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Pragmatic Villainy / Western Animation

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Pragmatic Villainy in western animation TV shows.

  • In Action Man (2000), Asazi turns on Dr. X when he reveals his final plan is to completely annihilate mankind because it will be bad for her business as an assassin.
  • Batman: The Animated Series:
    • This was the reason Ra's al Ghul deposed his son Arkady Duvall as a potential heir to his world-conquering empire; Ra's' entire shtick is his belief that Utopia Justifies the Means, which includes making sure The Trains Run on Time, so the prospect of using barbarous and inefficient tactics to ensure that (such as whipping hard workers for every little slip-up, or disposing of supposed interlopers by dunking them in molten lead, as Duvall does in the episode "Showdown") does not sit well with him, at all.
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    • In "Joker's Millions", the Joker is forced to choose between facing the IRS for tax evasion or paying back all the money he thought he had. He decides that fighting Batman is one thing, but the IRS is a different ballgame altogether. He even tries to be subtle with his crimes so that he can raise the money without notice.
  • Dracula from The Batman vs. Dracula doesn't like to kill his victims, but not because he doesn't like killing. He just hates wasting a life that could be better used as his undead servant.
  • In Ben 10: Alien Force, Vilgax's return episode portrayed him as following a galactic code of conduct. However, Word of God is that Vilgax was only following it because it was more profitable for him, allowing him to conquer ten planets in a short amount of times without wasting massive resources to it. In later episodes, after this strategy failed against Ben, he has no scruples breaking said code several times.
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  • A variation in Phantom Planet, the Grand Finale of Danny Phantom. Danny, the hero, convinces all of his ghost adversaries to help turn Earth intangible on the basis on them being unable to continue their usual evil actions if Earth gets destroyed.
  • Although he hates Darkwing Duck and would be happy to get rid of the interfering superhero once and for all, Megavolt has helped DW on one or two occasions when the city of St. Canard is at risk of being destroyed. He justifies this by pointing out that if St. Canard is destroyed, there will be nothing left for him to rob.
  • The Dreamstone:
    • Zordrak, of all villains, invokes this when Urpgor asks why he doesn't just kill his bumbling minions Blob, Frizz and Nug, having come to found murdering his troops on a whim to be ineffective.
    • Blob and his men themselves often are very pragmatic, while it's perhaps more out of cowardice than strategy, they rarely ever directly attack the heroes and most of their plans involve the bare means to get the stone from them. In some episodes this actually makes them seem less antagonistic to the heroes than vice versa, who have a much more vengeful streak.
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    • In "The Return" none of the villains, even Zordrak, bat an eyelid to Spildit playing around harmlessly in Viltheed quarters (though Urpgor bullies her flying leaf from her), being focused completely on repairing the damage to their lair. When the Noops enter as a rescue party and start interfering with the construction however, Zordrak immediately orders the troops.
  • The fact that Venger of Dungeons & Dragons regularly uses the I Have Your Wife (or son, parents, hometown, etc.) tactic against his victims could easily explain why he always keeps his word — if word spread that he didn't keep his end of the bargain, nobody would respond to his threats.
  • In the first episode of Family Guy Stewie mind controls a judge to acquit Peter of fraud and give him his job back because Stewie relies on him for food and a home.
  • Xanatos from Gargoyles never carries the Villain Ball; his plans are pretty much designed so he HAS to win something. He also refuses to engage in revenge, because he sees it as a "sucker's game" with no real benefit, and keeps trying to remain friendly with all of his enemies, since he sometimes needs their help with cleaning up his messes. (Besides, he and his "allies" all have different agendas and tend to get along with each other even worse than he does with the Gargoyles.) A good example of this trope is in "Enter Macbeth," when he doesn't plan on killing the gargoyles during their stone sleep because it "seems like a waste" to destroy them (since he spent so much money awakening them in the first place) and hires Macbeth to drive them out of the castle, not destroy them. The same episode has Macbeth calmly wait for them to wake up before trying to capture them, since that, after all, is the honorable thing to do. (He's also got a bit of a history of working with gargoyles, and is just as willing to ally with them against a mutual threat as Xanatos is.) The one time Xanatos did value personal vengeance over pragmatism (when he thinks Sevarius betrayed him) it results in a monster that is as strong as Goliath and smarter than him being unleashed upon the world with twenty million dollars.
