Do You Reject the Glamor of Evil?

For those who don't know, that's one of the questions asked as a baptismal vow. It's badass, huh?

So it occurred to me as I'm watching the DBZ reruns on Nicktoon network, DBZ is one of the few anime that do what the West all-too-frequently does. That is, it essentially implies that evil is cool. If you don't think Vegeta is cooler than Goku, you're doing a fine job of passing for a sighted person. Yeah he turns good, but just barely; him and Piccolo probably top everyone's list of favorite characters, and they're both pretty darn mean gents.

In general anime's better about it—you don't have to force yourself to root for the good guys in Naruto, for instance, because their powers are actually at least as cool as the bad guys'. Okay yes Gaara, but he was an anti-villain from the get-go. And he's still cooler as a good guy, sorry.

But seriously, think of an anime, or a manga. Van of the Dawn in GunXSword is more of an antihero—he's a nice guy, but "Well, screw you, then" is basically his motto. But the El Dora 5 and Priscilla are straight-up heroes, and if those geezers' speeches don't bring a tear to your eye while they make you laugh, there is something profoundly messed up with you. Or Trigun—Vash is the only pacifist hero I can stand because damn it, the boy tries just that hard; and Wolfwood is awesome, though again, antihero (he's better in the manga, for some reason the hastened endings of anime adaptations almost always suck).

Shonen series generally pull it off; very few of the villains in Black Cat are half as cool as Sven or Eve (Train's kinda annoying, I'm sorry, but he's also less squeaky-clean than the ex-cop or the little girl). The anime of that actually breaks the rule; it's better than the manga, in that it has an art style more like that guy's later work (which has entirely negligible stories but better art) and a plot that's not just a Cowboy Bebop knockoff.

Elemental Gelade, Baccano, Slayers, Zero's Familiar—the good guys are at least as cool as the villains. But that's not the case in Western work. I mean, look at Harry Potter—the Death Eaters have cool robes, they talk to snakes, and their symbol was copied off a Metallica cover. Meanwhile Dumbledore is an Elminster knockoff who cultivates a pointlessly "cute" persona. The bad guys get all the cool members of the Mage Gestapo, and all the robust, manly racist rhetoric; the good guys get Arthur Weasley, with his all-consuming dorkiness and his condescending interest in the Muggles' quaint native handicrafts. It's no less bigoted, it's just less picturesque.

Consider TV—name one Western TV good-guy, other than Michael Weston and Sam Axe, who's even half as cool as their villains. Okay, the Doctor (as in "Who"), but that doesn't count because 0/2=0. I'll grant you that Teal'c and O'Neil, and Ronon and McKay, respectively, carry the whole rest of their casts, but the Goa'uld and the Wraith are still cooler. The same goes for Marvel comics; other than Tony Stark (who they decided to paint as a villain in Civil War) and Wolvie (who they decided to milk until he needs udder cream), no Marvel hero is as cool as their villains.

There are exceptions—DC is one bright spot. Batman is just as cool as the Joker and the Green Lanterns are actually powered by awesome, not willpower; even Superman has his moments. Halo is another, though the humans are riding John-117 and Sgt. Maj. Johnson as hard as they can—and even there, they had to make the coolest bad guys switch sides.

I don't understand why this is. Is it some simplistic conception of humility? But it didn't really show up in Western literature till pretty late, just as pride began being fashionable again—a medieval king dressed in cloth of gold was more humble than a Puritan dressed in black and white, 'cause the king was worried about going to hell and the Puritan was sure he was going to heaven. Maybe it's some kind of ideological obeisance that came in with liberalism, a sansculottisme that eschews finery? Never mind that "simplicity" is often a sign of a much more dangerous kind of pride, like I said. Chesterton, per usual, said it best:
Humility will always, by preference, go clad in scarlet and gold; pride is that which refuses to let gold and scarlet impress it or please it too much.
Gee, maybe so many people do terrible things in a thrill-killer sort of way because you won't let them be badass. "Journey to the West" was the most brilliant evangelical pamphlet ever written, because even the Heaven-Equaling Great Sage is trapped within the veil of delusion. And hey kids, even devoting yourself to the Dharma won't preclude being so badass you completely dominate half a continent's concept of heroism for 500 years.

I do think republicanism (small R) is a factor here, and so is Puritanism. More, though, I'd say it might be some sort of Cargo Cult approach to ethics. I've met people who think being Vegan will make them have self-discipline; we've all heard of how great leaders—George Washington, St. Louis—eschewed the pomps of their office (the latter's wife threatened to leave him if he didn't wear his robes when he heard petitions). So of course, the hack thinks, if my hero deliberately wallows in indignity, it means he's great.

I submit that that is a likely thought-process.

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