to just annihilate over a few weekends

      Liked by 1 person

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