Random Curiosity

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My Way or the Anime – Good Guys and Bad Guys

Stilts Out Loud   011   Crop good guys

Good guys? I don’t see any good guys.

Let’s talk about good guys and bad guys. Since I finished off the first season for Divine earlier this year, Rinne no Lagrange has given me the opportunity to speak about this on multiple occasions, and I’ve touched on it when writing about Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon as well, but please, allow me to fully articulate my view on the subject right now. When it comes to good guys and bad guys, I feel the same in regards to these two shows as I do with most violent conflicts that take place in real life, both throughout history and up to modern times. This is what I think – there aren’t any.

I’ll clarify. When I look at armed conflicts, I see multiple sides full of people who think they are the good guys, but who are frequently willing to do evil things in order to obtain victory. There are exceptions of course – when talking about humans, there always are – but if you look at history with an unbiased eye, I think you’ll find precious few wars that were objectively “just.” Mostly they happen because of powerful men’s greed, or a bigotry, or bullshit political circumstances, or at their very best, in the defense of the weak or to liberate the disenfranchised. Yet even then, you’ll find atrocious acts done by both sides, often times consciously and with full knowledge of what they were doing. And by the way, I do not exclude my own people from this, either my ancestors or the country I live in today. Only the truly weak are innocent of this, and only then for lack of ability. Though, when power can be at the point of a sword or the barrel of a gun…well, every country, every people have some who are strong, for better or worse.

Stilts Out Loud   011   Crop true power

Or in the hands of a maid.

So, that’s my little philosophical insight. Before this devolves into a historical or geopolitical argument – please try to keep it tame, we prefer this to be a friendly place – I suppose I should bring this back around to anime. Fiction can be wonderful because to violates this facet of real conflict. In fiction, there are often clear heroes and clear villains, and the forces of good must triumph over the forces of evil, preferably in a big climactic battle, either Lord of the Rings style, or possibly in space. Real conflicts are complex, often with shifting loyalties, a constant lack of information, and no clear path towards victory – nor even a firm idea who history will identify as the good guys, save that part where the winner gets to write history. Fiction is often unrealistic, but this can be a good thing.

For my part though, I’ve always loved the shows that treat conflict more honestly. I love stories where there are no good guys or bad guys, and instead there are just a lot of guys, and we root for the protagonist more because…well, I’ll get to that shortly. Let me just say that it’s much harder to fashion a story this way, and as is frequently the case when the harder path is taken, those that do so are enhanced by it. Now, let me go over a few relatively recent examples, though I’ll go ahead and throw up some spoiler tags in case you haven’t seen them.

Stilts Out Loud   011   Crop realistic

I said honest, not realistic.

Rinne no Lagrange

Show Spoiler ▼

Fate/Zero

Show Spoiler ▼

Jormungand and Black Lagoon

Show Spoiler ▼

Katanagatari

Show Spoiler ▼

Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon.

Show Spoiler ▼

Stilts Out Loud   011   Crop conflict

Another kind of conflict.

Those are but a few examples, and there are of course many others besides. Now, let me elaborate on why stories like these truly fascinate me: when there aren’t really any good guys or bad guys, when you’re robbed of the side you’re “supposed” to root for (because they’re good, and all people think they’re basically good, right? Right), whose side should you be on? This is an extremely relevant question if you find yourself agreeing with my view of conflict, because when all sides are full of both good and bad and you can see everybody’s point of view, you need some other way to decide where you stand, lest you render yourself unable to act. It’s also just interesting for a tiny little insight into humanity. Here’s the answer I came up with: we root for the protagonists because they’re ours.

Oh, it’s not only that. We also root for them because they’re often times more interesting than other characters. Shorn of the necessity to do the “right” thing in every situation, characters can suddenly become a lot more interesting as they do things selfishly, unorthodoxly, or even just for the hell of it. Would Koko be so interesting if she were worried about doing the right thing? Well, she would be out of a job for one, but you get my point. Would Toori be Mr. Impossible if he did what was logically right, rather than simply what he wanted to do? And without his loose moral compass (to put it lightly), Kiritsugu would have been…well, Shirou, who is a far less interesting character (except when he starts acting more like Kiritsugu). Without that crutch of being “the good guy,” these characters have to stand on their own two feet and be interesting enough to hold our attention on their own merits. In short, they have to compete, and I feel that this necessity breeds better characters. Of course, sometimes there are fumbles – I know plenty of people who preferred Waver and Iskander to Kiritsugu, and likewise plenty who watch Kyoukaisen despite not liking Toori all that much – but I think that’s only natural. That’s how the world really works, after all. We don’t all love the same people.

Stilts Out Loud   011   Crop Broskander

But really, can you blame them? Broskander is amazing.

