What makes a good villain?
In the 1960s, the era of the cold war, villains were the baseless evil of society. They were the ones with pure evil intentions, killing innocent civilians with no remorse, and only acted as an obstacle for our main hero to pass in order to achieve world peace.
But as time passed and children and humans grew older and more individualistic, the line separating hero and villain became thinner and thinner. The more we grow older, the more we understand that evil isn’t something that exists, we start to understand, and we start to relate.
That’s why today’s villains have to be bigger than the evil actions they commit. A good villain nowadays has to be made in a way that we can connect and relate to them, no longer is life black and white like the golden age heroes would have you believe. We search far and wide for the perfect villain, one who reaches out to us, who’s ideals affect us in a way that we ourselves didn’t even know was possible.
Joker. Owlman. Thanos. Mysterio. Syndrome. In every sense of the word, we see ourselves in these characters. No matter the countless atrocities committed, the innocent people killed, Joker is hailed as a symbol of resistance, Syndrome a symbol of a child with his childhood taken away from him.
But what happens, when we shift the villain into the protagonist’s seat? When we take a truly likable character, in Lelouch, and make him a psychopathic maniac, always moving forward, never stopping to think about others, killing innocent civilians and soldiers in order to achieve his final goal?
We see the actions that he takes, the situation he’s in. The blood he sheds, but we understand. Understand that behind that mask he’s just a kid who wants a better future for his sister. A kid who wants nothing more than world peace. We see, and we understand, but his actions remain.
This is how you create a villain.
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From the very start of Code Geass, Lelouch, at least for me, wasn’t a very likable character. His baseless confident nature made me hate him easily, how he expected to be just given to him, and his character design with the slanted eyes and the black school uniform didn’t do him any favors.
In fact, it was this confidence, this egotistical character of Lelouch that drove me away from Code Geass in the first place. I hated that he felt like he was so above other people, that he was such a douchebag.
And yet, the more I watched Code Geass, the more Lelouch’s personality intrigued me. Although his seemingly one-sided egotistical nature drove me away, it became clear to me that his confident demeanor was a mask, one to play the people, move the chess pieces of the black knights. It’s a mask he wears for power, to control, but also to play his part in the master plan he has crafted. This mask he wears exposed when Lelouch’s father, emperor Charles, briefly takes away all his memories of Geass, his sister Nunally, and plants a fake memory of him having a brother.
When this happens, the confident facade of Lelouch fades. No, it’s not Lelouch that fades, it’s Zero that fades, the alter ego he created so that he can achieve his sister’s dreams.
It’s a mask and a lesson in politics. Lelouch assumes a responsibility and a personality that isn’t Lelouch, but instead a symbol of dominance and rebellion against Britannia. His confident stance, his almost evil laugh, him completely disregarding human life to move forward, even after the death of Shirley, it’s all an act. If politics is a theater, then Lelouch is a great actor, being torn apart day after day and loss after loss, but still managing to keep that straight, confident pose in order to lead his people, in order to satisfy his conditions to reach his goals.
But his sins still remain. His constant lying and manipulation has created a huge hole with trust. Even after the death of his father, Lelouch is forced to choose a path of psychopathy, of borderline hatred. With so many high tensions around the world, he’s forced to become the very thing that his father was, a power-hungry maniac, forced to become someone that the rest of the world hates and therefore would unite against.
But he knew of these responsibilities from the moment he got his power. He knew of these terrible ideas, he knew his people, he knew the situation, read the room. In creating zero, he created a legend, a legend that would live on even after the death of Lelouch.
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Part 1: Appearance
Historically, black and white have always been two bitter rivals. Humanity rejects darkness in favor of the light. Dark is always seen as bad, the light seen as good. Darkness takes away, light gives.
It’s always interesting to see the choices being made with the clothes that the characters wear. While our protagonist wears black and purple both as Lelouch and as Zero, Suzaku, the main villain, wears white. Lelouch has a slanted eye stare colored both red and purple, colors that you would expect from dracula. His army, the black knights, is shrouded in black. Also interesting is the fact that his army is called the black knights, almost like chess pieces.
