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Almost Otaku: Is it OK to Cheer On the Bad Guy?

And what bad guys have you cheered on?

 Though to be sure, Lupin III's antics are pretty far off from Kira's.
 Though to be sure, Lupin III's antics are pretty far off from Kira's.

Reading some of the comments you Anime Vice lunatics have been making about my DEATH NOTE reviews has been interesting. There’s a lot of disagreement over whether or not it’s OK to root for Kira.  Anybody who isn’t a DEATH NOTE fan needn’t worry - - this doesn’t pertain strictly to that show.  Basically, Kira’s a mass murderer who’s utterly ruthless about protecting the vision of a better world he’s trying to actualize. You can call him an anti-hero because he’d really be portrayed as the villain in any other story. Since he’s the protagonist in this one, viewers follow the plot from his perspective and there are thus a lot of gray areas where they might feel like rooting for him, even when he’s doing horrible things. Of course, there have seem spirited disagreements about that.

 You're a bad bad guy, Kira.
 You're a bad bad guy, Kira.

The discussion reminds me a lot of why I never really like crime movies as a kid, especially mob movies.  I just couldn’t get behind sympathizing with the mob or celebrating their culture, as fans of the GODFATHER or GOODFELLAS do. However, as I got older and started reading French comics, I discovered France’s tradition of genuine anti-heroes like Fantomas and Diabolik. While these characters were contemporaries of Arsène Lupin (whose fictional grandson, Lupin III, you might be familiar with) they were hideous sociopaths whose grand antics were a far cry from Lupin’s gentlemanly thievery.

And they were utterly compelling to follow.

Realizing that I was rooting for these French villains put a new perspective on American ones, for me. I think the difference is that as bad as Fantomas and Diabolik ever get, their crimes still far enough removed from reality. Kira has similarly been doing bad things with his Death Note - - a notebook which allows him to kill any criminal simply by writing his name in it - - which is so ludicrous a device, it may as well be a magic wand.

Maybe this is a less of question of where the rest of you stand on rooting for bad guys (though I encourage you to share your opinion) and more a request to list some other anti-heroes throughout anime and manga. I was trying to think of examples other than Kira and Lupin III for this and the only ones I could think of were the biker gang kids in AKIRA, and I realized that was pushing it. There’s got to be more, so let’s hear ‘em.

-- Tom Pinchuk is the writer of UNIMAGINABLE for Arcana Studios and HYBRID BASTARDS! for Archaia. HYBRID BASTARDS! is available  here and UNIMAGINABLE is available here for pre-order on Amazon.com.  

FoxxFireArt moderator is online on June 9, 2010 at 11:13 a.m.
I don't really compare Light with Lupin.
 
Lupin is the gentleman thief. He's goofy, he's playful, and he cares about people. His opponent Zenigata. He would never want anything really bad to happen to the old guy. Lupin would give his life for the people he cared for.
 
Light is a killer and a terrorist. I see Death Note as more third-person omniscient, then being told from just Light's point of view. His actions are childish. I never connected with that character. He just wasn't killing criminals. He was killing FBI and their innocent lovers. Not only did he trick and kill this innocent woman. He tormented her so she would know he was going to murder her. There is nothing just about his actions. 
If his ideals of justice were real. He would of avoided at all costs killing those who committed no crime. In fact, he is a criminal and by his own standard should of taken his own life. He's a coward.
 
My biggest problem with Light is that he was never investigating these crimes. He was just writing names down he saw on the news. These were suspects. He wasn't examining the evidence in each case. He wasn't interviewing anyone to make 100% sure he had the right culprit.
In the world Light was creating. It was sin enough to just be accused or suspected of a crime. It's more akin to the witch hunts.
 
Kratos from God of War was more of an anti-hero. He was a victim of the god's trickery and manipulations. He was fooled into killing his own family and felt deep remorse for it.
Even the goal of the first level of the first game was to get the key to rescue the innocent women who are locked  up and trapped.
FekketCantenelon June 9, 2010 at 11:35 a.m.
  I'm tempted to say that if fiction leads you to a certain emotion (see my comment on the 'Crying Like a Baby' article posted a few days back), you should go with the flow. Question it, yes ("Why do I like Light so much? Am I an idealist, too?"), but don't second-guess it. 
 
