Sympathy for the Anti-hero: Tragic Heroes and Villains
Marvel creates relateable heroes, but DC, particularly Batman The Animated Series, has some pretty relateable or at least sympathetic villains. People are, at their core, a mix of some of the same elements of turmoil; however, they are defined by their actions rather than the reasons behind their actions. A person can be seen as a hero or a villain depending on their situation, their actions, and what side they're on.
Let's take, for example, Doctor K from Power Rangers RPM and Thief Bakura from Yu-Gi-Oh!. One was abducted by a government think tank as a child, and the other had to watch his village get slaughtered and burned to the ground at the same age. Doctor K created the Venjix Virus to escape the think tank, but they dragged her away from her computer before she could put up the firewall containing it to the compound and instead caused the apocalypse. She dedicated her research to stopping Venjix via Ranger technology. Thief Bakura grew up on the streets, whatever innocence he had leaving him as he was mistreated by others and eventually arrested for stealing food or something. Then he got possessed by the very same demon his people had been slaughtered for, swearing revenge on the Pharaoh. While every other Yu-Gi-Oh! villain got redemption and were forgiven, he was not, which was quite unfair as he had the most legitimate grievance. Justice is in the eye of the beholder, especially the one(s) holding the power.
Another somewhat tragic anti-hero is Eridan from Homestuck. He is obsessed with being in a relationship of some kind but ends up driving people away, losing friends in the process. He will try to defect to the other side if he feels all is lost, either from self-preservation or desperation to be acknowledged by anyone at all. This is true both in-universe and the fan comic "Summerteen Romance" (in which the rival camp uses him to get the lake treasure and then discards him). Some would say he deserves to be alone because of his crappy attitude, but this is the troll who cries in "Twelve Days of Twelfth Perigee" because he received ten empty buckets (meaning no one loves him). Gamzee and Feferi are the only ones to feel sorry for him in the song ("Hey man, you okay?"/"Oh! Oh my glub!"), and there are some fans out there who can't help but feel for the guy once the waterworks start. Heck, people felt sorry for almost every Organization XIII member when they "died."
Braig/Xigbar is a popular character from Kingdom Hearts despite being somewhat of a villain. On the whole, I'd call him an affable rogue. Most people are annoyed by or at least uncomfortable around him, but that's just the way he is. Ansem wouldn't have chosen him to be an apprentice if he didn't think he had a good heart. While strong, his heart was also led astray like the rest of them. He originally stands up to Xehanort after getting injured but backs down when threatened (for which you can't really blame him, as Xehanort blocked all of his bullets and was holding him at blade-point; he likely would have caved if Xehanort had threatened the safety of Ansem or the other apprentices too). The longer he is infected with his half-Xehanort status, the less he will probably care about them, judging by his comments in one of the secret cutscenes in KH 2.5 (the same probably goes for Isa/Saix). However, I like to think there is still hope, as his reaction to seeing an image of all of Sora's friends backing him up may have been a reminder to him of his supposedly discarded relations with the others.
Lastly, Discord from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic also fits the description of a reformed villain walking the line between order and chaos due to split loyalty. Discord becomes reformed after Princess Celestia requests that Fluttershy make friends with him because of reasons (a.k.a. using him as a plot device later in the series). Discord accepts her friendship when he realizes it's more important to him than doing whatever he wants with no friends at all. This goes out the window when he meets Tirek (a.k.a. the reason Celestia wanted him on their side in the first place), who gets him to revert back to his chaotic evil ways as they spread havoc together as "friends." As with Axel in a previous hub, Fluttershy is the friend that represents Discord's good side and Tirek his evil side. Discord realizes his mistake when Tirek reveals that he doesn't consider Discord a friend and that he was just using him. Discord feels the same betrayal that Fluttershy felt when he betrayed her and the others, but in the end even Twilight decides to take him back, as she considers him one of the group as well.
In conclusion, one-dimensional heroes and villains have for the most part long since gone by the wayside. Characters on either side have many layers to them and can choose to act on any of them when they feel it is right. People make mistakes and can correct them whether they started off good or evil; for some, morality exists somewhere in between. In all of the above examples, these characters will act based on what they want or what they think they want, perhaps justifying it to themselves even when they know it's wrong. They could be any of us, and that's why we care about them.
For More Information
- Paradox Space - Summerteen Romance
Dave reads and critiques Karkat's fan fiction. Hilarity ensues.