The Ol’ Turncoat Trope

Yet another aspect of many anime (particularly action / shounen types) that I enjoy is the turncoat. I couldn’t help but notice – it is used VERY frequently. I’ve seen this trope used to much that I find it very easy to identify the turncoat character(s) in anime.

What is the turncoat? It’s the antagonist character that is defeated (usually early in an anime), and returns later on in the story to join forces with the protagonist to combat a new threat. Usually they change from “enemy that must be defeated at all costs” to “friendly rival character”. The most classic example of some turncoat characters are from Dragonball Z – both Piccolo and Vegeta are villains that end up becoming core member’s of the Z fighters (the good guys).

Vegeta was always my favourite DBZ character.

So what is the allure of using turncoat characters in an anime? Here are two reasons I think that the turncoat is beneficial to action / shounen anime.

1. It Reveals the Protagonist’s Growth

I believe that this is the number one reason for using turncoats in anime. As I mentioned, this trope is pretty much exclusive to action / shounen type anime. One of the central themes in these anime is the protagonist’s progression as they become more powerful and able to achieve their goals.

The turncoat is usually one of the first, if not THE first antagonist encountered by the protagonist. Naturally, the longer the anime, the less this rule applies as the anime has more time to introduce characters and whatnot. While the turncoat is an enemy, we usually see this sort of pattern – enemy is too strong and defeats hero, hero trains / has a revelation / acquires power, hero defeats enemy.

Next is when we experience the true benefit of the turncoat – the former enemy (who appeared unstoppable at one point) ceases to be an enemy, and instead acknowledges the protagonist’s power. By joining forces with the protagonist, we as the viewer get to see the former badass enemy respect the hero’s growth to the point where they are willing to help the hero. Being able to watch a former powerful enemy fight alongside the protagonist is a very powerful way to reveal the hero’s progression.

Gajeel from Fairy Tail.

2. Expands Character Base

Of course anime can add new characters any time, and the longer the anime the more they can wait to add a new character. The turncoat allows an anime to do two things with regards to the character base.

First, the anime can spend less time introducing a new character to the protagonist’s team because we are already familiar with them (they were already introduced as an antagonist). It’s sort of like recycling, as the anime is able to both introduce both an antagonist as well as major character at the same time.

Second, add a different viewpoint to the protagonist’s team. Prior to having a turncoat on board, many times everyone on the “good side” will all have mirrored opinions about good vs. evil. The turncoat can sometimes change these opinions. The turncoat is also sometimes someone with much more experience than the protagonist, and can end up taking the place as mentor. Basically, the turncoat brings something to the team that wasn’t there before.

Gyuki from Nuraihyon no Mago.

So those were the two key points I came up with in support of the turncoat trope – there most likely other compelling reasons that I didn’t mention / can’t think of right now. Personally, I like badass characters, so I generally like turncoat characters more than even the protagonist in anime, even if the protagonist ends up becoming more powerful than them.

That’s all for now, I was going to write a list of anime with turncoat characters but I don’t want to spoil the fun – it’s usually pretty easy to spot the turncoat if you are looking for it though. Thanks for reading.

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