  • Destro from G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero in Part 2 of "The Synthoid Conspiracy" temporarily teams up with the Joes to help them get back into power, not because he likes them, but because Cobra Commander dared to replace Destro with a Synthoid clone, and since Destro considers that an insult to his dignity, he decides to take revenge by showing Cobra how indispensible his skills and services are.
  • As Chaotic Stupid/Stupid Evil as Invader Zim is, he stopped other aliens from taking over or destroying the world. Because he won't let others steal his job.
  • In the two part Grand Finale of Jackie Chan Adventures, Drago realized that kidnapping Jackie, Uncle, and Captain Black and demanding the demon powers he desired as ransom was easier than attacking Section 13.
  • The Series Fauxnale of Johnny Test involves several of his enemies forming an Enemy Mine against Dark Vegan, because the former was told out that they can't Take Over the World if there's no world.
  • In Kim Possible episode "Gorilla Fist", when Kim, Ron, and Yori believe that Monkey Fist was responsible for kidnapping Sensei, the villain explains that he wasn't behind it because the old man was of no value to him.
  • In the King of the Hill episode "The Accidental Terrorist", car dealer Tom Hammond is brought in when Hank, who he ripped off for the past 25 years, is accused of burning his dealership. Hammond tells the police to let Hank go, not for being innocent (Hank really was innocent, but Tom and the police didn't think so), but continuing to press charges would destroy his reputation as a businessman.
  • The Legend of Korra:
    • In season 1, Amon specifically picks certain benders that are established monsters or jerks, refuses to debend the Avatar to avoid creating a martyr, and won't indulge in any Kick the Dog moments for the fun of it in order to build up a strong following. By the time his endgame comes into play, however, he tosses this aside, so perhaps he was only pragmatic as long as it was pragmatic.
    • Season 3's Zaheer tells the Earth Queen that she's an idiot for trying to imprison Korra. He rightfully points out that she is the only world leader to whom Korra doesn't have a strong personal connection (her dad is the chief of the Southern Water Tribe, her cousins rule the Northern Tribe, she was specifically told to go to Fire Lord Izumi by Iroh because (paraprashing) "she's a great friend of the Avatar", and Tenzin is a psuedo uncle to her). He says if Korra were to just up and disappear, it'd bring unwanted attention to her leadership and they could all send in their troops to come and get Korra.
    • Kuvira from Season 4 has a massive, well trained and well equipped army, but as a Well-Intentioned Extremist, chooses to use diplomacy when trying to take over Zaofu so as to keep her public image positive. Once it's clear that Suyin won't listen to her, Kuvira falls back on invasion. Once her Humongous Mecha is up and running, she gets Drunk On The Power and just invades the United Republic immediately.
  • Imperiex of Legion of Super-Heroes winds teaming up with his Arch-Enemy Superman X in order to protect a young boy from some contract killers, if only because that young boy will be the one to invent the technology that would create Imperiex in the future.
  • One episode of the third season of Mia and Me has Dax at one point suggest he and Gargona steal something from Polytheus, but Gargona is quick to talk him out of it since Polytheus is the only one in Centopia whose services can be bought.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • Discord in the two-part episode, "The Return of Harmony". He does any number of atrocious evil things, but he draws the line at turning ponies into stone. Interestingly enough, this is not in contrast to another villain even worse than he is, but to Princess Celestia, which goes a long way toward demonstrating how he probably perceives her. But that's because statues lack entertainment value, after all.
