The last two posts of this trilogy have been all about defining terms and making things clear. Now I'm going to throw a wrench into the system and talk about all the blurriness I haven't really mentioned yet: anti-heroes and anti-villains.
|Image not mine. Found at http://meolliseo.tumblr.com/post/26161612400|
So unless you're prepared to deal with some uncertainty, forget trying to figure this out with me.
There was no set definition for "anti-villain" online. I did, however, get one for anti-heroes, so we'll start with that and move from there.
Let's tackle the easy thing first. What sets an anti-hero apart from a plain old hero? If you remember from last week's post, a hero is a character type and not a plot role and always has some noble, admirable qualities. An anti-hero, on the other hand, lacks those traditional noble qualities and is a main character. This means he can be anything between an average Joe and a psychopathic serial killer, as long he is a protagonist. According to TV Tropes, some common anti-heroes are loners, or are unfriendly, cynical, or willing to kill. Anti-heroes which immediately come to mind are Batman, Jack Sparrow from The Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Sherlock from BBC's Sherlock, Nathan from Half Bad, Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games trilogy, Kaladin from The Stormlight Archives, Nix from Nobody, and Vin from the Mistborn trilogy. In support of TV Tropes, a lot of those characters I just mentioned are unfriendly loners. Some anti-heroes are a little darker, though, actually fitting into the character type of villain - though I've never watched it, I'm told Dexter from Dexter is such a character. I talked a little more about villain protagonists in the post from two weeks ago.
Okay, so anti-heroes are basically protagonists who don't match the classic hero description. But what are anti-villains? Are they any different from anti-heroes or villains? How?
As I mentioned above, the term doesn't seem to have made it into dictionaries yet. The word is being used by other bloggers and authors, though, so it is becoming something a writer should know about. Urban Dictionary had two definitions which were interesting, saying that an anti-villain "pursues undeniably villainous goals, but employs arguably noble methods to achieve them" or is "an antagonist who isn't entirely evil nor entirely unsympathetic -- a character who doesn't seem to deserve being cast as the villain." Villains Wikia says that "the anti-villain plays a villain's game, but for a noble cause... at least in their eyes. They may be more noble or heroic than an anti-hero, but the means to achieve their ends are are often considered immoral, unjust, or evil."
Quite a few different opinions flying around. The one thing every source seems to agree on is that anti-villains are anti-heroes' polar opposites. That would mean that anti-villains are always an antagonist, but don't fit the description of a classic villain. I like what TV Tropes says:
"Their desired ends are mostly good, but their means of getting there are evil. Alternatively, their are evil, but they are far more ethical or moral than most villains and they thus use fairly benign methods to achieve it, and can be heroic on occasion."
Simply, anti-villains are antagonists who don't have the entire classic villain package: they're missing either the evil actions or evil motives.
Shadow from Sonic X serves as an anti-villain in several episodes, as does Knuckles. Loki from Thor could be an anti-villain - he's got the whole "misguided" thing going on - but I think he may have strayed into being a classic villain by the time Avengers rolled around. Szeth-son-son-Vallano from The Stormlight Archives is an anti-villain, as well as Marshall Gerard from The Fugitive, Inspector Javert from Les Miserables, Sohrem from The Follower, and Carl Hanratty from Catch Me If You Can. As I mentioned before, some common anti-villains are in law enforcement, are brainwashed, or are misguided. The Write Practice has a wonderful article on the four types of anti-villains, which I highly recommend reading.
Both anti-heroes and anti-villains are character types, but neither fits into the description of a classical villain or classical hero. They're always something in between. This is why they are difficult to tell apart. However, you can tell them apart by determining their plot role: anti-villains are antagonists and anti-heroes are protagonists.
In short, an anti-hero is:
- Always a protagonist.
- Any kind of character type which does not fit into the classical hero description. They are often loners, or possess traits such as unfriendliness or a readiness to kill.
And an anti-villain is:
- Always an antagonist.
- Any character type apart from a classic villain. They don't match the description of the classically evil villain, either in their motives or actions.
Things can get very complicated when dealing with these characters, who are neither black nor white, but rather a mix. I hope that this helps to clarify things a little bit.
I am back to respond to comments! Tell me: had you ever heard of anti-villains before? Do you have a favorite anti-hero or anti-villain? What is your understanding of their definitions? Do you think I classified any of those characters incorrectly? The comment section is right there. Go on. Tell me what you think.