Full Metal Panic: Gauron

By Shamus
on Sep 19, 2006
Filed under:
Anime

Steven was talking about anime villians yesterday and he singled out Gauron from Full Metal Panic as a good example of a terrible bad guy:

Gauron […] is close to the worst villain ever IMHO. He’s a cartoon, in the worst meaning of that term. He’s the distillation of unfeeling brutality, but there’s no obvious reason why he became what he is. He’s an icon, a contrivance, a caricature.

Full Metal Panic: Gauron
Gauron has two facial expressions: Evil Sneer, and Evil Sneer 2. I like the spoilers on his eyebrows.
Which is spot-on. There is nothing to this guy. I complained about him as well when I finished the series. One thing about Gauron is that he could have been a great villian, and they wouldn’t have needed to re-write the series. The overall plot could have remained, all they needed to do was replace his boilerplate bad-guy talk with something interesting. We spent enough time watching him sneer and taunt that he could have told us his life story if he had one.

At the end we finally learn his “big secret”, which is that he isn’t working for the bad guys, or for a government, or for himself: He’s just trying to commit suicide. He wants to die in a glorious conflagration of twisted metal and burning fuel, and he wants to take as many people with him as he can. I actually think that’s a good hook for a character. That was a good place to start, not end! He was all premise and stubble.

Full Metal Panic: Gauron’s Mech
Some days Gauron’s mech just can’t do a thing with it’s hair, and he’s forced to pull it back ino a polytail. One of these days he’s been meaning to get a perm. If he could just get the budget increase he wants, he could go through with his plan to have his mech fully decked out with a fearsome beehive hairdo!
A writer who knew what he was doing and who cared about his work would have taken that idea and built a character on top of it. What made him want to die? The fact that he wanted to die suggests that at some point in the past he had something to live for, something he cared about. What was it and how did he lose it? What made him want to go out with a bang like this instead of just jumping off a cliff? Why did he choose Sousuke as his rival? What was he doing before he began his suicide quest? How did he feel about being defeated repeatedly yet miraculously surviving? Did he see the humor in it, or was he just frustrated? The writer wouldn’t need to answer all of these in the show, but he should at least have the answers in mind when writing. It was clear that were no answers. Gauron had no history, no backstory, no motivation.

Like the series itself, Gauron was a great idea that was never really developed or explored.

UPDATE: Lots of great comments below, and a great post on the villian from Xenogears at Criminally Weird. I didn’t play console games between 1985 and 2002. Since this game fits into that very wide gap, I missed it. I gather that it is one of those games people talk about when they reflect on the greatness of Final Fantasy VII and start looking for something to fill that particular void.

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  1. I found Steven’s post quite thought-provoking myself. And you’ve hit upon what struck me as well: a villain, to be an interesting foe, has to have a vision larger than himself. It can be (and probably is) completely wrong-headed and bad, but it’s NOT just self-centeredness.

  2. -Chipper says:

    Thanks for the interesting post – Steven, too.

    ***Spider-man 1 & 2 spoilers to follow***

    I’ve been ruminating on Spider-man & Spider-man 2. I prefer 2 because Doc Ock is an outstanding villain. At first he is this great guy, with a loving wife, very intelligent scientist on the verge of a great breakthru, also willing to help & teach a smart kid (Peter Parker). But he does have his Achilles’ Heel – the scientist’s arrogance that he has thought of all the possible problems & has them all under control. Of course he doesn’t, and it leads to the death of his wife, and short circuits a supressor chip that keeps his artificially intelligent octopus arms under his control. Then he turns bad & you feel bad for him. The price he pays for his hubris is high, but just. In the end, he reclaims his humanity & saves the city, sacrificing himself. Great movie. Norman/Green Goblin from the first movie has many ‘good’ villain characteristics – he’s cool, he’s smart, he’s powerful & has an understandable agenda, but doesn’t elicit any sympathy.

    Thinking of other villains, I HATED the ending of “Point Break” (spoilers ahead, but don’t worry – the movie isn’t worth watching!) w/ Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves. Swayze is this sociopath surfer who kills, robs banks, kidnaps. Reeves is an FBI agent on his trail. Swayze slips away after a last job. At the very end Reeves finds him, after several years, in Australia, where he knew Swayze was planning to surf the 50 year storm. So Reeves has caught him & has him handcuffed. Swayze begs to be let go so he can go surf, knowing that the surf will kill him, instead of spending the rest of his life in jail. Reeves agrees & lets him go. Swayze’s character was so repellent, you WANTED him to rot in jail because you knew it would be a worse punishment to him & he deserved it. Stupid movie. Grrr.