    • The season sixth premiere revealed why King Sombra hid the Crystal Heart away rather than destroy it so it couldn't be used to stop him: its magic was the only thing protecting the Crystal Empire from the dangerous weather surrounding it. And even before that revelation, it was already implied that he wanted to convert it from an Achilles' Heel to an Artifact of Doom.
    • In "The Mean Six", after Queen Chrysalis creates evil versions of the heroes, backstabber-wannabe Mean Twilight asks Chrysalis why she didn't just attack her enemies when she was close to them. Mean Twilight points out that the spell used to create the Mean Six required a bit of hair from each pony that was copied, which Chrysalis took under the guise of a photographer, meaning Chrysalis had a good chance to get the drop on the heroes for a sneak attack. Chrysalis responds that the Mane Six and their allies have defeated the entire changeling army in the past. Even if Chrysalis had the element of surprise, fighting the Mane Six and Starlight Glimmer alone was likely going to end badly for her.
  • Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz in Phineas and Ferb wants to take over the Tri-State Area, but he prefers to use complicated and overly-specialized "inators" rather than break out a weapon which could do real damage. His rationale is that, if he destroys the Tri-State Area, there won't be anything left to rule. That said, many of his plans, and the inventions to make them happen, are unbelievably petty. A large proportion have no purpose other than embarrassing his brother the mayor in some fashion. Also, he doesn't try to Take Over the World, since he considers it an unrealistic goal.
  • Pinky and the Brain:
    • The Brain claims that the reason he's stopping Snowball from conquering the world is so it will be available for him to take over later. (At least, that's what he keeps telling himself.)
    • "A Meticulous Analysis of History" shows that Brain believes historic conquerors like Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun have often been thwarted by their own senseless brutality and warmongering, which is why his own plots for world domination tend to be nonviolent.
  • The Powerpuff Girls:
    • Mojo Jojo stopped an alien invasion only because the said aliens were copying his plans.
    • In "Custody Battle", Mojo called Him out on how idiotic it is to direct the sun into earth, stating that by doing so Him will destroy everything including himself. But it was subverted to show that Him was bluffing.
  • During the War Arc against the Web in Reboot, Megabyte lends his assistance and resources to Bob, Dot and the rest of Mainframe to fight the oncoming Web creatures. After all, Megabyte can't take over Mainframe if someone else destroys it, or infects the system first. Once the threat from the Web is dealt with, Megabyte turns on Mainframe again, exiling Bob to the Web.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power:
    • Hordak does not relish in mistreating his subordinates because. He knows that he will get much more out of his army by rewarding good traits and deeds than punishing them for everything. He refuses to waste resources on a single soldier, so he orders Shadow Weaver to stop looking for Adora and promotes Catra, an equally prepared soldier, to her position, and when he is not told about a big plan and experiment Catra is planning with two allies, he gives his blessing and greenlights it despite not being told due to the amazing results the plan can bear. When the season ends, he demotes Shadow Weaver for lying and hiding things from him and promotes Catra, rather than dissing her for her failed attack at Brightmoon, by pointing out that she still destroyed their biggest issue, the Whispering Woods, and was the only one to ever get as far as she did.
    • Catra herself is a bigger threat than Shadow Weaver in part due to this. She does not obsess over Adora as much as her and her focus is actually winning the war and climbing the ranks of the Horde. When it's made clear that Adora returning will be detrimental to her position, Catra helps Glimmer and Adora escape from the Horde and returns the Sword of Protection to her, since, with Adora gone, Catra's position as Force Captain is secured and Shadow Weaver gets blamed for it.
  • South Park:
    • From "Fun With Veal":
      Kyle: Dude, how are we going to move 23 cows to your house?
      Stan: I don't know.
      Cartman: Guys, I've got it. We can kill Butters, and then float the cows on a river of his blood!
      Kyle: Don't be stupid! Butters doesn't have that much blood in him!
