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Enlightened Antagonist

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"The flowers bloom, then wither... the stars shine and one day become extinct... This earth, the sun, the galaxies and even the big universe someday will be destroyed... Compared with that the human life is only a blink, just a little time... In that short time, the people are born, laugh, cry, fight, are injured, feel joy, sadness, hate someone, love someone. All in just a moment. And then, are embraced by the eternal sleep called death."
Virgo Shaka, Saint Seiya

This trope involves the circumstance where an enlightened being or entity happens to be an antagonist or antagonistic force. The forms of enlightenment can include a form of cosmic clarity, universal meaning, a release of physical tethers, or physical harmony with the world. The character in question happens to have a form of universal knowledge that allows him/her to observe the greater truths of reality but still maintains malevolent qualities.

This type of villain can be viewed as an Anti-Hero, Anti-Villain, Well-Intentioned Extremist, or carrying an Omniscient Morality License if the characters commits to villainy or villainous acts to fulfill a grand purpose that can be seen as beneficial. Such villains will often demonstrate Knight Templar behavior due to being so absorbed by their ideals that they end up causing trouble despite having supposedly beneficial intentions at heart. However in other stories, enlightenment generally has the effect of causing a Heel–Face Turn or at least making a villain Affably Evil in the eyes of others.


This trope tends to overlap with Light Is Not Good, God Is Evil, and Pure Is Not Good due to the mixing of the theme of enlightenment and malevolence. Compare and contrast Politically Correct Villain, which can be considered a mundane version.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In One Piece, the former fleet admiral Sengoku managed to consume a devil fruit that not only turns him into a giant Buddha at will but also grants a form of enlightenment. However, the enlightenment does not prevent him from decimating any pirates that come his way that he holds no respect for, those he feels should be destroyed in the name of Justice, or whoever is targeted under orders of the World Government.
  • In Saint Seiya, Virgo Shaka fits. Whilst he's more of an Anti-Hero, he's very deceptive. He's an incarnation of Buddha, but in the first series he has aligned himself with the very evil Pope and is only too willing to Mind Rape and maim the main characters.
  • In Feng Shen Ji, Zhen Chan is a modest and humble enlightened deity who only wishes to unravel the truths of the universe. However, he abides by a core belief that beautiful and good should not be replaced by barbaric and ugly and mercilessly slaughters those he considers evil and vicious as to him they had no place living to begin with. He also conceals a psychotic inner dark self named Er Chan that manifests when faced with others who will not heed his words and fanatically kills them whether they are fellow gods or not.
  • In Shaman King, Hao, despite being the most enlightened and powerful of all the shamans, decided that to create utopia all the ignorant humans have to die, leaving only shamans to populate the world.
  • In YuYu Hakusho, Sensui utilizes Sacred Energy/Holy Chi, a form of energy so great that it requires not only years of discipline and training but an understanding of the world to operate on a higher plane and transcend the physical realm. Despite this achievement, he planned to initiate a complete genocide of all humanity and is not above slaughtering whoever gets in his way.
  • In Butsu Zone, the main antagonist, Ashura, is a Bodhisattva who diverged from the general Bodhisattva rule of Thou Shalt Not Kill through callous slayings of others. He is also a Misanthrope Supreme who desires the extinction of humanity itself due to the sinful actions that have been committed by humans over time.
  • In Soul Eater, the main antagonist, Asura, is shown as a demonic god with an understanding of the nature of human fears, insanity, and the flaws of order. He also possesses a desire to administer true peace by spreading his influence across the globe. However, his version of peace involves plunging the world into insanity and chaos, not to mention the fact he is a psychopathic agoraphobe with a lust for power.
  • In Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, the Anti-Spiral race enlightened themselves by understanding the truth of the universe and Spiral Energy in relation to the Spiral Nemesis Event that would annihilate all existence. In response to the knowledge, they made a vow to never use Spiral Energy again to prevent such an event and turned into an Hive Mind entity as a way to express that vow. However, the Anti-Spiral race has also tried to destroy humanity because they can potentially amass high amounts of Spiral Energy and have subjugated/exterminated many different civilizations across time and space to prevent the occurrence of the Spiral Nemesis.
  • The Tale of the Princess Kaguya: The one bringing Kaguya back to the moon (forgetting all about her adoptive parents in the process) is apparently the Buddha.
  • In Inuyasha, an undead Buddhist priest named Hakushin is able to create a holy purification barrier so powerful that no demon can pass it. However, he is doing so in service to Naraku, the Big Bad, who manipulated him due to his fear of death and his resentment over having to sacrifice his life for others.

