Always in my writing and in watching anime I love finding ‘villains’ that are more than just one note. It goes from watching sports anime where I feel bad if the rival team loses to those characters who I really don’t want to see die. Those are the stories that I love to read and watch.
If you are planning on watching akame ga kill– this will not be spoiler free.
You have been warned.
Also in my writing I want to make sure my antagonists are moving and changing. You never want a static character. It is tempting to have them be bad just to be bad. The antagonists need powerful motivation just like your protagonists. In using Bols from akame ga kill as my example on how to give your characters agency.
In Akame Ga Kill there are basically two forces opposing each other: Night Raid and the Jaegers. They are both tools in the bigger pictures of the rebellion against the capital. We are viewing Night Raid as those who are trying to free the people from a corrupt government and the Jaegers are those who are fighting for the government.
Bols is a part of the Jaegers.
Humanize your antagonist
In the anime so far we are introduced to many antagonists and there is a brief history of Liver but nothing as in depth as what we get from the introduction of the Jaegers. What this anime does well is that Bols, who can look scary, is humanized.
First we find out that he is actually shy. Aww. Also he is a good cook. Then we find out that he has a wife and daughter. Who come into bring him lunch. It is a sweet moment. So we start to wonder if we are supposed to hate the guy. When he is giving these small human traits it helps us sympathize with him. We start to care about this strange man in a mask that has this adorable family.
Give your antagonist a backstory
Sometimes when we write it is easy to spend days writing out the backstory for our protag. Give your antagonist just as much time. Giving your characters a backstory helps in giving them motivation.
In the anime they don’t take forever to explain Bols backstory (Nothing ruins a story like too much exposition!). They give just enough hints about where he came from. We learn that he was part of the incendiary squad that burned down villages. We learn that he had to ask his wife out multiples times. We learn that he can cook. These are just small hints that help the watcher form this strange character in their minds and connect with him.
Because even as we learn that he burned people alive, it is in his tone and stature that we see his regret. This deepens Bols so much. We start to wonder… “Why is he part of the Jaegers? Doesn’t he want to pay his debts in a different way?
You want the reader/view to ask these questions about your characters. That is what makes them interesting. If you keep the readers wanting to know more then they will keep reading.
Give your antagonist motivation that makes sense in their story
The most powerful development in any good character. Motivation.
Again if your antagonists are just being bad to be bad or if they are just soooooo evil, it turns into a snore fest.
The reader and viewer need to believe that your antagonist has legitimate reasons for their choices.
In Bols case he is part of the Jaegers for a couple reasons. One is is protecting his wife and child and two he believes that if he follows these orders and helps his teammates he is getting some retribution for his past deeds. He also knows that he will pay for his crimes of killing others someday but with his wife and child he hopes it isn’t too soon.
So we have motivation for our character. We can then understand why he does what he does even if we don’t agree with it. This in itself is powerful. I think most can understand that as a husband and father that is very powerful motivation for Bols.
Make the death (if they die) bittersweet
When or if your antagonist dies you want the reader to care. Its seems strange but if you have humanized and given your character motivation, there is a large chance that the reader/viewer will feel sad at their passing.
I think Bols death was one of the saddest that I have seen in a long time. Before this moment there were other ‘good guys’ who died and yeah it was sad but it didn’t have the heart wrenching feeling the same as Bols death.
In his final moments he shows that he understands why he was killed. He knew that he deserved this death in some way. But he starts to crawl home and reaches for his wife and daughter. He wants to see them one more time before he goes.
The build up of Bols is what makes this moment so bittersweet. We know that he is working for the wrong side but inside we want him to see his wife and child. It saddens the viewer that he doesn’t get his final wish.
So if you are writing out your characters don’t ignore how powerful it can be to have an antagonist that we can care for… even if it’s just a little. It will let the reader/viewer have that moment where we question why we care about them. It lets us see that even if they are evil, they are still human. In that way we can see their struggle. We can see our own struggle and how maybe if life was different we could have ended up in the same situation as them.
That is an antagonist that we can get behind and maybe in some small way we hope that they get redemption.
Hope you enjoyed my writing lesson and thank you all for your kind words and your support in a darker time these last few months. You all really are Me Reasons Why.