    • In "200", dozens of celebrities get together to sue South Park into the ground after years of ridicule from them, and decide that they instead would like to get their hands on Mohammed. The Ginger Kids, however, want Mohammed for similar reasons and threaten to bomb South Park. Tom Cruise decides they should violently attack South Park as well, only to be reminded that getting violent would ruin their careers. They reactivate Barbara Streisand instead so she can destroy the town.
    • In "Freemium Isn't Free", the Devil himself detests the usage of "freemium" games due to its lack of nuance (subtly), pointing out it is blatant Skinner-box manipulation. It also crosses over with Even Evil Has Standards since he points out that temptation is supposed to be over something fun and alluring rather than something that exploits weaknesses in human psychology. Given the overall nature of free will and his role as being the tempter, it makes sense the Devil would take this stance.
  • The Spectacular Spider-Man:
    • One episode has the eponymous hero confront Tombstone after beating up a pair of his Mooks. Tombstone lands a few good blows on Spider-Man and seems poised to give him the beating of his wall-crawling life, but instead calls the police and informs them that Spider-Man just trespassed, assaulted his employees, and threatened his well-being. These all being valid facts, the police try to arrest Spider-Man while Tombstone sits back and watches.
    • On the whole, this is Sandman's raison d'être. He's one of the most powerful villains, arguably the most powerful, but he limits himself to financial robberies or acting as a hired Mook since all he's ever cared about is making money. Conquering the city, hurting civilians, taking revenge on Spider-Man, none of these things make him money so he sees it all as a chump's game and refrains (though he will target Spider-Man for the heck of it if the opportunity arises or if sufficiently pressed).
  • Spider-Man: The Animated Series: The Kingpin was presented this way, even occasionally teaming up with Spidey against more Omnicidal Maniac villains because "there's no profit to be had in the end of the world."
    • The same series also presented Dr. Doom in this manner during the adaption of the Secret War. While the other villains brutally conquer the planet the Beyonder has sent them to and enslave the population, Dr. Doom turns the part of the planet that he manages to conquer into a peaceful paradise where robots do all the hard work and the population can live in luxury. His motivation for doing so is that the planet has technology far beyond that of earth (including a way for Doom to heal his disfigured face and cure Ben of the Fantastic Four of being stuck in his monstrous form), and by destroying the civilization or ruling as a tyrant, Doom would only deny himself access to this technology.
  • A subtle example happens in Star Wars: Clone Wars. The reason General Grievous spared Shaak Ti when he obviously could have killed her was because he needed a live witness to let the Jedi Council know that Chancellor Palpatine was gone (as his boss Darth Sidious, who unknown to Grievous, was Palpatine, had wanted them to know).
  • The villains of Star Wars Rebels are known for doing this, choosing to wait for an opportunity to bring together as many adversaries as possible in hopes of destroying them all together, without much success.
    • In the first season finale, "Fire Across The Galaxy", the Grand Inquisitor has captured Kanan Jarrus, leader of the Spectres, and could have very well chosen to finish him off while having confiscated his lightsaber, which he was apparently too afraid to use openly. But instead, he chooses to use him as bait for the other Spectres in hopes of killing them all as they tried to rescue him, whether by his own combat skills or the numerous Imperial forces aboard the Star Destroyer he was holding Kanan hostage. Unfortunately for the Grand Inquisitor, this didn't work out too well, and he paid the ultimate price.
    • When the Fifth Brother and Seventh Sister, two new Inquisitors, encounter some of the Spectres for the first time in the next season aboard an abandoned medical station, they succeed in overpowering and capturing them, but choose to keep them hostage in hopes of drawing their allies to them. When Ezra, one of them, tells the Seventh Sister that she would have killed him and his friends already, she then replies that she doesn't have plans to kill them...yet. The captured Spectres eventually manage to find a way to escape captivity, retreat and alert fellow rebels about the new Inquisitors all by themselves.