But mostly, it’s just time. We spend a lot of time with these characters, watching them grow, watching them change, watching them get into crazy adventures, get threatened with bloody death, and come out the other side more or less okay (or maybe not). Their hopes and fears, their quirks and qualms, their inside jokes and long-lost family members and that time they went to an onsen and the guys tried to peep, only to end up getting punched into the upper stratosphere…we were there for it all. If they’re likable and interesting and we spend enough time with them, suddenly they’ll be ours, and as long as nobody comes along that resonates more, they’ll continue to be so.

So what the devil is my point? After all, this is all true of other characters as well, save that good characters might only have to compete with other good characters, if the evil ones are too deplorable to even consider. Perhaps I don’t have a point. Still, I’ve always felt that fiction is a window into how the world works. In our fiction reality is reflected, and in these stories without good guys or bad guys I learned how I could have loyalty to a group, an organization, or an idea, even while not being entirely sure it’s the right one, or even that it’s always on the side of good. When shorn of the good-or-evil paradigm, it’s okay to pick your side – your sports team, your family, your country – simply because they’re yours. That doesn’t mean they don’t have to earn it – lapses are one thing, but systematic wrongdoing should be grounds for abandonment, just as a consistently uninteresting character should be rejected…I’m looking at you, Shu! – but being yours is enough to break a tie at the very least. That might not be much, but sometimes it’s just enough. Go go local sports team, amirite?

Stilts Out Loud   011   Crop ball game

Take, me out to the ball game…

Stilts note: I apologize if this rambled on somewhat. I originally wrote half of this when I was doing my Episode 5 post for Lagrange, but life got in the way and I couldn’t finish it until now. I feel like other thoughts wormed their way in part way through…but meh, I had to get it out of my head so I could work on other things. Take this as a lesson – if there’s something you need to say (write, sing, create, etc.), do it immediately before the mood is lost! You’ve gotta capture that moment while it’s still fresh, lest it slip away and be gone, forever more…

September 6, 2012 at 12:24 am
59 comments »
  • September 6, 2012 at 1:28 amZen

    Ah, the noble lie of “inherent morality” of good and evil being part of the “fundamental laws” that make our world go round. What is right and what is wrong? Is it not only ever a matter of human perspective? There is no black and white; no line that divides that which is “moral” and that which is “immoral” besides the standards that are set by man and collectives of men. The “brutal” stoning of a woman for adultery in the Middle East is seen as “cruel and unusual” by the peoples of the faraway West- yet the vast majority of locals viewed it as a “righteous necessity.” Which perspective is “correct” I wonder? Like Stilts said, we will almost always go with the views of “our own”- we Westerners would nigh universally decry such an act- while many Middle Easterners might condone it. Who then is truly “right” and truly who is “wrong”? There’s no easy answer; in fact, I’d daresay that there’s none at all…

    • September 6, 2012 at 1:32 amZen

      “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – from Hamlet, Wm. Shakespeare; Act II, scene ii

    • September 6, 2012 at 7:32 amShageki

      for me anime these days it’s not about Good Guys or Bad Guys,
      it’s about doing the best to live the world.. :)

    • September 6, 2012 at 9:43 ambob

      if you can’t see that there is a violation of a sentient being’s rights when you torture one to death with rocks, then you need help.

      just because enough people get together and have an opinion like “throwing rocks at people until they’re dead is cool so long as an appropriate authority figure says to” doesn’t make it ok.

    • September 6, 2012 at 11:10 amStilts

      Inherent morality is a troublesome thing. Strictly speaking, you may be right (Zen)…however, I can’t agree with you even so. My point with this post was to illustrate how no group is full of saints or sinners, and we’re actually all a mixture of both, and then go on to give some examples and share a revelation this brought about to me. I never said that the good or ill actions don’t exist!

      I have to agree with bob – though people in certain areas of the world might disagree, I don’t think stoning a woman to death is right. In fact, many things that happen to women in that part of the world aren’t right, though that’s a topic for another forum.

      So yes, societal norms change, and there are a ton of gray areas where something might once have been a crime and now isn’t and it’s sort of alright either way. Yet there are some things that are universally wrong, like slavery and rape. This might not be strictly, “logically” true…but if it’s a lie, it’s a beautiful lie that makes the world a better place. I can live with that.

      • September 6, 2012 at 12:28 pmZen

        There’s nothing inherently “right” or “wrong” with stoning a sentient being to death. However, capital punishment in general is usually extremely costly to society. By killing people for the tiniest transgressions, we’re essentially throwing away tons of valuable human capital. Which is why most “civilized” societies don’t kill anyone except in extreme cases where society perceives the individual in question to be “incorrigible”- and even then many don’t kill at all. The “rights” that bob speaks of only exist because humanity found that their existence tends to be conducive to fostering a peaceful and prosperous society; they are the product of thousands of years of human trial and error. A mere 500 years ago, many of these rights didn’t yet even exist. In the medieval era, torture and brutal executions without anything even resembling a fair trial to precede it were the rule rather than the exception. And absolute monarchy, which is essentially a form of autocratic dictatorship, was the dominant political model. And rape was legally sanctioned; in some regions of Europe lords possessed a “droit du seigneur” or a “right to the first night” of the virgin daughters of his serfs. Hell, just about 50 years ago the racism was legally sanctioned right here in the United States with all that “Separate but Equal” crap and whatnot.

