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Cquote1
"Pardon me for interrupting your premature celebration, but I thought it only fair to give you a sporting chance as you are new to this game... and you've been playing without an opponent, which is, as you may have geussed, is against the rules"
Anton Ego, Ratatouille
Cquote2

No work of fiction is complete without a villain of some sort. After all, if there's no villain, who will create the conflict? Who will the heroes confront in the climax? Who will sing the best songs?

But sometimes, writers encounter a problem. See, sometimes... what the antagonist is doing? It's not immoral, or even illegal. At all. Like, in a sports story, the antagonist would just be the leader of the Opposing Sports Team. If, say, you're writing an inspiring story about an underdog who aspires to be a great chef, the antagonist would be a tough to please food critic, or the owner of a rival restaurant. Sure, these people's success would make the hero's life worse, but in real life, nobody would hold it against these people. That's just the way the world works. Surely these stories are forever bound to having both a hero protagonist and a Hero Antagonist, right? ...right?

Wrong!

Meet the Villainy-Free Villain, the very personification of What Do You Mean It's Not Heinous?. To make sure that viewer sympathy is still squarely on the protagonist, the Villainy-Free Villain is an antagonist who compensates for his completely socially acceptable aspirations by being as much of a Jerkass about them as humanly possible. He's not a villain, but by god he sure acts like one. It's as if he doesn't care about his own well-being, but sees his actions as a wonderful opportunity to crush the protagonist's hopes and dreams.

This is a clear case of Truth in Television. You don't have to kill or steal to be unlikeable. If you're a complete jerk to people and rub your own victories in the faces of the people you step over, you'll still be seen in a bad light.

Note that a character cannot qualify to be a Villainy-Free Villain if he participates in unethical activities. As the name suggests, this antagonist has all the aspects of the villain except the actual villainy.

Also, for a character to qualify, he has to actually BE as unpleasant as a normal villain, enough so for the viewer to not sympathize with him. Otherwise, he's just a Designated Villain. On the other hand, if he is unpleasant but barely even does anything to fill the "antagonist" role, then he's a Plot Irrelevant Villain. Compare Hate Sink, who isn't always the main conflict-maker but acts nasty so the audience has someone to root against.

Examples of Villainy Free Villain include:


Anime and Manga

  • Weevil in Yu-Gi-Oh is kind of a jerk (and has a really bad introduction), but he's the only "villain" who never actually tries to kill anybody. Yugi and friends still treat him as the scum of the earth.
    • Weevil might not count as he does cheat (he sabotages both Yugi's and Joey's decks) but Rex Raptor is a clean - if vicious - player who is also classified as a full fledge villain despite doing even less than Weevil, but being more of a jerk about it.
      • Weevil and Rex forfeited any rights to be considered Villainy-Free in the Waking the Dragons arc, when they willingly joined Dartz's forces and tried to make Yami and Joey lose their souls (something both of them already knew what's like) just to increase the power of their decks. Later, in the Grand Championship Arc, they kidnap an entrant known as Fortunes Salim and steal his cape so they could duel in his place. Since we have no clue to how far the real Fortunes Salim would have gone in the tournament, he could fit the trope by contesting Yugi's victory but was instead seen with other people applauding.

Comics

  • Mickey Mouse once opened a pizza parlor and its success led someone to open a rival pizza parlor in front of Mickey's. While the readers were expected to cheer for Mickey, his competitor couldn't realistically be called a villain until near the end, when he sicced some animals to eat a giant pizza made by Mickey. Fortunately, some of the animals ate the rival's own giant pizza as well. After that, Mickey ran out of flour and his rival ran out of cheese and the two of them decided to share to avoid bankruptcy.
  • John D. Rockerduck was this in the only story Carl Barks ever used him. All he did was enter a boat into an upcoming race to prove his gasoline was better than Scrooge's.

