Vanitas, also known as The Masked Boy, is a Keyblade wielder and the secondary antagonist of Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep. He is the second apprentice of Master Xehanort, the embodiment of the extracted darkness from Ventus's heart, and the source of the Unversed.
Vanitas's name is derived from the Latin word for "vanity" or "emptiness", and was chosen for its meaning, that it sounded similar to "Ventus", and that it was a written pun on "Sora" (空?, lit. "emptiness") in Japanese.
Before Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep
Four years prior, Ventus served as Master Xehanort's original apprentice. The Keyblade wielder was sent to the Keyblade Graveyard, where he was forced by his master to face several Neoshadow Heartless in an attempt to forge the χ-blade. Ventus was unable to use his darkness, and was knocked unconscious by the Heartless. Master Xehanort then proceeded to use his Keyblade to unlock Ventus's heart, extracting the darkness within and resulting in an orb of dark energy forming into a young boy in a mask who is then given the name "Vanitas" by Master Xehanort.
At first, Vanitas is born as a faceless being much like a Heartless, but with red eyes. The first thing he feels is sadness for his separation from Ventus, but that sadness soon turns to hate and contempt for what he considers his weakness, which eventually turns into self-hatred.
Vanitas becomes aware of his existence, and he soon starts questioning why he was born, and every time he feels something, an Unversed is created. Irritated, Vanitas destroys it with his Keyblade, but every time he destroys an Unversed, he himself feels strong physical pain running through his body, and after the Unversed is destroyed, the pain and negative feeling returns to Vanitas's mind, which adds more to his irritation and causes the birth of more Unversed.
When a newborn heart comes in contact with Ventus's fractured heart, he also directly contacts Vanitas's heart. After feeling a sharp pain in his chest, Vanitas falls to the ground of the wasteland near the Keyblade Graveyard and almost loses consciousness, feeling as if he were being engulfed in absolute Darkness. But then, Ventus's heart sees the light.
The light eventually surrounds Vanitas, and he hears a voice say, "Let's open the door." Vanitas opens his eyes and sees that he now has a normal boy's face, also realizing that someone, probably also a newborn heart like himself, has saved Ventus's heart from completely fading away.
Vanitas tells Master Xehanort that if he keeps both him and Ventus, he will find it hard to suppress his natural impulse to hurt or maybe even destroy Ventus, so Xehanort takes Ventus to the Land of Departure, asking Eraqus to take care of the boy. After Ventus leaves, however, Vanitas starts to miss him greatly, and he wonders why they were separated from each other. This causes him to feel miserable and immense pain.
At the same time, he also begins to feel very lost and anxious about his future without Ventus, and the more he thinks about these questions, the more anxious, irritated, and lonely he feels, and the more Unversed form. In a rage, Vanitas begins to destroy the Unversed in a cycle of pain and suffering.
At the same time, Master Xehanort only watches this coldly. Finally, Vanitas destroys one Unversed too many and the pain becomes unbearable, and he collapses in tears in the Keyblade Graveyard. Master Xehanort comes to him, telling him the only way for him to achieve salvation is to become the χ-blade.
Determined to unite with Ventus, and put an end to his own suffering, Vanitas agrees to the plan and becomes Master Xehanort's apprentice.
Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep
Four years later, after Master Xehanort views the battle between Terra and Aqua as part of their Mark of Mastery exam, he leaves the room to find a hidden Vanitas awaiting him. The two converse about Ventus, and Vanitas claims that Ventus's performance was weak, and he still needs to "break that loser in." Master Xehanort instructs him to do so somewhere else as he needed to keep up appearances. Vanitas complies, deciding to give Ventus an "incentive" to leave home. Vanitas later appears before Ventus in his room, speaking of Terra being a different person, and that Ventus should follow and try to help him before it's too late. Ventus becomes very defensive, saying that they will always be friends. Vanitas is unimpressed and simply mocks his friendship with Terra. He then vanishes into a Corridor of Darkness, claiming that unless Ventus sees it for himself and looks beyond his "tiny world," he will never know the truth.
Vanitas then travels to different worlds, spreading his Unversed across them in hopes of making Ventus strong enough to forge the χ-blade.
After his first few ventures throughout the worlds, Ventus spots Vanitas in the Lanes Between and is lured to the Keyblade Graveyard. Ventus interrogates the masked boy about his claims that Terra has changed, but Vanitas simply repeats what he said before and challenges Ventus to a duel, revealing his Keyblade. Despite Ventus's best efforts, Vanitas easily gains the upper hand and knocks Ventus to the ground. Just as Vanitas is about to execute the coup de grace, Mickey Mouse appears out of nowhere to heal Ventus, then reprimands Vanitas for using his Keyblade maliciously. Together, Mickey and Ventus defeat Vanitas, but the boy simply leaves the world after warning Ventus that he is on "probation".
