Unlike American mediums, the Japanese anime and manga systems seem built around creating great enemies. Often times in Shonen shows, they act as a wall for the characters to overcome. Beat one and there is another that shows up to stop the hero cold. However villainy is not something simply overcome.
Villainy is something more. Today we have compiled a list of absolute villains for their respective franchises. Simply saying their name is a sure fire way to give our anime heroes a really bad day. These are villains that destroy normalcy.
For that reason, we love them.
Izaya Orihara from Durarara
There’s nobody quite as charming as a sociopath. As a man who loves no single person, but instead humanity as a whole, Izaya Orihara fits this description perfectly. There definitely isn’t anything wrong with a deep abiding love for humanity, unless you’re Izaya. What he loves most is the way that humans interact and react. Within the first few episodes of the show, he sets up a fake suicide pact with a high school girl as well as arranging a kidnapping- just to see what would happen. Where most have compassion, Izaya holds a twisted fascination for humanity’s ability to react and adapt.
On almost every front, Izaya is near perfect, threatening, even somewhat disturbing. Fitting his intense detachment from the rest of humanity, he is a watcher, an information broker, able to pull strings and manipulate events to move towards his goal of an all-out war between rival gangs for his own purposes. On the streets, armed with his switchblade, Izaya is swift and menacing, one of only two men able to stand up to the powerful Shizuo Heiwajima.
Add all of these attributes together, and what do you get? A menace. Irredeemably unhinged yet in complete control of himself and everything around him, Izaya is my favorite force to be reckoned with that may be found in an anime.
Cell from Dragonball Z
Most villains are “beloved” for their personality or by their actions. This is where Cell is different: he’s interesting because of how he was cultivated.
Androids 17 & 18 were amazing villains in and of themselves. Extraordinarily powerful beings with a Bonnie & Clyde inspired attitudes, they were truly a force to be reckoned with. Hell, they even destroy society in Trunks’s alternate timeline. Despite this, they’re all just keys to unlocking the full potential of Cell.
That’s crazy town.
In a series known for having its characters increase in power by orders of magnitude, this was one of the craziest examples. As if that wasn’t enough, Cell was even able to use this ludicrous power-up method to goad the villainy out of a (fairly) newly reformed Vegeta. Appealing to Vegeta’s inner hubris, Cell was able to coerce him to allow (and even assist) him to capture Android 18 and unlocking his full potential.
Silly time-travel and Trunks nonsense aside, Cell is one of the most memorable villains I can ever remember. A villain that gains power by destroying other villains. Brilliant.
Light Yagami from Death Note
There are a lot of great anime villains. There are also a lot of less good, forgettable anime villains (almost any enemy from DBZ, Inuyasha, Bleach, Naruto, etc.). One anime villain who is particularly interesting, however, is Light Yagami from Death Note. One reason he is extremely interesting is because the story is about him, rather than a white knight protagonist. The mind games between he and Detective L create a deep, fascinating game of poker that is a treat to watch.
Light also follows the story arc of the best villains: he begins somewhat sympathetic, and, in part due to his own hubris, slowly compromises his values one by one until his morality is completely compromised. It is also interesting because the viewer follows a similar path- they begin by rooting for Light, the promising, young, charmingly arrogant boy who becomes a vigilante. As he becomes twisted, however, there comes a point where the viewer realizes that they have been rooting for the villain, a cold-blooded killer, for an entire season. Some viewers may even continue to root for him beyond that point.
Freaking Water from Ranma 1/2
I’ve been very vocal about my love for romance in basically every medium, so of course my favorite anime villain would be the cold water in Ranma ½ . How dare it? How dare it tear the main lovers apart time and time again? It’s the greatest inconvenience to their relationship, always turning Ranma into a girl at the worst times and Akane’s certainly not into girl Ranma. Not to mention when he’s just trying to live a normal life! Every storm cloud means a sprint home. Every walk past a person cleaning their house means extreme parkour to avoid their hose.
And what’s worse is that it doesn’t end at Ranma, the water targets OTHERS in the series with its inconvenient morphs. I know the cursed springs are more to blame, but water is literally EVERYWHERE.
It’s a damn menace to Ranma’s society.
Vincent Volaju from Cowboy Bebop the Movie
About 10 years ago I worked at a video store which at the time had the largest Anime collection in Western Canada. I was pretty much the only person on staff who wasn’t much into it (kind of like now), but there was one show that absolutely blew my mind: Cowboy Bebop.
I really liked the show, but the movie just blew me away largely because of its antagonist, Vincent Volaju.
Vincent is a tall, dark angel of death bent on causing mass destruction in Mars’ capital city as revenge for his stolen memories and life as an unwilling test subject. Vincent is reminiscent of Blade Runner’s Roy Batty — a seriously kick-ass villain himself, but with a far more menacing and dangerous end-game. It’s not often in an action movie that you actually find yourself thinking that the villain might actually end up winning, but this is one of the rare cases where it seems plausible.
From his unforgettable entrance (sillhouetted by a massive explosion he caused) to the phenomenal final standoff against series protagonist Spike Spiegal, Vincent Volaju is a truly menacing and amazing villain. You know what, just watch this and you will understand.
Ladd Russo from Baccano
Thank you. Fuck you! The villain has arrived~
Ladd Russo, will casually walk up to you, give you a hug, and then cave your face in with his bare fists.
Something about his controlled insanity is refreshing I suppose for a villain. Nothing gets more old than a character who refuses to buy into his own evil, or is too in love with his ego. Ladd Russo is a competent, self-aware, villain who believes in his brand of evil.
Nothing more terrifying than a self-aware psycho I say.
Kazutaka Hyodo from Kaiji
Since I was in charge of this post, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the biggest of the big bads. I went from mainstream villains like Orochimaru to obscure ones like Dung Beetle. Ultimately, the only villain that ever felt right was Chairman Kazutaka Hyodo.
The Chairman is a sick, sadistic old man who gains nothing but pleasure from seeing people at their absolute lowest. There is only one objective he has when he wakes up in the morning: to ruin people’s lives. Hyodo has set up an elaborate system of debt collector’s to get people to join his sick gambling tournaments where the winner wins and the loser losing unsightly amounts of money or, in some cases, even their limbs.
He is by his very nature a winner perverted by his own prize. A man ultimately bored with the simple things money can buy, he goes out to prove Darwinism by creating an opportunity for the helpless to destroy each other to get ahead. He is an instigator of psychological warfare and even when he has to put his money where his mouth is, he doesn’t lose.