  3. Good points, Chipper. Again, I think the difference between Doc Ock and Norman Osborne was in what they wanted to accomplish. Octavius wanted to create a source of cheap energy and was willing to commit mayhem in the service of that goal; while there was some hubris involved, his purpose wasn’t selfish.

    Osborne, on the other hand…I don’t even remember his motivation. I think he was mad because his business was being taken away. He has no great goal to accomplish other than saving his own skin. (As I recall. It’s been a while since I’ve seen SM1.)

  4. -Chipper says:

    That’s basically right, Beckoning. Osborne was the head of OsCorp, which he founded. Their high visibility project was to create a supersoldier. He showed the same scientist hubris that Ock did – one failed test didn’t convince him that the formula was bad. In desperation to prove the formula against a deadline, he tried it on himself and it made him mad. So he did it to prove himself right, and to save his company. Osborne was always intense, but even before his mistake of trying the formula, he was never really likable, whereas Doc Ock was likeable, even some of the time after his accident. Ock never intended mayhem until after his accident.

  5. Avatar says:

    One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about anime is the predilection towards interesting villains. More often than not, you have antagonists who aren’t just nihilistic bastards with too much free time. There IS an awful lot of “I was wronged in the past and I can’t let it go even though I’ve become much much worse than what I hate” going on, but I can live with that…

    As far as good bad guys go, why not say Gendo from Eva? I mean, come on, how much better of a bad guy do you need to BE?

  6. BeckoningChasm says:

    I’m starting to think that the effectiveness (in terms of audience reaction) of a villain also has to do with the canvas in which he is placed.

    Case in point: Khan, from Star Trek II. He’s driven by one thing: he hates Kirk. End of story. But he’s fascinating and fun to watch. I think this may be because the arena of STII is a very limited one–it’s really just Kirk and Khan, everything and everyone else is just background.

    Had be heen part of a wider story, a larger conflict, he might have come across as petty, mean-spirited and a bit one-note.

  7. HC says:

    For my money, the best villains are heroes. To themselves, to their friends, superiors, and charges, and quite possibly (some of the time) to the audience. They defy impossible odds, persevere through great hardships, and prove themselves to be resourceful and deadly foes.

    This doesn’t mean that they don’t have hubris – though all heroes should – or nemesis – again, all heroes should. What is Spider-man without his failure to save Uncle Ben, or the death of Gwen Stacy? Achilles without his wrathful sulk, Odysseus without his decision to boast of his too-clever-by-half blinding of Polyphemus? Each of them gets what they deserve, and it is just.

  8. BeckoningChasm says:

    Good point, HC. I don’t think any villains really look in the mirror and say, “Damn, I’m evil!” They’re working toward a goal which, from their perspective, seems perfectly justified and, gosh darn it, something everyone should get behind.

    I think the chief difference is probably in some kind of moral stance, a limit to what can be employed toward the goal. Doctor Doom has no trouble destroying underlings who’ve failed him, but Nick Fury probably doesn’t do that very often.

  9. […] Steven Den Beste has been thinking about what makes a villain interesting in anime.   (No permalink, but look for the post dated 20060918.1940.)  Over at Twenty-Sided, Shamus Young has added some additional perspective as well.  Very good, thought-provoking stuff at both places (which is generally a given). […]

  10. Will says:

    I think some of the best villains are fallen heroes. Darth Vader is probably the most obvious example (in modern times). That “other villain” I mentioned in Xenogears is based heavily on the Vader mold, and the creators weren’t shy about it. (The similarity is mentioned in some of their character design documents). I’ll have to see if I can find the text of an old forum post I wrote about Xenogears and Joseph Campbell’s hero myth archetype.

    Shamus, the game is insanely plot heavy and has a rocky history. It started development before FF7, finished up after, was still rushed to finish, sold fewer copies, and was very nearly never localized for the US over concerns with the religious content. It wasn’t received well early on and had little market support from Square. It took months for word to get out about the game. It has a small but very devoted following to this day.

  11. Bogan the Mighty says:

    Xenogears is definately one of the greats to come out of Square. It really makes you wonder how Xenosaga could have turned out if Square had at least something to do with its creation. And there is nothing to compare with the greatness of Final Fantasy VII other than Final Fantasy VI even though the boss in that doesn’t really fit this whole good bad guy thing, he was just a plain old jerk with no good intentions or anything.