        Why did we move away from these things? Because over time people realized that they weren’t conducive to attaining the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people. And when we began to figure out what is actually conducive (in most scenarios, anyways- and given the context of our society) we instated these things as “inherent rights.” None of which, of course, are actually inherent, subject to be taken away when required by circumstance- like how the US Constitution provides for the suspension of Habeas Corpus by Congress during times of war (Which Lincoln used to great effect during the Civil War).

        …but if it’s a lie, it’s a beautiful lie that makes the world a better place. I can live with that.

        Which is why I (and Plato) call things like that ”noble” lies. “Inherent” rights are but a modern version of the noble lie that Plato speaks of in The Republic, myths that are conducive to social harmony when believed by the masses. If you believe in it, then you are a pillar of society’s Temple of Peace. But if through understanding you are able to transcend it, then you join the ranks of its builders- and through questioning we incrementally perfect its design. One is not any less important than the other, of course; without pillars, society would collapse, and without builders, society would cease to advance- both true believers and skeptics are central to the continued preservation and perpetuation of human society…;)

      • September 7, 2012 at 3:07 ama20020000

        @Zen,

        Just because right and wrong isn’t a part of physics (That wouldn’t make much sense by the way) doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, an idea isn’t inherit to physics but you sure can make one and according to physics its quite hard to make absolutely vanish. These works are interesting because of the diversity and the fact that it makes you think sometimes as this post itself is about.

        There’s nothing inherently “right” or “wrong” with stoning a sentient being to death.

        Depending on your level of relative term adapting it depends on what you consider inherent to be. To me inherently it is wrong to stone a sentient being to death for no apparent reason or context. I’m not going to get into the exact way to prove the existence of such faculties because that would require double blind twin baby isolation trials which are banned for ethical/moral reasons. As such it is just an interesting point but there is human morality and ethics. And there can be almost purely evil/good situations it just takes good writing or the right real circumstances exist.

      • September 7, 2012 at 8:47 amherpderp

        Definitions are very important in this argument. For example, slavery meant something entirely different in ancient times than it does in modern times. Back then, people would in some cases voluntarily enter into slavery as a means of economic survival. As a slave they were given food and a place to sleep, and in some cases were even paid.

        Was it all fun and games? Of course not. There were certainly people who abused their slaves even back then, but in many cases there were laws in organized societies that protected slaves. There were also instances of slaves who became prominent members of the government, and most slaves were not permanently bound to their master; they could earn their way back to freedom.

        Of course in modern times the definition of slavery is nothing short of absolutely horrid (understatement), but this serves to prove my point. One definition is evil, while the other isn’t necessarily great, but has many benefits. Both represent the same word (albeit in different eras).

        At any rate, I completely disagree with Zen. Absolute moral good and absolute moral evil do exist, but as humans (who are never perfect), we do both good and evil things. We even do evil things with good intentions.

        Stoning someone to death may not necessarily be good or evil, but that’s because you haven’t provided enough definition (like my example with slavery). Killing someone out of rage isn’t even necessarily good or evil, but again, it’s the definition that matters. The circumstances regarding the killing is what determines whether it was inherently an act of good or evil, and those absolutes do exist. Grey areas also exist, but not everything is grey.

        On a side note, this brings back my memories of speech and debate class back in high school.

      • September 7, 2012 at 3:33 pmZen

        @a20020000
        Show Spoiler ▼

        _____________________________________________________________________________________
        @herpderp
        Show Spoiler ▼

  • September 6, 2012 at 2:17 amCybersteel

    Everything is in a shade of grey possibly about 50 kinds of shades.

    • September 7, 2012 at 5:47 amThe Moondoggie

      50 shades… And yet that gray area is a fine thin line in between two fat areas of black and white.

      In a confrontation, the only ones who are in the gray are those who worked to end the conflict in benefit of both sides. Nobody picks gray, that’s common sense, unless you really can.

      And I don’t mean iron will and determination, I mean resources. Standing in gray is costly.

  • September 6, 2012 at 3:21 amZannafar

    Who you percieve as good and who as bad is always a matter of whose side you are on. I myself have found me routing for the “bad guys” often enough because I disliked the main characters.

    This topic reminds me of what I’d really like you to write about: Rivalries.
    In my opinion they are the spice that can turn a stale story into a savoury, absorbing tale or an already great work into a masterpiece.
    Be it the comedic rivalry between Lina Inverse and Naga the Serpent, the friendly rivalries between the girls in Dog Days’ or a serious rivalry, such as the one between Villagulio and Dizelmine. If their rivalry didn’t exist, a lot would be missing from their shows.