After the battle against the Trinity Armor in Radiant Garden, the ensuing argument forces Terra, Ventus, and Aqua to go their separate ways. While Aqua is in the Central Square, Vanitas appears, taunting her by calmly inquiring about Ventus and if he has gotten stronger. When Aqua asks what he means, Vanitas becomes hostile, stating that he is asking the questions as he claims that between the two of them, he will be the only one who will walk away alive, and attacks, the two fighting a vicious battle with Aqua as the victor. After the duel, Aqua attempts to unmask Vanitas while he is unconscious, but the dark enigma quickly recovers, startling her with an insane laugh. He then compliments her skill and congratulates her on her victory, making an ambiguous comment about her being his backup plan, revealing that it was all a ruse to test her strength. Ventus returns to Aqua's side just as he leaves in another Corridor of Darkness.
While in Neverland, Vanitas encounters and kidnaps Mickey on Master Xehanort's orders to use Mickey as bait to lure Ventus back to the Keyblade Graveyard. Though the fight is not shown, it is clear Vanitas won. The villain later crosses paths with Aqua again, this time with Ventus's cherished Wooden Keyblade. Vanitas cruelly mocks Aqua for playing treasure hunter with the "kiddies", proceeding to tell her that, with Ventus's newfound strength, he has "outgrown" the toy, and then snaps it in half, an act that both enrages and horrifies Aqua. Throwing the pieces aside, Vanitas also claims that he has outgrown his need for Aqua as his backup plan and draws his Keyblade, intent on eliminating her. Aqua, outraged by the act of cruelty and at the thought of Ventus being in danger, calls Vanitas a freak and battles the dark enigma once again, soundly defeating him and knocking him unconscious. Aqua, believing she has finally finished Vanitas, and exhausted by the battle, passes out, as a revived Vanitas takes the opportunity to escape once again.
Vanitas encounters Ventus again in Destiny Islands, after the latter is thrown through a portal summoned by Terra. Ventus initially tells Vanitas that he is through with him. Vanitas simply tells him that since he is strong enough, Ventus can join with him to forge the χ-blade. Ventus refuses, claiming that the χ-blade cannot be forged if he does not fight. Vanitas, though slightly angered, remains unfazed, responding only by coldly stating that Ventus was once "too broken to talk back." Then, in the ensuing flashback, Vanitas explains his birth from the darkness in Ventus's heart, and how he took his place as Master Xehanort's apprentice. This causes Ventus great pain in regaining his memories. Vanitas then gives Ventus a reason to fight, challenging the boy to come find him in the Keyblade Graveyard, the one and only place where the χ-blade can be forged, where he threatens Terra and Aqua's lives to see how long Ventus will "play the pacifist." He then disappears into a Corridor of Darkness. Ventus, haunted by Vanitas's deranged threats, and determined to end this once and for all, goes to the Keyblade Graveyard.
When Terra, Ventus, and Aqua approach their final battle with Vanitas and Master Xehanort at the Keyblade Graveyard, intense battles ensue. The two villains meet up with the trio, with Master Xehanort explaining his ultimate goal for the χ-blade. The trio armors up and Terra quickly charges towards them. Master Xehanort intervenes, however, blocking Terra's path with massive rock formations. As Terra continues to pursue Master Xehanort, Vanitas goes after Aqua and Ventus, riding on a cloud of Keyblades Master Xehanort created. The two fight valiantly against the dark apprentice, but not before Vanitas returns to Master Xehanort's side before the latter freezes Ventus. He battles Terra alongside Master Xehanort, who later commands Vanitas to go after Ventus and Aqua again.
Vanitas attacks Aqua from above, knocking her unconscious with a devastating blow, and prepares to impale her through the chest while Ventus lies helpless and frozen. Ventus summons all of his willpower, however, and thaws out of the ice to face Vanitas in battle, defeating him once again. Vanitas compliments Ventus on his skill and finally reveals his face, explaining himself to be the source of all Unversed. Glowing with dark energy, Vanitas then summons several Flood Unversed to restrain Ventus as he proudly explains his plan: to spread the Unversed across the worlds, in hopes of luring Ventus from home and making him strong enough to forge the χ-blade. He then forcefully integrates into him. In a burst of light, Vanitas and Ventus are transported to the Dive to the Heart. Ventus's pillar now hosts a picture of Vanitas alongside his own. Vanitas wields an incomplete version of the χ-blade.
