Tuesday Top Five: Most Interesting Anime Villains

Original Publication Date: 8/22/2016

By:  Andrew Lister

Welcome to the next installment of a new articles series, Tuesday Top Five! From time to time I’ll be coming up with a Top 5 spanning a number of geeky topics. This week, we tackle the world of professional wrestling.

What’s a good story without an even better antagonist? To me, a good villain needs to not only be a difficult challenge for the hero, but they must also be motivated by more than simply wanting to do evil. Sauron was pretty badass, but we never see much depth in his character beyond his wanting to rule over all of Middle Earth. Scary and powerful?  Yes. An interesting, developed character? No.

The same criteria goes for anime as well. There have been so many great shows and memorable villains that making a list of the best baddies may seem like a tough task. That being said, I’ve assembled my Top 5 Most Interesting Anime Villains, and I want to hear what you think by leaving a comment below.  We may even read your comments on a future episode of Tooning Japanese!

Please keep in mind that there may be spoilers below. You have been warned!

#5 – Vegeta [Dragon Ball Z]

Yes, Dragon Ball Z is a fairly formulaic anime. The heroes train, gather Dragon Balls, fight a strange new enemy threatening Earth, and power up enough to barely save the world. Despite this, the one thing I love about Dragon Ball are the personalities of its many bad guys. And of all those that stepped up to the plate against Goku, the best is his fellow Saiyan, Vegeta.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Frieza and Cell just as much as other DBZ fans, but the showdowns that stand out to me are the classic battles between these two aliens. However, as cool as those episode-long charging up of world-shaking attacks were, it was Vegeta’s character that stood out more than his superpowers.

Vegeta is cocky. He’s arrogant. He sees himself as the greatest fighting force in the entire world.  When he comes to the harsh reality that Kakarot, as he often called Goku, was the stronger Saiyan, he refused to give in. Becoming a sort of begrudging ally to Goku’s circle, he never gave up his goal of proving that he’s the greatest warrior in the world.

This unending drive to be the very best (no Pokemon jokes, please) is what makes Vegeta an undeniably realistic character, despite the fact that he shoots massive energy beams from his hands.

#4 – Knives [Trigun]

As the oldest sibling of my family, I’ve had my share of spats with my younger brother and sister. Sibling rivalries usually smooth themselves out over time, but that isn’t the case with our next villain, Knives Millions, brother to the man with a $$60 billion bounty on his head, Vash the Stampede.

The backstory of Vash and Knives unfolds in a flashback episode (Episode 17, “Rem Saverem”) that shows their early lives as children. Both Knives and Vash are plants, non-humans aboard a ship of surviving humans that are desperately seeking a home world to colonize. At first, both Knives and Vash are treated equally to the humans, but we find that one of the crew members, Steve, abuses them both. This ultimately leads to Knives snapping and coming to the conclusion that the human race is cruel and that he would never find happiness or acceptance.

Knives and Vash are opposite sides to the same coin. Knives is a psychopathic killer; Vash is a misunderstood wanted criminal that never wants to take a life. The two are drawn back to one another, and they each desperately try to make the other understand their motives. Knives wants to travel with his brother again and make him see why the humans are inferior; Vash tries to open Knives’s eyes to the positive qualities of humanity.

That dichotomy drives each character and really makes Knives a strong villain that pushes Vash beyond his beliefs and morals.

#3 – Nephrite [Sailor Moon]

Anyone that knows me shouldn’t be surprised that I’d include a Sailor Moon baddie somewhere on this list. There are a ton of villains to choose from, but there’s only one that really stands out to me, and that’s Nephrite, aka Nephlyte, aka Masato Sanjouin, aka Maxfield Stanton, aka He Does Want That Chocolate Parfait.

Nephrite is one of the Four Kings of Heaven in the original run of the anime and manga. Of the four, he’s the most interesting. Jadeite felt a bit too cartoony with his over the top plots to steal energy. Zoisite was too much of a selfish bitch, and his lover Kunzite spent most of his time bickering with an evil King Endymion to actually do anything productive.

Then there’s Nephrite, the baddest of the four. Not only does he have the guts to at times completely ignore Queen Beryl and best Zoisite in their battles of words, he is an absolute powerhouse. Nephrite has the ability to find a human at their peak level of potential energy and tap into that by placing an evil crest on an object that human cares about. As the human interacts with this object (for example, Naru’s tennis star friend’s racket), their energy is increased to the point of being ripe enough to drain.