    • The two Inquisitors later had another chance to kill Kanan, Ezra and Zeb while they were protecting Force-sensitive children after besting the three of them in combat, but somehow the Inquisitors decide that it still isn't time to finish them off yet. Then Ahsoka Tano shows up to fend off the Inquisitors, giving the three rebels a chance to escape. Eventually, it became clear that the Inquisitors waited quite too long for an opportunity to defeat the rebels, as they were eventually slain by Maul during a fight at an abandoned Sith temple.
    • Grand Admiral Thrawn, a more strategic villain, also does this in the second half of the series, waiting for opportune moments to strike at the Rebels. For example, after seeing them escape after stealing Y-Wings that were going to be destroyed above the planet of Yarma, he orders his forces to let them leave "with their meager prize" instead of going after them. This eventually pays off by the end of Season 3 when he manages to deduce the location of the Rebels' secret base and launch a massive invasion to crush their hopes of launching a full-scale assault on Lothal, although a good number of Rebels manage to survive and escape to Yavin IV.
  • The Pastmaster in SWAT Kats. Unlike the other villains, particularly Dr. Viper, who often go out of their way to hurt and kill innocents, whether or not the Pastmaster kills (or tries to kill) "foolish mortals" is dependent on what he's currently attempting to do:
    • In "The Pastmaster Always Rings Twice", he makes a point of letting grave robbers Jack and Tom go after returning from the grave, despite the fact they might tell people about him, because at that point he is focused on finding his missing spellbook, and plus he doesn't care if anyone knows he's back. And throughout the episode, he pretty much ignores people unless they attack him, and in particular, he just locks Callie and Dr. Sinian in the stairwell rather than kill them when they attempt to interfere with his plans.
    • In "Bride of the Pastmaster", the only times he (through his monsters) hurts or kills anyone is in an effort to persuade Queen Callista to give in to his demands; he repeatedly tells her that if she agrees to marry him, he'll call off the attack on Megalith City. Killing and endangering people here is merely used as a persuasion tactic.
    • And in "The Deadly Pyramid", he makes a concerted effort to kill Randall the photographer, and then Dr. Sinian and her assistant Henson, lest they escape and warn anyone of the coming mummy army. But once the SWAT Kats and Enforcers show up, the element of surprise is ruined, so he focuses his attention on attacking the city, abandoning all efforts to kill Sinian and her colleagues. The only other person he specifically tries to have killed is Mayor Manx, but this is only because he thinks killing Manx will make him the ruler of Megakat City.
    • There's also the fact that in "A Bright and Shiny Future", he was capable of swallowing his hatred for the SWAT Kats in order to cooperate with them against the Metallikats, because Mac and Molly had betrayed him and taken away his magic pocket watch, rendering him powerless. But once the Metallikats are defeated and he gets his watch back, he goes right back into villain mode.
  • Shere Kahn in TaleSpin, despite being a Corrupt Corporate Executive, is actually a Benevolent Boss who treats his employees with respect. His reasoning is that employees who want to work under him are far more useful and productive than ones that have to. He also once made certain that his workers were freed from a corrupt underling who was working them to death.
    Shere Kahn: My dear, I desire only money and power. Unpresentable employees provide me with neither.
    • Shere Kahn is also smart when it comes to making business deals, as well. In one episode, an inventor was trying to sell Kahn his "Auto-Aviators," robots that flew planes automatically, never had to rest, and never deviated from their flight plans. While Kahn is interested in the idea, he initially refuses because he hadn't seen the robot in action yet. Kahn turns out to be right when the Auto-Aviator proves utterly incapable of dealing with air pirates, leaving Baloo to take over.
  • Agent Bishop in the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He had the goal of protecting humanity from aliens, and while he was extremely ruthless, he had his priorities in line and didn't go and spend time trying to kill the turtles, who were ultimately more an aid to him then a hindrance.
  • Jacques of Total Drama Presents: The Ridonculous Race objects to cheating late into the race, not because he feels it's wrong but because he and Josee keep getting time penalties for trying to sabotage the other teams.
