Although it depends on each specific character and varies on a case-by-case basis, I tend to like antagonists in anime. Generally speaking, what fascinates me about villains or adversaries are not that they’re commonly portrayed as wicked, evil, or used in a negative manner but rather for the rationale for why they are a villain or adversary. The ones with logical and coherent backgrounds not only make the best antagonists but they do double duty and reinforce the story by providing a satisfying obstacle for the protagonist to overcome and help inhibit the development or expansion of plot holes or shoddy storytelling. They really are one of the most crucial characters to any anime they’re in. And Kaiki is no exception.
Kaiki is a gratifying villain, one that will provide a rewarding experience for when he sees his eventual defeat and the Araragi family overcomes the immoral bane he placed on Karen. What makes Kaiki gratifying is not simply for his malicious role or the mischievous curse he can effortlessly conjure. They do help but they’re subservient to the character he is. What will make the story and challenge in Nisemonogatari satisfying to the audience and to the characters themselves is not that they’re overcoming this illness and smiting the source of this paranormal encounter but because of who they’re overcoming: a resilient, calculated and clearly corrupt character who deserves to receive retribution. This will take the victory to another level.
Now, how do we arrive at that conclusion? Well, let’s try an exercise and see (with a bias eye, partially covered in that opening paragraph) of what Kaiki would be like had he been weak compared to what we see now. Had Kaiki studied under the branch of horrendous anime villains, he could be a nonsensical being, among other archetypes, who assigns curses haphazardly with no hint of logic or reasoning behind his actions. Upon defeat, there would be a sense of reward in overcoming his hindrance and vanquishing the enemy, which could be considered a baseline reward given the situation we’re in. Beyond that, there is not much more to be gained because the character is irrational, not really proving his methods and lifestyle wrong but instead conquering an ‘evil’ of nature or some term that literature scholars would know for this situation that I don’t. There is a minimal sense of justice, too, something central to Karen’s character that has been brought up frequently with her character. With a stronger antagonist, this side would also be developed. Really, in the weak antagonist example, you get a fine ending and a complete story but there is more to be won from this conflict when you improve the antagonist beyond a basic villain.
So we’ve established a baseline reward that any villain would be capable of fulfilling given the present situation. But let’s look at what would be different with Kaiki’s current character. From this episode alone, we learned what his lone desire is: currency. That’s right, he’s in it for the cold, hard cash. The reason he performs these phenomena on people is not because he’s a big meanie but because he wants their money. He isn’t going around and causing harm to people, rather it’s the opposite. The only people who have suffered adversely through his techniques are Sengoku and Karen, the other middle-schoolers who were conned by this filth only saw injury to their finances. Senjougahara, who was also conned by Kaiki, only lost money too rather than receive a curse, though ethically you could argue non-maleficence was committed here because she sought help, never received any, and subsequently suffered as a result of Kaiki (but that can be left for the comments section). Kaiki sees all his clients as cartoonishly oversized bags with yen signs printed on the front and he’ll do whatever, through illusion and enchantment, to get that money. That’s who he is.
Why defeating this character over a generic villain with no backstory is more rewarding is that you’re proving his philosophy, behavior, and conduct to be wrong. To be incorrect. To be immoral. That the characters are overcoming the sin of greed here. That they’re overcoming a true and documented evil that resides within the deepest annals of our cowardly human nature. By defeating Kaiki, you are also essentially proving the concept of money over people or money over anything to be wrong. Not necessarily saying you’re proving those right, that would be another deal altogether, but that we’re disproving Kaiki’s theory. Furthermore, by defeating a character like Kaiki, there is also a sense of justice being brought to the story. Karen, who fights in the spirit of justice rather than in the names of the middle-schoolers who were conned by Kaiki, sees that defeating Kaiki is the best available option to restore the universal fairness and equality that he corrupted. Kaiki deliberately used these students in an imbalanced exchange and Karen seeks to rectify this crime. Had there been no purpose or reasoning for these curses and spells, then that sense of justice would be diminished because these exchanges were not intentional or premeditated. And the whole justice aspect of this Karen Bee arc has been one of the forefront themes, so having a suave and calculated villain like Kaiki, with his materialistic philosophy and heartless conduct, is imperative to fulfilling this subject.
