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Anti-Villain

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"Vlad was one of those old-time bad guys with honor and morals, which made him almost one of the good guys. None of us was a saint."

An Anti-Villain is the opposite of an Anti-Hero — a character with heroic goals, personality traits, and/or virtues who is ultimately the villain. Their desired ends are mostly good, but their means of getting there range from evil to undesirable. Alternatively, their goals may be selfish or have long-term consequences they don't care about, but they're good people who might even team up with the hero if their goals don't conflict.

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They often reach a kind of critical mass that makes them more good than normal villains but not quite heroes, blurring the line between hero and villain the same way an Anti-Hero does, but coming from the opposite direction.

Anti-Villain is an attempt to lighten up a villain as opposed to an Anti-Hero, which has a tendency to darken the hero. Side by side, it can become very hard to tell them apart. The only reason some would even be considered evil at all is when they're the Designated Villain. Despite this humanizing characterization, they are rarely less dangerous. For instance, heroes wouldn't know what to expect if their enemy shows caring and then attacks their reputation, without giving them an excuse to rationalize killing them.

Most of them are probably well aware that what they're doing is "evil", unlike the blinded Knight Templar, but strive to maintain a façade of good PR, often by engaging in Pragmatic Villainy. They'll see it as a viable means to a (possibly) good end.

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In terms of personality, anti-villains are kind-hearted and can be caring and honorable in nature, even towards their enemies, but it can be possible for them to treat their own allies with rudeness, which by its own accord, is a very unusual trait to possess. Moreover, compared to regular villains that are just simply evil, anti-villains are often neutral — depending on the writers of said characters. Those that are part of the neutral alignments however, aren't exactly benevolent, but they aren't malevolent either, but there also do exist anti-villains that are outright evil in nature, though they still maintain all of the attributes that anti-villains usually have in common. They can also be capable of a Heel–Face Turn much more easily than normal villains thanks to their personalities.

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It may also be possible to turn a normal villain into an Anti-Villain over time by detailing their Start of Darkness, giving them a Cynicism Catalyst, a Morality Pet, multiple Pet the Dog episodes, or otherwise retconning them into submission. A Freudian Excuse may explain their actions, but almost never changes them into an Anti-Villain if there is nothing good about their present motivations.

Compare and contrast this trope with its antithesis, the Anti-Hero. A character who is a Wild Card or a Heel–Face Revolving Door can be capable of being both an Anti-Hero and an Anti-Villain depending on whether or not they are acting for or against the protagonist at the time.

Important: A Complete Monster can never qualify as an Anti-Villain, because their causes are never noble (even if they claim otherwise) and are not meant to be sympathetic in any way, whereas you are supposed to relate to, if not sympathize with, an Anti-Villain despite otherwise not approving their methods.


Sub-tropes and related tropes

Character types particularly prone to anti-villainy (though many have their share of flat-out villains, and heroes too) include:

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Other examples

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    Toys 
  • In almost all Transformers: Generation 1-based continuities, Thundercracker is usually the most sympathetic of the Seekers. In the original cartoon, he was still villainous, but wasn't as stupid and cruel as Skywarp or as narcissistic and grasping as Starscream. In the recent The Transformers: All Hail Megatron comic event, he shows disgust at the experiments that created the Swarm, and saves New York City from being nuked by another Decepticon because the way of the Decepticons is not slaughter, but battle. In War For Cybertron, whereas Skywarp's in-game dialogue is fuelthirsty and Starscream's is all vainglory, he expresses curiosity and wonders at the unusual environs of Cybertron's underworld (apt, as his class for the mission is Scientist). In almost all "character profile" productions, he's usually described as being a reluctant follower who's still around mainly because he believes in the original ideals or because he's already gone so far.
  • BIONICLE:
    • Krika, a Noble Demon who's only on the side of evil because he feels resigned to it. He even gives Toa Gali a chance to leave instead of fighting.
    • Vezon, overlapping with Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain; he's basically an Evil Overlord persona without any of the things that allow either the "evil" or the "overlord" part to work. It's lampshaded when he disguises himself for a moment as a "Toa (Hero) of Anarchy".

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue: Revelation has Agent Washington who is only after the Blood Gulch crew to take Epsilon back to the Chairman so he doesn't have to rot away in prison. Adding to this, the only reason he has to get Epsilon in the first place is because Caboose didn't turn Epsilon in like Wash told him to.
  • RWBY has Hazel Rainart. His murderous hatred of Ozpin aside, he is the least antagonistic of Salem's enforcers. He abhors unnecessary violence, as seen with his anger at Adam's murder of Sienna Khan, and his reluctance to fight Ren and Nora. He doesn't take pleasure in attacking Oscar and Nora, instead seeing them as unfortunate causalities as a result of Ozpin. He's willing to take the blame for the failure at Haven rather than blame Cinder or let Salem go for Emerald and Mercury, and begins to keep an eye out for them after returning from the mission. Outside of his anger towards Ozpin, Hazel's a fairly decent guy.
  • DemonKing from TOME really just needs the money to go back to school, okay? An even better example from TOME, though, lies in Kizuna, who turns out to be this by the end of Episode 15. She just doesn't want anyone to be hurt anymore... and it leads her to try and almost kill SOFDTI.
    Web Original 
  • Only Villains Do That: The goddess of evil won't let him be too nice, but neither does Seiji actually want to be evil.
  • Springhole
    • Deconstructed in No, Thanos Was Not Justified. Syera argues that regardless of his intentions, what Thanos did during Avengers: Infinity War was pointlessly cruel and wouldn't even be effective in the long run. In addition, there were alternatives that wouldn't have traumatized half the universe.
    • Reconstructed in How To Write Sympathetic Antagonists Without Endorsing Or Excusing Their Actions, & Without Making Your Protagonists Seem Heartless. Syera advises making the heroes acknoweledge how awful the villain's tragic backstory or that they do have good intentions while also pointing out neither gives them free reign to hurt others.

 
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Alister Azimuth

Though you wouldn't know it until the Final Boss battle. For most of the game, he's on friendly terms with Ratchet, but his uncompromising drive to undo his mistakes is what pushes him into villain territory.

How well does it match the trope?

4.14 (7 votes)

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Main / BigBadFriend

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