This guide does contain spoilers! If you want to experience the story with all its twists and turns, you may want to read Silent Voice before you read this guide.
Two months ago, I wrote a piece on why Glitter White from Silent Voice is such a popular character among readers. Just for fun, I thought I’d write a companion piece for one of the story’s most hated characters, Angel Rainnen.
Angel Rainnen works for an organization called Autism Rescue, a group reminiscent of Autism Speaks. He personifies the ideals and agenda of the organization: getting rid of autism, and telling the world that autism is a burden on parents of autistic kids. And sooner or later, readers begin to loathe him.
Stories published on WordPress let readers comment on any paragraph. Paragraphs with Angel talking include notes on how much they hate Angel, personal insults, lots of sassiness, and discussions about which planet he should be exiled to.
Why do they hate him? For many of the same reasons that they love Glitter.
Let’s review why Glitter, the sweet little girl character, is beloved by readers:
- She strives towards a goal.
- She treats other people well.
- She deserves more than the life she has.
- The narrative doesn’t treat her like she’s perfect.
- She’s vulnerable.
- She makes people smile and laugh.
- She adds something meaningful to the plot.
Angel embodies the opposite of many of these traits.
He’s a jerk.
Claire’s dad smiles and introduces himself. “John Fields. So how’s the new branch going?”
“Very well!” Angel says. “We’re working on fundraising and finding a cure for autism. Now, who’s this little lady?”
“This is my daughter, Claire.”
“How nice!” Angel replies. “Can she hear us?”
John blinks. “Um… yes.” His daughter is autistic, not deaf.Chapter 2
For context: Claire is 17 years old.
Right from the beginning, we get the sense that Angel doesn’t respect Claire. In this quote and the rest of the conversation, he mostly addresses Claire’s non-autistic dad, even when talking about Claire. And saying “Who’s this little lady?” might be appropriate when meeting a 7-year-old, but it’s hardly polite when the “little lady” is nearly an adult.
This is hardly the end of Angel’s transgressions. He makes judgmental comments in the story. He heavily criticizes a project that Claire worked hard on. He minimizes and ignores the feelings of autistic people around him. When Claire’s dad voices legitimate concerns, Angel brushes him off as an overprotective dad.
Late in the story, he’s called out for supporting an abusive father. How does Angel respond?
“We respect parents’ right to share their feelings freely,” Angel continues. “And we are not going to pass judgment on them. Don’t judge him until you walk in his shoes.”Chapter 16
Wow. What a nice guy!
(Yes, that’s sarcasm.)
On top of being mean, Angel is right in our faces.
We’ve seen villains in stories that are mean but distant. Lord Voldemort and Sauron, for example, are mass murderers (which is pretty, y’know, mean). Their body counts, especially when you include the work of minions, are huge. But they aren’t the most hated villains in history.
In order for a villain to be easy to hate, they don’t just have to be bad. They have to be bad to people we know and love.
A villain who harms 100 strangers is definitely bad. A villain who personally harms a vulnerable, beloved character is monstrous.
Angel isn’t just some abstract floaty evil that we’re told is bad. He’s right here, being mean to people who the readers care about.
He criticizes a project Claire worked hard on, until she becomes too upset to say a word. He interrupts Glitter’s attempts to make friends with a disapproving frown that stops her happy dance. His plans cause Claire serious emotional pain, and yet he shows no remorse.
We don’t just hear secondhand that he’s a jerk. We watch the things he does, and the things that happen because of him. Angel is a bad person, right here and right now.
He doesn’t deserve his job.
Readers tend to be sympathetic to characters who face hardships they don’t deserve. And they dislike characters who get good things they don’t deserve.
Whatever the character deserves more of, the fandom will provide.
Angel has a good job. He has a cushy office and a (presumably) very nice salary. While his job description isn’t included in the story, it appears that he’s supposed to orchestrate autism awareness stuff. He seems to work hard at his job.
Too bad he’s such a jerk.
And while he’s competent at organizing things, he knows next to nothing about autism. Remember the chapter 2 quote in which he asks if Claire can hear them? You’d think someone who has an autism-related job would be aware of common misconceptions about autism, and realize that so-called “unresponsiveness” doesn’t translate to lack of awareness of the environment.
And while I’m trying to keep this article from becoming too spoiler-y, I’ll mention that he doesn’t seem to care if his career goals cause harm to other people.
Hmm. Do you think he deserves his job?
You could consider Angel Rainnen to be the Dolores Umbridge of Silent Voice. Professor Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter is also a character who doesn’t deserve her job. She’s given a teaching job, and what does she do with it?
- Tell lies
- Set and enforce unfairly strict rules
- Physically abuse students as punishment
- Call Professor Lupin (a nice character) a “half breed”
- Treat other professors rudely
- And do other terrible things
Professors are supposed to be fair, compassionate, and here to help their students. Dolores Umbridge is none of these, and she doesn’t deserve her job. That’s yet another reason to hate her.
