Not every villain gets to be that way because they were born evil. In fact, some of the most compelling villains started off as good people – heroes even – but were warped by circumstance into doing terrible things. When viewers first meet these characters, they appear to be horrific monsters with no remorse, but once you get a peek into their backstory, your opinion of them may change – sometimes dramatically.
Obito Uchiha of Naruto may have done some atrocious things, but he also endured immense suffering. His ancestor Madara used to manipulate him into believing that humanity should be destroyed. Revy from Black Lagoon became a mercenary after an encounter with the police taught her that the only person who was going to protect her was herself. Even Cells At Work uses this trope by making viewers cry their eyes out over the backstory of a cancer cell.
Fallen hero anime characters can be some of the most fascinating characters the anime world has to offer. They offer a glimpse into what creates a villain, and how the human psyche processes trauma. Be warned – some of these stories are pretty brutal.
Obito Uchiha Was Manipulated By His Ancestor In ‘Naruto’
About half of the villains in Naruto were corrupted in some way, but perhaps one of the most dramatic examples involves Obito Uchiha.
When Obito Uchiha first appeared, he was a member of the Akatsuki who was hellbent on destroying all of humanity – basically he was as evil as it’s possible to be. But Obito wasn’t always like that. Actually, he was a heroic, upbeat kid who just wanted to be a great ninja. After an accident leaves his body half crushed under a rock, he gives his sharingan eye to his teammate and rival Kakashi as a final act of friendship. Kakashi and their other teammate Rin leave him, assuming that he’ll be dead within minutes.
But Obito doesn’t die – instead his ancient relative Madara finds him and nurses him back to health… all while slowly manipulating him into seeing humanity as a horrific thing that must be destroyed. He finally succeeds when he implants a tailed beast into Rin, which goes on a rampage that forces Kakashi to kill her in order to protect the village. Madara also arranges it so that Obito will watch Kakashi kill Rin, but not know why.
He finally gives into the months of brainwashing, and agrees to help Madara with his nefarious plans. Also – Madara’s ideas about the nature of humanity were derived from a childhood dominated by war, so he could easily fit this trope too.
Scar Endured Genocide In ‘Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood’
When Scar first appears, he’s a serial killer who targets Amestrian people – Amestria being a fictional, vaguely European nation in Fullmetal Alchemist. Though a murderer when he first appears, Scar didn’t always have a heart full of hate. The reason he specifically targets Amestrians is because Amestrian soldiers nearly wiped out his people, the Ishvalans. He not only lost his family, but his entire community and way of life. He wanted them to experience the same pain that they caused him – and it’s kind of hard to blame him.
As Scar’s arc progresses, he learns that although his anger is justified, he no longer wishes to contribute to the cycle of hate. Instead, he will work toward peace.
Ultear Milkovich Endures Human Experimentation In ‘Fairy Tail’
When Ultear Milkovich first appears in Fairy Tail, she seems like a cruel villain who is willing to kill basically anyone to get what she wants. But in fact, Ultear isn’t intrinsically evil. Actually, she’s acting on the assumption that she can turn back time and fix everything she’s done. Why does she want to turn back time? Because of all the suffering she endured at the hands of a malicious organization that not only made her believe that her mother had abandoned her to their mercy, but who performed cruel and violent experiments on her. Had she never suffered all this turmoil and pain, she likely would have been a member of a heroic guild from the start.
Cancer Is Surprisingly Sympathetic In ‘Cells At Work’
This one is going to sound weird, but if you’ve seen Cells at Work, it makes perfect sense. Cells at Work features anthropomorphized versions of cells, including red blood cells, white blood cells, viruses, bacteria, and more. It also features cancer cells – and gives them a backstory that will actually make you feel sorry for them.
When Cancer is introduced, he and his cancer cell friends are stripping the body of its resources by diverting everything to them. They’re also taking up a lot of extra space and making it difficult for the other cells to do their job. Later, it turns out that he actually plans to kill the other cells. Because, y’know, he’s Cancer.