Then again, I know what you mean about being bothered by some villainous traits too much to like the character unquestionably (glad to find someone else who doesn't like crime noir). In my own books, one of the main characters was, for all intents and purposes, a serial rapist. Now that he's older and trying to reform, I think he's a lot more appealing, but I understand when people read it and are reluctant to like him due to his past actions. 
 
That's a case of fiction being a reflection of life, though. Everyone's known someone who was a pretty cool person, but had one terrible flaw (vulgar, slutty, over-emotional, body odor, etc.) that made it hard to hang around them. As in life, not all characters are totally likeable or totally hateful.
 
You sure have a knack for bringing up complicated subjects.    
Krison June 9, 2010 at 11:49 a.m.
I think it depends on the villain.  In Death Note, I root for L.  Light is just plain evil.  Though it does depend on how you interpret the Death Note itself.  If you view it as an item that brings out the worst in someone, meaning that desire and that evil nature were already there, then he's just plain evil, and I would very much disagree with someone "rooting" for Light.  However, if you see the Death Note itself as being evil, and corrupting an otherwise goodhearted person, then you might find yourself feeling compassion for and rooting for Light.  Personally, I saw it as bringing out the worst in someone, so Light is an evil asshat.
 
Lupin, as someone already mentioned, is a gentleman thief.  He's honest, loyal, and he's got a code he adheres to.  It's not in his nature to harm good people. 
Kelleth moderator on June 9, 2010 at 12:07 p.m.
Well if your talking about gentlemen villains like the legendary French ones. (Arsene Lupin, Fanthomas, Zenith ect). i would cheer them on because they are actually more like anti-heroes then actual criminals. But if you'd compare them with the modern day Japanese ''semi-vilains'' who are more villains then good people, i'd rather not.
Bigheart711on June 9, 2010 at 1:51 p.m.
@Kelleth said:
"Well if your talking about gentlemen villains like the legendary French ones. (Arsene Lupin, Fanthomas, Zenith ect). i would cheer them on because they are actually more like anti-heroes then actual criminals. But if you'd compare them with the modern day Japanese ''semi-vilains'' who are more villains then good people, i'd rather not. "

I agree with Kelleth here. Although some anti-heroes are more diabolical, I tend to be on their side for some of the anime i've seen more than full-blown evil villans. Speaking of which, I have been guilty of rooting for Kira in the later arcs of Death Note and was also against The Shibatas from Hell Girl's first season up until a certain point even though the father-daughter duo are considered "the good guys".
sotyfan16on June 9, 2010 at 2:24 p.m.

Myself not having any additional anti-heroes to add to this article I will once again voice my support for Light. Light as Kira goes through constant trials that test his perl ethics, will, and cunning. To see his point through to the end he sacrifices the innocent who are after him in order to create a better and safer and kinder world in the future (in effect choosing the betterment of the world over the lives of a few). I see LIght as misunderstood and he and Ryuk suffer from the common case ofboredom. I do not root for Light due to him the protagonist either. No. I follow Light because I feel he has the determination and mind to carry out what I see as a good and interesting idea. 
 
I conclude that some of us are very much blurring the lines of fantasy and reality. But if I had Light's opportunity I'd take it (as the fact of neither going to heaven or hell bothers me).

Killajadeon June 9, 2010 at 3:14 p.m.
The emperor or prince Schneizel from Code Geass are good exampels of this, who here didn't at one time question if Lelouch really was the "good" guy of the story. Though again, the same can be said of Lelouch then, seeing as he does quite abit of bad things for his sister Nunnally.
sickVisionz moderator on June 9, 2010 at 3:55 p.m.
I love bad guys in any medium.  They're more interesting a lot of times and I love a good schemer or plotter.  Good guys tend to just coast through on luck of the draw and they don't really have any motivation outside of wanting to stop the "bad guy" but the bad guys were planning way in ahead to set their plans in action and they have interesting reasons for doing what they're doing.  
 
