Created By: Maklodes on May 27, 2011 Last Edited By: Maklodes on April 23, 2012

Conservation of Villainy

Last part's villains aren't the monsters they were potrayed as, but this part's new villains are.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
When villains are first introduced, their villainy is sharp and clear. The atrocities that put them on the map in the first place are fresh in the mind, and the threat they pose to the protagonists is very real. Over time, though, the addition of complexity and nuance can take erstwhile Complete Monster villains in a somewhat different direction. They are not exactly redeemed, or turned into "good guys," necessarily, but they are not pure evil either. What was once The Horde becomes a Proud Warrior Race. What was once Evil Inc. turns out to be a more Incompetence, Inc.. The Evil Genius may have a splash of Absent-Minded Professor to him: certainly not someone with a strong sense of ethics, but not someone trying to conquer the world either.

Meanwhile, as old villains accumulate nuance and grayness, a new villain is introduced, who sweeps onto the stage with torture, massacres, and all-around villainy. These new villains have none of the accumulated baggage of the old, so there is no doubt that they are pure evil -- at least, not yet.

The addition of nuance to old villains and the introduction of new villains are complementary processes: old villains losing their vileness without any new villains being introduced might leave a story short of antagonists, while the introduction of new villains without pruning back the list of high-priority foes can leave the story feeling crowded and messy. It isn't always clear which is the cause and which is the effect: whether the old villains were toned down a bit to make room for the new villain, or whether the new villain was introduced to provided a fresh threat in light of the old villain's increasingly nuanced nature.

In part 1, we are introduced to Always Chaotic Evil villain #1. We see the heroes killing them for the good of the world without qualms. In part 2, we learn that Always CE villain #1 is more complicated than that they may still have some unsavory properties, but they're not just there to be shot or stabbed by the good guys. They have kids and spouses too! However, stories still need villains, so we're introduced to Always Chaotic Evil villain #2, who are the new complete monsters that can be stabbed and shot on sight without any misgivings. Then, in part 3, we learn that Always CE villain #2 turns out not to be so totally irredeemable either, and so on. With each new iteration, villains previously portrayed as utterly monstrous and inhuman are portrayed in a more nuanced light -- while a new villain is introduced that is as devoid of redeeming qualities as the previous villains were before their rehabilitation.

Examples

Anime and Manga

  • Generality writes: "Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann does this in, appropriately enough, a cyclic way. There are at least three iterations of the characters finding out that their last enemy had some justification or at least a Freudian Excuse, while the next guy is apparently a Complete Monster. In the end, even the final Big Bad is given some pathos on his way out."

  • HiWayXingFrog writes: "Naruto is an interesting example in which we seem to have something of a "Monster Sandwich." Uchiha Itachi and Pain/Nagato are certainly not the Complete Monsters they originally seemed, but Orochimaru and Madara (the series' first and current main antagonists, respectively) seem to be lacking in the realm of redeeming qualities."

Film
  • Millstone writes: "Terminator 2 shows what a reprogrammed T-800 can learn from humans. Meanwhile, the T-1000 channels the fears inspired by the first terminator."

Literature

Live Action Television
  • In Star Trek, the Klingons of the original Star Trek are the original Always CE villains. In later generations, relations with the Klingons become mostly peaceful, if not exactly friendly, but new villains, such as the Borg, Dominion, etc, take over. Similar arcs can be seen for Romulans, Cardassians, etc.

Table-top Roleplaying Games
  • In Dungeons & Dragons, the Eberron setting effectively takes the orcs and goblins of classical D&D and makes them more morally on par with other humanoids like humans sometimes corrupt and selfish, occasionally noble and heroic, and usually somewhere in between. However, it introduces new races, such as the Daelkyr and their minions like Dolgrims who are effectively the new Always Chaotic Evil races.

