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Jess: You're not seriously going to fight us again, are you?

Hawke: I have no desire to trade blows with you. I'm going to bow out for the time being. There are some things I must investigate before I commit myself to this.

Max: There he goes. What is it with that guy? Even when he loses, he acts like he won.
Advance Wars: Dual Strike

The Enigmatic Minion is a strange, specific type of villain. Put simply, it is a non-Big Bad antagonist whose agenda, motivations and villain cred itself remains highly ambiguous for much of the story. Whether as a Monster of the Week or as a long-term villain, an Enigmatic Minion is defined by its ambiguous nature and the suspicion it evokes, both in the heroes and in the audience. There is certainly something altogether 'not right' about this character, but it is difficult to say how or why it acts the way it does.

The Enigmatic Minion lacks any obvious motives and desires to be discerned by the heroes or the viewer, and certainly won't reveal them if asked. In fact, good luck getting anything more than Cryptic Conversation out of it. Despite assurances that it's an antagonist, it obviously has a free will of sorts and have a modus operandi that does not entirely follow the expected for a villain. An Enigmatic Minion may take actions that turn out to help the heroes in the end, or shower an unusual amount of personal attention on their progress without opposing them. The minion will seem to know a lot more than it's letting on - possibly even more so than the Big Bad they are seemingly aligned with.

If a member of an evil organization, the Enigmatic Minion will usually hold a prominent position, be trusted by the Big Bad, or has a job only it is capable of doing, which would explain why it's being kept around. This importance also keeps the minion safe from You Have Failed Me moments -- at least for as long as the Big Bad thinks they are still on the same side. Enigmatic Minions usually don't 'fit' their assigned role, whether they're satisfied with it or not -- and in the case of the latter, they certainly won't admit it.

Eventually, the story may offer a Reveal as to the minion's true nature: This can be anything from being The Man Behind the Man to being Good All Along. Other times it may not and leave the character as mysterious as when it appeared. Expect The Messiah to attempt to befriend this type of character, which may or may not take.

The enigmatic minion falls somewhere between a villain and a Wild Card in a story, and fills a mold similar to the Lovable Traitor or Reliable Traitor. It may be constructed as a Worthy Opponent, although an extremely ambiguous one at that.

Compare with the Hidden Agenda Villain, who is a clear villain -- and also clearly a Big Bad -- but whose plans are unknown. The Stealth Mentor will frequently take on this guise as part of their teaching process. Also compare the Aloof Ally, who is commonly mistaken for an Enigmatic Minion in their first appearances, but isn't a villain - they're just a jerk and the Mysterious Backer, who's this trope with the "Minion" part replaced with "Big Good".

Examples of Enigmatic Minion include:


Anime and Manga

  • Kaworu in Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of the most well-known examples of this character archetype.
  • Folken in Vision of Escaflowne.
  • Joker in Flame of Recca.
  • Laplace's Demon in Rozen Maiden. He doesn't appear until the second season in the anime, but in the manga, he shows up before five of the dolls do -- and we still don't know what he's doing.
  • The seemingly unstoppable Iwanbo from Rurouni Kenshin was simply too dumb to carry on a fight without being distracted and running off. The following arc that is covered in the manga would later reveal the character to be merely feigning idiocy in order to hide his true nature and purpose.
  • Kyuzo fills this role for much of Samurai 7.
  • Christopher Armalite (early on) and Cz (later on) from Scrapped Princess.
  • Ikuto from Shugo Chara!.
  • Half of the villains of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha are this at one point. This has about a 100% overlap rate with the half of the villains that get befriended.
  • Hisoka from Hunter X Hunter
  • Ribbons Almark, Alejandro Corner's right hand in Mobile Suit Gundam 00. Who turns out to be the true evil mastermind in the end... fucking Ribbons.
    • And Regene Regetta is this to Ribbons in turn in the second series. While he fails to overthrow Ribbons and take over the conspiracy, he ends up helping the heroes to defeat Ribbons.
  • Sara of Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch has aspects of this, being the grown-up version of the Dark Magical Girl. Sometimes, she can be found interrupting her own followers' plans if her conscience gets the best of her, which isn't often. Right afterwards, she goes right back to condemning The Power of Love. Like the previous example, though, she's not exactly a minion.
  • Nagi from Mai-HiME is like this throughout most of the show, even after The Reveal.
  • Xelloss from Slayers is cheerfully open about the fact that he is working towards his own villainous ends. The heroes let him hang around with them because he betrays their enemies just as often as he betrays them, with the explanation that he was only siding with them while it advanced his own plan. His own plan is, of course, a secret.
  • Isako from Dennou Coil.
  • Rakshas in Berserk fits this role in the new Band of the Hawk. He seems to be playing both sides, admits to joining Griffith just so he can make sure to be the one to kill him, and is nowhere to be found during the current battle.
  • Shiner from Psyren fits this dangerously well.
  • Gin Ichimaru from Bleach seems to fit this trope. His reasons for siding with the Big Bad are never explicitly stated, and the other minions seem highly suspicious of him.
    • He had been trying to kill Aizen the entire time. Aizen himself was aware of this, but wouldn't get rid of Gin due to sheer curiosity.
  • Abelia from Now and Then, Here and There. She's an intelligent woman and capable leader. She's also unflinchingly loyal to an obviously insane despot, seeming for all the world like a extraordinary dark take on the Punch Clock Villain. The series ends without a stitch of explanation, much less backstory, in explanation. She does eventually have a Heel Face Turn of sorts. Her insane boss is about to be drowned and is crying out for her to save him. She's more than capable of doing it, but chooses not to.
    • It's heavily hinted that Hamdo wasn't always batshit crazy. It's also heavily hinted that she used to have a Bodyguard Crush on him, and spends the whole series hoping that he'll return to the man he used to be.
  • Kabuto in Naruto. Due to his habit of betraying everyone he's ever met with a smile on his face, his loyalty to Orochimaru was pretty much the only thing anybody could be certain about him. Now that he's a free agent who absorbed what was left of Oro, God only knows what he's scheming.
    • Zetsu also fits this trope pretty well. He seems to be part spy, part... trash disposal for the Akatsuki. He is also one of the few of them aware of the group's true leadership. The only clue we've been given about his motives is Pain saying his reason for fighting is "land". Considering he recently declared "I am the land!"...
    • Itachi's a good example. His neglect to finish off enemies (outside of his backstory), unnecessary retreats from battle, and reluctance to share information with his Akatsuki allies often confuse both the protagonists and antagonists alike. It turned out that he was a spy with loyalties to Konoha.
    • Don't forget Konan, she never talked during the Akatsuki meetings and kept very close to Pain. Overtime her involvement with the group became rather questionable after Pain's defeat. As her story unfolds, it's revealed that she had much deeper ties to the organization's very origins.
  • Nathan Mahler in Blood Plus.
  • Carrossea Doon in Madlax.
  • Beatrice's Battle Butler, Ronove has a servile and snarky tone towards her. It's not clear how deep his obligation toward her is, but he often lampshades clues or leaks important information for Battler.
  • El Shitsurakuen fits this, posing as Karin when he is out to help her and being El to oppose her
  • Aika seems to be one while following after Athena in Hayate the Combat Butler. Her motives are yet unexplored.
  • Miyabi from Rosario to Vampire is one to Gyokuro; he's very Ambiguously Evil, to the point that even the main characters don't seem to know what to make of him, but he and Gyokuro don't seem to trust each other.
  • Mikage, and especially Mamiya, in Shoujo Kakumei Utena.


Comic Books

  • Comic example: In the X-Men universe, Mister Sinister serves this function in a number of arcs.
  • Manute in Sin City is one of the few bad guys that have popped up in multiple stories and is as enigmatic as they get.


Fan Fiction

  • Tarot in the Pokémon fanfic The Darkness Within.
  • Faybol in the Star Wars Expanded Universe fic series Legacy of the Sith has many elements of this- mysterious, powerful, pops in and out of the story seemingly at will, etc. He turns out, however, to be almost completely evil and is one of the Big Bad's most loyal minions- he's just secretive by nature. Said Big Bad is also the only one who can be said to know all his secrets, though the reader now knows quite a bit about him too.
  • Masque of Pokémon: Storm Clouds, a mysterious Team Rocket agent who specializes in brainwashing Pokémon to serve the Team, yet doesn't seem to actually care about Giovanni's agenda. Giovanni calls him on this and it turns out that Masque is Eviler Than Thou by a great deal. He reveals that the army of Pokémon brainwashed to serve Team Rocket are more loyal to Masque himself, and takes up the mantle of Big Bad.
  • Queen of All Oni has Blankman, the dark wizard who Jade hires to serve as the Shadow Hand's foreman. We know next to nothing about him (not even his real name), and when he finally gets some focus in a chapter, it just raises more questions and makes him seem more mysterious.


