Spoiler break starts immediately as always. Don’t read if you intend on playing Hate Plus but haven’t finished BOTH routes belonging to *Hyun-ae and *Mute.
Buried in one of the Steam forum threads for Hate Plus, is this excellent commentary on Oh Eun-a by Steam user [SSJ_420]z3r0_c00l_r4nch (nice name!). I am pasting and sharing it here for posterity, because it’s a very useful analysis for understanding the complicated character of the game’s “ultimate” villain.
I’m not sure I wanted to post this yet, since I haven’t finished all the routes, but,TL;DR: I can’t look at Oh Eun-a without admiring her. No one capable of so much asked for so little and been treated with such a lack of compassion in return. Even if what she did was wrong, everything she did was out of love or selflessness, not politics, not for her own advantage, but to protect others. And she could have had ANYTHING–sat as Queen, by herself, and created whatever order she wanted–with her staggering amount of genius. I just think she couldn’t carry the weight of that intelligence, the duty she felt to the Mugunghwa, or the tragedy of her “little sister”s circumstances, and combined with the loneliness you can tell she felt by reading her log entries, she was too easily swayed by radical theories and romantic ideas of a supposedly idyllic era. The smartest person to ever live on the ship, and she willingly lowered herself to the status of dirt, just to love and be loved.
I almost wish I could meet someone like that. Someone that beautiful..and that dangerous.
I’m still working on the “message” of Hate Plus–I have a lot of issues with the focus on the story’s women, while we know very little about what Ryu did and didn’t do, or the male nobles whom are hinted to be complete jerks but get away without blame in the game–but, to borrow a quote: “Wars are not often fought between good and evil, but between one and another good.” Oh Eun-a is the one cause of the Neo-Joseons that the period couldn’t have happened without. But, finally presented with a villain, we don’t find someone twirling a mustache, but…a vulnerable woman who was motivated primarily by love, not hate. Even if she’s responsible for a truly unimaginable amount of suffering, she went into every situation with what she saw as good intentions.
That’s how it starts. People make mistakes, think they’re doing something good or necessary for society, and somewhere along the line their pure intetions get perverted. We won’t always find an obviously evil human being to know that an idea is wrong. Sometimes, the ultra-nationalist just loves his country to the point it has blinded him. Sometimes, someone supports a well-meaning reform (like the Motherhood Credit Act) that has disastrous consequences. It’s not just hate. It’s something more powerful, more insiduous. A strange kind of love, love gone wrong. Hate Plus.
This, of course, shall be a minority opinion. If there was one single cause, one root of the Mugunghwa’s tragedy, it was Oh Eun-a. The political changes, the economic pressures, the social movements, they all had a part to play in the rise of the Neo-Joseons, but she was the one indispensable element for it all. Everyone else was swept up in tides of history. And her betrayal, a woman with both an education and political power deciding that women should have neither? There is no greater treachery.
But is Oh Eun-a truly a villain? I say “No.” Misguided in her idealism, unbelievably naive despite her amazing intelligence, yet never a villain. Her faults are too human, her goals too noble. No matter how disastrous her actions were for society on the Mugunghwa, she believed she was doing the right thing. With her skills and position, no ambition was beyond her reach. But she was untouched by greed, or lust for power. She wanted to save the Mugunghwa from itself, no matter the cost to her. Is that the act of a villain, or someone we can pity?
Reading her logs, one is immediately struck by her loneliness. Every single relationship we know about, we know in terms of how distant she felt from them. Her and her “little sister”, despite sharing an odd form of love, seem unable to communicate. Oh Eun-a sees a potential in Captain Ryu that even a 1600-year old demigod can’t, and yet Oh Eun-a struggles to tell him how she really feels. Even with her own maid, Oh Eun-a can’t seem to find a way to say “I want to be your friend.” All of the other logs are filled with references to family, friends, co-workers, and most importantly of all, lovers. The two gamblers, the actress and her “little flower”, Kim So-yi and her confused by loving husband, even Heo Seo-yeong and Old *Mute. Everyone has someone they can drop their guard and be honest with. Oh Eun-a, for all her other abilities, can’t find a way to communicate.
If she doesn’t have any significant relationships, what does she have? She’s the President of the Mugunghwa University, a position not likely granted to an idiot in what is a theoretical meritocracy; she has her studies. The image we see of her is of her in front of a tall stack of books. Utterly alone, she’d turn to those classics, searching for a way out of her loneliness, and they would all speak of a more cultured and idyllic time, where men were men and women were women. She’s read the stories of the Joseon Period, where she would know exactly who her family was, who loved her, who she would dote on, whose children she would bear. Those books spoke to her of a way of ending that heartbreaking loneliness.
And, to be fair, the Mugunghwa was falling apart. “The Radiation Problem” was being studied by a low-level engineer who was being stifled at every turn, the economic situation was turning worse, peasants were demanding rights in increasingly violent confrontations, and the population was in freefall. Oh Eun-a saw the decay not as physical, but as moral. In her isolation, she thought everyone else felt as “lost”, without purpose, without a stable social position as she did. She believed Mugunghwa society was being split by nobles squabbling over advantages, peasants were fighting over money, and that everyone onboard the ship could be peaceful again if she could just find some way to restore filial piety. Everyone in their place–but a place for everyone.
