A new form of character has begun to appear in modern serializations. Whether we’re talking about manga/anime, comic books, TV series or even video games, this new stereotype has made its way through all of them and has grown in popularity, with fans familiarizing themselves more with these types of characters. The one in word is of course the anti-hero.
The anti-hero is someone who people know won’t claim victory in the end. After all, this isn’t his story, it’s the protagonist’s and more often than not, the anti-hero’s role is to simply make them stronger or as a hurdle that they need to overcome. The anti-hero doesn’t fight for “good”, he fights for whatever reason he finds reasonable and doesn’t care about anything or anyone else.
The reason for the anti-hero’s rise in appeal is that people are more fond of these types of characters due to the fact that their development is a lot of times far more interesting than that of even the over-used hero who surpasses all obstacles and goes on to do what needs to be done. The anti-hero will go through all forms of twists and turns, he might not even survive till the end of the story and can easily be used as a “sacrificial piece” by daring story-tellers in an attempt to cause a big reaction among their fans. And that’s what makes it intriguing.
The anti-hero, a lot of times, might even start off as an evil villain, as someone to be seen as a threat from the viewpoint of both the hero but also the audience themselves. But what’s most interesting about this new type of character are the motives behind the actions.
I find the manga Naruto a very good source of inspiration when it comes to this. During the end of first part of the story, titular character was taken out to train for three years under his master, with the looming threat of an evil organisation dubbed the Akatsuki (trn: “Red Moon”) approaching ever closer over time. However, after fighting these supposed villains, Naruto and his comrades soon discover that each and every one of them have justifiable reasons of doing what they were doing. And the higher up they went in hierarchy, the more difficult it was to not actually side with these characters and even view them as villains at all anymore. It’s no coincidence that every character from this organisation has his/her own fan base (except Zetsu, no one likes him).
However, if we’re going to talk about Naruto and anti-heroes, it would be criminal not to mention Sasuke Uchiha. A character that started the series as Naruto’s best friend, then went on to murder his own brother, tried to start a killing spree of his own home, then decided he would save the world instead after realizing that he needed to grow up. His influence on Naruto and his own, personal journey throughout the series, from revenge, to anguish, to overcoming all that in order to find a solution to unify his world and then even beyond that to see the hand that Naruto was constantly extending toward him, was truly one for the ages. A trade-mark anti-hero, yet one that audiences always knew would survive.
Speaking of anti-heroes and manga, the series that pretty much created the archetype was that of Dragon Ball, as there were so many characters that fit that role, it’s hard to keep count: Yamcha, Tienshinhan, Piccolo, even Frieza is beginning to look like one these days. But to no other does it seem to suit better than the Prince of all Saiyans, Vegeta. In fact, it seems like he was born to play the part, as he was originally introduced as an enemy to protagonist Goku (or “Kakarot”, as Vegeta himself prefers to call him) and was sent to Earth originally to conquer it, although he also tried to destroy it after “Kakarot” put up too much of a fight. Vegeta then had to bare witness to a humble, lower class Saiyan surpass him in power and defeat Frieza, the one that had enslaved his race, killed his own father and destroyed his home planet. Vegeta trained night after day in order to prove his superiority over Goku and set things right within his own mind, however other things kept getting in the way and eventually Goku gave his own life to save Earth, leaving Vegeta with a feeling of emptiness. In the following seven years, the Saiyan prince tried to find out the source of Goku’s power, thinking it might even be the desire to protect his loved ones, so he had his own little family yet nothing changed. Eventually the proud Saiyan did get his rematch but nothing had changed, as Goku hid the lion’s share of his power from him in order to spare him from the shame of defeat, leaving Vegeta bitter and angry. After a while, Vegeta managed to catch up to Goku in terms of strength, yet he seemed to have calmed down quite a lot from the first day he set his foot on Earth, due to the influence of his family (he even told his son Trunks that he was proud of him and had a second child) and not seem so fixated on his Saiyan pride anymore. Instead, he would appear more willing to fight and risk his own well-being for someone besides himself, showing a complete shift in his character. Vegeta is a stereotype anti-hero, one that shows just how much these types of characters can impact the overall story.