Angel Rainnen may not resort to physical abuse, but he does exploit and condescend to autistic people—particularly Claire, who has PTSD and is shown to be quite vulnerable. An uncaring man like Angel shouldn’t be working with autistic people. Yet here he is, sitting in his sterile modern office, manipulating Claire and getting away with it.
And the worst part? She’s probably not the first person he’s done this to, and she probably won’t be the last either.
Are you starting to dislike him?
Who, Angel, vulnerable?
Vulnerability is necessary for a compelling character. And Silent Voice is full of vulnerable characters:
- Claire is a naive teen who still struggles with major childhood trauma. While she’s safe now with her adoptive fathers, any perceived rejection makes her panic because she’s afraid of being abused.
- Claire’s dad worries about his daughter. He wants to protect her from the world’s evils, yet he knows she needs to learn to stand on her own. He feels that life is unfair to her, and is upset he can’t fix it.
- Glitter feels insecure and desperate for affection due to her father’s constant rejection of her.
- Ava hasn’t completely recovered from OCD. She’s afraid of fire and feels hurt by stereotypes about mental illness. She suppresses her autistic traits for fear of being judged.
So what about Angel? What are his deep dark fears? What keeps him up at night? What makes him feel inadequate?
We have no idea, actually. We only see him get upset once in the story, and it’s because he feels disappointed over a lost opportunity. He frowns, blames someone else, and moves on.
In fact, he’s not particularly introspective. He comes across as very pleased with himself. He thinks he deserves his job, and he’s convinced he’s an extremely good person doing charitable work for those poor people afflicted with autism.
If pride comes before a fall, then Angel is due for a big one.
Of course, not every interesting villain appears invulnerable. Let’s talk about the title character of the Phantom of the Opera, from the 2004 movie rendition.
The phantom (Erik) is a Byronic character, tortured and vulnerable. He was physically abused as a child and kept in a literal cage so that people could laugh at his facial abnormality. As an adult, he is deeply emotional, devoted to music and wanting to pursue it while believing the outside world will reject him if he tries to join in.
You feel for him, right?
Make no mistake, though: he’s the villain. His offenses include stalking, multiple kidnappings, pushing Christine to the ground and screaming verbal abuse at her, emotional manipulation (taking advantage of Christine’s sadness over her dead father), extreme possessiveness, gratuitous sexual touching of Christine while she can’t really say no, and two murders. I could go on.
Yet many viewers adore him. Some of them ship him with Christine, and the writers seem to support that viewpoint. His emotional depth and vulnerability is so compelling that some fans are willing to overlook his constant abuse.
(In my opinion, the story focuses too much on his vulnerability, because abuse? Not OK, ever. The writers should have focused less on his feelings and more on the unacceptability of his actions.)
Anyway, the major takeaway here is that vulnerability makes characters compelling and sympathetic, even when they probably shouldn’t be.
I didn’t want Angel to be likable, so I chose to skip the emotional vulnerabilities. And if you want a character who readers will love to hate, you can do the same.
He’s no ray of sunshine.
If you’ve read Silent Voice, take a moment to think of a moment when Angel was truly kind to someone, when he did something nice for them without standing to gain something for himself.
Can’t think of anything? Yeah, me neither.
Angel does make Claire happy at times. He presents her with opportunities that he considers mutually beneficial, and she gets excited. Though (without spoiling too much) the opportunities benefit him a lot more than they do her. This isn’t altruism.
He’s very good at bringing down the mood. He condescends to Claire. He criticizes her. He directly and indirectly makes her feel like the scared little girl she used to be. And he’s not sorry, because in order to be sorry, you have to think you did something wrong.
As you get to know him better, when he enters a scene, you might start thinking “Great, he’s here to ruin everything.”
He isn’t the opposite of ALL of Glitter’s traits.
Some of the traits of a likable character are traits of a well-written character in general.
- An effective character strives towards a goal.
- An effective character isn’t perfect.
- An effective character adds something meaningful to the plot.
Angel needs these three traits in order to make sense as a character.
His goal matters. In fact, one of Angel’s goals (getting Claire to write for an autism anthology) is what incites the main plot line. Angel needs to push his own agenda in order to be an actual villain.
Of course he isn’t perfect. He’s the bad guy! We watch him be rude to Claire, and his arrogance and refusal to listen to other perspectives play a role in the story.
The plot needs him. Angel pushes the plot forward by pursuing his agenda. It’s his influence that puts Claire into many key situations.
Angel is an effective character. He’s also easy to hate. No matter how evil your villain is, it’s important to write them well. Agency and flaws are essential for any major character.
We have many reasons to hate Angel Rainnen.
- He’s a jerk.
- He gets more than he deserves.
- He shows no vulnerability.
- He upsets other people (good people).
Or, in one sentence, Angel is a self-satisfied stinker who abuses his power to exploit and be mean to good people.
He’s no abstract, faraway evil. He’s not a vague figure looming on the horizon. He is right here, loud and self-important, inserting himself into scene after scene, hurting other people and getting away with it.
So, if you’re a writer, think back on your awful villain. How unsympathetic do you want them to be? I hope I’ve helped spark a few new ideas.