If you’ve been watching anime for a few years, you’ll know about Light Yagami even if you’ve never watched Death Note itself. He’s hard to avoid. Every time an anti-hero or psychotic villain rears their head, Light Yagami comes into the equation, and it’s not hard to see why. The world loves a good antihero, a good guy who really isn’t the good guy. It was the first time many of us encountered a protagonist who is completely off his rocker, yet we still rooted for him to win (until he killed off all of our favourite characters). He’s intelligent, good-looking, and has an unbreakable power of will to achieve…world domination. This sea of love for one protagonist sometimes overshadows other epic baddies who rival Light himself.
A potential front-runner for this could be Shougo Makishima from Psycho Pass. For those who don’t know, Psycho Pass is about a city enveloped within the ‘Sybil System’, a computer program which determines a person’s likelihood to commit crime, calling it their ‘crime coefficient’. If a person is determined to have the potential for criminal activity, their opportunities in life are severely limited. If their crime coefficient is too high, they’re placed in special facilities to detain them for the good of society. As a result, crime in this city is greatly reduced. The only problem is, psychos like Makishima slip under the net. Makishima is unique in that he has a crime coefficient of zero, meaning it’s either off the charts or completely unreadable. This allows him to torture people, commit brutal murders and artistically display the bodies in public, and hunt humans for fun— all going completely unnoticed by authorities. He’s portrayed as calm, drop-dead gorgeous and highly intelligent, leading to an intellectual battle similar to Light Yagami and Ryuzaki’s. Although Makishima may not be as methodical as Light, he is certainly unhinged and his eerie presence is enough for him to be as deviant, if not more, than Light.
Following on from there, we have a whole host of amazing, morally ambiguous characters to choose from the hit anime Baccano!. For his delusions of grandeur and swish style, assassin Claire Stanfield simply has to get a mention. I know what you’re thinking: how can a dude who named himself ‘Claire’ possibly be scary? Turns out that Claire is just one of his many names. His most famous moniker is ‘Vino’- Italian for ‘wine’, because he leaves his victims in such a state that they look like they’re covered in red wine. Beautiful thought. His training in the circus means that he is virtually unstoppable in a fist fight, and he can go from murderous maniac to love-struck puppy in an instant. This polarity is reminiscent of the way Light can lead his double life, but on a much bigger scale. He also has the 100% delusional self-belief of a great baddy. In his own words: “It’s fixed like the stars. The fact is I’m never gonna be killed! So remember this: mercy and compassion are virtues that only the strong are privileged to possess. And I am strong.” Chilling, right? We’re inclined to agree with Claire on this one, lest we be turned into red wine.
These two may be excellent characters, but there is one man who might just have Light Yagami for breakfast. Forget flashy murders or dreams of dominating the world, sometimes we need a character who is not only cool, but genuinely frightening. From the little-known anime Monster, we have the titular character: Johan Liebert. He doesn’t want to take over the world, be a dictator, or even go to extreme measure to save a loved one’s life. In fact, we’re not ever sure of what his true goal is until the very end of the show. He’s absent for the majority of the plot, but we can feel him behind the scenes in every episode, tinkering, playing with the characters like puppets on strings. He has committed serial murders and driven good people to murder others or commit suicide simply by having a conversation with them. All the children who come into contact with him end up sociopathic or dead. The protagonist, Kenzou Tenma, must catch Johan and end his string of awful crimes, but Johan is deviant, evasive and extremely charming. Johan needs no guns, knives, not even a magic notebook or a Shinigami. All he needs is his voice, and that is what makes him take the top spot from the epic Light Yagami.
There’s no doubt that Light Yagami is an excellent character. His ethical ambiguity is what makes him so fun to watch, and that goes for the above characters as well. Death Note is the perfect introduction to perfect anime baddies, but make sure you check out some other big names as well.