Sunday, September 11, 2005

+The Anti-Hero's Dilemma+

Music: "Kesenai Tsumi" (Indelible Sin) - Nana Kitade
(Full Metal Alchemist)

Just some random thought that has been plaguing my mind since Saturday.

I practically grew up with books, all sorts of books, actually.Comic books feature quite prominently in this particular bit of "recollection". My father used to sell them (along with Time and Newsweek) when I was in elementary (and briefly during my high school years). Anyway, we (my brother & I) would open them (very carefully, and most of the time without my father's permission)before they were sent to subscribers and I would daresay that we learned quite a few things from them (and they are NOT "trash" as some literary snobs would claim).

My most favourite titles include Wolverine (Marvel), The Uncanny X-Men (Marvel), The Amazing Spiderman (Marvel), Avengers (Marvel), Ghost Rider (Marvel), Midnight Sons (series usually featuring Vengeance, The Caretaker, Ghost Rider and a fourth one I cannot remember), X-Force, X-Factor, Cable, Fantastic Four, The Silver Surfer (Marvel), Legends of the Dark Knight (DC), Batman (DC), Superman, Justice League (DC), The Flash (DC) as well as some titles from Dark Horse and Image. Oh, and "Eclipso"...that infinitely psychotic comic about a homicidal spirit from the dark side of the moon, who "possess" a chosen individual to do his decidedly gruesome work (dynamic story and neat artwork too!)

The point was that most western books (and japanese manga) usually feature anti-heroes or "flawed" heroes (in this respect we learned that people are multi-layered and complex, well, at least some people are!*smirk*) This is even more evident in Japanese manga (I believe the Western books followed suit - most of their characters 1960-ish were bland and one-dimensional - I remember watching Captain America and Fantastic Four re-runs on ABC - ugh!). So, how do we "define" anti-heroes? And what makes them so compelling? And why do I prefer them to the "Traditional Hero"?

According to Wikipedia:

In literature and film, an anti-hero is a central or supporting character that has some of the personality flaws traditionally assigned to villains or un-heroic people, but nonetheless also has enough heroic qualities, intentions, or type of strength to gain the sympathy of readers or viewers. Anti-heroes can be awkward, obnoxious, passive, pitiful, obtuse, or even normal; But they are always, in some fundamental way, flawed, unqualified, or failed heroes. Comic books feature anti-heroes (also known as "dark heroes") who are characters fighting for the side of good, but either with some tragic flaw (such as a tormented past), fighting for reasons that are not entirely altruistic (they may fight a villain due to a grudge or some other selfish motivation, with little or no regard for typical "heroic" motives), a non heroic character who is not evil, nor are they good, but find themselves fighting on the side of good due to circumstance, or a hero using questionable means to reach their goals. A good working definition of the anti-hero is a paradoxical character that is, within the context of a story, a hero but in another context could easily be seen as a villain, simply as unlikable, a normal person or coward.

The concept of the anti-hero is as old as literature itself with the main character of the Iliad, Achilles being a strong anti-hero. The presence of anti-heroes has blossomed recently, as there is a tendency of modern authors to present villains as complex, even sympathetic, characters whose motivations are not inherently evil and sometimes even good. The line, therefore, between an anti-hero and a villain is sometimes not clear.


One type of anti-hero feels helpless, distrusts conventional values and is often unable to commit to any ideals, but they accept and often relish their status as outsiders. The cyberpunk genre makes extensive use of this character-type.

Another type of anti-hero is a character who constantly moves from one disappointment in their lives to the next, without end, with only occasional and fleeting successes. But they persist and even attain a form of heroic success by steadfastly never giving up or changing their goals. These characters often keep a deep-seated optimism that one day, they will succeed. But in the end they still meet the ultimate fate of a traditional villain, failure.

A third type of anti-hero is an individual with the same end goals as a traditional hero, but for whom "the ends justify the means." This character type is popular in comic books: for example by day Matt Murdock seeks to bring evil-doers to justice as a lawyer. But when the judicial system fails, he dons a mask and instead exacts revenge as Daredevil.

Examples (my own - although you can find plenty at Wiki):

Film & Television:

  • Shinomori Aoshi, Saito Hajime and to a different extent, Himura Kenshin (Rurouni Kenshin)
  • Zechs Merquise, Heero Yuy (Mobile War Chronicle Gundam Wing)
  • Hannibal Lecter (Silence of the Lambs, Red Dragon, Hannibal)
  • Angel (Angel Series)
  • Prince Igamu (Hikari Sentai Maskman)
  • Amuro Ray and to a different extent Char Aznable (MS Gundam)
  • Edward Elric, Roy Mustang (Full Metal Alchemist)
  • Killua Zaoldyeck, Leorio, Kurapika and to a different extent Lucifer Quoll, Ilumi Zaoldyeck and Hyskoa (HunterXHunter)
  • Spike Spiegel, Faye Valentine (Cowboy Bebop)
  • Sgt. Todd (Soldier)
  • Hellboy (Hellboy)
  • John Constantine (Constantine)
  • Spawn (Spawn)
  • Magneto (X-Men Movies)
  • Han Solo and to a different extent, Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader (Star Wars Trilogies)
  • Seven-of-Nine and to a different extent, Q (Star Trek)
  • Sol Zagato (Magic Knight Rayearth)
  • Ashram, the Black Knight and to a different extent Karla, the Grey Witch (The Record of Lodoss War)
  • Folken Fanel (Vision of Escaflowne)
  • Nathan Algren (The Last Samurai)
  • Shinji Ikari and to a different extent, Gendou Ikari (Neon Genesis Evangelion)
  • Major Motoko Kusanagi (Ghost In the Shell)
  • Fujimiya Aya, Koduo Yoji (Weiss Kreuz)
  • Edward Scissorhands
  • Riddick (Pitch Black/Chronicles of Riddick)
  • Nicholas Wolfwood (Trigun)
  • Alucard and to a different extent, Integral Wingates Hellsing (Hellsing)

Literature (assorted):

  • Alex (A Clockwork Orange) - Anthony Burgess
  • Lestat de Lioncourt (The Vampire Chronicles) - Anne Rice
  • Severus Snape (Harry Potter Books) - J.K. Rowling
  • The Last Gunslinger (Dark Tower Series) - Stephen King
  • Oskar Schindler (Schindler's List) - Thomas Keneally (non-fiction)
  • Dracula (Dracula) - Bram Stoker
  • Stevens (The Remains of the Day) - Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Nakago/Ayuru Gi (Seiran Den) - Watase Yu
  • Eric Stahl (A Cold Heart) - Jonathan Kellerman
  • Gollum (The Lord of theRings) - J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Dan Ketch/Ghost Rider - Ghost Rider Comics (Marvel)
  • Frank Castle/The Punisher - The Punisher Comics (Marvel)
  • Jean-Paul Valley/Azrael - Azrael, the Avenging Angel Comics (DC)
  • John Constantine - Hellblazer Comics (DC Vertigo)


  • Squall Leonhart and to a different extent, Edea Kramer (Final Fantasy VIII)
  • Zidane Tribal and to a different extent, Kuja (Final Fantasy IX)
  • Vincent Valentine and to a different extent, Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII)
  • Kyle Madigan (Parasite Eve II)


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