Subverting expectations is one of the most interesting ways to keep readers or viewers invested in any piece of literature or media. Anime is no exception. One of the most common tropes in some anime is the decoy protagonist, who mostly dies to provide meaty character development for the actual protagonist.
But this can also go both ways. It is also decoy villainsin anime which is there to raise the stakes; once they’ve been defeated, the real big bad arrives to strike down the weary heroes. It works well and gives many surprises. The following anime titles, both fantasy and otherwise, exemplify this trope and love to keep their villains hidden.
8/8 Attack On Titan – Titans Are Just Victims
Titans in Attack on Titan initially had a huge impact on the show’s villain hierarchy, but as the series progressed, the lore became even more intricate and deceptive. It turned out that the Titans were nothing more than rabid humans who had lost control of their genetic ability to become giants, and were only sent to Paradise to torment the island nation.
The real villains were much smarter and crueler than some cackling and misshapen giants. Granted, the Armored Titan and Colossal Titan introduced themselves pretty early on, but no one would probably think they were two confused and brainwashed teenagers, except for manga readers.
7/8 Naruto – Gaara is just Orochimaru’s decoy
The first half of Naruto epic paints Orochimaru as the big bad, but not before introducing Gaara as the main character’s main rival. Gaara was practically the mirror image of Naruto and what the latter could have been if he received much less love and care from the people around him; thus their battle after the final stage of the Chunin Exams was unintentionally personal.
As powerful as Gaara was, he wasn’t exactly after Naruto’s head or Konoha’s destruction. He was only used as a pawn by a disguised Orochimaru. Gaara later proved to be a false antagonist when the conspiracy was uncovered. But he was certainly a compelling villain and could have remained just as interesting even if he continued down that path.
6/8 Dragon Ball Z – Androids are just food for the cell
The androids (16, 17, 18) were originally painted as agents of destruction in Dragon Ball Z since the series needed to introduce new and fresh threats after Frieza. The androids were quickly introduced, but they were far from Dr. Gero’s best creation, which turned out to be Cell.
So while Goku and his friends were busy looking for ways to defeat the three prevalent androids, Cell took the opportunity to consume and assimilate as many great fighters as he could to become the ultimate warrior. Cell ended up consuming two Androids, several citizens and even Goku himself, adding to his monstrous power.
5/8 Psycho-Pass – Makishima and his pawns
Psycho-Pass takes place in a fictional world where people are judged for their crimes based on their psychological potential to commit them in the future (as in Minority Report). Thus, it was more difficult than ever to commit crimes. But somehow, many twisted individuals still managed to indulge their violent and cruel tendencies, thanks to a mastermind named Makishima.
Makishima is the main villain in the first season, but he only pushed some “special” individuals and their tendencies to cross moral and legal boundaries. Some of his most unique pawns include a hacker who murders social media personalities, an artist who creates sculptures of human victims, and an android who hunts humans as game meat.
4/8 Dororo – 13 demons distracted the hero from his evil father
In the 2019 remake of Dorothy, the story revolves around Hyakkimaru, who from birth was offered up to 13 demons by his dead emperor father to ensure prosperity for his domain. The demons ended up taking Hyakkimaru’s body parts and organs, leaving a blind, deaf, limbless and skinless (etc.) baby to fend for himself.
Hyakkimaru somehow managed to survive and went on a mission to retrieve his body parts by killing the 13 demons that tore him apart. But the real villain of the story was his father, Daigo, who offered him as a sacrifice for only royal ambition. Needless to say, the 13 demons were the highest examples of the main boss in the anime.
3/8 Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann – The Beastmen Are Just Dampeners For A Galactic Apocalypse
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann sees a post-apocalyptic Earth where the majority of humans were figuratively hunkered down underground in fear of the Beastmen. The first half of the anime has protagonist Simon and his brother Kamina leading a revolution against their Beastmen overlords with the power of manhood, brotherhood, and space mechanisms.
But the real galactic threat loomed over them once they had won against the Beastmen. Because apparently enough human existence will trigger the human extinction system set up by the Anti-Spiral. Since Simon and his friends won and human civilization restarted again, they had to deal with the Anti-Spiral in the second half of the anime.
One could argue that the twelve Kizuki/moons are just decoys so that Muzan can carry out his research. But among them, Daki stands out as a decoy among decoys. Because it’s not her Muzan wants, but her brother, Gyutaro. Muzan saw Gyutaro’s potential as a demon lieutenant, but the latter wanted to take his poor sister out of care with him.
So Muzan let Daki tag along, and she and Gyutaro even shared the same body, which was disturbing enough. Thing is, Gyutaro didn’t even need Daki to become powerful. In fact, it was even through Daki that they drew the attention of Hashira or the Demon Slayer Corps. elite. To Muzan, Daki was just an irresponsible child who couldn’t function without his brother.
1/8 Death Note – Teru Mikami stands for light
In an anime that Death note where the villain is the protagonist, it’s hard to be surprised by some decoy and real villain revelation. But one still has to commend Light Yagami for his cunning and deception. When he was put under surveillance again, he delegated the role of Death Note executions to Teru Mikami.
Unfortunately, Mikami was a bit too volatile and overstepped his bounds, killing not only criminals but also society’s “slackers”. Mikami was instrumental in Light’s orchestrations, but this decoy villain eventually led the detectives to catch Light red-handed, making their henchman-villain dynamic more unique compared to the rest.
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