And yet our protagonist is that purple eyed monster, the one who almost looks like the vampire Dracula in several portrayals.
It’s a classic deconstruction of the modern Light Vs Dark troupes that make up our lives. Time and time again, we’ve seen these stories written and yet Code Geass has such a visceral way of showing us this. Lelouch as a protagonist is so morally ambiguous and wrong and yet it’s so satisfying seeing him tear apart opponents to reach his goal, no matter what actions he commits.
In any modern scenario, Lelouch would be the antagonist. The confident rival, always sure of his plans, the evil mastermind who flaunts to his opponents of his skill and sure of his certain victory.
But in this case, we don’t get a 40 second explanation of our villain’s tragic backstory. We don’t get an emotional moment of remorse, no, from the start we see everything from Lelouch’s point of view. He’s not a villain in the original sense of the word but his actions cross the line of good and evil. And yet, even after seeing firsthand the horrific actions that he’s committed, we’re able to understand and relate to him as a protagonist, as a person, because we saw all the things he went through in the beginning of the story.
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Part 2: Philosophy
A new world isn’t easy to make, especially by peaceful measures. And Lelouch knows this. He knows, by donning himself as zero, by establishing himself as not only a powerful commander but also a symbol. A symbol of the resistance and hope, to destroy Britannia from the outside.
Lelouch’s, no, Zero’s philosophy lies in total control. With Geass, he commands total control of the people that he uses it on. It’s almost no different from his father Charles’ philosophy, who sees all his subjects as mere chess pieces on a board. While he leads the rebellion as a brilliant young mastermind, he also uses them, infuses them with a purpose. And at some point, Lelouch comes to the realization that he’s a villain. He realizes that in his hyperfixation with his goal, he is manipulating others, and those manipulations cause countless innocent deaths, making him no better than his own father, but he has to push on and move forward, act like these deaths don’t affect him, for the good of the rebellion and for the good of his own plan.
And at some points, he breaks. During the moments when Shirley asks him why Zero killed her father if he stood against tyranny and oppression, and when Shirley confronts him about him being Zero.There is a genuine terrified reaction on his face, a human side from Lelouch that we never get to see, his weakest but also most relatable side to him.
But even as it tears him apart, even as everything crashes down on him and he doubts what he’s doing, he still has to push forward. Because with so many people that have died for his cause already, he realizes that he has to honor their sacrifices and continue his rampage of tyranny and evil in order to reach his goal.
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Part 3: Atoning for your sins
No sin comes unpunished in the eyes of god, no matter how good the intentions. Lelouch may have only wanted a world for his sister, where everyone is kind and nice to each other, but he still killed thousands upon thousands innocent bystanders and manipulated all the people close to him.
In the end, he realizes that the final decision he has to make for his sister’s dream, is himself. He knows the tyrant that he has become, and knows his people’s mistrust and later hatred of him taking over the country of Britannia and later the world. He has to not only sacrifice himself, but what other people think about him, his standing in the world, as the rest of the world focuses their hate toward Lelouch the emperor. And as he dies, the sword struck deep in him, he receives understanding from the only person he ever really cared about, the only person he set upon this path for: his sister, who breaks down into tears.
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Lelouch isn’t a hero; he’s the antithesis of one. In an era where political cynicism and questions of morality scatter the landscape, an era where movies like Joker and shows like House of Cards and The Boys are so popular, we often find ourselves questioning Lelouch yet gravitating toward him and his dangerously utilitaristic ideals. We understand him and his tragic beliefs, and during the harsh moments when he laughs evilly, we’re hurt, we’re hurt that he could do something like that, and we are fooled into believing that he has turned toward the dark side.
Lelouch is us, he’s the part of us that actually believes in what he says. Because so many of us have been left without a voice, we find ourselves gravitating to Lelouch’s philosophy, his dangerous ideas and opinions while also knowing that what he’s doing isn’t right.
We relate to him, we understand him, but we don’t condone what he has done.
This is how you create a villain.
Thank you for reading.