3 Level Combination

3 Level Combination is a Korean comic by Il-Kwon Ha, the guy you may know as the author of Annarasumanara. Shaurya recommended me both of those manhwa, and I am really glad she did. Here I want to talk about what I think about that comic. I’ll make a tiny introduction for those who haven’t read it and put a spoiler warning before the part where I start to go deeper into the story.

3LC 3

3 Level Combination starts as a story about a boy Hogu, a boy from a poor family who is being bullied at school. We follow him around, observing how he is being humiliated, beaten and otherwise abused by a group of his classmates. It gets pretty heavy and the story doesn’t hold back at all. After a while a new character is introduced, a humanoid robot prototype named Chevrolet. That robot was supposed to attend school together with normal students as a part of its testing. For better or worse the robots ends up becoming Hogu’s friend, while Hogu is put in charge of keeping it safe. With this event the both the story and Hogu’s life become more complex, going through tragic and happy moments, always unpredictable and thought provoking. Please read it, it is very good.

I want to mention that for me 3 Level Combination was a really hard read, I even had to make a break for a few weeks, because I felt a bit overwhelmed. It is just my personal thing though, stories about abused people living in misery kinda get me. I don’t know if that affected my opinion about the comic, though.

3LC 10

Spoilers start from here.

I want to talk about a few of the characters, and since I myself can barely remember any names from this comic I decided to list them all beforehand. Besides Hogu I am going to be talking his former friend Minwoo, his class president Anna and her father Dr. Lee. Hope it won’t get too long.

I think a good way to start thinking about this story is with Dr. Lee. Who was that person? We know he was largely responsible of making a complete mess of his family life. His wife committed suicide after seeing him clearly displaying preference for a female humanoid robot over her. He said that the robot is better because “it is obedient”, because it is “his type”. He was a sad man who wasn’t able to appreciate the people around him and would rather play with toys. And his story doesn’t even seem all that interesting. The main reason I’ve brought it up is his daughter Anna.

I think Anna might be the central figure to this whole story, and I will try to explain what I mean. What defines Anna as a person? She grew up in a broken family and saw a lot more ugliness of human relations than a child should. Do you remember what was her reaction to that? She would say that it was “boring”. Such an inadequate description, such an obviously wrong choice of words. But let’s go on. Anna’s mother committed suicide because her father brought home a robot and stated that he liked it more than his wife. Naturally that influenced the way Anna felt about robots. She learnt to hate them. She even decided to study robots to prove that they can never be humans. Now let’s pause and think about it. Why would she do that? It is not a disgust towards machines that can be understood in her situation. What’s more, she was still working with her dad. I think what we see here is Anna misplacing the responsibility for what happened in her family; instead of blaming her father entirely she puts a part of the responsibility on the robots. It should be easy to realize that Dr. Lee’s self-centered destructive behavior was the reason Anna’s family ended up in the state it is. He could have had any other occupation, it wouldn’t have mattered, it wouldn’t have changed the fact that he didn’t appreciate his wife and was abusive.

So here is what I am getting at. I think a large part of Anna’s character is self-deception and neglect. Just as she was pretending to be bored to ignore her pain as a child she now pretended that the robots are to blame for what happened in her family. Why would she do it this time – who knows, but an obvious reason is so that she would be able to live on with her father without losing her mind because of the cognitive dissonance.

3LC 27

You’ve probably noticed that I didn’t justify the word “neglect” yet. To talk about that I will need to jump to another character I’ve said I would talk about, Minwoo. He, Hogu, and Anna were friends back when they were younger and Hogu was what kept them together. In the quick episode where Hogu takes a picture of Anna and Minwoo it is pretty obviously hinted that in this friendship Anna was mostly interested in Hogu, while Minwoo was more interested in Anna. And apparently she was oblivious to that. What’s more, this never stopped, with the only exception that after a while Minwoo started to target Hogu, making his school life worse and worse. It might have been jealousy, might have been a desire to get Anna’s attention, likely it was both. And it seems that Anna could have stopped the whole thing, as she did in chapter 17, just by asking Minwoo to do so. But she never even tried to talk to him, never started a conversation in the whole year, as Minwoo mentioned once. Imagine if she did, if she thought through this situation and realized Minwoo motives. Anna is smart, she definitely could do it. And if she asked Minwoo to stop hurting Hogu, then maybe there wouldn’t have been any fights in that class. And going from what we saw of Minwoo I think that is the only thing she needed to do was to ask, there wouldn’t have been conditions or price. But Anna never even thought about it. That is what I mean by “neglect”.