But it turns out that all Cancer wanted from the beginning was to be like any other normal cell – he was created with a defect, and because of that, the body’s immune system immediately started trying to kill him – the same thing happens to all the other cells like him. Being hunted solely for how he was made, something he can’t control, made him want to show the rest of his world what it was like to be like him. It’s hard not to be sympathetic toward him – which is a weird feeling, since he’s a potentially deadly disease.
Centuries Of Immortality Corrupted Joseph In ‘The Ancient Magus’ Bride’
Joseph is the main villain of The Ancient Magus’ Bride. When he first appears, he’s a manipulative monster who performs horrifying experiments on other people that often result in their deaths. It’s hard to sympathize with a guy who tricks someone into murdering cats to save his wife’s life, and then casually lets both of them die without a trace of guilt…until we learn his dramatic backstory.
Thousands of years ago, Joseph was a kind-hearted gravedigger who did his job with diligence, even as people threw rocks at him for his involvement with corpses. One day, he meets an old man named Cartaphilus who is critically injured. Despite Cartaphilus being a complete stranger, Joseph dedicates his non-grave digging hours to taking care of him. Cartaphilus never gets any better, because he’s immortal. Joseph fuses his body with Cartaphilus’ in order to finally heal the poor man – but in the process, he becomes immortal himself.
Immortality in The Ancient Magus’ Bride is horrific. You can’t die, but your body rots with time and never heals. After thousands of years of endless suffering, he becomes so desperate to die that he stops caring about other people’s well-being, and uses others as experimental fodder to try and figure out how to end his own life. This series never excuses his actions, but shows viewers how he got to that point, and offers a chance at redemption.
Shinobu Sensui Discovered The Evil Of Humanity On ‘Yu Yu Hakusho’
Shinobu Sensui was once a Spirit Detective who dedicated himself to slaying demons, but ultimately ended up turning on humanity instead. That’s because he came to view humans as being monstrous and irredeemable. He first began to think this way after witnessing a group of humans bathing in the blood of demons they’d just killed for no reason. His beliefs were solidified when he came across Chapter Black, a video tape that contained every sin human beings had ever committed. He unfortunately did not see Chapter White, a companion tape that included everything good humans ever did, and ended up with a seething hatred of humans that led him to try to destroy as many as he possibly could.
Tomura Shigaraki Was Let Down By Hero Society In ‘My Hero Academia’
Many of the villains in My Hero Academia got to be that way because they became disillusioned by hero society. Tomura Shigaraki was the grandson of one of the greatest heroes in series’ history, Nana Shimura. He could easily have become a hero himself, but his life course changes dramatically when he’s attacked by a villain as a young boy. Up until that moment, he had lived life assuming that if he were in serious trouble, a hero would come and save him. When this doesn’t happen, he loses his faith in the hero system – and falls prey to All For One, a villain who makes him his protege. By the time he appears in the series, he’s more interested in destroying civilization than protecting it.
Gakuho Asano Lost A Student To Suicide In ‘Assassination Classroom’
Gakuho Asano was once a caring teacher who was kind and respectful toward his students. His focus was on training his students to be “good.” When one of his students committed suicide due to the extreme bullying that they faced in school, Asano decided that his methods were all wrong. Being good wasn’t enough – he had to train his students to be ruthlessly competitive people who strove for greatness at all costs.
This might have been okay if he didn’t take it as far as he did. Asano became a school principal, and created an underclass of students who had the lowest grades in the school. Those students would be housed in an off-site building, where they would receive sub-standard education, and constant reminders about how stupid and pathetic they were. Meanwhile, students with high grades would be encouraged to look down on and bully their inferiors. This was supposed to motivate students to succeed, but it had the exact opposite effect . For kids who weren’t doing well educationally, it cemented the idea that they were inherently inferior instead of just bad at doing homework. For the kids who had decent grades, it encouraged them to be bullies.
Ultimately Asano changes his ways, but not before doing some serious damage to middle school children.
