Saturday, August 18, 2012

Rurouni Kenshin and Villain Designs

One of my blogs will be drawing a lot from Rurouni Kenshin at certain points, intentionally so.  One of the ways is that I'm going to be writing an arc with a group of ten villains, as a nod to the Juppongatana (or "Ten Swords") arc.  Of course, ten characters is a lot, and since I pride myself on creating strong characters, I started thinking about what exactly these villains are going to be like.  I realized that the job ahead of me was going to be harder than I thought.

You see, I want to pay homage to my inspiration, and that means creating villains in the same style that Watashi did.  And Watashi made some very memorable villains.  Almost all of them had not only a unique design, but a unique fighting style as well.

For example, the Juppongatana included Anji, a monk who knows a martial arts technique that can punch through stone; Usui, a blind, revenge driven man whose ears have become sharp enough to hear a person's heartbeat and sense changes in their body and emotions from it; Kamatari, a cheerful crossdresser who wields a giant scythe; and Henya, who has starved himself to the point that he can propel himself into the air with explosions and gain limited flight using his cape.  And of course, there's their leader himself, Shishio, whose skin consists almost entirely of second and third-degree burns after being burned alive.  In addition, he uses a serrated katana, which he sets on fire using the human fat that's accumulated on it.

These are only a brief description of just a handful of villains from one arc of Rurouni Kenshin.  Some are sympathetic (Aoshi, Anji, and Enishi come to mind), some are monsters (Usui, Shishio, and Gein), but they all have a certain flavor to them.  Something about them that's quirky or unusual enough or that just pushes the willing suspension of belief a little bit further (without breaking it) that makes them extremely memorable.

Now, let's compare this to another series.  One that's fresh in my mind since I'm currently rereading it: Shaman King.  Shaman King's villains seem similar to RuroKen's in some ways, at least in the terms I described.  But later on, when the villains gain more actual flavor and become more numerous, they lose a certain aspect to them.  You see, while they do have a lot of visual flavor, they lack the personality to be memorable.  RuroKen's villains always had a strong design and strong fighting method, and usually had strong personality as well (though some didn't get enough screentime to get to that point).  In Shaman King, the villains had a strong design, and not much else.  And unfortunately, a lot of these designs boiled down to stereotypes.  Sure, they were cool to look at, but they started to lose a lot of appeal when you found out that they weren't much past mariachi, cute witch girl, Gothic Lolita girl, or guy-who's-made-out-of-blocks-that-totally-aren't-legos.  They're good designs, but they lack the substance an the execution to make them good characters and, consequently, good villains.

So what's my challenge in this?  Well, I need to come up with ten characters who have a memorable design, and to make sure that I execute that design in a way that is memorable.  They all need to be unique, though.  Easily identifiable from each other.  Strong motivations.  And I need to do all of that without resorting to cliches or stereotypes.

This should be fun.

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