While Evil Versus Evil
may be fun, it carries the risk of Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy
: people just do
like having someone to cheer for; but, if both sides are equally reprehensible, then there's really no point to it.
So that's where this trope kicks in. It basically means that the author is clearly trying to portray one side of the conflict as the better or more sympathetic one, so the audience can root for them. Since both sides are supposed to be villains, this isn't that hard. You just need to give your Lighter Black a little edge on the sympathy meter. The idea is to have the audience say "Yeah, Alice may be evil, but at least she's not half as bad as Bob!"
This can be done in many ways. Give your villain the Sympathetic P.O.V.
. Have them Pet the Dog
, be a Noble Demon
or invoke Even Evil Has Standards
. Perhaps they're simply a smaller threat to the world. Maybe their goals are, or used to be, somewhat sympathetic
. Maybe they have many Evil Virtues
. Or, when compared to the opposition, their cause still seems a little more "right" or their character "pure" than that of the enemy. Sometimes, Bob just needs to be stopped at any cost, and Alice happens to have that goal in mind, if only for selfish reasons. Since we want them to win, this may lead to a villainous version of Right Makes Might
and Pure Is Not Good
Or maybe the villain is such a Magnificent Bastard
that it's easier to side with them. Especially if their opposition is a threat to everyone
If they shoot way over the line, the character in question may end up doing a Heel-Face Turn
See also A Lighter Shade of Grey
, Nominal Hero
, and Shades of Conflict
. An exaggerated form of this trope is Evil Versus Oblivion
Do not confuse this trope with Lesser of Two Evils
, in which case, there still isn't a side to root for. (These stories usually involve a hero's P.O.V. and he's observing the two villains fighting each other.)
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Anime and Manga
- Death Note: Even Rem agrees, while Light Yagami may be a bastard he isn't as bad as Kyosuke Higuchi.
- Mobile Suit Gundam's Kycilia Zabi is a fascist dictator who holds that We Have Reserves and once left a group of her own men buried alive in a collapsing mine. That said, she's not quite as awful as her older brother, Gihren, a psychopath who aims to reduce the population of Earth to less than a billion and who murders their father with a Wave Motion Gun. This makes it possible, if just, to root for her as the two of them manouvere for position in the Zeon hierarchy.
- In the Alien vs. Predator movies, the Predators are this to the Aliens. In the first movie, not only does this lead to an Enemy Mine situation where the last surviving human character teams up with the last surviving Predator, but it's made abundantly clear that the Predators are by far the lesser threat, as the Aliens will cause global extinction if they reach civilization (which, as many of noted, invalidates the famous tagline "Whoever wins... we lose"). The second film is a bit better about this trope, with the Predator gruesomely killing a fair number of people without an Enemy Mine in sight, but to the humans, it remains a significantly smaller problem than the Alien swarm in addition to the many Evil Virtues of its species.
- The Parker novels by Richard Stark sometimes uses this. Parker, is a Villain Protagonist, is about as an amoral thief. However, he is pragmatic. He would kill to get what he wants, but he would not do it if it was unnecessary because he knows that the police put more effort in hunting murderers than thieves. Some books like The Sour Lemon Score or Deadly Edge, put him against complete psychos who rape and kill on a whim.
- The Hunger Games: Despite both President Snow and Alma Coin being power hungry villains who want to control Panem and irredeemable bastards, Snow is portrayed as a slightly better person than Coin due to the fact that he he always keeps his promise and he will never lie to Katniss as opposed to Coin who is willing to lie and cheat in order to hold power. This clue led Katniss to realize that it was Coin, not President Snow, who was responsible for Prim's death and the bombing of the Capitol's children.
- By the third season of Boardwalk Empire, Villain Protagonist Nucky Thompson had taken a level in jerkass and embraced his role as a gangster to a degree that he was no longer clearly the Gray in the Black and Gray Morality framework. So, he was given an opponent in Gyp Rosetti, a brutal sociopath with a Hair-Trigger Temper, against whom Nucky looks like a saint in comparison.
- Casual racism pops up quite a bit in Sons of Anarchy, which is probably why the gang ends up fighting actual white supremacists. The blue collar, decidedly Un-PC Sons seem like paragons of liberal virtue in comparison to the brutal, bloodthirsty skinheads they battle throughout Season 2.
- This is what Warhammer 40,000 has instead of Good versus Evil, and is presumably what fans of the Lighter Black factions (Tau, Eldar, the Imperium) see in playing on the side of such horrible people; they're fighting against the very incarnations of death, savagery, consumption and, well, Chaos.
- Sweeney Todd is a murderous barber who slashes his customers' throats and has them baked into pies. But in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, we root for him because he wants revenge against the corrupt Hanging Judge who falsely transported him for life in order to get at his beautiful wife, as well as having some rather skeevy designs on his daughter when she comes of age.
- Fate/stay night: Part of "Heaven's Feel" seems to be solely dedicated to making the players like Kotomine more, with several Enemy Mine and Pet the Dog situations and most importantly, an utterly epic fight where he holds his own against Matou Zoken and his Servant quite well. In "Fate", Kotomine is portrayed as fairly simplistic with no motives beyond Evil Feels Good, and in Unlimited Blade Works he takes a backseat to the conflict between Shirou and Archer. Only "Heaven's Feel" fleshes him out at all, but in doing so it makes him into a much more complex character than when he was portrayed in simple black and white terms.
- Knights of the Old Republic 2: In the Darkside Ending, Kreia will say that the PC is not a Sith. Not really. Presumably, she considers them a Dark Jedi instead, i.e. someone who uses the Dark Side for their own advancement rather than submitting to the Sith Code and philosophies.