  12. Will says:

    That is a question many people, myself included, have been asking. Monolith has plenty of talent, they just didn’t seem to know how to work on a schedule and within a budget when they got out on their own. It took a couple of tries to get things right. Xenosaga’s third episode is awesome, and it really strikes the right balance between the first two games. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look to even surpass Episode 2’s incredibly meager sales, and now the series is over prematurely.

  13. BigFire says:

    Too bad Steve haven’t watched Gundam yet. Or he would’ve put both Gihren Zabi and Char Aznable on his list. Gihren Zabi wants to pursuit the Contolism to its logical conclusion of genocide, while Char Aznable wants to exact revenge. And they’re both from the same show. And much later on, Haman Kahn, one of the best female villian.

  14. Alei says:

    The worst villain I’ve ever seen is Nakago, from Fushigi Yuugi. I know the story is cheesy, but this guy was too much for the story.

    So much that the main characters weren’t able to defeat him with their own powers, they had to receive help from the other villains in order to cancel Nakago’s power and then overpower the main hero to defeat him… and he never even regret all he did, which was done for revenge. I’m still looking for a villain worse than him.

  15. Loki says:

    It should be noted that in the novel series that Full Metal Panic is based of, it is revealed (and thus most likely revealed in later installments of the series, perhaps in The Second Raid) that Gauron is suffering from cancer. This says much in itself for his psychological condition and suicidal tendencies, the antagonist “Jigsaw” from the Saw movies comes to mind.

  16. Antiname says:

    *spoiler* Gauron comes back for The Second Raid. *spoiler*

  17. Bull says:

    I get the feeling that they’ll explain his past in the fourth season.

  18. Baruch says:

    Wow, this is a late post, and most likely will go unread. But it still must be made!
    Bogan the Mighty, I disagree about Kefka. His motivations aren’t as 2-D as you make them out to be. Kefka was a loyal soldier who, in an attempt to make him into a super soldier, became insane. If you talk around, he used to be a good guy, but when they ran the first magitek tests they used him. This caused his decay into madness and megalomania and his shattered existence caused him to hate all happiness. So I’d say he fits the fallen human mold.

  19. Felblood says:

    Kefka’s greatest victory as a villain wasn’t that he was a fallen hero, or even his literal military victories, which you’ve likely heard of already, even if you haven’t played the game.

    What made Kefka great was that he was fun.

    Whatever was the most fun for Kefka, was what Kefka did.

    Because of his madness his ideas of fun where sadistic, spiteful, and mostly about stroking his own ego, but if you’ve got even a small streak of cruelty or pyromania in your heart, you could laugh with him.

    Wee-hee-hee! Burn it! Burn it to the ground!

    His motives may not have been logical, but they were perfectly understandable.

    Great villains can be logical or emotional, so long as they are understandable. Even revenge makes sense, on some level, or it did before it got done to death.

  20. Kurtz says:

    The relationship between gauron and sosuke as well as gaurons backstory are further explored in the light novel series the anime is based on.

  21. Gabbi says:

    MAYBE SOME ANIME/NOVEL SPOILERS…

    From what I’ve seen, Gauron is a lot more explained in the novel than in the anime. In fact, some of those questions you asked are answered. I feel Gauron’s a lot more twisted in the novel because people realize all his motives relate back to his obsession with Sousuke whereas in the anime, he came off as some asshole who just likes torturing the guy. For example, you asked why Gauron chose Sousuke as his rival. It’s revealed that when he first saw Sousuke was when Sousuke was a 12 year old child soldier, killing people with ease, and having the “eyes of a killer”. Gauron fell in love with the boy (in a sexual way) and wanted nothing more than to kill him and rape the corpse. When they fight in the future, Gauron taunts Sousuke with little innuendos… He apparently even made sex noises while they fought (admittedly, I haven’t gotten the chance to read the novel, but this is what I’ve been told lol). So, I guess the answer to a lot of your questions could just be Gauron’s sexual attraction to/obsession with poor Sousuke… That, and he apparently has a fetish for gore, but I guess that’s not hard to see. lol

  22. Gabbi says:

    OH! And…

    ANOTHER SPOILER!!!

    I almost forgot… Gauron has cancer, so he could be angry and blaming the world for it, which explains his murderous nature.

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  1. […] Steven Den Beste has been thinking about what makes a villain interesting in anime.   (No permalink, but look for the post dated 20060918.1940.)  Over at Twenty-Sided, Shamus Young has added some additional perspective as well.  Very good, thought-provoking stuff at both places (which is generally a given). […]

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