Film

 Magenta: "You killed him! But I thought you liked him! He liked you."

Riff Raff: "He didn't like me! He never liked me!"

  • Agent Mercer of the East India Company in Pirates of the Caribbean has some qualities of an Enigmatic Minion, especially in the way he pops in and out of the story.
    • Though unlike a lot of other examples, Mercer is truly evil, to the extent that death by Naughty Tentacles felt like karma.
    • The Spaniard in On Stranger Tides is this to the King of Spain; he's the first of the three main factions to set out after the Fountain of Youth, but we see him by far the least and its never quite clear exactly what he wants with it. Turns out, he's been sent by the King to destroy the Fountain, which the Spanish see as blasphemous.
  • The Man in Black in Halloween 5, who appears throughout the movie and whose motivations aren't revealed until the next film Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers.


Literature

  • In about the last three books or so of the Harry Potter series, Snape comes to occupy this role to the extent that pretty much every fan site had lists of equally strong arguments why he was good or evil.
  • Phalse in Azure Bonds novel. Until the Final Showdown he was the least transparent of villains, representing unknown force with unknown motivation and did not anything serious save recruiting The Mole. Gradually proved to be both smartest and creepiest participant of the conspiracy, despite hard competition (in either quality) with his partners that is, hysterically vicious Vain Sorceress, lich, band of vengeful killers-thieves and ancient evil god.
  • Sol from Warrior Cats. Although he isn't a minion and also a Hidden Agenda Villain, he has many Enigmatic Minion tendencies, such as randomly coming and going whenever the plot requires.
  • Vergere from the New Jedi Order though she turns out to be more of a Wild Card than a minion.
  • The Remover of Inconvenient Obstacles from The War of the Flowers by Tad Williams.
  • Childermass from Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. He is the manservant of Mr Norrell and has an odd sort of power over the man that no one else can understand. At one stage Mr Norrell tells an aristocrat to be quiet because Childermass is talking, and it's never revealed as to where exactly Childermass came from or why he works for Norrell.
  • She's not exactly a minion, but Diana from Gone could qualify. She's very open about the fact that she's working on her own side. She's never really done anything evil, although she has often stood aside and let others do terrible things. She helps both sides when it suits her. She won't commit to anything. And yet she's probably the only person Caine trusts, and the heroes have offered to let her join them, and, when she realize she's losing control over Caine, she takes them up on it.
  • Time Scout: Chuck Farley, ever so.


Live Action TV

  • The purportedly mute Haitian of Heroes: working for the hidden higher power, Angela Petrelli, and looking damn enigmatic while doing it.
    • HRG is this on occasion as well, especially in Volume 4.
  • Richard Alpert in Lost seems to have become one of these, despite being on the side of the resident villains. He's mysterious, kind and friendly, polite even when taking weapons off the heroes, and is the only Other to openly defy Ben. His true motives are very mysterious like every other thing on the show.
    • That, and he looks exactly the same in all timelines. Even the main cast members openly wonder why he doesn't age at all.
      • However, a recent episode, "Ab Aeterno" has revealed some more facets of his character and bits and pieces of information about him.
      • It didn't reveal everything, however. It never is explained how he can just ignore security--including the completely impenetrable sonic fences.
      • Maybe it was because he couldn't die, and the sonic fences were set to lethal, so that made him inmune to them?
  • Ian Nottingham in the TV adaptation of Witchblade starts out this way. Throughout the first season, he swings closer and closer to a Heel Face Turn, eventually sacrificing his life for Sarah.
  • Mighty Morphin Power Rangers villain Lokar. He's technically a recurring Monster of the Week, but he only appears during multi-part episodes, always teleports away before defeat, and seems to be more of a peer than a servant to the Big Bad.
  • Garak of Deep Space Nine, whose trademark is his enigmatic nature. Although he seems to be on the good side, episodes like "The Die is Cast" prove that he can certainly play the role of the villain when it suits him. Like other Enigmatic Minions, he never reveals his motives, he's involved with a mysterious organization (The Obsidian Order), he is an Ensemble Darkhorse (he was originally just supposed to be a guest character), and he always knows more than he's letting on. And good luck getting any useful information out of him.
  • Captain Harper of Awake. The second episode reveals that she is in contact with the people who caused Britten's accident, and that she's conducting a cover-up. On the other hand, she seems to have moral objections to the murder.