    Comic Books 
  • During the Blackest Night storyline, Sinestro fused with the White Entity, the living embodiment of the White Light of Creation that gave birth to all living things in the universe, and became the first White Lantern. Despite being connected to all living things and gaining universal knowledge, Sinestro was still as vicious as he ever was and determined to prove his superiority as the greatest Lantern. His antagonism was downplayed by the fact he was focused on defeating an even greater force of evil at the time.
  • During the Death of the New Gods storyline, there was a mysterious being slaughtering notable residents of Apokolips and New Genesis. After extensive searching by Metron and Superman, it was discovered that the Source, the actual consciousness of the DC Comics Universe and the "source" of all that exists, was the true culprit behind the assassinations in its plan to build a new "Fifth World." Using its agent, the Infinity Man, to kill the New Gods and store their souls in a second Source Wall and Mister Miracle as the user of the Anti-Life Equation, the Source planned to breach the primary Source Wall and reunite with its Anti-Life other half in order to become a perfect God to build its new creation. When this was over, the Source told Superman that his work was done and later left for a higher plane of existence.
  • In Casanova, we have David X. David X is a magician/performance artist who had meditated for twelve years straight in the hopes that when he awakened he would become a god by achieving a form of "double-nirvana". Once he awakened, it would spell doom for many portions of world and it was implied he would be working under a terrorist organization if allowed to roam free.
  • The Bleeding Monk (who acts as the trope picture example) in Harbinger is a considerably ageless grandmaster monk whose students were slaughtered by the soldiers of a past Chinese Emperor due to being feared and hated for their mysterious psychic abilities. During the attack, the Bleeding Monk was impaled by a spear and at the moment near his death he gained the ability to see all possibilities and live every moment of his life simultaneously. He eventually became the right-hand man and advisor to Toyo Harada in a bid to make the world a better place by having Harada secretly conquer it.
  • In Karma Police, the tale of Drakpa Chugne, the Blood Hat Lama, presented him as this in abundance. He was once a grandmaster monk and lama of great stature that created the Grove who felt that the Karma Grove School he headed was not doing enough to relieve suffering in the world since extinguishing tormented spirits as his students were taught to do only cast about an endless cycle of rebirth that rendered all efforts pointless. Chugne decided to fashion a dagger that would send evil spirits to the Grove, since it was a place outside the endless wheel of rebirth, once slain by the dagger where they could achieve Nirvana, but went crazy when his attempt to rid the world of evil turned into fanaticism. He started to preemptively murder anyone with bad karma, especially innocents, to the point where he killed any one sight and had forced the monks of the Grove to kill him with his own dagger to have his spirit healed of its insanity.
  • In The Authority, we have the case of the Doctor. The Doctor is actually a title given to a human chosen as a form of shaman whose role is to protect the Earth. This position has existed since the beginning of human thought and grants the chosen one god-like mystical abilities, knowledge passed downed from previous Doctors, and the ability to instantly empathize with every creature on Earth (human or otherwise). A Doctor is even given endless access to the Garden of Ancestral Memory, a dimension that is made up of everything good and bad about the human race. However, humans chosen to be the new Doctor are not necessarily benevolent despite their empathy nor do they have to be. This is clearly shown in the case of the first shown Doctor being a violent anarchist and the succeeding protagonist Doctors being violent antiheroes at various times. To put things into perspective, a previous Doctor and late antagonist slaughtered the entire population of three countries in alphabetical order after receiving his power. Humorous considering previous Doctors included Jesus Christ, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton and famously known humanitarian figureheads.
  • In the Legion Of Superheroes, Element Lad became one in the "Legion Lost" arc. After saving his teammates from being trapped in a space-time rift, Element Lad was accidentally left behind within the rift and stayed trapped there for billions of years. During that time, he managed to watch the stellar life-cycles of stars, improved his powers to the point he could create entire worlds, and gained an understanding of life that allowed him to create entirely new sentient species and observe abnormalities even super-geniuses couldn’t detect. It progressed to the point that he became known as The Progenitor of his new respective cosmos. Unfortunately, his time spent in isolation drove him to become considerably callous to all mortal life due to his immeasurable lifespan and he began purging any creature he saw as a “variant” to his designs. After seeing him, Brainiac Five admitted Element Lad was not evil as the Legion understood, but was working at a level so far removed from conventional life that his view of life became callous by default.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Star Wars:
  • Overwhelmingly common in Hong Kong produced Kung Fu flicks due to the spiritual underpinnings of Kung Fu in general and its relationship with Taoism in particular, both being systems in which enlightenment and violence are not necessarily mutually exclusive. On a more practical level the villain also needs to be good enough at fighting to give the hero a compelling struggle, and making him an Old Master is one of the easiest ways to write this into the story. Inkeeping with his role in folklore, Bak Mei is almost guaranteed to get this treatment whenever he shows up.