video games
  • In the Fallout series, we see this trope repeatedly.
    • In Fallout 1, the Master and his Super Mutants are the villains. In Fallout 2, we hear the Super Mutants' side of the story from Marcus seeing that super mutants are capable of coexisting with ghouls and normal humans, but were mislead and caught up in the misguided ideals of the Master in an aggressive war, which makes them no worse than humans, who are also prone to following charismatic leaders into aggressive wars. However, the new Always CE group becomes the Enclave. Fallout 3 was somewhat unusual for Fallout in that both the Enclave and and Super Mutants reprise their role as irredeemable villains (except Fawkes). In Fallout: New Vegas, we learn that the Enclave weren't all monsters either, with the For Auld Lang Syne quest. Fallout: New Vegas is somewhat unusual in not having a single villain who must be destroyed to win the game, but the closest to an always chaotic evil group following in the footsteps of the Master and the Enclave of Fallouts 1, 2, and 3 would be Caesar's Legion (even though you can side with them).
    • The Khans are similar. In Fallout 1, they're always chaotic evil villainous raiders. In Fallout 2, they reprise that role, but we get a marginally more sympathetic look at their leader, who survived the defeat of the original Khans from Fallout 1 and has serious Survivor Guilt. In Fallout: New Vegas, the Khans continue to be slightly villainous, being drug dealers and such, but aren't automatically hostile, and are regarded with more sympathy (having been kicked around in Fallout 1, Fallout 2, and between Fallout 2 and Fallout: New Vegas by the NCR, Mr. House, etc). However, a new group of raiders in Fallout: New Vegas, the Fiends, take over the role of the Khans as always chaotic evil raiders who can be killed without qualms.
  • Tifforo writes: "In the first Halo game, the main villain was Guilty Spark. In Halo 2, the main villain was the Prophet of Truth, while an entity resembling the first game's antagonist plays a minor role. In Halo 3, the main villain was Gravemind, while the Prophet of Truth seems to be a much smaller threat. The villain from the first game then shows up, but without his ability from the first game of tricking you into helping him because you think he's on your side he seems like a smaller threat compared to the third game's main villain."
  • In Warcraft and Warcraft 2, the orcs (and their Warcraft 2 friends like trolls and goblins) are purely evil. In Warcraft 3, they switch to being a Proud Warrior Race. The undead scourge and demonic burning legion take over as the pure villains.

History of names (still open to suggestions):

Name 1: Redemption Treadmill

Name 2 & 5: Conservation of Villainy

Name 3: Conservation of Monsters

Name 4: Conservation of Monstrosity (Thanks to Aielyn)

Related to Villain Decay, but it's more that the villains become less monstrous, not necessarily weaker. Either way, though, for action-centered stories, a new villain is needed.

Do We Have This One??

UPDATE: More rarely, this may apply to good guys as well. The plucky rebellion, if it succeeds, may end up becoming a rather corrupt Banana Republic. If so, it is possible that a purer force for good, untainted by power, will step in from the wings. I'm not really sure whether this belongs on the same page or not. I'm pretty sure it's not widespread enough to be its own trope.

  • The Followers of the Apocalypse from Fallout: New Vegas may fit this (although, strictly speaking, the Followers of the Apocalypse actually predate the New California Republic.).
Community Feedback Replies: 20
  • May 27, 2011
    ginsengaddict
  • May 27, 2011
    Damr1990
  • May 27, 2011
    Maklodes
    Thanks for the replies. ginsengaddict: were there any particular parts that you found confusing?
  • May 27, 2011
    Tifforo
    In the first Halo game, the main villain was Guilty Spark. In Halo 2, the main villain was the Prophet of Truth, while an entity resembling the first game's antagonist plays a minor role. In Halo 3, the main villain was Gravemind, while the Prophet of Truth seems to be a much smaller threat. The villain from the first game then shows up, but without his ability from the first game of tricking you into helping him because you think he's on your side he seems like a smaller threat compared to the third game's main villain.
  • May 27, 2011
    ginsengaddict
    I understand the process and the trope, but your description needs to be more clear.

    Also, as for better titles, I'll throw this out there: Villain Development
  • May 27, 2011
    StarryEyed
  • May 27, 2011
    Generality
    Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann does this in, appropriately enough, a cyclic way. There are at least three iterations of the characters finding out that their last enemy had some justification or at least a Freudian Excuse, while the next guy is apparently a Complete Monster. In the end, even the final Big Bad is given some pathos on his way out.
  • May 28, 2011
    Aielyn
    It's an observation of an effect of Villain Decay happening repeatedly to multiple villains, right? So how about Villain Decay Cycle?