- This is the case in the first Disgaea game (Laharl the wannabe Evil Overlord vs. an Omnicidal Maniac). The second and fourth have more heroic protagonists while the third is mixed (Mao wants to slay his father, the Overlord, for trivial reasons and the rest of the cast have more heroic goals plus the real villain already made Mao do it and surpressed his memories)
- Blood has no good guys. On one hand you have a cult trying to summon a dark god, murdering anyone they want to and experimenting on the rest. On the other side you have one of their failed projects, a sadistic revenant named Caleb who was one of those cultists and also is murdering anyone he feels like. At least Caleb is fighting to avenge his wife and best friend and has a sense of humor.
- The Scarlet Crusade vs the Scourge in World of Warcraft. At least until Wrath of the Lich King.
- God of War is full of this. Yeah Zeus pulled a humungous dick move by trying to kill Kratos, but this was mostly because Kratos wouldn't stop being such a warmongering douche. He was pretty much causing as many wars, if not more, than the very asshole he killed because he was supposedly the lesser of 2 evils. Ares did manipulate Kratos into killing his own wife and daughter, so Ares is another example to Kratos. On top of that Kratos basically kills any innocent god who's trying to protect their king Zeus, even though he was going a bit crazy and probably ready to do the same, and he caused the entire fucking world to descend into chaos just so he can kill Zeus. You can even kill as many innocents as you like along the way, some even REQUIRED to be killed in torturous ways just to solve puzzles. But it's ok because, Kratos becomes a Blue Lantern and becomes A Hero, or not, to give mankind a more positive direction. Assuming any are still alive, that is.
- However, at the end of the day, Kratos is really the Lighter Shade Of Black because A) almost ALL Olympians are Jerkass Gods that torment mankind directly For the Evulz or indirectly in their struggles and generally don't give a shit about us, and B) the only reason Kratos is an Ax-Crazy murderer is due to them kidnapping his brother, and later Ares tricking him into killing his family. Kratos finds out about his brother by his mother, who is transformed into a monster by a curse from Zeus and has to receive Mercy Kill from her own son. Oh, and Kratos' brother also dies shortly after Kratos saves him, and Athena treats it as if it was some sort of Secret Test of Character. That is why Kratos is a "warmongering douche" in GOWII. There are NO innocent gods in God of War, except maybe for Hephaestus and Aphrodite. The rest is very much receiving a well-deserved Karmic Punishment for their tyranny and jerkassery. In the end, Kratos repents for what he's done by spreading hope to all mankind(From Athena's words, there are obviously humans still alive despite the disasters caused by Kratos' murdering the gods), which stops Athena from using it to take control and start the whole thing all over again. Kratos is not heroic, but he's got good reasons to be, and in the end is far more noble than the Olympians.
- Scarface: The World is Yours follows the original film in this. Sure, Tony is wiping out the gangs and the enemy gangsters all the way up to Sosa, who watchers of the film would have known was not a nice person, but he is still putting drugs on the streets of Miami.
- Drakengard. Among your plucky group of heroes are an Ax-Crazy mute soldier whose sister loves him more than is socially acceptable, a vicious red dragon, a batshit crazy elf who eats children, a religious patriarch who never passes up an opportunity to call for genocide against all other intelligent species, a blind pedophile, and a child cursed to never grow up. However, they're care bears compared to the Grotesqueries, hideous Humanoid Abomination who wish to unmake creation through the efforts of their possessed minion Manah, a six year old girl who delights in ruining lives left and right because her mommy never loved her enough.
- In BlazBlue we have the Big Bad Duumvirate, Relius Clover and Hazama / Terumi Yuuki. Both of them are seemingly caught in a "How far beyond the Moral Event Horizon can you go" contest, but despite the fact that they are pretty much evenly matched as far as accomplishments go, Relius is still a lighter shade of black than Hazama is. First and foremost because most of his atrocities were committed in order to satiate his own scientific curiosoty, and secondly because he is pretty pragmatic in his villainy. Compare to Hazama who doesn't even pretend to have a rationalization for all the shit he does and often goes out of his way to ruin people's lives JUST BECAUSE... His behavior is sort of justified, though, because Hazama/Terumi avoids getting erased from reality by anchoring his own existence in the world through people's hatred of him. It's ultimately Double Subverted, though, because he really does get off on pushing people beyond the Despair Event Horizon. The fact that there are good reasons to suspect he's the 'verse's own take on Satan doesn't help his case, either.
- In Baldur's Gate 2 you are given the choice between supporting the Shadow Thieves, a thieves' guild you've probably already done some sidequests for, and a rival guild led by a lady called Bodhi that contains vampires that attack people in the streets at night. If you visit their guildhalls neither of them seem terribly 'good', but at least the Shadow Thieves don't decorate with giant pools of human blood and fill their halls with mindless thralls they feed on.
- Shin Megami Tensei: While the forces of Law and Chaos are both pretty damn repellent, sometimes one side just makes a better argument about their ideals, or has at least a few standards, and that side is usually Chaos. That's right, the side led by Lucifer. Fundamentally, Chaos holds free will as an imperative, unlike Law's worldview that people should accept whatever fate they're given, however horrible. Lucifer himself admits that while he doesn't love humans, he'll never abandon them.
- Homestuck has The Midnight Crew, who are only considered heroes during "Operation Regisurp" in the Troll's Session, due to their alliance with the protagonists. Later in story, they're only considered heroic at all because their rivals, Lord English and the Felt, are worse. They still casually murder people and given half the chance would become just as dangerous as Jack Noir and the agents under him in the Kid's session.