In a move that might surprise some of the people who know me, for
a week after Valentine's Day, I'd like to talk about Suren from the game Koezaru wa Akai Hana that came out last year. The game is R-18, so this entry will be more mature, but there's definitely no NSFW content or anything, so read freely~ There will, of course, be spoilers for the game from here on out, so tread lightly if you want to avoid reading them!To be honest, I debated covering Suren at first. Not because I don't really like him—I love him. It was because I thought that I would frustrate myself spending too much time justifying or explaining some of the more questionable things he does in his route. He gets a pretty bad rep among the people who did play this game, but in the end, I think that it's very important to cover those things, as well, and not try to gloss over the bad things Suren did. Unlike most common love interests in otome games, Suren is far from being squeaky clean, but what attracted me to him is how he atones for his mistakes.
The first time you meet Suren in the game, it's the worst meeting ever.
...wait, I think I need to stop and explain a few things first. The setting is very important in this game. Basically, there are two countries that occupy a single continent: Luce and Nasura. Our heroine, Naala, is from Luce. For many decades, a terrible plague had ravaged the continent, one that led to death for every person who contracted it. The problem was that almost all people afflicted by the disease were female. This led to a "female shortage", so to speak. The strange thing is that for some reason, Luce was affected less than Nasura was. Nasura being a more militaristic nation, they would periodically raid Luce and kidnap women to take back and sell into slavery or marry off. When she was a child, Naala's own mother was taken, so she was keenly aware of that ongoing conflict.
Right, so. Back to this worst meeting ever. Naala, her two best friends, and a bevy of other women from Luce were kidnapped and taken to Nasura after a raid and raze of Luce's capital city. During the raid, Naala had injured (and possibly killed, the game isn't clear) a number of men from the Nasuran army while trying to save her friends. It was said that she had the second strongest sword arm in all of Luce, second only to the king's. After being taken to Nasura, the Luce women were sitting in a room awaiting their fate when Suren walked in and demanded to know which woman it was who fought against some of his soldiers.
It turns out that Suren is the military commander of Nasura. He didn't take too kindly to his men being hurt and by a woman, no less! Suren was very quick to tell Naala his opinion of women: powerless, brainless creatures who should just shut up and listen to what men tell them. He told her that she should be pleading,
Won't you please impregnate me?
Naturally, being the wonderfully eloquent creature that she is, Naala basically told Suren exactly where he could shove that. (maybe not those exact words)
After that, throughout most of Suren's route, Naala was extremely suspicious and even hateful towards Suren. One can't exactly blame her when you consider how they met! I, too, hated Suren's guts before doing his route. I pursued him as my second route of the game only because I wanted to get the "sexist pig" out of the way.
What happened, however, took me completely by surprise.
I don't want to get into the details of the beginning of Suren's route too much, but it started off very similarly to the other two in that Naala was basically forced into marrying him due to events beyond her control. She could either choose to marry him, some random brigand, or watch her friend get married to the random brigand... So it's not to say that she had no choice at all, but the noble Naala would never abandon her friend.
Nasura had some very strict, unfair laws regarding women, as their main aim was basically to increase their population through whatever means necessary. One of these laws was that once married, a man and his wife had to have sex with the aim of having children. The council would send a representative to make absolutely sure that this happened on the "wedding night" and as we learn in Naran's route, they would even periodically send more representatives afterwards to make sure the couple was still, err, copulating if no children had been born yet. If they determined that the couple was not getting along in that sense, the woman would be taken away and married to another random man (usually an aristocrat) against her will.
This is awful, you might be thinking! Surely Naala would understand Suren's desperation if he just explained it to her, then! Yes, he was rather rough, but he had good intentions! ...well, unfortunately, Suren did not explain it to her. You see, at the beginning of his route, Suren was bound by that tricky thing called pride. He didn't want to admit just how smitten he was with Naala or make it appear that he depended on her or was weak against her. Naala also didn't make this easy on him, as she constantly goaded him and insulted him, provoking his admittedly short temper. Basically, they were, as she said, the worst couple.
The thing is... Suren is an extremely awkward guy who finds it difficult to communicate how he really feels, but from the start he always cared about Naala and regretted the things he did to her. He had wanted to treat her gently during their first night. Since it was inevitable that they'd have sex and he knew she wasn't really happy about it, he wanted to at least make it easier for her, but she wouldn't let him. Hurt and angry by the sudden turn in events, Naala misread his intentions and unfortunately, Suren was too immature and hot-headed to stay strong against her provocations.
There is a very poignant scene later where after a night together, Suren fell asleep with her and left his sword at her bedside. Naala picked it up and aimed it at Suren, contemplating killing him—not so much for what he'd done to her, but more because at this point she was extremely hateful of Nasuran men, especially those in the military who had a direct hand in kidnapping her and the others. In the end, however, she wavered. She couldn't do it—she didn't want to admit it, but she just couldn't bring to hate Suren wholeheartedly anymore, as now she'd seen bits of his kindness and more awkward side. Naala didn't have to admit it, though. The fact that she put the sword away and couldn't go through with killing Suren was already enough, though she couldn't explain her own reasons.