There have been others, such as Uryuu Ishida from Bleach, who was from the opposite faction than the main character (thought he) was. More specifically, as Ichigo Kurosaki was (thought to be) a Soul Reaper, Uryu Ishida was a Quincy; one’s job was to cleanse a hollow and maintain the balance of souls, the other’s was to completely annihilate them from existence. The two were actually classmates yet considered each other rivals, although nothing too severe. Yet during the manga’s final arc, “The 1000 Year War”, where the Quincies declared war on the Soul Reapers, Uryu sides with his fellow Quincies and fights with Ichigo, leaving the main character to ponder the reasons behind his former friend’s actions. However in the end it is revealed that all this was nothing but a ploy and the two join forces to defeat the main antagonist and Quincy leader, Juha Bach.
Another great source for anti-heroes is Fairy Tail, as quite a few characters that fit the role can be found here as well. First and foremost is Gray Fullbuster, who plays off nicely with main character, Natsu Dragneel, as one is an ice wizard and the other breathes fire. However, Gray’s story is much deeper than that. Having lost both his parents due to an attack of a demon in his hometown, Gray goes down the path of revenge. Eventually, as he looks for a place to go, he stumbles on to a woman and a child. The woman, who’s name is Ur, decides to take him in and teach him the ice magic that he masters later on down the line. However, during the course of his training, Gray finds out that the demon that destroyed his village is rampaging somewhere nearby and even though he is not ready, decides to go after it. Having heard this, Ur rushes to save him and is eventually forced into using a forbidden spell called “Iced Shell” that uses her own life force to encapsulate the demon in ice. Gray is left mortified and alone once again. He eventually stumbles at the gates of the Fairy Tail guild, where he overcomes his grief through the help of the many new friends he makes. And through the numerous adventures he and his guildmates go through, he discovers Ur has a daughter called Ultear, he reconnects with the demon that Ur trapped in ice and he even meets with the father he thought was dead.
Another great anti-hero from Fairy Tail is Gajeel Redfox, who’s first appearance in the anime resembles a bit that of Vegeta, as he tries to destroy the guild and kidnap Lucy, one of the protagonists, but is stopped by Natsu. The connecting element between the two and one that made Gajeel even more appealing to fans is that they’re both dragon slayers. In a shocking turn of events, Gajeel decides to join the same guild he tried to destroy and atones for his sins, letting Laxus take out his frustration on him without fighting back, and even becomes one of the toughest fighters of the guild. But apart from an ongoing relationship with Levy McGarden that helps smooth his character and a few power-ups here and there, not much else is offered in terms of development.
Finally, two other characters that have showed up more recently and put on the anti-hero suit are My Hero Academeia’s Shoto Todoroki and Katsuki Bakugo. The former comes from a broken home, as he was born as an experiment, when his father, Endeavor, who possesses the strongest fire quirk had multiple children with his mother, who had an ice quirk, in order to create a perfect being who had both and would become the number one hero. Shoto was that being but his birth led to his mother being isolated and for that, he despises his father and wants nothing to do with him. Bakugo on the other hand just seems like he’s got a bad temper from the start of the show. Childhood friends with main protagonist, Izuku “Deku” Midoriya, he constantly belittles him, telling him there’s no reason for him to sign up to the Hero Academy. Izuku’s sudden string of successes frustrate Bakugo to no end and his easily angered character is seen as something exploitable by the actual villains of the series, who kidnap him and try to convince him to join them. However, in a surprising turn of events, Bakugo pretty much tells them to shove it, pointing out that he is a stern admirer of number one hero All Might and wants nothing more than to be just like him some day. The progress and evolution of both these characters and how they will play off Izuku is something worth paying close attention to.
And one from another industry. With Kingdom Hearts 3 so close to release, it felt appropriate to mention Riku, who was always the dark to main protagonist Sora’s light. The two have fundamentally different stories, however their paths always lead to the same end. Riku’s power usually stems from the darkness and even though he was the main antagonist in the first game of the series, down the road he even became a playable character, as he tried to learn how to control that power and eventually grow above it, becoming a keyblade master and leaving his past behind. There was even a time when Riku rescued Sora. At the start of Kingdom Hearts 3, Riku is considered to be a stronger character than Sora.
Those are but a few anti-heroes that can be named. There are a ton of others, some don’t even survive yet still have compelling enough story lines that leave them adored by fans even more than the protagonists. Such is the connection that people feel to a character that can make mistakes, is left vulnerable and can change in every way possible (either good, bad, or morally gray) throughout the story. Because yeah, heroes are good, but anti-heroes? That’s where all of us are.
Originally published at sopeoplewhatsup.blogspot.com on September 28, 2018.