Film

  • Anton Ego of Ratatouille fits this trope to a T. He's a food critic. Food critics can and do give restaurants negative reviews. But Anton detests the idea of Gusteau's being popular to an almost Javert-esque degree.
    • Ego even Lampshades it in his introduction to Linguini: "Pardon me for interrupting your premature celebration, but I thought it only fair to give you a sporting chance as you are new to this game... and you've been playing without an opponent, which is, as you may have guessed, against the rules."
    • He also lampshades his own jerkiness in his review, noting that critics like giving negative reviews because they're "fun to write and fun to read." Of course, while critics often do enjoy writing negative reviews, they tend to only when it's deserved, otherwise they needlessly sabotage their own credibility.
  • Cars 2 has Francesco Bernoulli, Lightning's main rival in the car races. He's definitely a Jerkass who taunts Lightning about not being as fast as him, but nothing he does seems to be against the rules, unlike the real antagonists. And even by the end, he and Lightning become Vitriolic Best Buds.
  • Jonathan Poe, the final opponent of the protagonist, Josh Waitzkin, in Searching for Bobby Fischer. Quite possibly one of the most unpleasant chess players in all of cinema, this kid is just begging to get his head handed to him by Josh. "Trick or Treat" indeed.
  • Mr. Putman, professional runaway child hunter from The Wizard.
    • Though whether he's actually unpleasant enough to be considered an example is up for debate.
    • Also debatable since slashing the father's tires is illegal (though not villainous perhaps), and his attempts at retrieving Jimmy borderline on abduction.
  • Dr. Jonas Miller, the protagonists' tornado-chasing rival in Twister. His sins? Taking corporate funding, creating a competitor to the protagonists' experimental prototype, being a Smug Snake, and riding around in a caravan of black SUVs.
    • Jonas even has plenty of valid points that he and Bill are Not So Different. Both Bill and Jonas left their old crew for better-paying jobs (Jonas for his corporate sponsors, Bill as a TV weatherman.) Bill also abandoned his idea for the "Dorothy" system, and Jonas built a working prototype without him.
  • Richard "Dick" Vernon in The Breakfast Club. He's really just an embittered guy who found out teaching wasn't as easy has he thought it would be and takes it out on the students in detention. He also peeks into the personnel files of other teachers.
  • Edward R. Rooney and Jeannie Bueller in Ferris Buellers Day Off. John Hughes uses this trope quite often.
  • Shooter McGavin from Happy Gilmore, a guy who's been waiting years for his shot at winning a Gold Jacket, then has his chances snatched away by a guy who comes out of nowhere able to hole-in-one a par four. The film is eventually forced to pretty much make him a cartoon supervillain and essentially put out a hit on Happy.
  • Well-meaning but prissy Aunt Sarah from Lady and the Tramp.
  • In Grumpy Old Men, Snyder of the IRS is just doing his job, trying to collect back taxes John owes. And (off-screen) he is actually fairly reasonable - Jacob talks him into waiving the late fees if the original amount is paid. Doesn't stop Max from insulting him and playing a few hilarious practical jokes on him.

Literature

  • Rivers of London has Tyburn. She's a Rich Bitch Jerkass who really takes far too much pleasure in one-upping Peter and while she might be a bit of The Starscream to her mother, her real intentions are to modernise how London (and the rest of the United Kingdom) deals with magic, get everything systematised and above board, and do away with the tangles of "arrangements" and "agreements" that have accumulated over the years. Something that Peter himself is pretty keen on, she just goes about it all in a really arsehole-ish ways.

Live Action TV

  • Any "villain" on Survivor or any other reality show is bound to be this (the casting department should've weeded out the actual psychoes). Villainy isn't defined by dirty play here - "heroes" have also done their share of deceptive moves, and villains don't noticably break the rules lest production kick them out. The villains are the ones that are mean-spirited about it and annoy everyone with bragging and the like.
    • For Survivor, this inevitably led to complications in their Heroes vs Villains season when half the contestants on the villains team weren't even villains anyways. It's incredibly tough to determine in a series like that who is a hero or villain because everyone does something underhanded eventually. Even one of the quintessential heroes of the series, Rupert Boneham, stole the entire other tribe's shoes in the first episode of his first season. Probably the only two true villains of the series are Johnny Fairplay (who concocted a story about his grandma dying to gain sympathy and roll through to the finals) and Russell Hantz (a complete and unrepentant dick).
  • Skyler on Breaking Bad only wants to know what her sick husband was up to while she was at home struggling with a disabled son and another kid on the way. Her notable offences include returning an unattractive piece of jewelery she got from her sister, faking labor to avoid being arrested (for something she didn't do), and being luke warm to her husband's sexual advances. She later becomes a typical shrewish, visitation-denying, ex-wife and an adulterous white collar criminal, but her main function from early on is to put more pressure on Walt's already stressful double-life, making her somewhat unsympathetic by default.