  • Transformers:
    • Beast Wars: The Tri-Predacus Council, leaders of the majority of all Predacons, sends an agent to prehistoric Earth to aid the Maximals and capture Megatron, whom they declared a dangerous criminal. They, like Megatron himself, still want to take over Cybertron and spark a second interstellar war, but would prefer to do so through subtle manipulations and waiting for the opportune moment. That and Megatron's plan is too reckless even for them to consider. The plan also makes Blackarachnia defect in order to save her own life as it would destroy all Maximals which is what her protoform was.
    • Soundwave of Transformers: Prime has made a career out of this. It diminishes his effectiveness not the slightest. The first example to come to mind is when he ends up in a hacking duel with Raph while he and the kids are all in the same building. After a scuffle, Soundwave ends up with an axe in his tendrils and the humans are defenseless. Rather than waste time killing them one by one, Soundwave uses the axe to cut the hardline, ensuring they can't interfere with his work.
  • Walter Strickler (real name Stricklander) from Trollhunters is shown to be more interested in his own self-interest when it comes to the dodgy, cut-throat world that he lives in, often leading to contradictory motivations at face value. The primary reason why he is a follower of Gunmar is so that he can live in a world where he and his fellow changelings could live in a world free of persecution due to their half-breed status (unaware that Gunmar does not care about them, massacring the entire Janus Order as soon as he is done with them). When Bular (the Gumm-Gumm who strong-armed him into staying loyal to Gunmar) is killed, he immediately changes gears so that the Janus Order drops all plans at releasing Gunmar from the Darklands, preferring the status quo of Changelings ruling the human world from the shadows, only going after Jim because he poses a threat to him. The only part of him that contradicts this self-interest is his love for Barbara, and even then he has his moments of this, not agreeing to lift the spell that is slowly killing both of them until Jim swears his safety out of Trollmarket.
    • Changelings as a whole seem to adhere to a code that promotes this sort of thing. The first rule is that there is Honor Among Thieves, only for the second rule to contradict this and promote reason over honor, while the third rule places emphasis on seeing everyone and everything as a tool to get ahead. Whether or not this shaped Walter's worldview or if it was the other way around, Walter having run the Janus Order before defecting, is up for debate. However, this approach shows in how they operate in a fundamental level: the children they have replaced must be properly cared for in order for their disguised forms to hold. As such, in the realm of the Gumm Gumms, they have a very attentive nursery with a reputation of that so well known that the heroes don't have to hurry to rescue the children.
  • Voltron: Legendary Defender: Prince Lotor is much more willing to use diplomacy than his father. Not because he actually wants to create equality between all the people of his empire or anything like that, but simply because people are less likely to rebel if they think they can actually talk to their overlords. There's lots of pomp and ceremony about having allies instead of slaves, but not much actually changes. Furthermore, Lotor often lets Voltron escape because he's not as obsessed with it as his father was. He does attack them at every opportunity, he just isn't willing to throw entire fleets into the meat grinder on the off chance that they might slow Voltron down or risk everything on gambits to take control of the Black Lion.
  • The supervillain organization "The Light" in Young Justice practices this. In one episode, the unaffiliated villain Ocean Master is one trigger pull away from blowing up a house full of the heroes' children and partners when he's interrupted by one of The Light's operatives. The operative patiently explains that killing family members is a "nuclear option" that could result in a dangerous escalation in what had been a largely bloodless and covert conflict. Ocean Master doesn't listen, and is summarily murdered. The heroes are left with no idea their families have been compromised.
    "Vandal once wrote, 'It is better to capture an army that to destroy it.' He had learned that more can be gained controlling men in peace than in the chaos of war. For war is death. Death is waste. And life should not be wasted while it may yet be controlled to serve a greater purpose."
  • In one episode of Xiaolin Showdown, Jack Spicer helped the monks save the world from Wuya because he wanted to rule the world himself.


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