Anyone who grew up on Pokemon remembers Team Rocket. Endlessly hilarious in their stunted pursuit of Pikachu, frequently empowering in their breaking of gender norms, and ultimately sympathetic in the hardship they continuously endure, this sterling trio has been an absolute favorite for well over two decades, the only characters aside from Ash himself to have survived the many changes between regions relatively unscathed. Today, they arrive in the new Let’s Go games, only a little over 20 years after being added to Pokemon Yellow, and as the title says, they remain anime’s best villains. With so many acclaimed antagonists in the industry’s wider portfolio, how do they maintain such a lofty position? Well, let’s figure that out by examining what it is that makes a good villain in the first place.
An anime isn’t the kind of thing one person can make alone. Even delegating tasks like music and promotion away, the amount of work required for every single frame is too much to ask of anyone. Brilliant individuals like rapparu are able to make short, minutes-long videos and students frequently create crude but impressive graduation projects of the same scale but anything larger than that is simply unreasonable to expect. It’s just not viable. Unless, that is, your happen to be Naoya Ishikawa.
For all the sheen and luster it possessed in the 80s, cyberpunk has become a bit passe. Rarely serving as a strong critique of a hyper-corporate dystopia, our increasing proximity to the worlds portrayed in the genre’s classic texts has left new entries feeling a bit uninspired. Frequently, cyberpunk comes across as a genre that exists mainly to show off a cool, grungy, bright setting where action setpieces can occur. And that’s a perfectly reasonable goal but it’s not what makes cyberpunk stand out as a genre. To me and many others, cyberpunk is about how corporations and governments work together under capitalism, the way structural forces police individuals through increasingly precise measurements while caring little about them as human beings, and the way people can still manage to survive in this dystopian civilization, one which grows more and more familiar to our own on a daily basis. It’s certainly not easy to achieve all this without giving into the common impulse of centering action, but it’s possible, and 2016’s VA-11 HALL-A does so.