Musings on Antagonistic Relationships in Anime

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You ever notice that most – if not all – antagonistic relationships in anime these days always have either two modes: “I’m good, you’re evil” or “I respect you and that’s why I fight you”? I thought about this whilst watching Collateral, a Michael Mann film from 2004 starring Tom Cruise as a hitman and Jamie Foxx as his unwilling cab driver. If you haven’t seen the film, I’ll give you the cliff notes version of how Cruise’s Vincent character and Foxx’s Max character played off each other. Basically, Max is a loser taxi driver who doesn’t try to change his position in life and just goes with the flow. Enter a hitman named Vincent, who holds Max hostage so that Max can drive him to the targets he’s supposed to execute that night.

Despite the seemingly friendly banter between the two in-between hits, Max is always looking for a way out whilst Vincent has no qualms with killing him if he disobeys. The former never really suffers Stockholm Syndrome, but he does grow in positive ways thanks to the latter, becoming more proactive in regards to his lifestyle choices. This is especially evident when Vincent sends Max into a criminal hideout in order to retrieve a flash drive and whilst cowering at first in regards to his situation, Max eventually talks tough to the gang leaders, earning enough of their respect so that they’d give him what he asks for (they also send hitmen to tail him in response, but everything has a cost). Eventually, after taking one too many of Vincent’s put-downs regarding his life, Max rebels against his tormentor, which results in a final confrontation that I won’t spoil, but let’s just say that both sides were accepting of the outcome.

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Now I love the movie because the relationship displayed in the film isn’t something you normally get, but whilst the movie world does display attempts to get to Collateral’s level at points – Training Days for one – the same can’t be said for anime. The few times that anime does do the whole kidnapper/prisoner thing, it’s always in an NTR fashion where the woman submits to the man, or the shonen/comedic version where the man submits to either gender with love/lust being involved in at least 95% of those incidents. Or it could be like Black Cat in that the tormentor is killed by someone else, robbing the victim of his chance to finish the job personally. I can’t think of an example in the romance genre where a needy woman dates a psychopath, only to grow up and rebel against her first love, is what I’m saying.

Off the top of my head, the closest thing I can think of to achieving that sort of relationship in anime is the recent Terror in Resonance anime, but the show is too new to cast judgments on how that’ll play out. Maybe Kite, but that’s based more on manipulation and there was no respect at the end in regards to that film. Shin Sekai Yori? I stopped watching the show halfway through, so I dunno the exact details of Squealer’s relationship with the humans and whatnot, although I dunno the humans are no Tom Cruise.

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I know the LN craze kind of demands that all relationships be powered by fetish fuel, and the alternatives like the fujoshi-bait shows have other agendas as well. Shonen stuff is self-explanatory. The above picture is explanatory too. Still, I’d like to see one anime worth remembering where a loser develops to the point that he turns on his tormentor and actually finished the job. There can be mutual respect between the two. It just can’t be simple “I’m having fun because you’re my rival” stuff or anything you see in Prince of Tennis.

5 responses to “Musings on Antagonistic Relationships in Anime

  1. Well, that kind of “rival” mentality though is pretty much a given in sports anime – anything going beyond that would probably be perceived as a bit unhealthy and would make both characters unsympathetic. I guess the issue is more about having the cake and eating it too, in that most manga/anime tries to juggle between those who like the main hero and those who like the ANTI hero and give both of them a fair amount of screen time and reasons to side with their favourite character. As examples of rivalries that don’t strictly fall in the given categories I’d mention Light vs. L (Light is kinda evil but we understand why he does what he does, L is neutral at best, definitely not traditionally good), Hohenheim vs. Homunculus in FMAB, every relationship Utena has with anyone but Akio. I also enjoyed a lot the Hikaru/Akira relationship in Hikaru no Go – but that is mainly a traditional sports rivalry with a bit of supernatural thrown in to spice up things, it’s just the fact that that manga has such good characters that makes it compelling.

    By the way, dunno why you dropped Shinsekai Yori but the relationship between Squealer and the humans was definitely ambiguous and DID have resolution. Oh boy did it. Though it’s definitely more interesting as a racial dynamic (Squealer, as a representative of the Queerats, vs. humans as a whole) than considering the individual human characters.

  2. You did miss out on Shinsekai Yori. Go finish that. Queerats are the ones spurring the main conflict of the show.