    • September 6, 2012 at 1:18 pmSherylfan

      I do that a bit too often then I like, ie I will root for whoever is not the main character. I hate anime where there are plenty of great side characters who are infinity more enjoyable and entertaining and rivalries, but instead of focusing on all that good stuff we are forced to watch a boring generic(especially emo/hyper energetic happy/pure unwavering justice mentality) main character.

    • September 6, 2012 at 8:13 pmHalfDemonInuyasha

      Or just the sheer fact that you feel like the “bad guys” get “cheated” by the “good guys” most of the time; “good guys” constantly getting (hax) power-ups, assistance, change of heart in a “bad guy(s)”, etc at convenient times that actually wins them fights that they should’ve lost otherwise. So, in a way, a lot of people may also see the “bad guys” in anime as the underdogs to root for since it’s pretty much to be expected for the “good guys” to win, yet you have that small glimmer of hope that the “bad guys” do something.

      Sure “bad guys” may get their share of advantages sometimes, but it’s usually either temporary, has some big downside, or quickly surpassed by the “good guys” in some way.

      • September 6, 2012 at 8:23 pmZen

        Lol, sounds like every never-ending shounen series…

      • September 6, 2012 at 10:57 pmStilts

        That’s just mediocre writing. Yes, if you want to go super meta on it then you know that the protagonists (not necessarily good guys…Koko will usually win even if she’s not good) will usually win, but the devil is in the details…it’s fun watching them to see how they do it. Plus, a good writer will plunge you so far into a pit or whip you around a way you didn’t expected that part of you will start to entertain the possibility that the protagonists just might lose this one.

        Still, your point is one of the reasons it’s good to get lost in the story at let yourself get swept away.

      • September 7, 2012 at 2:49 ama20020000

        The fact that you think there is cheating happening means that your suspension of disbelief has been broken which can occur in poorly written/planned works. A well written work will make it seem as if the good struggled to overcome the evil and you will actually believe that they didn’t use cheats to win.

        Maybe gray/gray exists because it’s easier to pull off without breaking suspension of disbelief. Although even then sometimes even that can go wrong if all the characters suck. Then people will bash the author instead.

      • September 7, 2012 at 11:41 amHalfDemonInuyasha

        It’s why I brought up Gundam a bit further down.

        We got the named characters, but beyond them, we got the entirety of the Earth Federation / Earth Sphere / AEUG / etc. and the entirety of whatever side they’re fighting with/against.

        Like in Mobile Suit Gundam, the Federation may have won at Solomon (thus the “good guys” winning), but they ended up having to incinerate countless MS and ships with the Solar System weapon to dwindle their numbers, forcing Dozle to go out in the Big Zam in a last-ditch attempt to salvage a victory. In pretty much every Gundam series (especially UC-era), it becomes really difficult to choose a side because they tend to make a point of showing things going on behind the scenes with politics, greed, lust for power, etc in various people/groups along with those trying for peace, protecting one’s family/friends/home, etc, which really helps to murky up the water.

  • September 6, 2012 at 4:14 amWhatsht

    I thought of Shiki while reading this post, well, in Shiki there wasn’t really good guys and bad guys, just very desperate people that wants to live.

  • September 6, 2012 at 6:21 amkirin

    You know, it’s this inherent fixation of some viewers to force labels and create a mental dichotomy between the “good guys” and the “bad guys” that causes the problem here. What they sometimes forget is that each character is driven by their own individual motives and desires, and neither is better than the other with respect to cultural and moral relativity. This is exactly why using moral judgments on characters really doesn’t mean much.

    But still, that doesn’t stop legions of viewers from imposing their own subjective values and moral perspectives onto certain characters from right across the fourth wall.

    • September 6, 2012 at 9:31 amZen

      A wo/man after my own heart; oh, sweet moral relativity!

    • September 7, 2012 at 2:43 ama20020000

      You know, it’s this inherent fixation of some viewers to force labels and create a mental dichotomy between the “good guys” and the “bad guys” that causes the problem here. What they sometimes forget is that each character is driven by their own individual motives and desires, and neither is better than the other with respect to cultural and moral relativity. This is exactly why using moral judgments on characters really doesn’t mean much.

      But still, that doesn’t stop legions of viewers from imposing their own subjective values and moral perspectives onto certain characters from right across the fourth wall.

      Many works do rely on the viewer to judge the characters with their own values and the outcome will be in the author(s) control. If people just soak up stuff and it has no emotional/thinking impact then it will be irrelevant and forgotten quickly.

      These difficult to judge shows use that “inherent fixation” to enhance the show. If people didn’t care about right/wrong then it wouldn’t really matter to them at all and the device would have become overused, tired, and useless (Sensory adaptation, or ignored in other words). There is even a trope for this kind of absolute moral desensitisation and if an author makes you really not want to root for anyone, then they most of the time people stop rooting for the author instead.

