There’s something about an anti-hero that everyone loves, except when they don’t. In fact, the term itself has become so nebulous that it can easily encompass Alucard, Shinji Ikari and Guts. Essentially anyone with questionable morals or who treats people as a means to an end or someone who bucks the plot by insisting on whining about how bad life is or really anything that might not necessarily fall into the fairly strict definition of heroics.
And that’s why Lelouch and Kaiji are giving me fits. The thing is that on the face of it they’re both anti-heroes. Or at least that’s how they start the story. Both of them start as self-centered (almost delusionally so in Lelouch’s case), they both have questionable morals and they both commit acts which could be considered incorrect. They’d both fit smack dab into the middle of anti-hero territory.
Except when they don’t.
On the nature of Kaiji and Lelouche
The problem with Kaiji, as CCY aptly pointed out, is that yes Kaiji is a jerk, but he’s a jerk FOR JUSTICE. He spends the first half of the series actually trying to help other people. Now granted he does it because he wants to survive. But he sacrifices himself on the hope that they people who he’s helped will bail him out in the end. The thing is that it’s hard to pigeonhole him simply because of that. Unlike a Kei Kurono, he isn’t really an asshole, but he wants to be. Unlike an Alucard, he doesn’t revel in his monstrosity, but he tries to. And unlike Shinji Ikari, he isn’t so self-centered that he can’t see things from other people’s points of view, but he seeks it.
In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Kaiji isn’t an anti-hero at all. He’s a hero who wants to be an anti-hero. Nowhere is that more evident then in the human derby when they’re crossing the balance beams. The entire time he’s having an internal monologue about how he wants to be a man alone, and all the other contestants are wimps. But still he finds himself crying. So the question he ends up raising are ones that anime usually dodges. Is humanity something that can be sacrificed through force of will, or is it something that has to be chipped away at? And even further than that is humanity a virtue or a vice? Because in the human derby it’s obviously a vice.
Lelouch provides a wholly different challenge. (Some spoilers ahead) First he starts off as an anti-hero. That’s what makes him so initially attractive. Here’s this character that spends people’s lives like he’s playing chess to get back at a father, who spends people’s lives like he’s playing a game of chess. He’s self-righteous, but he’s also delusional. It isn’t until he forms the Black Knights that he starts to soften and see things outside his own little world. Eventually, he starts to want what the revolutionaries’ want, which is an equal Japan. And what makes him interesting is the division between what he says and what he does. At several times during the course of the show, he tries to recapture that emotional distance he had at the beginning, but he never can quite do it. I’d say he much like Kaiji is a hero later on in the series, who is posing as an anti-hero.
(Okay, so I’m going into a really big spoiler here. If you haven’t watched the show, watch it now. Because this is one of the few twists that has gotten me in the past year of watching anime. So really stop reading now if you haven’t watched the show. And go watch it. And then buy it.)
Then Euphie dies and ruins everything. And this is what makes Code Geass really interesting. Is that now we have this hero, who’s finally decided that he’s going to stop being an anti-hero and then he’s thrown into a situation where he has to become the anti-hero again. So he ends up becoming a hero, who doesn’t want to be an anti-hero, who has to play an anti-hero so he can do what he needs to do. Again this raises some very similar questions to Kaiji, perhaps striking a little closer to a central question of, “Is evil a choice? Or is it the product of your experiences?”
Why this is good for anime
To be honest, I’ve started to get tired of the same old, familiar molds for anime characters. So many of them had started to feel like variations on a theme that to have two characters who should be anti-heroes challenge the idea of anti-heroes and the nature of humanity is really a pleasant break for me.
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