Years ago, I watched Kia Asamiya’s Silent Mobius with my best friend, Dan. It’s a fun series–team of women using magic, tech, and mysticism to stop monstrous invaders. What’s not to like?
We both liked the main character, Katsumi. She’s nice, she’s intelligent, and she had a fair amount of depth. Then, some really bad stuff happens (it’s bad, especially in the manga) and this happens:
Yeah, both of those pictures are of the same character. This second one is after the bad guys have abused and tormented her enough where they can dominate her will and she joins them.
I remember talking with Dan about the series after we finished watching it. He really doesn’t like seeing heroes go bad, so he had natural issues with it.
“But Katsumi didn’t turn bad,” I said. “She was mind controlled.”
He didn’t like it. He was willing to forgive Katsumi, but the frustration was still there, even when she turned good once more. Once tarnished, the heroine ceased to sparkle.
Full disclosure, Katsumi is the main character of an ensemble. When she goes bad, she stays that way for between a third an half of the entire series.
Feeling betrayed is a natural reaction, especially if a story is written well. Once we and our principles are wounded, our instinct is to keep that from happening again.
In Silent Mobius, the rest of the protagonists feel conflicting emotions when it comes to dealing with Katsumi when she goes bad, and a little when she comes out of it. They’re difficulty in dealing with the situation is a reflection on how the audience feels. Or is it the other way around?
When it comes to betrayal, tread carefully. If it’s supposed to be a shock, don’t telegraph it early on. If the now-evil former protagonist is supposed to come back from their time in darkness, don’t treat it like a light switch. No one should endure such turns with ease.
Finally, be sure the audience doesn’t feel like you’ve betrayed them. If someone is going to turn to the dark side, there needs to be another character ready to carry the standard in a way the audience will accept and be willing to follow.