      Many situations we judge characters based on their actions, situation, appearance, etc. if people stopped thinking then anything could fly basically and the medium would be stagnant.

      Also no fictional character is an actual individual and we really are seeing is the expression of another person or group of people. Which in many cases actually is related to their thoughts and personality. So in effect we are judging another person for the merit of their work and it’s meaning/impact/significance or lack thereof can vary greatly depending on the work itself.

  • September 6, 2012 at 6:36 amewok40k

    spoilers galore, proceed at own risk Show Spoiler ▼

  • September 6, 2012 at 6:36 amShageki

    Nice post!…
    i’m waiting for the next season preview..

    • September 6, 2012 at 9:42 am†Croos†

      yeah. You never mentioned Code Geass.

    • September 6, 2012 at 11:05 pmStilts

      No worries, we’re working on it : ) It’ll be out in plenty of time before the season starts.

  • September 6, 2012 at 6:42 amPrimusLune

    surprised that you never mentioned code geass

    • September 6, 2012 at 10:01 amZen

      While Code Geass should be certainly be lauded for its competent attempt at portraying a ruthless antihero to whom morality is naught but another obstacle separating him from his goals, it still falls into the trap of portraying certain things as inherently “right” or “wrong.” Sunrise, in their bid to appeal to our sympathies, tries to portray Lelouch’s primary motivation of wanting to create a better world for his sister as a part of him that is inherently “good”- when it may just as well be interpreted as horribly selfish (You’re a prince; the lives of countless men are subject to your every whim- and the only person you care about is your own sister? Really? Utter selfishness!) The show never actually brings up this perspective, though, as far as I remember, at least (Correct me if I’m wrong). Instead whenever Nunnally makes an appearance it becomes all about the “virtues of familial love” and what not…

    • September 6, 2012 at 11:50 amStilts

      Zen’s tangent aside, the main reason I didn’t bring it up is because I haven’t seen it. It came out during a lull in my anime watching, and I’ve never had time to go back and watch it (especially since I know what happens anyway). Maybe someday…

  • September 6, 2012 at 8:00 amAni_BEE

    I think Jormungand and Black Lagoon fulfills are need to a good old western shoot out. It’s partly why I’m loving Copper on TV right now as there are no Good guy’s just a lot of people trying do the right thing including taking the law into their hands and murdering sickos.

  • September 6, 2012 at 12:23 pmSteelman

    Interesting thesis this time: grey and grey morality makes the show more interesting.

    I don’t intend to argue this point (one way or another), but I wanted to point out that I don’t quite agree with the evaluation of a couple shows:

    - Fate/Zero: I feel the novel makes it clearer that Kiritsugu is an anti-hero, not a straight villain. He might be extreme, but the author reminds us that his position is not wrong by itself. Also, the visual novel is partially about Shirou realizing that there are no shining heroes of justice – saving the weak means killing the bad guys (and by the end of Heaven’s Feel, he discards all concepts of justice). On the other hand, Kirei is pitch black – no redeeming quality whatsoever. I think this being a prequel, it is clear who the audience is supposed to root for. Summary: black and grey morality.

    - Horizon: you might conceptualize that what Musashi is doing is against international law, but to me it appears like Musashi is unambiguously painted as the good guy hero side. Plus, I have a nagging feeling that P.A.ODA will turn out as the bad guys – I mean come on, their introduction even featured red eyes take warning.

  • September 6, 2012 at 4:02 pmmac65

    Jormungand is a show that pits different flavours of bad guys against another,

    While I agree that is the delivery vehicle, I think it’s about camaraderie more than anything else.
    Even in their foes that they mercilessly destroy, this camaraderie is shown. I believe this is
    why its viewers identify with the characters. To make someone feel a character in their gut
    takes skilful writing – a quality shared by the writing of Jormungand.

    I think we all suffer from some degree of Supermanism — enough strength to defend our position
    without compromising our inner circle of core beliefs. We’d like to be able to take a bullet
    in the eye and laugh it off. But the reality is we don’t want to admit (to ourselves) that in
    order to overcome our adversaries, we so often have to go below their level to accomplish this.
    This is because we’re not Superman or Akatsuki. We’re vulnerable. We’re human.

    Because of this, I can see why it appears, on the outside, that there’s very little difference
    between the good guys and the not-so-good guys.

    I think Koko is portrayed, quite well, as being dedicated to her team to a flaw. They are her
    “kids”. Is it wrong to kick a dog? If it’s going after your kid, you don’t decide the morality,
    you just defend your kid. That’s Koko.

  • September 6, 2012 at 5:22 pmPasserby

    There is good and there is evil, and evil must be punished. Even in the face of Armageddon I will not compromise in this.

    I believe in moral objectivism. Not necessarily that everything is good or evil, black or white, but that somewhere we must draw a line. There is depravity in this world we must call Evil, and there things to aspire to that we should consider Good. At some point moral relativism becomes an excuse.

