After twenty-one episodes of stagnant character development and blinding personality flip-flopping, it’s pretty safe to say that characterization is the weakest part of Accel World. Outside of Kuroyukihime, the entire cast exhibits zero personality with each other and little chemistry. Taku and Haru in particular are two of the worst offenders – the two have completely liquid personalities which only conform to the shape of the plot container. On top of being entirely unlikable, both merely conform to whatever roles that the story calls for, generating no sympathy whatsoever when the two are being bullied or beaten up by their peers. The rest of the side characters only serve as cheap information bins which throw hastily written game mechanics at the viewer every now and then so that the leads can gain atrocious power ups. The only member of the cast who even comes close to captivating the audience is Kuroyukihime and she’s far from a shining example of a good character. However, when a someone such as her is taken out of the character dynamic and replaced with a villain as pathetic as Noumi in order to develop the remaining leads, the show completely detonates upon itself.
Noumi Seiji may perhaps be one of the most uninspired and absurdly silly caricatures written in years. The lack of effort given to his characterization is completely astonishing. Through and through, Noumi remains a pathetic bag of tropes made to illicit as much anger as possible from the audience. Forget motives, forget facets, and forget dimensions, Noumi has absolutely none. The so-called force of evil has no personality perks independent from his thin villainous persona, which is played up to such a ridiculous extent that it’s either hilarious or eye-rolling. This strict adherence to one-dimensional antics not only makes the boy a faceless, farcical villain, but also a completely predictable paper mâché vegetable. Our very own Dusk Taker completely lacks any entertainment value and reeks of unrelentingly brainless garble. There are no underlying skins or murky substances underneath his putrid exterior. He’s just a one-dimensional line drawn upon an x-axis, with no deviance or change among his actions. Noumi is just plain boring.
Now, I do not claim that there exist objective character rubrics or guaranteed chemical formulas when it comes to the alchemy of building villainous beings. The subtlety of creating a good character is an acknowledge art form, but an obscure one at that. But what I do believe is that a good villain emerges when his various elements come together to add and detract from their rival, resulting in a total experience greater than the sum of its parts. As is with all characters, there exists an untold number of distinct differences and elements within the making of a villain, making it futile to construct a chart on making the perfect scoundrels. However, while we cannot and never shall determine a concrete outline for which all villains are to follow, we can easily point out towards what does and does not work.
Screen Presence and the Art of Intimidation
The most notable detriment to Noumi’s character is his complete and utter lack of presence and charisma on the small screen. Noumi’s time on the glass doesn’t drive the viewer the edge of the his or her seat, but rather quietly lullabies him to sleep. The atmosphere of a scene can heavily affect the impression and impact of the scum in question, but here the emotional environment takes away from his effect and suffers from it. He lacks any power or command over the screen, even in the scenarios where he is supposed to be at his worst. His actions aren’t feared or rage-inducing as much as they are eye-rolling. The boy may appear a lot in the latter half of Accel World, sure, but there’s far, far more to having an intimidating screen presence than showing up a bunch of times.
The reason that a typical bad guy as absurdly one-dimensional and feral as Jaws can become one of the most iconic and hailed villains of all time is that even he can scare the absolute shit out of you without even appearing for the majority of the film. The same is true for Madoka Magica’s infamous Kyuubei; despite his cuddly exterior, just the sight of his shadow eventually becomes grotesque, uncomfortable, and unnerving. The two make you feel as suffocated and distressed as the characters they torment. Noumi completely flops in this regard. Noumi is completely void of that spectral presence and inherent creepiness that others are able to exhibit. On top of that, the atmosphere surrounding the creep is never chilling or discomforting and only detracts of the entire viewing experience. He isn’t able to dictate the screen with his appearance and upon show, he’s as monotonous and cyclic as clockwork, a transparent cardboard prop which can barely make an impression. Some of the greatest villains are able to draw out a powerful sense of discomfort and emotional discomfort out of an audience with just their appearance, and unless you can call apathy a feeling along the those lines, Noumi absolutely fails.
Utilizing the Lack of Motive
Another fairly noticeable chip in Noumi’s characterization is the utter weakness of the his motives and how they are left to stand on their own. By episode twenty, Noumi’s personality can be effectively split into two, both of which having rather poorly laid out motivations for their actions. On one side, we have the greedy and Burst Point hungry fiend who seeks to bully the wimpy leads into being his personal cash cows, and on the other we have a guy who just wants to raise chaos and promote suffering within his own little scope. Now, while his actual motivations aren’t entirely bad on their own, since interesting characters have managed and continue to be spawned from these two categories every once in a while, the script completely fails in utilizing this. These just script fails to do anything worthwhile with his natural ugliness. When a villain’s motivations are left to hang without any solid character development or interesting script to back it up, the said convictions of the villain will collapse on its own.
First off, in some cases villains do not necessarily need a plausible motivation or human reasoning to succeed if the script manages to back them up. If the said character is being made out to be a monstrosity and an inhumane detriment to society, it’s actually probably best if they have reasons which are difficult to identify with. After all, one of the greatest and most iconic villains of the last decade, Christopher Nolan’s The Joker, had little motivations for his actions, aside from wanting to watch Gotham City being thrown into chaos and corrupted from the inside. I’m fairly confident that not many viewers are able to empathize with convictions as monstrous as those. However, through the power of the writing and his innate charisma (and let’s not forget Heath Ledger’s wonderful performance), The Joker comes to life and is made into a living, one man apocalypse. Not only that, but the script works to flow with this, sewing him into story about morality and the common good. He’s completely exaggerated and extraordinarily unrealistic, but at the same time, he stays wondrously captivating and screams for your attention with his terrific dialogue and bizarre, jiving persona. He’s interesting, irregular, and unpredictable, and you just have to see more of him.