They often lose, but I always feel they lose because that's how the story has to be and not because they weren't smart enough or talented enough to pull off the plans.  
  
My all times faves would be Emperor Palpatine, Aizen, Light, Knives and Dante.  They are pretty much responsible for 100% of the good things about the series that they star in, which is a major plus.  My favorite motivation for a bad guy would be Altena.  I haven't seen the show in a long time but I believe all of her actions were based around a firm belief that if love can destroy people, then hatred can save them.  That type of calm insanity is always something that brings a smile to my face.
Gaseroon June 9, 2010 at 4:48 p.m.
When Death Note first started I was completely on Light's side. If I had a notebook that could kill with the stroke of a pen I would certainly only write bad people in it. But Light went to far with his plans and caused too much of a stir over it.
 
I could NEVER root for a mob boss or Lupin though. Their intentions are always bad no matter how kind hearted they are at some point. Lupin steals and the mob uses violent influence to take over communities. That's different from many other anti-heroes.
hitsusatsu11on June 9, 2010 at 4:50 p.m.
Why not, I cheer for Vegeta and who knows how many billions hes killed across the universe.
Landonon June 9, 2010 at 5:15 p.m.
@FoxxFireArt said:  
My biggest problem with Light is that he was never investigating these crimes. He was just writing names down he saw on the news. These were suspects. He wasn't examining the evidence in each case. He wasn't interviewing anyone to make 100% sure he had the right culprit.
In the world Light was creating. It was sin enough to just be accused or suspected of a crime. It's more akin to the witch hunts.
Light stated serveral times in the series that he wanted to rule for a long time, hence why he never took the eye power. So he couldn't really be like Dexter, constantly making sure he had the right person. Light just looked up criminals and killed them, and it did start to work. By the end of the series they said that crime rate had gone down. I guess it comes back to the saying, if you want an omelet, you have to break a few eggs. 
FoxxFireArt moderator is online on June 9, 2010 at 5:55 p.m.
@Landon:  
People aren't eggs, and civilization isn't an omelet. That's a silly expression used to devalue horrible acts as some kind of price of doing business.
 
He didn't look up criminals. He looked up "suspects". He looked up people who were convicted. How many people do you think happen to get falsely convicted? How often is someone a suspect in a crime, but didn't do anything?
Light is a murderer. Pure and simple. He wasn't some anti-hero out for justice. He killed innocent people and enjoyed himself doing it. There was no regret or morality. He wasn't about justice. He was all about himself. He is a terrorist, a selfish child, and a coward.
Where was the justice for all the innocent people he murdered. They worked hard and committed no crime.

It's another reason why the comparisons to Lelouch are off. Light wanted to rule toe world. Lelouch didn't want to rule anything. It's why he wore that mask and changed his voice. So when it was all over he could return to his quiet like with Nunnally.
BrandonElliotton June 9, 2010 at 6:17 p.m.
First of all Light is not evil at heart he was corrupted by the power of the death note. Example being when he lost his memory he whole heartedly wanted to capture Kira. So I support light until he become corrupted. But after then he starts to lose my support.
Landonon June 9, 2010 at 6:32 p.m.
@FoxxFireArt: Good points, but ask yourself the same question, how many people ARE falsely convicted? 1 in 10? 1 in 100? 1 in 1000? I don't agree that Light was selfish, at least not in the beginning. He was, however, completely hell bent on creating a perfect world with no crime. I also don't agree with your statement "They worked hard and committed no crime." How many times in a year does that scenario actually happen? No one is completely innocent, and their death wasn't in complete vain. As soon as people found out that bad people were dieing, everyone began to stop doing bad things. So even if this scenario of a completely innocent person died for what someone else did, don't you think the actual criminal is saying "that person died for what i did, I don't want to die, I'll stop being a criminal". 
 
It is wrong to kill a person, but is it wrong to kill a completely evil person? To kill a bad person? Would you kill a person if it meant that a million other innocent people could lead peaceful lives?  