    Also, could have discussed Nisemonogatari. Somewhat surprised it wasn’t mentioned. Didn’t watch it? The philosophy was a bit throwaway, I guess.

    • September 6, 2012 at 11:10 pmStilts

      I watched it [Nisemonogatari], just didn’t feel like getting into that snarl at the time. This took long enough to write as is!

      Personally, I’ve always had trouble with the good/evil dichotomy. I don’t believe in either moral relativism or moral objectivism – though actually, “believe” is a bad word, because I have problems with believing in things period. I prefer to think. But anyway, on a great many things I’m in the moral relativism camp, because it truly does depend, and the difference in culture and a lot of other things makes all the difference. There are absolutely places where the line must be drawn, however (to me, at least). Perhaps those are just some of those “beautiful lies” I refer to above, but I prefer my world that way.

      • September 7, 2012 at 2:23 amPasserby

        From your reply and from your editorial I think your argument, ultimately, was less about the existence of objective Good and objective Evil, and rather the general lack of good in reality. While it may be hard to determine the “best thing” to do there is usually at least a “right thing” and almost definitely a “wrong thing”. In fiction if the protagonist always has no trouble doing the “best thing” then there is no conflict, which would be boring. In Lord of the Rings, which you cited, even though it is ultimately a good vs evil story the good guys face large temptations, mostly embodied by the titular ring.

        In stories where there are moral dilemmas come to the forefront it is often less about the characters being unable to define good but rather about the circumstances in the world they live in being an obstacle to good (social-economic factors, political factors, whatever). The epitomy of this is dystopian fiction. On that note, Darker than Black comes to mind.

      • September 7, 2012 at 6:47 amStilts

        Naw, if I’m going to use the good/evil dichotomy, then I certainly think there’s good. In fact, I think most people are trying to be good (as noted in the Kyoukaisen section). That’s their intention, at least. I merely think that when a violent conflict is joined, people’s vaunted moralities tend to get discarded in the pursuit of victory. The best path is to just not engage in violent conflict…there are other ways to solve problems, after all.

        Don’t think me too cynical. I’m actually quite optimistic, I just came at it from a thoroughly cynical base :D

  • September 6, 2012 at 6:59 pmprojectnoa

    I don’t know why, but this topic actually make me remember a scene in the dark knight where the joker was saying that batman wont kill him because of his sense of self-righteousness, and he wont kill the batman because he is just to much fun… (yeah, I know, the movie is used allot to debate this kind of conflicts). Either way, I do know what you’re saying. There’s no complete white and black in human heart’s. We’re creatures of gray tones and mixes.

    Yet, there is something interesting about this, and it goes really deep into us. Morality was, escentially, a concept defined by us, imperfect creatures, influentiable, fragile and selfish. We are the ones that created the rule and only we can decide how much is too much. The primary goal to this is basically to assure ourselves that society, composed by us, is not going to turn into a uncontrollable monster that will destroy us, and keep ourselves at bay. And when we see someone go beyond that margin then we brand him insane and dangerous because indeed can cause harm. But most of this is a lie, because we resort to bend this rule to accomplish what we, in our minds, believe is good, or in most cases, what is in our interest.

    Now, is this wrong? I believe this may not be right but yet again, there is no 100% right or wrong. There is some good thing in disasters, like a fire in a forest, and there is some bad this about miracles, like the aftermath of religious fanaticism and god know what.

    I love when a character in an Anime is brought down to our imperfect level. That way I can empathize better with him and actually root for him. And just like you wrote, I can have the challenge of deciding what side to be at. Fate Zero was a perfect sample of this. And this is a reality that we can see every day in the conflicts in our lives. I believe this can help us learn to see beyond superficial intentions and vague morality and actually see every angle to decide ourselves what can be positive for us and what is not.

    Great post by the way Stilts.

    • September 6, 2012 at 11:16 pmStilts

      I’m reminded of a quote from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld:

      Really? Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder and sieve it through the finest sieve and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. And yet you act, like there was some sort of rightness in the universe by which it may be judged:”

      We created justice and morality, and thus we have to define what they are. Definitions change, and the lines in the sand constantly snake as different circumstances dictate different responses. We think we’re walking the straight and narrow, but we wobble all over as we justify to ourselves the evil (mean, stupid, ridiculous, kind, marvelous, wonderful, heroic) things that we do as something other than what they are. It’s not right, it’s not wrong, it’s just…human.

      I really should philosophize late at night… *shuffles off to bed*

    • September 7, 2012 at 2:27 ama20020000

      Technically batman won’t kill people personally but environmental kills are his style even if they were the direct result of his actions or instructions.

      If we can only goto 99.99% good or 99.99% evil then those are in effect our 100% black and white levels of morality within a margin of error. Obviously in reality you can never get perfection but striving for it is a Nobel peace prize winning pursuit even in particle physics they only get down to a extremely low probability that they are wrong.