  • Subverted in The Wheel of Time with Moridin, the Dark One's Dragon. Once a famous philosopher and theologian, his studies lead him to become aware of the true nature of the world he inhabited and what he considered the inevitability of the Dark One's victory, and he went mad from the revelation and dedicated himself to hasting that inevitable apocalypse. He frequently monologues about his elevated understanding of reality which he believes places him above other characters, including Rand and his fellow Forsaken. In the end, however, it's proven that rather than being enlightened, Moridin's nihilism has in fact blinded him to the true value of life, and even the Dark One admits that HIS EYES ARE SMALL.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In last few episodes of the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., John Garrett is given the same serum that brought Coulson and Skye back to life. He starts claiming he is "one with the universe" (a lot of the cast think he's gone crazy, but Raina at least seems to think he's genuinely enlightened) while remaining no less malevolent.
  • In Engine Sentai Go-onger, we have Kama Banki. After standing and concentrating under a waterfall for a period of time, Kama Banki reached a state of enlightenment that increased his illusionary abilities to their zenith. His achievement made him no less malevolent and he nearly trapped the Sentai team in a permanent Illusion world.
  • In the first season of Angel, the title character battles an assassin with the power to "see" movements anywhere near herself, which Wesley's research attributes to her studying with monks in Pajaura and blinding herself deliberately to help awaken this "inner sight."
    Cordelia: Are you telling me self-mutilating psycho assassin chick reached "enlightenment"?
    Wesley: Of a sort, yes,
  • Fernando Vera from Mr. Robot. He's a philosophising murdering manipulating rapist drugdealer. He uses his pain as his power to understand the Cosmos and has no problem destroying anyone in his way. He advises Elliot with his viewpoint:"once you have weathered a storm like yours, you become the storm. And it's the rest of the world that needs to run for cover".
  • The Good Place revolves around this trope, as the morally impoverished but well-meaning Eleanor is constantly in danger of some semi-omniscient cosmic being or another determining that she deserves eternal suffering. One of them sums it up nicely: "I know everything that happened in your life, and it was all stupid."