Theater

  • The villain Count Fosco from The Woman in White might count as an example of the mole variety, as because of his charming and whimsical façade, the heroine initially seeks his help against the more obvious villain, Sir Percival Glyde.


Video Games

  • Yuber from the Suikoden series.
  • Kratos from Tales of Symphonia. His interest in your progression during the storyline becomes so prevalent and noticeable that Lloyd eventually begins wondering out loud why the heck someone who betrayed and all but killed him once and who constantly refers to himself as an enemy keeps appearing to drop enigmatic hints and encouragements about what he should be doing next.
  • Ryoji Mochizuki from Persona 3. He isn't even aware of his role himself for a while.
  • Mid-Boss from Disgaea, although he does a fair job of appearing pathetic rather than truly enigmatic.
  • Meta Knight, Kirby's mysterious recurring Worthy Opponent, sometimes fills this role; very much so in the anime, "Right Back at Ya!"
  • And as quoted, Hawke in his appearance in Advance Wars: Dual Strike. He pulls a Heel Face Turn when his boss tries to have him killed.
    • Also, Hawke in the previous game (Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising) as well. After losing the battle for Green Earth, he leaves Sturm, only to come back at the end of the final mission and finish off sturm with his Super CO Power.
  • Raven from the game Tekken 5 who gets introduced as an mysterious observer in the opening sequence, and is in the tournament on a mission for his unknown employments.
  • Alex from Golden Sun fulfils this trope expertly; he nominally works for or with the villains but seems kind and decent, and shows sympathy to the heroes on numerous occasions. His motives are unfathomable, but it becomes clear that he's using both sides, and is ultimately the most dangerous of the lot. At one point in the second game, there is a battle that can be optionally won or lost; if the heroes win, Alex will save the villains, but if the villains win, Alex will save the heroes.
    • It's interesting to watch him as you play through for the second time. You can start to see how everything he does fits into his plan.
  • Naomi in the Metal Gear Solid series shows almost no signs of being anything but another member of Snake's large support team, but begins to act somewhat strangely over the course of the first game. Even after several turns of the Heel Face Revolving Door you still have not the slightest idea whom the character is actually working for or is always coming back to your side, but does not seem to be trying to harm you.
  • Xenosaga's testaments.
  • Archer from Fate Stay Night, especially in the Unlimited Blade Works route.
  • Ada Wong from Resident Evil 4 is fairly enigmatic, being nominally Leon's enemy while having an agenda of her own and playing the other power players against each other.
  • Harle in Chrono Cross, for confusing and spoilery reasons. Word of God even says that there's actually something of a connection between her and Kid, which players noted when comparing the similar build, reactions to Serge and almost identical facial features. Her eventual fate is pretty vague, actually.
  • Samir Duran from Starcraft: Brood Wars.
    • It's made almost clear that he works for the Xel'Naga. Probably.
    • Or is one, maybe.
  • Suzaku from Tenchu 2.
  • Dimentio from Super Paper Mario. Through the whole game, he vacillated between the sides of good and evil, before finally revealing that he was insane.
  • Garland becomes this in Dissidia: Final Fantasy, while somehow simultaneously being a Large Ham. He's surprisingly sympathetic, knows more about the nature of the universe than the gods themselves, and serves an even higher power. In fact, he has to personally explain the plot to the Big Bad. The one difference is that he never passes up a chance to fight the heroes. His job is to fight, and he enjoys doing it.
  • Kariya from The World Ends With You.
  • Vincent from Silent Hill 3 at first seems to be in league with Big Bad Claudia, sharing her background and occult beliefs and meeting with her a few times throughout the game, while also making it clear to the heroine Heather that he has his own hidden agenda. Later it turns out that he's working against Claudia and trying to save the world, though he's doing it for entirely selfish and amoral reasons.


