Thanks to the manga and anime, we got to see some unique and interesting characters. It’s safe to assume that 90% of anime watchers have applied the life lessons of an anime character. Thanks to well-written shows like Naruto, Full Metal Alchemist, and many others, we need to become better people. But sometimes it can venture into truly terrifying territory. There are antagonists in every story that show the worst that humans are capable of. They only see themselves and their goal and don’t care about the harm they cause. We see humans who are embodiments of monsters. And speaking of monsters, who better to talk about than Johan Liebert, THE monster himself?
Johan is Naoki Uruzawa’s main antagonist and titular “monster”. Monster. Born in 1975, he is the older twin brother of Anna Liebert (currently known as Nina Fortner). The twins were Germans born in Czechoslovakia. In 1986, he was shot in the head but was operated on and saved by protagonist Dr. Kenzo Tenma. He is shown to be ruthless and cruel throughout the series, but has deep respect for Dr. Tenma. Johan still hates humanity and wants to be the last man standing at the end of the world. Johan is perhaps one of the best anime antagonists out there. Let’s read some facts about why this is so.
Johan has characteristics we’ve seen in actual serial killers. He possesses an extraordinary amount of charisma and intelligence. Besides that, he is handsome and can attract people without saying a word. He is very aware of his gifts and uses them mercilessly to achieve his goal. He manipulates and corrupts people without remorse and causes destruction and suffering. Johan is the definition of the word “monster”, because he loves what he does. He is also able to bring out the monsters in people, unlike Tenma’s ability to bring out the good.
Let’s take a deeper dive into why this happened. Johan and Anna were born following a eugenics experiment conducted by Franz Bonaparta. The purpose of the experiment was to create a child with exceptionally high intelligence, impeccable appearance and capable of leading the human race. A few years after their birth, the twins and their mother, Viera Černá, come out of confinement. They move into the Three Frogs building in Prague. Černá dresses them identically as girls to make it look like she only has one child.
Fast forward to 1981, Bonaparta visits and informs the Černá that one of his children will be taken to the Red Rose Mansion. The mansion is a hub for the government to conduct covert experiments. It has a history of illegal and violent activities. This continued until Johan set it on fire in 1997. When she hears the news, Černá hands over Johan. But she quickly changes her mind and puts Anna back in her place. It had a big impact on Johan, and he carried it for the rest of his life. He never understood if his mother had tried to protect him or had confused him with Anna.
Černá and Anna are taken away and Johan is left alone. He spent that time reading Bonaparta’s picture book, The nameless monster. Anna manages to escape from the mansion after some time and returns to the Three Frogs. Johan asks her to describe the events, and she shares. But Johan confuses the events she tells him with his own experiences. In the end, he thinks he suffered at the mansion.
Soon, they burn the Three Frogs and escape. Johan and Anna pass out from exhaustion near the Czech-German border and are rescued by a patrolman named Helmut Wolf. Wolf sends them to two orphanages: Anna to Orphanage 47 and Johan to Kinderheim 511.
Kinderheim 511 turned out to be an East German experimental orphanage in East Berlin. However, the scientists realized that Johan was far too advanced for their programs. Johan later thinks about leaving and formulates a plan. He decides to use the children’s and officers’ hatred against each other. Literally and figuratively, he throws a piece of cloth soaked in oil onto an open flame. This results in the death of about fifty children and officers. Johan sits calmly in a chair and watches over the carnage. He discovers what life is, at least for him.
Johan being a human, is his ultimate power. Anime offers powerful and scary villains all the time. Pain, Madara Uchiha, Freiza or Meruem are antagonists that can kill you in a split second. Johan can’t do that. There is no Super Saiyan or Sage mode for this person. But he is scary because of his intelligence.
Johan turns people into serial killers. Then he forces people to kill the targets he lists for them. The amount of fear he instills in them feels too real. But it’s not that. He can convince people to commit suicide. He shares his life philosophies, and in no time they see things from his perspective.
Despite the number of problems he creates, Johan is a ghost. He never makes public statements and he prefers it that way. After all, he was raised by people from obscure organizations. Johan is supposed to be the leader of humanity, capable of starting another world war. He is also a master of disguise and can impersonate his sister Anna perfectly. He doesn’t always have to rely on his serial killer side to get people to obey him. Sometimes all it takes is a pretty woman to bring down a man.
Next comes his expression. Johan, at all times, has a warm smile on his face. People don’t find him threatening and children play with him. Uruzawa did a marvelous thing by making it look like a blank canvas. Normal people, as well as psychopaths, see his face and personality and believe he is a man who truly understands them. Johan takes full advantage of it. People project their dirty expectations onto him, and he makes them come true without breaking a sweat.
A nihilistic approach
It’s an unwritten rule that a masterfully crafted hero or villain must have a powerful personal philosophy. For Johan, it’s nihilism. He loves what he does, but he also fantasizes about his death. He strongly believes that life has no intrinsic value or meaning. Nihilism was born when skepticism against God appeared. This term became important when the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche spoke about it in many books.
In Johan’s case, it doesn’t have to be skepticism against God. He saw the horrors that life can offer. Misfortune upon misfortune can awaken nihilistic beliefs and can also create an impulse to destroy. Johan belongs to this special category, known as passive nihilists. They believe meaning can never be found. For Johan, the belief that life had no meaning existed until he met Bonaparta. He finally found a goal thanks to him, even if it was to kill Bonaparta.
But towards the end, even he changed his mind, and that’s thanks to Tenma. Johan is very aware of what he put Tenma through. At first, Tenma decided to save his life instead of the mayor’s, even at the cost of his career. He then turns Tenma’s life upside down after making a kill. Tenma’s guilt comes into play here because he saved Johan’s life the first time around. He decides he must bring Johan to justice or kill him. However, he never used the chances he had to kill him. In an unjust world that has repeatedly wronged him, Tenma has remained true to his beliefs. Johan noted that as well.
When he is rescued a second time, Johan realizes there is more to life than death. He has a long way to go, but he is making resolutions.
In the end, Johan is the perfect antagonist because he’s not superhuman. He’s a broken human being, and rather than sitting around and complaining, he reflects the damage done to the world he hates. He is not bloodthirsty but is simply cold and calculating. Even after the explanations given above, you are left with the feeling that many parts have been omitted. That’s the beauty of a character like Johan. He and his motives are always open to discussion.
Also read: Who is Netero’s secret son from Hunter x Hunter?