    Myths & Religion 
  • In Buddhism, Virochana is the greatest of the "Dhyanibuddhas", the Five Great Buddhas of Wisdom. He encompasses the principle of "Absolute". In Tibet, he is said to ride a snow leopard as his mount and had introduced the Yogacara school of Mahayana Buddhism to humans. He is called Dainichi Nyorai in Japan. However, Virochana also possesses a wrathful emanation named Acala or Fudou Myouou (Japan) who generally frightens people into either accepting his teachings or risk facing lethal consequences.
  • In The Ramayana, the antagonist is the demon king Ravana, a devotee of the god Shiva who, through years of prayer, meditation, and asceticism, gained invincibility from gods, demons, and spirits. However, his greed, arrogance, and lust lead him to try to overthrow the gods and conquer the world.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the World of Darkness:
    • Thaumaturges potentially (it's complicated) derive the ability to use magic not from innate supernatural connections, but from intense and prolonged spiritual and occult study. This spiritual enlightenment doesn't necessarily require morality and does not prevent the occurrence of evil members.
    • More generally, any character from Mage: The Awakening with high Gnosis and low Wisdom is someone who understands great magical secrets and wields powerful Arcana with very few scruples about using them.
  • The Call of Cthulhu supplement Secrets of Japan outright says that the forces of the Cthulhu Mythos and its human cultists are actually this trope - including the Buddha himself!
    • Buddha may or may not be the historical human Siddharta Gautama ascended to become an outer god. If it is Gautama, then his newfound Blue-and-Orange Morality may be explained by the fact that, through enlightenment, he gained perfect knowledge of the universe. Considering that we're talking about Lovecraft's universe...
  • Tamapara, the resident Evil Overlord in Against The Dark Yogi, is an extremely powerful yogi and ascetic who has turned his spiritual abilities against the cosmic order and is trying to hasten the end of the current cycle of the universe.
  • Pathfinder has the asuras, a race of evil outsiders inspired by Indian mythology. Being Always Lawful Evil fiends with a grudge against the gods and all their creations, asuras are generally antagonistic to player characters. Despite their hatefulness, asuras are wise, mystical beings with expert knowledge of philosophy, the workings of the universe, Supernatural Martial Arts, and other esoteric subjects.
  • Warhammer: The Lizardmen are the faction most devoted to fighting against Chaos, being nearly immune to its effects and devoted to destroying wherever they find it. Unfortunately, because they're simply not concerned about what other species do, this causes a lot of entirely avoidable conflict such as completely ravaging the dwarf's subterranean empire because they thought the continents were in the wrong place and "corrected" several millennia's worth of continental drift or killing elf ambassadors because "they should not be here" as the elves were originally a single race living on Ulthuan before splitting into the High Elves, Dark Elves and Wood Elves, who all hate each other, much of which has allowed Chaos to prosper.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Eldar are an ancient race devoted to removing Chaos and the Necrons from the galaxy. Unfortunately, their insufferable Can't Argue with Elves attitude causes a lot of conflict with the Imperium of Man that could have been avoided if they'd simply not assumed that being Eldar, they could handle it better than Puny Humans.
    • The Tau are a (relatively) new species promoting a utilitarian philosophy (the Greater Good) that promotes equality for all and unity across races, having already recruited several alien species. As the Imperium is a heavily stratified and insanely theocratic society, this causes irreconcilable differences (at least, on worlds where the Imperium has a strong presence, on fringe worlds the Tau have succeeded in incorporating humans into the fold).