Web Animation

  • Phaxel is one of these in TTA, but that could just be because he gets bored easily.


Web Comics

  • Adventurers! has a particularly good example of this trope in Argent.
  • Nioi in El Goonish Shive.
    • By now, it looks like she searches for a way to backstab gen. Shade Tail (Subordinate Excuse vs. Poisonous Friend court intrigue) when not on her proper job (artifacts research) or fixing minor problems like Kaoli's abnormal status.
  • Veithel in Juathuur. Until the end, it's unclear if she cares for Ratheel and Dej or if she is willing to betray them for her father's benefit. Both, actually. And she will sacrifice to save Dejoru AND follow her father's wishes for her.
  • Torg, protagonist of Sluggy Freelance, was doing this professionally for a while in an attempt to get back at another evil organization. He recently gave up after his "boss" turned out to have unintentionally betrayed him.


Web Original

  • The Masked Men from Marble Hornets. About all we can say for sure is that they have some connection to The Operator. Season 2 drops hints that they may not be entirely malevolent, culminating in the season finale, in which one of the masked men saves Jay and Jessica from Alex, who was holding them at gunpoint. Totheark, a YouTube account full of cryptic messages which might be run by one or more of the Masked Men, is similarly inscrutable.
  • In The Gamers Alliance, the Shadow and Simon are this. The Shadow works for the Grey Cult but has his own mind and a different agenda than his masters, which becomes especially true when he is finally returned to his true form Taliesin after which he still acts ambiguously. Simon is a seemingly obedient follower of his master's teachings and acts as a spokesman for all the Totenkopfs, but he tends to act rather ambiguously and his loyalties and goals aren't really clear-cut even to his superiors.
  • Bluejay of the Alphas, at Whateley Academy in the Whateley Universe. The Alphas are definitely evil, but Bluejay openly mocks the Big Bad and performs a bunch of less-than-evil acts that he passes off with excuses. But he's still helping the bad guys and we don't know what he's really up to.
  • Hazel from RWBY is the typical quiet, strong guy of Salem's Faction. He's the least verbal and opinionated member of the villains, still when something was amiss he'd voice his output.


Western Animation

  • Justice Lord Batman from Justice League. Although the one responsible for allowing the Justice Lords to interact with the Justice League, he seems reluctant at best to follow the lead of the other Justice Lords and his true motivations for doing so in the first place is never revealed.
  • Sideways plays one of these in Transformers Armada. He does so many sneaky evil laughs and sinister remarks while still being casually friendly with everyone that it's obvious he's The Mole...you're just not sure for who.
    • Unicron, as it turns out.
    • And Sideways in Transformers Cybertron (different individual, same name) does the same thing, even claiming to be an Autobot at one point for absolutely no clear reason. He is enigmatically joined by Soundwave about two thirds of the way through the series, who doesn't appear to be on anyone's side at all.
  • Tarantulas also plays the enigmatic cackler in Beast Wars. Even at the end of the series it's not completely clear whose side he's on.
    • His own. There had been hints that he was going to be an agent for Unicron or something along the lines.
    • He's a descendant of the Fallen which is why blowing up the Ark wouldn't effect him.
      • The character of The Fallen had not been created at that point. Word of God offers two origins for Tarantulas: either that he was descended from Transformers created by Unicron; or that his ancestors were part of the Cybertronian Empire lead by Jhiaxus, which left cybertron before the Autobots and Decepticons existed. It's complicated.
  • Owen, the original Xanatos' Battle Butler.
  • Calypso in The Spectacular Spider-Man is more of a "Villain's Engimatic Girlfriend", but otherwise fits. She's introduced in the same episode as Kraven, pops in and out of the narrative, has what might be mystical powers and knowledge like her comic counterpart, or might just be spooky intuition, and is never really explained (though it's not unlikely that she was intended to have a role in later seasons, before the show was cancelled).
  • Solomon from Sym-Bionic Titan- he's mysterious, Badass, tends to pop in and out of things, and is overally the least malevolent of the three main villains (himself, General Steel, and General Modula). He ends up becoming an ally of the heroes after they save his life against an Eldritch Abomination during an Enemy Mine and is solidified as a minion rather than a mastermind in his own right when the episode "Fortress of Decepion" revealed he had a boss, who's plenty enigmatic himself.
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