Sunday, June 16, 2013

Toothless Villains

Totally Legit Threats

Want to know when a villain just doesn't work?

When he doesn't have teeth.

Villains must carry with them a sense of threat... unless they are ineffectual comedy villains or mooks but that’s another case entirely.

Like Captain Tsubasa taught us a long time ago, no one is scared of a toothless tiger.

Sometimes, the writer forgets that one of the points of villains is them being able to challenge the heroes. Hazard will admit there are exceptions. Invincible Hero has a place at times, but in most cases being so into your characters that you just don’t challenge them is not a good thing.

The villain is one of the driving forces behind a story. If the reader starts to feel the villain is just a waste of time, well, it will soon begin to follow that so is the story.

Let’s take for example Fairy Tail. Now, I can say a lot about Fairy Tail and what it does wrong (I shamelessly admit I read it for the fanservice), I’ll limit myself to the current arc. 

Though Hazard may do a Pet Peeve post on Fairy Tail later.

In any case, We have this big Tournament. Seven years have passed. The world has grown stronger. Our heroes need to train to catch up and regain their title as the Strongest Guild. Some big things were being set up.

Then the training arc got skipped by time shenanigans and they ended up using convenient plot device to power up. Now what I just wrote doesn't really seem to have to do much with the initial topic, but bear with me. It is the first nail on the “What was the point then?” coffin.

Tournament arrives. Guilds are introduced. Raven Tail! The big bad guild, that has been built up over past arcs. Sabertooth! The current Strongest Guild! With 2 Dragon Slayers! And plenty of other characters that promise challenging matches for our heroes.

Laxus stomps Raven Tail.

Like, the guy takes most of the big members of the guild (leader included) and kicks their asses. Raven Tail, which had been foreshadowed since pretty damn early in the manga. What was the point of all that then? 

Sabertooth is next. The two new Dragon Slayers fight Natsu and Gajeel and… get their asses kicked.

At this point you start wondering just why it was even necessary for these fights to happen. What’s the point? These guys aren't a challenge. Every guy built up as a threat ends up disappointing. It’s not an arc about Fairy Tail fighting facing a challenge. It’s an arc about Fairy Tail getting into a fight with a bunch of mooks.

With all due respect to mooks, they just aren't a main dish.

Then the dragons come, and you’re really hoping things go differently but you are not exactly holding your breath.

To Mashima’s credit, the dragons are a bit more of a legit threat. There are like five of them… until one instantly defects to the other side… Anyway, Gray dies… then gets immediately brought back and it’s totally human’s counterattacking time…

Now some may think I’m being a big harsh. Of course the good guys win. It’s a thing. It happens. Yeah, I won’t deny it, but I’m not talking about winning or losing. I’m talking about sense of threat.

After a point, Fairy Tail villains just lose that. You just know how things are going to play out, and the thing about writing is that despite the reader being aware of things like “Good guy wins” you have to make him feel the danger.

Let’s compare with other Shounen series.

Heartbreaking Loss. The Fate of Non-Main Characters

Naruto makes its villains credible threats in two ways.

First with the time tried tactic of having someone on the good side lose. Someone who is not really that vital to the plot, yet recognizable enough so that we can feel sad/angry/whatever that he/she/it lost.

For example, Rock Lee during his fight against Gaara. It was one badass fight. We were totally rooting for Lee, because damn it he’s awesome. Sadly, for all his kung fu and hard work, Lee lost. Gaara won that fight cementing himself as a threat. It was a similar case for Negi vs Hinata, and much later one for Gaara against Deidara.

The second way Naruto builds up the threat level is by using another time honored method, kill the mentor.
Sarutobi. Asuma. Jiraya. All dead mentors. Important characters killed; so the reader can go “well, damn. They can die.”

Death is a really effective way to sell the villain. Probably the most effective one.

Note, that doesn't mean you need death in your Shounen manga to build up your villain.

Since when were you under the impression that I wouldn't appear on this post?


Bleach good guys with a single exception do not die. Seriously. In spite of all the crap that happens, the manga goes for a long time without killing a good guy. In spite of that, Aizen and others never really lost that “He’s dangerous” vibe.

Except maybe Tousen. He kind of sucks. And Yammy.

Anyway, despite an overwhelming amount of good guy wins in Bleach, Kubo could sell the threats.

He did this by having his villains deliver curbstomps. Mainly to Ichigo.

When Byakuya first appears and nearly kills Ichigo without even trying, that was something. It was an elegant victory that firmly established him as a massive threat. Someone in another level entirely. It took time and effort for Ichigo to reach his level and even then the final battle between the two was no walk in the part for Ichigo.

Then came Aizen. Three words. Fingertip Sword Stop. Kubo put a lot of work into making Aizen a big threat, maybe too much work. 

When Aizen took the scene, you knew the good guys were going to get their asses kick. Really, Kubo probably all the way to the other end, making the villain too good.In any case, you can say many things about Aizen, but you can never say he is not a big deal. You were amused with the invincible villain or you were raging and hoping for his defeat, but damn you were interested. 

Which says a lot given the quality (or lack of thereof) of that particular arc. 

The element of danger is tied to the element of conflict. Without a good villain to bring that danger a story can just fall apart or just plain fail to hold the reader’s interest.

Good thing FT has cute girls. 

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