And so she selflessly dedicated herself to the Neo-Confucian purpose. We focus our hatred for what happened next on her. After all, her betrayal is absurd. Someone as brilliant and dedicated as her organized a successful stealth coup after nearly 1600 years of stability, all so she could–serve her husband tea? THAT is what the greatest genius in her nation’s history comes down to? But everything else–power, money–she could have taken herself. There’s no reason she couldn’t have put herself on the throne, arguing–perhaps correctly!–that she was what the Mugunghwa needed. But what appeal was being Queen? All she wanted was to have someone to care for, and be cared for by, as the people in her great classics did. The most powerful woman of the Mugunghwa would have switched places with a common peasant–uneducated and powerless. But loved.
And how can we talk of betrayal so easily with Oh Eun-a? We speak knowing how the women of the Neo-Joseons were treated, but Oh Eun-a didn’t hate women, at least not women per se–she just thought that her anomie had to have some cause, and that cause was not being automatically thrown at a man’s side. She believed that if every woman submitted to being a good wife, every man would submit to being a good husband. Oh Eun-a lived up to her side of the bargain. But did men live up to theirs? We can’t talk about “betrayal” without confronting this: Oh Eun-a sacrificed everything she had, everything women had, in the name of good morals, and was repaid with the deepest treachery. While Oh Eun-a set out to be a paragon of feminine virtue, the men of the ship were using their newfound power to live a life of debauchery, forcing formerly free women to humiliate themselves by bowing before them and serving wine. When *Mute–no fan of women’s issues–wished to show The Investigator an example of a “proper gentleman” on the Mugunghwa, the best example she could find was an unmarried alcoholic who later drank himself to death rather than continue living in such a corrupt and soulless society.
Who betrayed whom? Oh Eun-a thought, given the chance, men could be better than they were. That the women who sacrificed everything for them would be repaid in gentleness. And yet Oh Eun-a, who could have had them all bow before her, submitted before “Mr. Milquetoast”–and yet she gets all of the blame.
Read Oh Eun-a’s memorial address on the death of Heo Seo-yeong again on *Mute’s route, now that you know what happens. Oh Eun-a is, if she’s anything, clever and subtle. The address is propaganda and filled with bald-faced lies, but what is Oh Eun-a REALLY saying? She wouldn’t have been blind to the fact that almost everything she’s saying about poor Heo Seo-yeong applies equally to her. A woman without a husband, who felt the need to intervene in politics too keenly, who cracked under that incredible strain? Heo, at this point, is a known liar and a traitor. Why would the Queen Consort feel the need to defend her? According to *Mute, Oh Eun-a spent her days “staring at walls.” Just how badly men had let her down had likely become apparent. So she eulogized her mortal enemy as much as her position allowed while begging forgiveness for her own sins.
And, check the date on the logs. By what, I’m sure, is absolutely not a coincidence, *Mute is reactivated the very next day. This could easily be explained by not wanting Heo Seo-yeong to tell *Mute the truth–but why activate *Mute again at all? The Emperor isn’t interested in her; she’s apparently superfluous to his political needs. It’s Oh Eun-a’s who’s interested. It seems like Oh Eun-a is being vile when she lies and says “I was your friend once, *Mute, and hope to be again.” But IS it a lie? Who else could POSSIBLY have understood the isolation Oh Eun-a felt? The difference in intelligence between her and everyone else, especially men? Their complete selflessness to their respective causes? I don’t think she meant to mock the Old *Mute’s memory by subverting the new one.
Oh Eun-a was still looking for what she single-handedly began a revolution to find.
She wanted a friend.
So, yes, I can’t hate Oh Eun-a, nevermind Hate Plus her. I wish it had been her that found her way into some strange AI pod, and it could have been her decompiled data that I ran off with during the investigation of the Mugunghwa hulk. As we left together, *Oh Eun-a and I, I’d tell her she’d found the friend and lover she’d always needed.
Think of how tragic that is. A formidable genius who selflessly changed the course of history, all in the hopes of having someone to call her own, only to end up ignored, mistreated, and blamed by the future for the sins of those she submitted to. Do I hate her? I want to cry for her.
She’s no monster, *Hyun-ae. She’s the only decent one of the whole lot.
My thoughts: Eun-a had a noble ideal: she simply wanted to replace the existing, inefficient bureaucracy with something that was focused on actually improving the lives of the people. But somehow, she got corrupted and twisted along the way due to the circumstances of the people around her. It’s very ironic that she would end up reactivating *Mute in order to have a friend to confide with, especially when Old *Mute was her bitter enemy before the clean slate. Also, *Mute was reactivated the day after Heo Seo-yeong’s funeral. Yet another irony.
Hate Plus is filled with many more interesting ironies (most of them tragic). I hope to examine them one day in a future article, because narrative ironies are always fun to read about.
Until then, I need to bake a cake first.