    Video Games 
  • The Enlightened in Ingress can be perceived as a literal example, they are empowered by the Exotic Matter and believed that the Exotic Matter can ascend humanity. Of course, they only qualify if you're part of La Résistance; their true villainy is undetermined, as they may yet be right.
  • Nin²-Jump: The Big Bad, Namakura, is a Buddha.
  • Chakravartin from Asura's Wrath certainly qualifies for this trope. He strongly resembles a Buddha until he takes on his One-Winged Angel form, proclaims an understanding of the Wheel of Life and Mantra, and speaks of bringing enlightenment to the world. However, when Asura doesn't pass one of his "trials" and defies his will, he decides to destroy the world so he can remake it and try again.
  • Shin Megami Tensei:
    • YHVH fits this trope in the series. Despite his transcendent status, his ultimate goal is for all creation to do nothing but pray to him and praise him. Unfortunately, the demons (also known as Chaos) are no better. Trying to Take a Third Option by siding with humanity demonstrates that Humans Are Bastards. Having to choose between several equally unappealing resolutions is a big theme in the series.
    • In a more limited sense, Daisojou, a member of the Fiend race (filled with different embodiments of death), is a Buddhist monk that underwent a horrid ritual of self-mummification, and received demonic power over light. His Signature Move is Samsara, the Buddhist word for the cycle of death and rebirth.
  • In Destroy All Humans!, we have the Master. The Master was a Furon who fled to Earth where he crash-landed off the coast of China. While there, the Master realized that the beliefs of enlightenment and philosophy in the East could help him improve his mental abilities and his years of meditation allowed him to unlock the Temporal Fist, a long-forgotten Furon ability to control time. However, he is revealed to be one of the main antagonists of the game and was the main conspirator in a plan to become the New Emperor of the Furons.
  • In Fate/EXTRA, the Final Boss, the Big Bad's Dragon, is an aspect of the Buddha. Though he does not agree with his master's plans, the Servant chooses to serve him and hopes he'll find enlightenment. He's still a formidable combatant.
  • Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura has Kerghan the Terrible, who, courtesy of spending nearly two thousand years in contemplation (and necromantic experimentation), has concluded that death is preferable to life, and makes a reasonably fair point when confronted about this belief. He consequently wishes to enforce this, which turns him into the game's Big Bad. The real kicker is he's right.
  • Touhou Project:
  • In Shadow Hearts, we have Albert Simon - who has come to understand both the true nature of humanity and God. He is so disappointed with the former he seeks to use the latter to wipe us all out.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Fate/stay night, the teacher Kuzuki reached a form of physical enlightenment - his perfect balance within himself and the world (even Saber expresses her surprise at his "perfect breathing") combined with an extremely esoteric martial arts style to enable him to hold his own even with a Servant in hand to hand combat. He is also not particularly concerned with the traditional trappings of enlightenment.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • Justice League. After traveling throughout the universe and assimilating untold knowledge, Amazo gained cosmic clarity and virtual godhood. Disillusioned by feelings of existential purposelessness after obtaining his godly status, Amazo traveled back to Earth to destroy Lex Luthor for manipulating him in the past and took down the entire Justice League along the way. Amazo relented after Luthor convinced him to find his own purpose in life by continuously evolving.
  • In The Batman, we have Spellbinder. Spellbinder was a mystic who acquired a Third Eye after years of an intense form of meditation in the Far East. The power of the Third Eye was said to be a state of awareness so pure and potent that the achiever could project visions into reality and allowed the user to levitate. Spellbinder uses his power to brainwash butlers into stealing valuables from their rich employers for him to collect. In Alfred Pennyworth's own words: "[Spellbinder] possesses an enlightened mind and a corrupted soul."
  • From Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!, there is Master Zan. Master Zan was the high mystic of a group of spiritual monks who protected the cosmos from evil and sealed away a group of creatures called the Dark Ones. He was also once Antauri's master in the mystic arts and taught him in the ways of mystical energy and the Power Primate. He was later revealed to be corrupted by the Skeleton King and considered serving him and the Dark Ones as the true fate of the cosmos.
  • Ben 10: Omniverse. Albedo managed to obtain enlightenment after evolving his own form and absorbing Azmuth’s own intellect into his mind. However, this situation subverts this trope as the combined brainpower led to Albedo having an epiphany, realizing that destroying his enemies was worthless as they would still exist somewhere in the omniverse, nearly causing him to relinquish his antagonism.
  • The Legend of Korra. Book 3's main antagonist, Zaheer, is capable of meditating into the Spirit World long before he gained Airbending, managed to sever all his physical ties to the world after the death of his beloved and mastered the Airbending secret of weightlessness that was long believed to be fictional even by current Air Nomads. He also tried to create worldwide anarchy and destroy all governmental systems due to his belief of their creation being the main cause behind planetary imbalance, though by the end all he really achieved was to open the path for a fascist dictator to seize power. In the fourth book, he acknowledges this when Korra throws it in his face, and ends up becoming an Evil Mentor to her on the grounds that said dictator is everything he despises. In the process, he successfully helps her to push past the spiritual block caused by the trauma she underwent at the hands of him and the rest of the Red Lotus, thanks to his sincere speech telling her that she is stronger than she thinks (having seen the evidence).


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