The one thing that makes him even more interesting, however, is that of the Four Kings he’s the only one that shows true humanity. Whether the relationship is healthy or appropriate or not (Usagi and Mamoru’s “destined love” is pretty wrong, too), Nephrite does gain feelings for the Negaverse’s favorite battery, Naru Osaka, aka Molly Baker. He tries to stay the cool, collected evil guy, but Naru’s unending love and affection makes him realize that there may be more to his life than collecting energy for an evil tyrant.

Unfortunately, his turn toward good is cut short when an angry Zoisite sends a trio of powerful monsters after him and Naru. I dare you to watch Nephrite’s death scene and not feel any sort of emotion. I dare you. (The DIC version was far better, but this will have to do.)

For those reasons, Nephrite ranks up there as one of the more interesting villains in anime.

#2 – Vicious [Cowboy Bebop]

Not all villains need to have crazy superpowers to be interesting. Sometimes an intriguing antagonist has immense political power. I mean, [insert name of presidential candidate of your opposing political party here] is running for President, right?

Cowboy Bebop is one of the greatest animes of all time. The characters are all extremely believable. The story’s protagonist Spike Spiegel is a cool, laid back bounty hunter, and even though his adventures catching random bad guys is cool enough, his backstory is what makes the anime truly epic.

Spike was once a member of the Red Dragons, a mafia group inspired by the Yakuza. This is how Spike got to know the love of his life, Julia. Madly in love, they decided to try and escape the syndicate in order to enjoy a life together away from the violence.

This is where Vicious comes into play.  His name is a great indication of his role within the Red Dragons. When he finds out about Spike and Julia’s plan, he threatens Julia and forces her to choose between death and killing her beloved. To save Spike, she decides instead to run away, sacrificing their one chance at happiness.

Vicious makes a great counterpart to Spike. Whereas Spike comes off as goofy and nonchalant, Vicious is serious and brutal. Later in the series he ends up taking over The Red Dragons by a show of cunning and force. He lives by his ideals, and he is driven to maintain those ideals.

The final fight between Vicious and Spike at the end of the anime is truly amazing. There’s a great build-up, and it will go down as one of the greatest fights in all of anime.

Don’t mess with Vicious. He has connections that can do the job, and he’s not afraid to draw some blood himself.

#1 – Ashram [Record of Lodoss War

This may seem like a strange choice given all of the great anime villains out there. Despite the fact that Lodoss War may not be one of the most well known animes around, Ashram is the true definition of a sympathetic and interesting villain.

At first look, Ashram seems like your stereotypical fantasy villain. He’s pale with dark hair, wears massive black armor, and has an overly elaborate sword that steals people’s souls. Yes, these things may be a bit traditional (hell, the anime was based on a D&D adventure); however, there’s a lot more to Ashram than being a sword-wielding badass.

Ashram begins the anime as a soldier under the command of Emperor Beld, one of six great heroes of legend. Over time, Beld amasses his army in the kingdom of Marmo to take on another of the six heroes, King Fahn of Valis. Ashram isn’t the main bad guy, but he becomes a foil for a young knight fighting for King Fahn and the series’ protagonist, Parn.

As Parn rises in the ranks and grows, so does Ashram. In fact, when Beld and Fahn deal mortal blows to one another in the War of Heroes, both Parn and Ashram step up and take on greater roles. Ashram takes up Beld’s Demon Sword and assumes the role of emperor.

Ashram and Parn believe that they are fighting for the correct reason and that the other opposes them. Given the dark armor and Demon Sword, you would think Ashram just wants to kill anything that gets in his way. However, Ashram does not fight to cast the world into darkness. He only wants to save the people of Marmo from suffering. He is so dedicated to his cause that he takes on a fucking ancient red dragon. Yeah, that’s dedication.

Overall, Ashram isn’t just an angry, evil guy. He was dedicated to his king, Lord Beld. He cared about his people.  He had an intriguing love interest with a dark elf, Pirotess. His end is tragic.  It’s hard not to feel bad for the guy, despite the fact that he’s supposed to be the antagonist.

Next week there will be another Tuesday Top 5 article, so be sure to check back!  Let us know what you think about my rankings in the comments below!

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