Beyond these aspects, there are also subjective characteristics of Kaiki that I like. His behavior impresses me. He is extremely methodical in nature, able to carefully analyze the situation and conversation and turn both into his favor rather swiftly and smoothly. He has an understandable philosophy that is structured and was explained quite well, plus he is fully invested in it, showing zero signs of uncertainties or weaknesses. His appearance as a person fits his character and his motives, not to mention his clothing suits him (get it?) rather nicely. And he conducts himself in a very professional and respectful manner. I wonder where the conversations with this character would go should one be able to satisfy his hunger for cash. His insight would be extremely exceptional and distinctive among humans, that’s for sure. I’d love to spend more time with Kaiki to learn more about him but I believe there has been enough development on his behalf, except for a typical discourse preceding the final confrontation, and that the story will return to Karen, Koyomi, Tsukihi, and whoever else for further progress. Nevertheless, I’m quite happy to see a villain like Kaiki around and am pleased to see he’s grown into the type of villain that I enjoy in anime.
While on the subject of Kaiki, I wonder what he planned to do with Kanbaru when we first saw him in episode 3. Before going further, it’s interesting to note that when Araragi introduced himself, Kaiki stopped Koyomi because he explained the kanji to his name saying he’s already heard it making it clear he did all this to Karen before Kaiki met Koyomi. Back on subject, it seemed he wanted to check on Kanbaru’s aura but was disappointed with her power level and left without even pursuing his original intent. I suppose the most logical guess would be that he planned to do to Kanbaru what he did to Senjougahara, citing that there was no money to be made in this situation which was contrary to Senjougahara’s situation. But I always wonder if there’s something more, something beyond what we know. I doubt the situation will ever be resolved but it’s something to look out for if we ever do learn more about Kaiki or Kanbaru. We do know it involves money as all of Kaiki’s actions do but how he would extort the money is the question I’d love to find an answer for.
#1 by Zammael on February 6, 2012 - 10:08 PM
Great blog. You could draw a comparison with other current shows with strong/weak antagonists:
Chihayafuru: the Queen is Chihaya’s opponent, but she’s not the show’s antagonist. It feels like the Queen is more of a rival that pushes Chihaya to new levels. Perhaps it is due to the nature of the shoujo anime that there’s no true antagonist?
Rinne no Lagrange: the charismatic brother of Muginami, Villaguilio seems like the show’s antagonist, but he’s not a classic villain. The aliens are too complex to be just bent on the destruction of Earth.
Mouretsu Pirates: Marika just decided to become the captain of the Bettemareu, so the antagonist has yet to show him/herself.
#2 by Zammael on February 7, 2012 - 9:55 AM
Come to think of it, the literary genre of the story are archetypes that predetermines the antagonist:
In the Romance genre, the antagonist is the prop for the protagonist to conquer in his/her process of self-identification. Satire is the opposite — the protagonist is a slave to reality — and the antagonist is the pessimism that wins by forcing the protagonist to come to terms with his/her inadequacy.
In Comedy the antagonist is only delayed, by hope, not defeated, often depicted as a force of society or nature. In Tragedy, the protagonist must fail or learn to be resigned to fate — which makes the antagonist implacable — and teach us to obey the condition of the world.
#3 by avvesione on February 9, 2012 - 12:35 AM
Wow, you blew me outta the water with those 2 comments.
The two antagonists you mentioned in the first comment are both characters I like and, with Kaiki from this anime, I like all the antagonists currently mentioned. They really are fascinating characters. And like you mentioned in the second comment, they’re important literary devices, too, that play integral roles in the story. Thanks for the comments.
#4 by Zammael on February 12, 2012 - 1:15 PM
Welcome & thanks!
The bad news with philosophy is that there’s an unavoidable stench of pretentiousness and alienating highbrow language, but the good news is that recent literary theory has closed the gap between philosophy and criticism so theoreticians and critics are now indistinguishable!
#5 by avvesione on February 12, 2012 - 2:24 PM
Ah, I suppose I should dabble in the field of philosophy or literature a bit more to understand these concepts. Still, thanks for your insight!
#6 by ThatOneGuy on February 7, 2012 - 4:27 PM
Kanbaru’s power level just wasn’t enough. It wasn’t quite…over…nine…thousand power units. :|
#7 by avvesione on February 9, 2012 - 12:37 AM