Web Comics

  • Heather from Misfile fits very nicely here. She is a complete ass, but has actually played fairer than our heroes when it has come to her races.
    • The comic later subverts this. Heather isn't actually a cruel person, she's just vindictive and dislikes Ash, Emily and Missy simply because she's Yandere for James (which is, admittedly, just a bit stupid considering Ash and the others only dislike her in retaliation). She actually has something of a Hidden Heart of Gold, but prefers to have a reputation as an unapproachable bitch. She even tells Ash off for believing her to be inherently nasty and even states that she just doesn't want to make good with Team Misfile.
  • Played straight when one of the villains from Char Cole is attacked by the titular character. Later, his conscience lambasts him for throwing the first punch in a situation that could have been avoided by talking or even just doing nothing, when the guy is just a complete douche, "which isn't illegal, by the way."
  • Teresa from Exiern has genuinely meant well, but is the designated antagonist due to her being a(n unwitting) racist snob. It is a good job she is though because otherwise having our hero(ine) make unfounded accusations of pedophilia towards her and verbally bully her simply because she enjoys being an attractive woman, while our hero is all mopey about it, could have been a real moment of Moral Dissonance.
    • Note that said Hero acknowledges she crosses the line, and Teresa was a bitch for QUITE a bit of the comic...
  • Technically, Van Parker is only doing his job when he captures Riley and Flint, chronic escapees of the Mercia Sanitarium and Straitjacket Emporium. He's not exactly discriminating about when he tries to grab them, though, so he might be interrupting important work at the time (bearing in mind that the two men are under the employ of the King of Mercia himself).

Western Animation

  • In The Cleveland Show, Rallo, unlike Stewie, dosen't have intent of killing his mother. But however, he does give her a good reason to spank him on a few occasions.
  • While capable of being a straight-out villain, Pete from the Classic Disney Shorts often fell into this category, particularly in his shorts with Donald Duck. Shorts like The Riveter, Timber! and most of Donald and Pete's wartime cartoons feature Pete in perfectly legit professions, but still acting like a bullying Jerkass.
  • Sapphira in Pearlie, whose ultimate evil goal is to discredit her cousin Pearlie and have a lot of people come to her spa... Yes, somebody has loads of ambition.
  • Gargoyles has Oberon, who merely tries to reclaim Avalon from a gargoyle clan that has taken up residence in his absence. One of the squatters even notes that he's within his rights to do so, but her concerns are quickly dismissed. (As stated in a creator commentary, "good thing our heroes are sympathetic and Oberon isn't".) Of course, then he tries to take Xanatos' baby son a few episodes later and the "Villainy-Free" part goes out the window. He's still more Chaotic Neutral than anything else, though.
  • In The Simpsons episode "The Twisted World of Marge Simpson", the Investorettes weren't really doing anything wrong by kicking Marge out of their investment group (Marge herself admitted she didn't like "the whole idea of 'investing'"), and they were well within their rights to compete with her when they both started up mobile snack businesses. But they're such jerks about it that you're not sad at all when Marge's Mafia goons blow up their truck.
  • The villain referred to in the page quote, Kang the Conqueror from The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, visited the Avengers in the 21st century after witnessing the erasure of his 40th century empire, and several of the people who lived in it. However, he told the Avengers that in order to save the world, he would either have to conquer it, and equip everyone with suitable technology, or kill Captain America, who he designated as the cause of an apocalyptic disaster.
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