    If Villain Decay doesn't cover villains becoming less monstrous, then why isn't there a trope for such a thing, if this one is it happening repeatedly? If it can happen repeatedly, then it can happen on occasion. If there is such a trope, then name this one after that one in some way.
  • May 28, 2011
    Maklodes
    Does Villain Decay refer to villains being "re-interpreted" in a more nuanced, human fashion? I read over that page looking for an already-existing version of this trope (among other pages, such as Our Orcs Are Different, Star Trek Klingon Empire, and others), and it seemed like Villain Decay referred more to "one borg cube is scary to the whole Federation in TNG, but the Voyager by itself with no backup doesn't worry about them by the end of Voyager.")
  • May 28, 2011
    ginsengaddict
    ^ Yeah, Villain Decay is when a villain which was powerful when it was introduced is pussificated.

    I stand by my earlier recommendation Villain Development, precisely because it plays off of Character Development, which is the process of taking an archetype and making them more developed. Likewise here, this is the process of taking a villain and making them more developed.
  • May 28, 2011
    Maklodes
    Okay, maybe Villain Development is a worthwhile trope, but that wasn't really what this YKTTW is about (at least, it's not what it was about when I originally posted it. I'm not sure to what extent TV Tropes regards the original posters of YKTT Ws as having control over their subject matter). This isn't really about the development of a single villain.

    Rather, it's about the pattern in which regarding a villain formerly seen as completely monstrous with some degree of nuance or sympathy necessitates the introduction or creation of a new villain which serves as the new object of pure malevolence, in circumstances (such as action stories or video games) in which there needs to be some enemy that the heroes can oppose without thinking "that goblin's mom is going to be really sad that I killed him because I encountered him and he's a goblin."

    In short, if you're going to make goblins somewhat sympathetic and "human," then you have to create something else -- Dolgrims being the closest always evil goblin-substitute in the case of Eberron -- that is still totally unsympathetic and inhuman.

    UPDATE: A title occurs to me which I think encapsulates what I'm looking for fairly well: Conservation of Villainy. UPDATE 2: Or possibly Conservation of Monsters.
  • May 29, 2011
    Aielyn
  • May 30, 2011
    Millstone
    Terminator 2 shows what a reprogrammed T-800 can learn from humans. Meanwhile, the T-1000 channels the fears inspired by the first terminator.
  • June 3, 2011
    c0ry
    The title doesn't seem to make much sense - conservation tropes generally apply to a set of things which are related by social or spatial proximity, not sequence. I suggest instead Gray In Hindsight as a reference to gray morality.
  • June 4, 2011
    HiWayXingFrog
    Naruto is an interesting example in which we seem to have something of a "Monster Sandwich." Uchiha Itachi and Pain/Nagato are certainly not the Complete Monsters they originally seemed, but Orochimaru and Madara (the series' first and current main antagonists, respectively) seem to be lacking in the realm of redeeming qualities.
  • June 4, 2011
    Aielyn
    c0ry - I think you're misinterpreting the trope name. There is only so much monstrosity in the work - it is conserved. So, if one character is going to be introduced as a "monster", it is necessary to scale back the monstrosity of a previous "monster" in order to accommodate the new character. Similar to Conservation Of Competence.
  • June 23, 2011
    SpaceCake
    We're getting there. In the Mastery of Earning Villainism, the irony of learning to be stealthy evil (by not revealing any evil plans) followed by ascension and then neutralizing/creatin g separatism, boundaries, followed by ascension and dietifying said differences, holding elections for Gods and developement of religions, followed by ascension and experiencing all religions, ascension and then, wanting to end tyranny by empathy, followed by...Tada! Peace. Hence, the Devil. "The greatest trick the devil evil played was convincing the world he never really existed" Sound familiar? Trolling?TV Troping? Or Self-Reluctant Butt Monkey? Please help?
  • July 1, 2011
    EmbracingShadows
    The villains of one season of Lyrical Nanoha tend to pull a Heel Face Turn and become allies in the next.
  • April 23, 2012
    Millstone
    In MLP:FiM, the Queen of the Changelings is highly reminiscent of pre-Heel Face Turn Princess Luna.
  • April 23, 2012
    VictorZsasz29292
    Villain Revolving Door?
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=k4xgg79u1sumh5jjm49hargy