Euphemia Li Britannia Was Brainwashed Into Committing Mass Murder In ‘Code Geass’
Euphemia is a Britannian princess who wants to free the Japaense people from subjugation under the Britannian people. Though unable to completely free them, she is able to give them a designated zone where they can run things themselves and enjoy the same legal rights that they once did before Brittainia showed up. This plan isn’t perfect, but it’s the best thing she can do, and she intends to do more in the future.
On the day that she had gathered a large group of Japanese people into a stadium, Lelouch accidentally commands her to kill off every Japanese person she can find. His Geass is active, so the command completely overrides Euphemia’s will, and there’s nothing Lelouch can do to stop her short of killing her. Euphemia dies in disgrace after mowing down hundreds of the people she once promised to protect. In one of the most dramatic scenes to ever occur in an anime, Euphemia is overcome by darkness in a matter of minutes.
Revy Learned That She Could Trust No One In ‘Black Lagoon’
Revy is now a key member of a mercenary group called Black Lagoon, but once upon a time she was just a little girl struggling to survive in a hostile world. She wanted to believe in the goodness of others and help other people whenever she could, but after a childhood of being treated like subhuman scum, she gave up on all that.
Her father was an abusive alcoholic who she desperately wanted to escape from, but when she turned to the police for help, they beat her, attacked her, and arrested her, then dumped her back at home with her abusive father. After that experience, she learned that she had to take her safety into her own hands – so she killed her father, ran away from home, and embarked on a life of crime. How different might her life have been if the police had seen her for what she was – a child in need of protection?
Gendo Ikari Lost His Mind After Losing His Wife In ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’
How does one describe Gendo Ikari? Grouchy sourpuss? Genocidal maniac? World’s worst dad? No matter how you choose to describe him, it’s probably not going to be particularly flattering. But Gendo Ikari wasn’t always the utter jerkwad who appears in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Initially, he was dedicated to trying to protect humanity from angel attacks, but after his wife Yui died, he became consumed with grief, and obsessed with resurrecting her. He thought he could make it happen by triggering the third impact, and was willing to sacrifice his own son for that purpose. This is in direct contrast to what Yui would have wanted – the whole reason she risked her life to fight angels was to protect her child. Gendo’s story is an example of how a person’s morals can become completely warped by grief.
Nakago’s Childhood Was Rife With Abuse In ‘Fushigi Yuugi’
Nakago first appears as one of the Seiryuu Seven, and everything he does is awful. Whether it’s brainwashing Tamahome into attacking his friends, keeping Yui hostage by manipulating her onto his side, or just generally being a creep, it’s seriously hard to like this guy. But when his backstory is revealed, it’s hard not to understand why he’s so full of rage.
When he was as child, Nakago accidentally killed his own mother while trying to rescue her from soldiers who were assaulting her. Later, the emperor took notice of him, and kept him as a pet. He spent his childhood being abused. The pain that these events led him to seek out vengeance – though his targets had little to do with what happened to him, it was misery rather than logic that directed his behavior.
Yubel Was Shot Into Space In ‘Yu-Gi-Oh! GX’
Yubel was actually corrupted by the Light of Destruction – an evil entity that exists in outer space. In a former life, she and protagonist Yuki Judai (Jaden Yuki in the dub) were lovers, and Yubel made some pretty serious sacrifices for his benefit – including literally transforming from human to dragonlike beast in order to protect him. He promised to love her forever in exchange – but that promise wasn’t kept, and she was furious.
Many years later, she’s made into a Duel Monster card, which winds up in the hands of the current form of Yuki Judai. As a card, she was dangerous – people tended to die when she was used in a duel. In order to combat this, she was literally shot into space. Years of drifting aimlessly through space while being bombarded by the Light of Destruction pushed her to the brink. She convinced herself that Judai had abandoned her to this fate because he loved her, and therefore equated torture with love. That’s what led her to kidnap Judai’s friend Johan, brainwash Judai into becoming a genocidal maniac who murdered thousands of Duel Spirits and most of his friends, and pressure him into accepting a creepy symbiotic relationship with her.