Minwoo 3 Level Combination

Minwoo

I am sorry if you think I’ve spend more than enough time on Anna, but I have to go a little further. In the late chapters we see Anna repeatedly putting effort into making Hogu see that Chevrolet is a robot and hence his friendship with it is absurd. She doesn’t see (or prefer to not notice) the simple fact that Chevrolet was the only one who showed Hogu kindness and care, who spent time with him when he needed it. It is so simple to see, and it is so easy to then understand why the boy would be so attached to the thing, regardless of its nature. What’s more, it is not hard to imagine that Anna might have wanted to be the one who did all of that for Hogu; only she didn’t do it. She would say that Chevrolet was a piece of metal, only the reality was that this robot was more of a human then most of the people around it. And instead of embracing that reality Anna would rather destroy it. She did, with a lie, betrayal and murder, a one act that took away all she had, including her own conscience.

I find it interesting that throughout most of the story Anna doesn’t do anything wrong, and there is no way to blame her. She isn’t hurting anyone, even does good things here and there. Nevertheless, it is as if her way of life slowly places a rope around her heck. It is one of the most interesting character arcs I’ve seen in a long time.

3LC 2

 

It doesn’t feel right to talk about supporting characters all this time and leave out Hogu and Chevrolet. But I don’t think I have as much to say about them. I like their story. It is the kind of story you would want to end on a happy note. While reading I thought that maybe they will use this bomb episode to say that from now on Chevrolet can’t be opened and since her remote control functions were disabled she could effectively become a human. That would open a possibility for a nice ending for both her and Hogu. I was also prepared for Chevrolet’s demise; I think Hogu would have survived that, and I wonder what kind of person would he ended up being. Neither of that happened though.

The actual end made me think of the Romeo and Juliet play. It used be regarded as the greatest love story of all. I’ve heard that since some time ago people started to look at it in a new light, considering Romeo and Juliet to be a cautionary tale about irresponsible passion of young people. I can see that point of view and I don’t think it takes away anything from the romantic side of the play. What’s more, I think the same argument can be made for the story of Hogu and Chevrolet. Do you want to see their story and it’s end as a beautiful romantic tragedy? Or do you want to see it as a tale that says “Don’t be as foolish as this boy was.”? Both ways are good I think. I like the ending, even though it does make the story even more sad.

One more thing. I imagine 3 Level Combination would naturally make you wonder about human-robot relations, asking yourself “What was this friendship between Hogu and Chevrolet? Was it different from the relations Dr. Lee had with his old robot? Can you take any of this seriously?”. I think the comic doesn’t have a lot to say about robots and their potential place as a new kind of sentient beings in our society. Was Hogu any different from Dr. Lee – I have no idea. It is a very hard question, and I don’t see any answers in the manhwa.

Sorry if this post was a bit too long. See you next time!

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7 thoughts on “3 Level Combination

  1. I liked the ending too =) I can’t help but think that Hogu threw his life away for nothing. It wasn’t worth getting himself killed. Chevrolet doesn’t have any feelings and is just a robot. It would have be okay not to go and let her be destroyed without getting himself killed. On the other hand, I think doing that would have killed him as a person. He treated Chevrolet like a human and breaking his promise would have made him feel that he had betrayed her. It would have destroyed Hogu if he betrayed the only one who had ever shown him any kindness. I don’t honestly know what Hogu would have been better off doing. Getting himself killed while keeping his promise or surviving while being broken.

    I do like Anna and she is interesting. About what you said about her not asking to stop Minwoo before everything got messed up, I think it shouldn’t have come to that in the first place. I don’t blame Anna for that and I think the entire responsibility lies with Minwoo. Why did she have to ask him to stop bullying Hogu? Hogu was the one who befriended Minwoo first. Minwoo broke their friendship and bullied Hogu even though he knew Hogu had no idea that Anna was interested in him. So why take it that far? It was like he was thinking ‘Let me bully this guy since the girl I like is interested in him.’ And later when she asked him to stop ‘She asked me to stop so let us save this guy.’ It was messed up.