      The shades of gray include effectively black and white too as we can’t actually resolve infinitely black/white or good/evil.

  • September 6, 2012 at 7:38 pmZen

    Felt I had to say that I’m loving the discussion here, guys! This thread is a testament to the wonderful community we have here at RandomC, a family of anime lovers who can agree to disagree, and voice our opinions with civility! Sadly, nigh anywhere else on the internet discussions about non/inherent morality tends to set off a flame-war…

  • September 6, 2012 at 8:26 pmHalfDemonInuyasha

    I also tend to like Gundam for such reasons in the constant showing that neither side is totally good or bad. They usually portray that each side has their virtues, but also their own skeletons in the closet hidden away to make themselves appear the more virtuous side.

  • September 6, 2012 at 9:21 pmMike F.

    Agreed. The Gundam series does do a good job of that. Just look at the casts of Gundam Wing, Gundam 00 and Gundam Seed.

  • September 6, 2012 at 11:32 pmD-LaN

    There also the trope anti-hero and anti-villain too…
    And ‘sides, Broskander term aren’t too bad.
    For Jormungand, well…. we spend the most time seeing the whole team…so ofc we prefer them over other peeps. Plus, they r less psycho to begin w/h.

  • September 7, 2012 at 1:41 amDemi Grant

    I always root for the side with the sexiest women, regardless of how evil it may be. :3

    • September 9, 2012 at 5:54 pmStranger

      The greatest justice there is.

  • September 7, 2012 at 5:25 amsally

    alot of people tend to dislike the good guys winning all the time and would rather for once the villians win not realizing that if the villians ever won there’s by no point to the hero/heroine or their stories. fma brotherhood is a good example what if father won in the end and fullfilled his plan of turning central into a philosopher’s stone despite Ed’s and everyone else’s effort to stop him? Would it change anything? Would it had been a better ending for the villian to get his way for once?

    • September 7, 2012 at 6:50 amStilts

      For sheer shock, holy-shit-did-that-just-happen value it might be interesting to see the villains win, but yeah, when it actually happens it’s quite a pill to swallow. I always liken it to character deaths…people scoff at writers not being willing to off their favorite characters, but when it happens they howl, because it turns out the writer’s favorite characters became their own favorite characters as well, somewhere along the line.

      • September 7, 2012 at 9:43 amewok40k

        I for a channge liked very much repeated character deaths in Higurashi no naku koro ni, as each iteration gave me more info on what really was happening in Hinamizawa, so much as by the end of the first season I was able to set a working hypothesis that was proved trueShow Spoiler ▼

      • September 8, 2012 at 9:37 ammac65

        …see the villains win

        Look out the window.

  • September 7, 2012 at 11:04 amYumeka

    Excellent post and one of many things I love about anime =) Because anime doesn’t always follow the rule that animation has to be easily understandable stories for kids or man-child comedies, it’s free to depict conflict in the way you described, with no clear-cut heroes and villains or characters who are protagonists but they’re not particularly likable human beings. My favorite example of what you described is Princess Mononoke =)

  • September 7, 2012 at 12:56 pmNaYa

    Excellent article.
    While “killing is wrong” is embedded in people’s mind, it’s often relative and justified depending on which side you’re at, especially when it comes to battles and revenges, such as how war heroes become war criminals after the shift in government, or execution of criminals are often cheered on.

    Some human rights activists view ANY sort of killing another as wrong, whatever the circumstances are. If there was no choice and either you or your attacker has to die, is self defense wrong, and should you have not been so selfish for your self-preservation and just gotten yourself killed, or is it justified because you’re protecting your own rights?

    • September 9, 2012 at 3:09 pmStilts

      This. Exactly this. By and large, I’m against killing for most reason – I think there are usually other ways you can go about fixing a problem rather than expunging a human life – but there are undoubtedly some times when it is justified. “Thou shalt not kill” is a sin to some people…except when it isn’t. That’s where things get complicated, but oh so very human.

  • September 7, 2012 at 7:17 pmb0mb3r

    Stilts I have a questions in regards with “fiction reflecting reality.” In your belief what important roles does fiction play? For the sake to stay on topic I will relay an example to my question. In anime, whether “good guy” or “bad guy” they usually use poetic analogues to explain/justifies their actions and indirectly tells the author’s theme. Often in anime they preached about it (Bleach and Naruto comes in mind) but do you thinks is effective? Would their statement illustrate their portrayal of struggle better? Or is the preaching feels so forced that detracts the story and kinds of pull you out of the story? Do you think characters demonstrate the author’s belief of what problems the world faces and his solution to fix it through their usage? Do you think the world the author portrays is the world he wishes to see upon ours? Besides galactic punches and walk-in to onsen, how much can we bring the fictional world into ours? This is kind of the personal dilemma I face as an emerging story-teller.

    • September 9, 2012 at 3:25 pmStilts

      You asked like 12 questions in there, so I’m just going to ramble on about the general topic.