Vanitas claims their union was incomplete, and they only managed to make a fraction of the χ-blade. He then tries to join with Ventus once again, but Ventus refuses, vowing to defeat Vanitas and destroy the χ-blade. The dark apprentice simply laughs, confident in the fact that they both know that if the χ-blade is destroyed, Ventus's heart would vanish forever. However, Ventus rebukes him, saying he will fight for his friends and destroy both him and the χ-blade no matter what, even if the price is his heart, despite Vanitas's mocking of his reason to fight. The two Keyblade wielders then begin a final showdown in the Dive to the Heart.
While Ventus battles Vanitas in their shared mind, Aqua and Mickey in the Keyblade Graveyard are attacked by Ventus-Vanitas, who summons the completed χ-blade, and tries to attack Aqua, only for her to be saved by Mickey. He then goes on to explain that he plans to unlock Kingdom Hearts so the worlds can be connected and the legendary Keyblade War can begin again. Aqua, sick of Vanitas's nonsense, confronts him in battle one last time. Ventus finally lays a finishing blow on Vanitas, who loses his grip on the incomplete χ-blade and helplessly gropes for it as it shatters. Vanitas is apparently destroyed, taking all Unversed in existence with him and relinquishing his control over Ventus. At the same time in the real world, the destruction of Vanitas and the incomplete χ-blade in Ven's Dive caused the completed χ-blade in the real world to revert to its incomplete form and become unstable. This momentarily shocks Ventus-Vanitas, allowing Aqua to overpower him while the χ-blade self-destructs. Unfortunately, it is a pyrrhic victory, as Ventus loses his heart and falls into a coma in the process.
Later, after Vanitas's defeat, as Aqua is searching for Terra she feels a powerful force coming from the Keyblade Graveyard. As Aqua goes to investigate, she discovers it is the remnant of Vanitas. Aqua engages in battle with it and emerges victorious, with the Vanitas Remnant disappearing back into darkness.
When Young Xehanort appears before Sora within the cathedral at La Cité des Cloches, Ventus's heart reacts within Sora and allows him to see an image of Vanitas. In unison, the youth and Vanitas claim that Sora has made his heart into a prison, then vanish.
Vanitas wears a black and red organic-looking bodysuit, which is quite similar to Riku's Dark Mode. He wears a silver helmet covered with dark glass, hiding his face from view. Just before he possesses Ventus, he unmasks himself, revealing that he looks identical to Sora, although he possesses golden-yellow eyes, jet-black hair, paler skin, and a more muscular build. In an interview with Tetsuya Nomura, it is revealed that this similarity is due to Sora's heart connecting with Ventus near the beginning of the game, and had anyone else connected with Ventus's heart, Vanitas would look like that person. According to the Kingdom Hearts novels, his appearance prior to Ventus's connection with Sora was that of a humanoid creature similar to a Heartless but with red eyes.
He normally wields his personal Keyblade, the Void Gear, that is colored primarily in red and black, with two eyes of darkness. But while fighting Ventus, he gains the incomplete χ-blade. Also when he fuses with Ventus, he gains the complete χ-blade and alters Ventus's body with his yellow eyes and bodysuit.
As the "dark" half of Ventus's heart, Vanitas was at first much like him. However, due to the suffering he endured by the hands of Master Xehanort, and his desperate desire for salvation, he became proud, cunning, and cruel in order to achieve enough strength to forge the χ-blade with Ventus, believing that to be the salvation he desires. As such, the lives of others, including that of even Master Xehanort, hold absolutely no value to him, and he shows zero remorse for his actions. As a pragmatist, he will strike without a moment's thought, warning, or hesitation, as seen when he ambushes Aqua in the Keyblade Graveyard and attempts to eliminate her.
Despite his loyalty to Master Xehanort, he has no qualms with disregarding his orders if he feels the need arises; for example, he attempts to eliminate Ventus after defeating him in their first battle despite full knowledge that Master Xehanort needed Ventus alive for his plans, even openly stating that he's well aware he's going against Xehanort's orders, but just doesn't care.
He is also shown to be an uncaring, cold, and ruthless individual, having not the slightest sympathy for anyone but himself. Vanitas holds everything and everyone in contempt, and holds a great resentment against Ventus and the friends he has. The envy he feels against them is seen in his frequent criticizing of Ventus's friendships with Terra and Aqua, when he callously breaks Ventus's wooden Keyblade while cruelly antagonizing Aqua for playing with the Lost Boys, his constantly calling Ventus "idiot", and forcing Ventus to fight him by threatening to eliminate Terra and Aqua after Ventus refused to.