    I really like how you’ve written the post (^-^)b I am not as interested in Hogu and Chevrolet as I am in Anna’s character =)

    • Right, both ways it seems bad. When I was reading this chapter I got this weird feeling that is kinda hard to express. You know how a main character would sometimes have “his moment”, a big triumph or a small but significant in some sense achievement. Hogu didn’t have it; even when he rushed in to save Chevrolet from those guys and hit one of them with a shovel, the next panel was him lying down beaten. It felt like no matter what he does he will just be reminded of his insignificance. So when he went against everyone and threw away his life just to fulfill a promise made to a robot, then it felt like he finally got it, like this flash of light that took his life away was his final act of defiance that won’t be taken away from him. And that is interesting because of how dangerous and messed up this way of thinking is. After all what Hogu did was effectively a suicide. And if your main character’s big moment is his suicide, that is pretty horrible ._.

      Oh yeah, I agree with all you’ve said. Obviously Minwoo is the only one responsible for the situation, the only one you can blame. He is just a bad person. He has a facade of a normal guy, with his manners and wondering look, but he is no better than the other scum in his class. And yes Anna didn’t have to ask Minwoo to stop, she was already doing more good things to Hogu than everybody else. But she could ask, right? I am not saying she is to blame or anything, absolutely not. But even a good person can do something she would regret later. I feel like she just lost this opportunity to do something good, as many people do. It is something I can relate to, a situation when you were doing the right thing, but then later you realize that if you were to go out of your way you could have done way more. And I think it works exactly because she is a normal good person =)

      Thank you :D And thanks for correcting some of my mistakes in the post ^^b

      • Yup. The mangaka didn’t really go easy on Hogu there. I wanted to know what you would feel about Hogu throwing his life away and you ended up feeling the same as I did XD

        That was what I meant. She had to go out of her way to save Hogu and I felt that not going out of your way didn’t qualify as neglect ._. It is normal for her not to do that. You know, I really wonder if Anna was a normal good person. I don’t think a normal good person would have done what she did in the end.
        You know, at the very end, I wished Hogu didn’t go to Chevrolet and stayed with Anna instead. Anna had already been betrayed by her father and being betrayed by Hogu once again would destroy her as a person. Even if it was just self deception. She isn’t a good person but then again, I did want her to be saved because she was just a child who had to deceive herself in order to go on living without losing her sanity =)

        How did you know that I edited your post? :O Are you using our old layout by any chance? I felt like a ninja and I thought I was being invisible when I made the changes TT_TT

        • =)

          Yeah, maybe my choice of words wasn’t great =) I just assumed that Anna didn’t act not because she didn’t want to, but just cause she didn’t see her own power to change the situation. I mean, I think she would have went out of her way to save Hogu, if she realized she could succeed without any real risks.
          I don’t know. When I said “normal good person”, I meant the kind of good person that you see in real live, the kind that has weaknesses and faults =) In that episode with the bomb Anna was just trying really hard to stop Hogu from harming himself with his obsession with the robot. Running away with Chevrolet, that could have easily put him in prison for theft. She brought him to school to cover his misdeed, and she made sure to take care of the source of the problem, which she thought was Chevrolet. I think her intentions were good, she just didn’t think of this situation from a different angle. If Anna could see Chevrolet as a person, or just recognize that this is how Hogu sees her, I don’t think she would have tampered with the trigger. But I doubt she would have helped him escape anyway :D

          It’s interesting =) It would be such a different story though. As it is Anna got such a horrible ending for her. You’ve said that Hogu would have been destroyed as a person if he didn’t go to meet Chevrolet that evening. But you can hardly compare that to what Anna has to face. We don’t get to see what she is thinking and how she reacts to things, so it is not obvious how devastating this ending is for her; but it is.

          I use both editors :D I was making corrections to the post after your first comment (there was some badness, like a sentence that I was supposed to have changed but forgot and it wasn’t making any sense in the context ._.), and I decided to look at the log to see if you saw any errors too :P

          • I don’t blame Anna for tampering with the trigger. She hated robots and it was okay for her to do that. But she should have stopped Hogu. She knew he would die if he went there. She should have told the cops about what she had done and make them stop Hogu from killing himself, even if she had to use force to do that.

            Yup. Anna was the one who got hurt the most at the end. Unlike Hogu, she has to live and deal with the aftermath of her actions.

            I see ._. Stop looking at the log and let me be a ninja senpai :P

            • Yeah that would be a reasonable thing to do. I guess she didn’t think Hogu would be crazy enough to run after Chevrolet knowing the bomb would detonate. And when he ran she just didn’t have the will to do anything else. She is only a human, there is a limit to how long one can put away her emotions and be rational.

              Okay I won’t xD

              • Okay ._. I guess I was being too hard on Anna. I don’t think I want any part of the manga changed though. I like it the way it is =)

                :P

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