Destroying the world, eh?
Villains, and particularly badly written villains, are a dime a dozen. They crop up as a main plot point, part of a sub-plot, or just as a minor diversionary secondary character all over the place. And quite often they seem motivated simply to take down the protagonist. Why they want to do this is largely explained away by some slight or basic jealousy but doesn’t really hold up to a lot of scrutiny about the excessive nature of their actions.
Then we have the type of villain that just wants to destroy the world.
I wonder what it is about destroying the world that villains find so appealing?
When I first discovered anime, Sailor Moon in particular, the fact that Beryl wanted to rule the Earth didn’t seem at all problematic. As you get older though, you realise that when Beryl states she wants to rule the earth, she actually means she wants to suck the energy out of everyone on Earth and there won’t be anything left, pretty much what happened to the Moon Kingdom and we all know what a dead rock the moon looks like these days.
So what exactly was Beryl hoping to get out of all of this even if she succeeded? You could argue that Beryl wasn’t exactly in control of her own actions and was being used, but what did that higher power get out of any of this? Sure they absorb a lot of energy and then have huge amounts of power but the power isn’t a means to an end. Gaining that power is the end. What do they do then when there is no one left to absorb power from and they don’t even have any henchmen left because they killed them all off too? What’s left?
And then the next four seasons of Sailor Moon gave us increasingly hostile villains with motives that made even less sense.
I get that from a narrative point of view having Sailor Moon defending the earth from destruction gives the hero a great motive and makes the overall stakes quite high. However the villain seems to get little out of the deal even if they succeed. While one or two of the villains legitimately had a grudge with the planet and genuinely wanted to take it down, the majority seemed to just want power to rule but in the process they were going to destroy the very thing they wanted to take over.
Moving on from Sailor Moon, there are a lot of anime villains out there that seem to want to destroy the world. From the ridiculous Planetary Gears in Captain Earth:
These guys again didn’t really have much of a plan and it turns out it wasn’t even their plan. They were also just tools being used by another higher power that also wanted to destroy the world for reasons that were even less clear. Then again, the fact that they were called ‘gears’ probably should have made it clear that they weren’t the mastermind in the story.
What is even more tragic about Captain Earth is how often the villain’s got incredibly close to succeeding at their plan. All life on earth could have been snuffed in an instant because some teenagers didn’t pilot a robot good enough or worse… the inter-agency fighting could have prevented them from even launching a defence and we would have been killed by bureaucracy. That would have had a definite message as a story but I doubt we’d find that a satisfying conclusion.
However we also have the equally ridiculous student council in Cute High Earth Defense Club:
“The earth will fall to ruin.” You mean the earth you are currently standing on? I mean, I guess they thought they’d get to go live wherever the weird hedgehog guy came from so at least there was the potential for another place to go, but still… was there nothing on the planet that they liked? Seriously, I’d keep the planet around for chocolate even if nothing else could convince me not to destroy it. And there’s a lot of other things worth saving. Love if we are going with the Fifth Element solution. Anime, for those of you who like me are obsessed with it.
To the slightly more serious attempts at actually ruling the earth and becoming a god found in Death Note:
At least Light wasn’t trying to blow anything up. He was just purging all the people who lived in a way he disagreed with. The rationale makes a lot more sense even if he is still a psychotic murderer in the end.
I wonder if they actually know how much effort it would take to rule the world? Or if they have thought through what will happen once they destroy the planet they are standing on?
It’s very hard to take villains with such a grandiose vision seriously because it just seems so improbable. Far scarier are the villains with clear and concrete plans that you can actually see happening. Villains who are cold and calculating and absolutely rational are terrifying and can add far more tension to a plot than that maniacal “I’m going to destroy the world” declaration followed by the obligatory villains’ laugh.
Then again, frequently villains don’t exist in plots to add tension or fear. They are regularly just there to make the protagonist act. For that purpose their motive could be anything and it wouldn’t matter as long as our protagonist objected strongly enough to try to stop them. Wouldn’t that bruise the ego of most villains.
“Sorry, you only exist as a catalyst for someone else’s actions. Your plans will never come to fruition and any success you experience will be fleeting.”
Of course, all of this only applies in stories that have a binary opposition of hero and villain and they are clearly defined in terms of black and white. There are plenty of stories out there that don’t have a clear villain or hero.
My question this week: If you were a supervillain, what would your end goal be? Or, what do you think of the goals of some of anime’s best known supervillains?
Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
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14 thoughts on “Is Destroying the World Actually A Decent Motive?”
Very fascinating post and you brought up great points. For years, I thought that villains wanting to destroy the world or take over the world are so boring and one-dimensional. Most villains I find intriguing aren’t all about that and have more complex reasons. If they do something about the world (or at minimum a city) is that they want to change it to their whim and not kill everyone on sight or they may have their own personal goals.
If I were a supervillain, what would my end goal be? I think I’d be Dr. Doom, or at least content with Dr. Doom’s typical status quo. Ruling the whole world just feels like too much of a hassle, but a small country that no one’s really heard of, yeah sure. I’d make someone else dress up in the costume and give the speeches and I’d have a dedicated team running the day-to-day affairs of the country to make sure all the citizens are relatively happy and it’s peaceful. Then I’d just spend all day in my room, writing, reading and watching stuff. Sounds ideal to me.
The trouble with most villains is that they’re never satisfied and end up biting off more than they an chew.
Agreed. Villains fail largely because they ultimately over-reach. Or plot convenience.
Power for the sake of power is actually one of the more understandable motivations I’ve found in villainy. For others, like Light purging the population, they have a bunch of rhetoric, but there is a fundamental gap between what they say they want to achieve and what they do to achieve it. I know it’s all too human to start out wanting to do something “good” and then go all out of balance and become corrupted, but I have never really understood, for instance, how Anakin Skywalker could seriously become so consumed with trying to save his wife that he slaughters the entire Jedi organization, including the children. Pursuing power for the sake of power is *also* a human motivation, one seen all too often in the world, and it *doesn’t* make sudden leaps from “save a life” to “slaughter everyone.”
Great post as always, Karandi. When I reflect about what’s happening in today’s world, the attacks on Palestine mostly, it would be illogical that they continue attacking without any reason. Palestine, of course, the land having the most oil beneath its earth.
Beryl has none of this. Not even history. This is why to a great extent I appreciate Lord Boros of One Punch Man, Season 1. At least, he is following some prophecy.
All for One of MHA wants to be the strongest, not so much as destroying the world which too is his home. And as you said Light of Death Note as well. Great villains with a sense of groundedness.
Perhaps Beryl was given this intent because she’s a creature of intergalactic proportions and sees Earth as a tiny dot in the universe? But I find this a weak argument as well.
As a kid it doesn’t worry you but growing up and looking back makes you see that really Beryl j uyst and exists so Sailor Moon has a villain to fight.
I can’t really comment on most of those villains, but I thought that Light did alright. His goal seemed to be that he wanted to be Kira in the shadows, always watching to judge the criminals of the world. It’s not like he wanted to completely take over the world (as like a visible ruler) or destroy it. And his motives made a lot of sense given the way he’s introduced as this guy who sees himself as so much smarter than everyone else.
Light definitely had a high opinion of himself.
I definitely prefer a villain with a more complex or interpersonal motive. Ambiguity always trumps straight-up machinations, so grey characters beat the out and out black.
So who would your favourite villain be?
At the moment, maybe Rumi from Perfect Blue. But that might be because I’ve watched it this week haha.
True that villains are sometimes harder to remember given they so rarely succeed.
That’s a good point: memorable in the moment but lost in time.