Anime can usually be divided into two camps, those with well written, “good,” villains and those with poorly written, “bad,” villains. Well, actually there are other categories but, for the sake of making my job easier, let’s focus just on the villains here.
So, villains. Most anime contain one or more, though they vary in intensity. But tackling the “bad” first, recall to mind the “monster of the day” villains. Anyone who has seen Sailor Moon or other typical magical girl shows will know instantly what this phrase means, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Every episode reveals a new villain that will be defeated by the end of said episode. Often a “bigger” villain will be behind the scenes, but they too will be defeated as soon as the hero gets to them. The villains have either no reasons for being evil or they have flimsy and predictable reasons (the whole “I was so unloved and thus you must pity me for becoming evil” bit doesn’t often go over well).
This isn’t to say that an old card can’t get a few touch ups. Shows like Natsume no Yuujin-cho may be based on the “enemy of the day” formula, but their characters are more often than not fleshed out. Every enemy will have a back story, often revealing a bit more about the larger plot around the main character’s grandmother. Some side characters are also seen more than once, unlike other “enemy of the day” shows where most side characters are forgotten along the way.
But then there are those villains that are truly scary, in one way or another. They are not there for only one round. They are not easily beaten either. In fact, it seems they can’t be defeated (Gosick, anyone?). The fear can also come from them being unpredictable or with undefined goals, such is the case with Izaya from Durarara (pictured above in his slightly unstable glory). In Izaya’s case, we can understand that he finds unique amusement in the suffering of human beings, but that idea is not only eerie in and of itself, it’s also not well defined. How far will he go to “experiment” on people? And how much power does he have? How much influence? Without being able to answer these questions, Izaya remains a more daunting enemy than Queen Beryl from Sailor Moon.
But what do you guys think? What makes a villain scary for you?