      Personally, I only really believe in three things in life – words, stories, and people. Not that they’re good, merely that they’re powerful.

      Stories in particular are extremely powerful. Stories are everywhere, in books, movies, TV, plays, music, dance, conversations, anecdotes, speeches, education, culture, politics, religion, little white lies, etc. And to be honest, whether they’re true or not doesn’t matter as much as you’d think, because humans are hard-wired to take in stories best of all. It’s one of the most elemental things about us. To tell and listen to stories is as human as standing upright or using tools.

      Fiction in particular need not convey a message. It’s truly not necessary. Sometimes just being entertaining is enough, and that’s completely alright. However, it can also be the colorful wrapping over ideas that the writer wishes to convey. Personally, I think that as long as this is done respectfully – not pushing their ideas upon the reader, but merely laying them out there as best as the writer is able – then this is not only acceptable, it enhances the story mightily.

      As for each writer’s goals, it depends. Some write to convey the ideas, some craft the world as they would like it to be, while others write and the ideas crop up naturally, giving us a window into their minds. It all depends.

      How effective this is in a particular instance all comes down to whether the storyteller manages to convey his or her story well, and whether it resonates with the reader. So I guess the answer is: sometimes? Alas, there’s no clear cut answer to be given there. It depends.

      Finally, all we can take from fiction is ideas, but those ideas can change who we are. There have been fiction books (and non-fiction ones too – they can be just as great!) that have irrevocably changed my world view, and I expect this will happen again…or at least I hope so, because those who stop changing will stagnate, falter, and fall behind. But an idea is the most elemental unit of the story, and as I said, stories are extremely powerful. Sand them down to their very core, to a single idea, and a story can change the world. Needless to say, I’m a fan.

  • September 8, 2012 at 2:41 amIgniteous

    If anyone actually reaches my post having read all of the above, congrats. My eyes glazed over after a time. Right, wrong, meh. Like that lying bastard Konobi said, it’s all a matter of persepective. Did the Aztecs believe they were doing something wrong with the whole heart thing? Probably not. But I do. Perspective. Some of you believe Good and Evil exist. I believe it’s all shades of grey with the lighter grey being what’s in my self interest. Self-interest. Heh. Neither here nor there.
    I agree with Stilts and found his article fascinating to read. That’s why I love anime. It can inspire such fantastic philosophical thoughts, with the added fan service of course.
    :)

    • September 9, 2012 at 3:26 pmStilts

      Philosophy with a side of mammaries…I’ll take that :)

  • September 8, 2012 at 11:48 pmTheOrangeOne

    I’m of the group of getting the orange juice out of the refrigerator, composed of only me and my brother. Even though I’m a part of it, its objectives and means to get them aren’t really saintly, especially when it conflicts with our mom’s and sister’s desire to get the milk and cereal, and this means it is closer to reality. Therefore, I like this group the more I see it grow, and how I also grow accustomed to its actions. And this is why I like following it more than watching Lord of the Rings or Star Wars.

    That said, I do like stories with mixing conflicts, but that doesn’t make them any less or more “real”, like you seem to say it does. Ghost in the Shell and Cowboy Bebop are classic examples, but their bias and chaos hardly portray how most people go about their lives, even as it shows the gritty side (which most shows don’t), that makes it seem more realistic. Even real life documentaries give leanings that make it seem very real and complex to those uninformed, but are hyped up POVs that most people who have actually gone through the same thing, would laugh at how ridiculous the director/producers/protagonists make it out to be.

    And that leads into why I don’t base story quality with how convoluted or clear morality is. Relationship Dramas can be as realistic as it truly is, but I’ll still think of it as worthless garbage because of how much of an idiot everyone is for their lack of honest communication that could have solved everything in five minutes.

    On the other side, I could love a novel series about a war that really is as JUSTIFIED as it could possibly be, such as the UNSC vs the Covenant in Halo, where billions die and you see just how thorough of a genocide of the human race can be. The bad and good guys are as clear as day (at least in that particular conflict in the universe), but that doesn’t mean it can’t get in-depth if you dig deeper into their reasoning and methods to win on both sides. In the end, it is still a very justified war for the UNSC, where morality matters little when literal survival of all your species is at stake.

    So to say not having clear good and bad guys makes a story better, seems very opinionated, rather than what people in general actually consider to be good story.

    • September 9, 2012 at 3:32 pmStilts

      A story doesn’t have to make the sides/morality ambiguious, and of course, if most stories did then it would be overdone and boring. It is, however, more uncommon and difficult to pull off, so those stories that do so are often enhanced by it. That’s my point. Erh, well…one of them :D

  • September 9, 2012 at 1:05 amL002

    This may be a little late to say, but I personally thing Kirisirugi Emiya isn’t all that bad when you compared him to Light Yagami. He is more closer to Lelouch, or maybe Obito