On a completely unrelated note, I'm sure by the end of that series eggs and people were one in the same to Light.
Nerxon June 9, 2010 at 6:38 p.m.
I cheer for Monkey.D Luffy so that is okay with me
FoxxFireArt moderator is online on June 9, 2010 at 6:54 p.m.
@Landon said:
" @FoxxFireArt: It is wrong to kill a person, but is it wrong to kill a completely evil person? To kill a bad person? Would you kill a person if it meant that a million other innocent people could lead peaceful lives?  "
That's a false choice. It's easy to find completely "evil people" in fiction. The amount of people out in the world who actually think they are doing bad things is extremely small. Nearly everyone thinks they are doing what is right from their own set of morals.
 
Also, you leave out another choice. Would I kill one person if it meant saving a million? Depends on the consequences. Is this person the one who is holding their lives at threat? If so, I might, but.....once I did. I would offer myself up for prosecution and let the proper authorities judge my fate and decide if my actions were just.
 
In that situation, I also know I am targeting someone who is committing a crime. Light wasn't sure the people he was killing was always guilty of what they wre accussed.
Gozertcon June 9, 2010 at 8:33 p.m.
@Killajade said:
"The emperor or prince Schneizel from Code Geass are good exampels of this, who here didn't at one time question if Lelouch really was the "good" guy of the story. Though again, the same can be said of Lelouch then, seeing as he does quite abit of bad things for his sister Nunnally. "

I agree Lelouch fits as an anti-hero at times.  I full admit to cheering for him and Light. (Though Lelouch ended MUCH better than Light in my opinion.)   
 
Another "Bad guy" that I rooted for will seem to come out of left field:  Gendo Ikari from Neon Genesis.  Yep, the man with the glasses and gloves himself.  He had a dark and sadistic style that I liked.  He used EVERYONE and if you didn't know it you were fooling yourself.  I don't know but I love it when a bad guy just tells you, "Yeah I'm using you so?"  :)  
 
CharredKnighton June 10, 2010 at 4:03 a.m.

Do I route for the villain protaganist?  No, Light is an insane meglomaniac who wants to be God, why the hell would I route for that.  Lelouch was a genocidal madman who thought what he was doing was going to save the world while killing millions.  Once again I am not going to route for that.

FekketCantenelon June 10, 2010 at 7:03 a.m.
Somebody mentioned Dexter above, and I can't believe this comparison didn't occur to me. Dexter is a classic example of a bad, bad, bad, BAD man who nonetheless has a perverse charm. Granted, you can see him as the Dark Avenger (somebody needs to make that comic), killing people who are even worse than himself, but at the same time, hearing how his mind works and all the constant calculations he makes about the lives of others, you realize that you're watching a snake in human form. 
 
Then again, Dexter's friendly fake persona is exactly the sort of person I'd hang out with. Who knows how many of your friends are secretly monsters? Or are we all monsters when we're at our worst? 
 
Be repulsed by the character, but understand that his existence brings up awesome questions like these. 
 
P.S. That's a great match-up for the next brawl, Light vs. Dexter (let's assume that Dexter's adopted name of Morgan doesn't count, and that Light has to figure out the name he lost when his mother was murdered, which means getting into Miami Metro police records Dexter couldn't even find while avoiding getting sliced into pieces).
ninjadude853on June 11, 2010 at 1:31 p.m.
wow, perfect timing seeing as i just saw Pulp Fiction for the first time a few days ago
 
and its perfectly fine to root for the bad guy within the confines of a story, is there anyone who watches death note or code geass and doesn't love to see all the manipulations of Light and Lelouch
 
now if you were to cheer for mass murderers in real life, where stuff actually happens, thats a different story

Dig Deeper into Lupin III

Created in 1967 by mangaka Monkey Punch, the wildly successful Lupin III features the "gentleman thief" Arsène Lupin III. Lupin III is the grandson of Arsène Lupin, the fictional lead character of Maurice Leblanc's French novel series, published in the early 20th century.

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