He also possesses a high degree of arrogance, believing his skills surpass all others; in his first fight with Aqua, he claims that he will be the only one that will walk away alive, even bursting into a fit of laughter upon defeat. When fighting her for the final time, Vanitas taunts her by sarcastically asking if she has given up, and boasts that Aqua was just "wasting her energy" trying to stop him. Right before possessing Ventus, he remarks that Ventus never stood a chance against him and Master Xehanort.
When fighting Ventus for the final time, he laughs when Ventus declared he would defeat him and destroy the χ-blade. During this same battle, Vanitas directly states his belief that he is the superior half of Ventus's heart. This extreme overconfidence in his abilities usually leads to his downfall as he underestimates his opponents when fighting.
Vanitas is also extremely calm and collected, rarely letting anything affect him. The only time in the entire game when Vanitas expresses genuine concern and fear is when he has been defeated by Ventus for the final time. He begins to panic and makes a desperate attempt to grab the floating χ-blade in a hopeless flurry to hold onto his only way of salvation before dying. Vanitas's whole personality, while a great contrast with those of Sora, Ventus, Roxas, and all connected to him, was modeled by the tragedies in his past brought about by Master Xehanort's ambitions, making him something of a tragic villain.
Vanitas is, to say the least, a skilled and extremely aggressive opponent, showing a mastery in both dark magic and wielding the Keyblade. He is swift and agile, able to perform complicated and nearly impossible acrobatic feats such as jumping off of a high cliff while landing squarely on his feet, and even riding a cloud of flying Keyblades. He can teleport behind opponents at high speeds to launch attacks while leaving after-images of himself to confuse them.
He is also able to combine physical combos with magic such as attacking from above and causing a large pillar of ice to shoot out of the ground, or attacking opponents from below while bombarding them with fireballs. He can also leap into the air and fire dark lightning bolts from his Keyblade, as well as energize the Keyblade with darkness. Vanitas can also fire dark energy blasts from his Keyblade, and even has his own personal Shotlock dubbed the Dark Cannon, wherein he creates three large crystals which focus together and fire a large beam of dark energy.
He appears to have superhuman endurance, surviving most of his battles while taking little to no bodily damage, able to instantly get back up as if nothing happened. Vanitas also seems to possess superhuman strength; while possessing Ventus, he is able to shatter Ventus's metaphysical Dive to the Heart pillar with a single strike and create a gust of wind powerful enough to send Aqua and Mickey flying with a single swing of his arm. It is most likely that these actions were made possible only through the χ-blade, which Vanitas wielded on both occasions.
Vanitas is also a difficult opponent to fight in close combat, as he can quickly counterattack if struck multiple times, making him very dangerous. He also demonstrates the ability to levitate. Though he typically uses the Corridors of Darkness to travel, it is shown that Vanitas is freely capable of surviving in and navigating the Lanes Between unaided by surrounding himself in an aura of dark energy.
While Vanitas acts based on his own desires, it appears that Master Xehanort can summon him at will. Vanitas's arguably most dangerous and destructive ability, however, is the power to create and control the Unversed. As he was born from the purest form of darkness, Vanitas can manipulate negative emotions and spawn them as Unversed. Vanitas can also absorb the negativity of any defeated Unversed to increase his power, and is able to summon them if needed.
During the last battle against Vanitas in Ventus's story, Vanitas becomes a D-Link to Ventus. While using him as a D-Link, Ventus can fly and use some of Vanitas's attacks. It also changes Ventus's Shotlock into Dark Link, a light based version of Vanitas's Shotlock, Dark Cannon. The finishing attack, Last Word, surrounds Vanitas with crystallized beams of light, followed by a powerful slash, to end the battle.
Vanitas wields a Keyblade known as the Void Gear, and has a battle pose that is very similar to Riku's stance. The Keyblade can be summoned at will, appearing in Vanitas's hand in a flash of purple flame. Vanitas can energize the weapon with dark energy, increasing his attack strength. The Vanitas Remnant also wields a monochrome version of this Keyblade.
When fused with Ventus, Vanitas gains the ability to wield the most powerful Keyblade of all, the χ-blade. This weapon multiplies his initial strength and attack range a great deal. Vanitas shows great skill in wielding both the incomplete and finalized versions of the χ-blade, able to perform strong combos and powerful desperation moves.
Notes and references