(Warning: The following may contain spoiler-ish material.)
Over the weekend, our friends at Topless Robot held a contest for the "most awful" anime character. Reading the winning entries, which were posted yesterday, your anime junkie correspondent couldn't help but give the question some serious thought.
There are characters who are awful because they're supposed to be that way and characters who are awful because there's something missing. Death Note, perhaps one of the most intriguing series to come out in the past decade, has both. In Death Note, teenager Light Yagami happens upon a notebook (the Death Note) used to end the lives of others. He uses this for what he thinks is a noble purpose, to rid the world of violent criminals, and soon becomes a wanted man, known only to authorities as Kira.
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In this vigilante tale, Light is the character who is supposed to be awful. If you grow to despise him when you realize that he's no better than the criminals he killed, that's probably the intention. With Misa Amane, though, the case is different. She's not an entirely awful character by design. She's awful because she never reaches her full potential.
Misa is the second Kira, Light's partner in the series of mysterious deaths, yet she is never his equal. She's so blinded by her love of Light that she becomes his pawn almost immediately. This is strange because Misa actually could be the more powerful, and ultimately more diabolical, character. Her parents were killed and the murderer went unpunished for some time. She obtained her own copy of the book after she was attacked by a stalker. Where Light is essentially a self-righteous serial killer motivated by little more than his own god complex, Misa is a bit more sympathetic in that both she and her parents were victims of violence. As a famed idol (meaning an all-around entertainer), she has a cute, wholesome, very public image that could easily disarm the authorities. With Shinigami Eyes, allowing her to see the name and lifespan of virtually anyone, she technically has more power than Light.
Upon her first introduction in the series, Misa has the potential to be both Light's partner and competitor, yet she quickly settles into the role of manipulated girlfriend/on-again-off-again accomplice. With the great power of the Death Note, Light becomes evil. Misa, on the other hand, becomes desperate to hold onto Light. The "stand by your man" routine gets old quickly, especially when your man is a sociopath, and it transforms what could have been a great character into a pretty awful stereotype.
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