Now on the other hand, Noumi has absolutely zero of these traits. In Accel World we have a cardboard villain with a set routine of lazily written actions stapled to his forehead and his psychopathy is not utilized in a meaningful way. He’s hardly ever unpredictable; Noumi merely conforms to being an evil stereotype, meant to illicit as much anger as possible from the audience. His motivations are hardly elaborated on and have little synergy with the script, with his lust for abusing Burst Points and desire for causing endless suffering being a mere tools to insert Noumi into the story and promote conflict between the leads. Every available trait which could make an audience hate a character is thrown in lazy fashion, creating a fabulously cartoonish shell of a villain. Now while one could argue that all characters are made to pull certain emotions out from the spectators, it’s never good to have a character so absolutely predictable and unchanging that he becomes lifeless zero, only bolstered by his hilariously evil discourse, which of course includes the gut-busting and ridiculously cliché evil laugh. Noumi is so blown out of proportion that you know exactly what he’ll do next. Instead of inspiring anger or disgust, Noumi only serves to bring laughter, nausea, and apathy. Excess only works if the subject retains its purpose, and here Noumi completely falls through and fails to deliver.
Character Interactions and Engaging the Heroes
While one can spend all day naming all of the advantages of having a villain (or any antagonistic archetype, really) in storytelling, two of the most obvious purposes are to develop and mold the conflict and to challenge the heroes. The conflict between the two groups and their clashing morals can give distinction to the opposing parties, or even show how the lines between them begin to blur. In several cases, the villain can even represent the shadows of the hero, functioning as a means for which the hero can confront his own darkness within. How a villain interacts with a hero and his little lackeys can determine the worth of each and every character. As odd as it sounds, the two powers need chemistry together and a definitive relationship with each other. With that being said, Noumi, who does manage to spoil the fun plenty of times, isn’t entirely at fault when it comes to this. The way that Noumi bounces off Taku, Haru, and Chiyu is so painfully boorish that it stales the character dynamic entirely.
The conflict between the heroes and the villain is useful in defining each individual, but when one of the two groups falls through completely, the purpose of using such an exaggerated character such as Noumi is tarnished. While the way Noumi acts is completely swinish and overdone, his actions would have at least some value if Haru and Taku responded to him in a meaningful manner. Noumi’s questions aren’t met with actual interest, but rather angst and complaining from the set of flaccid leads.
Haru’s development turned completely on its head, resetting him back to his factory settings and destroying any already pre-established growth. When Noumi issues a challenge to the lead characters, they react in the most painfully sheepish way possible, by either sucking their thumbs and crying or by delivering a winded harangue on justice. The first quarter of Accel World is dedicated to Haru’s growth, him moving past this exact same phase in his life. Since we have already seen Haru grow as a person, this phase only feels like a repetition or cheap, extended recycle of the first arc. When a character has already gone through the same trials and tribulations once before, it obstructs us from relating to him and taking his growth seriously. A lame duck who has already had his enlightenment recounted cannot reach it twice – that’s recycled writing. Haru has no real personality; he’s merely a shapeless liquid which changes to fit the container. When a villain like Noumi, who has no redeeming features and is custom-made for the growth of the hero lacks a solid foundation to bounce off of, everything he stands for buckles under his own weight, unable to stand on it’s own.
Noumi fails as a villain in multiple aspects. The length to which the series will portray him as evil is so completely ridiculous that it sullies the show. He’s nothing but an extreme, hollow tool bag of tropes meant to illicit as much hate as possible from the audience. Unfortunately, he’s not intimidating, he’s not engaging, and he does not draw out a genuine response from the other characters. While clearly his failures aren’t entirely his fault, as some blame can be partially pinned on either the atmosphere or the other supporting cast members, that doesn’t change that he still flunks as a villain. He’s a highly exaggerated lump of air.
I have always accepted that anime is a heavily exaggerated medium. Exaggeration is a classic staple of anime, and I’ve actually come to enjoy it over the years. It’s present in the idealized and sexy character designs, the emotionally manipulative and tear-jerking backstories of teenage girls, and the infinitely complex and impossible machinations of Lelouch and Raito. While I do find myself drawn to stories and characters which manage stay grounded in reality, there are plenty of heavily exaggerated anime which I have grown to love. But when a character such as Noumi is so boneless and repetitive that you can predict his every move, he loses his entertainment value and purpose. Aside from creating haphazard drama which hardly works, he contributes little to the show. He’s a filler villain and copy n’ paste antagonist, inserted for easy conflict.
Just because a character is completely evil, it does not mean that he or she is not necessarily enthralling or well-written. And certainly, loading a villain with as many hated qualities as possible does not make them provocative. It turns a character into thoughtless, predictable sock puppet who can only spit set lines and set actions. Such characters are fated to be entertainment drains and toilets for which all viewing pleasures are sucked away. If the most boring types of heroes are “good because they’re good” Gary Stus, then surely the opposite is true. Noumi Seiji is plain boring.