In the special digital novel bundled with the game, you get to see this scene from Suren's point of view. It turns out that he actually left the sword there as a calculated move on purpose and was awake the entire time—he wanted to give her a way out. He wanted to see if things between them had been absolutely broken beyond repair. As he lay there, feeling the cold steel of his own sword at his throat, Suren thought that even if he were to die here, he would not regret being with her and hoped that doing this would somehow ease Naala's grief and hatred. He was shocked—a mix of thankful and yet also sad—when she put the sword back. Once Naala fell asleep, Suren lightly kissed her forehead and then began to cry, finally saying his true feelings out loud in anguish:
...I love you. I-I love you...
It's all very well and good knowing Suren's true feelings, but there's no meaning to that if Naala couldn't see them. Things finally started to change for the both of them about midway through Suren's route. There was a scene where some dissenters who didn't like Suren's influence over the military brought a monster into the city, a monster that almost killed him. Naala happened to be there and ended up saving his life. Afterwards, she wondered why she bothered to save the life of someone she detested so much, but she remembered how broken Suren looked when he saw his fallen comrades after the fight with the monster. It dawned on her then just how much Suren cared about his men and she wondered how many of them he'd seen die in his years in the military.
This is about where you, as the player, start seeing Suren's potential, too. His reaction to his fallen men helps explain why he was so angry at the beginning when he and Naala first met. Yes, it's not very rational for him to be angry at a woman for resisting capture, but the end result was that his comrades were hurt, so he couldn't exactly see reason.
Also, at this point, I expected Suren to be annoyed that Naala saved his life. As someone who thought that women were powerless and should just stay obediently at home, surely he wouldn't appreciate being saved by his wife, of all people. Not only was Suren very thankful, though, (and so cutely, saying this fight was their "first job together as husband and wife"!) but he even gave Naala the bow she'd used to save him as a present. Naala was shocked, asking if it was really alright for him to give her a weapon, but on the contrary, Suren was just worried she wouldn't like the gift/gesture.
Later, it turns out that Suren had been risking his life to get a special fruit that Naala really liked. He thought that she wouldn't eat them if she knew they were from him, since she hated him so much, so he stayed quiet about it. One day, when it was raining, one of Naala's best friends confronted Suren when he was at the mountain gathering this fruit for Naala and pushed him off the cliff. It wasn't a life-threatening injury, but he was hurt and bedridden for quite some time because of it. Suren also didn't want to tell Naala the truth about this, not wanting to complicate matters between her and her friend—he insisted that he was hurt on the job and it wasn't until Naala found the fruit in his room and heard about the true circumstances that she realized just how much Suren had been supporting her from the shadows this whole time, but afraid to tell her because of how much he knew she hated him.
After Naran's death, Suren finally came clean about why he was so insistent about marrying Naala. He had loved the strength that she had in her eyes, he admitted, and explained the circumstances of why they had to have sex in their marriage. Naala was shocked to hear the truth, but now so much of what Suren did and said made sense. That wasn't all, as Suren also went on to explain why he was so prejudiced against women this whole time.
He related the story of his mother and father. His mother, like Naala, was a woman kidnapped from a neighboring island, but she fell in love with Suren's father. There was a law passed, however, that stated that once a woman had a child, she would be married to another man so more Nasuran man would have a chance to have children. This was only bypassed if the family was an aristocratic family, but Suren's family was not. This also explains why Suren was so insistent upon becoming a noble—he wanted to spare his own family the pain that he and his parents had gone through.
In any case, Suren's mother was devastated that she'd be married to another man, but in contrast, Suren's father was "cold and uncompassionate", caring nothing for his wife. When Suren's mother tried to run away, in an illogical form of displacement Suren's father punished him for it, angry that this stupid woman's actions would bring shame upon his name. Suren, young and confused, was bitter that he was being beaten for the actions of the mother who was abandoning him, so this manifested into a prejudice towards all women. Though he knew how terrible a person his father was, somewhere along the way he became a man just like him.
Not entirely like his father, of course. Unlike his father, Suren was able to feel pain. He was able to feel regret. He was truly and deeply sorry for not only what he'd done to Naala, but that he'd done nothing to stop the Nasuran government/military from continuing the rape and pillage of Luce. Opening up to Naala fully at last, he told her that now, for the first time in his life he understood how his mother had felt. He himself felt that the prospect of being torn from her was a fate worse than death. Naala, in turn, realized that her blind hatred of all Nasurans made it harder for her to understand the truth. Suren's route is just as much about Naala changing as it is about Suren changing. Both of them learned and grew together as a couple and it was just touching to watch.
In the end, after apologizing to Naala from the heart, Suren really took big steps to change and be even nicer to her. Not only that, he decided to pursue the same goal as her: to help free the women of Luce and help Tooya find a cure for the plague. Beyond understanding his own situation and relationship with Naala, Suren wanted to make sure that no one else had to ever be in the position of being taken from the people they loved. Never again.
Okay, phew that was a lot of route summary. Anyway, for why I like him! In a lot of fiction, the douchebag male protagonist usually gets a free pass for his behavior. What I mean by this is that he never really apologizes for what he does, nor does he make a real effort to change—the heroine just gets used to him and accepts that he's rough around the edges or something. I don't think this is a very positive message. True, you shouldn't try to completely change the person you love, but you shouldn't allow them to walk all over you, either. This is what I really appreciated about Suren: he apologized for the bad things he did without trying to rationalize his behavior, and then never did them again. Sure, he retains his boyish charm and temper, but by the end of the story, the edge is mostly gone. He's no longer bitter and angry and uncommunicative, he's open about his thoughts and feelings and more accepting of Naala's opinions and decisions. The circumstances under which they met and got married weren't the best, but I don't know that anyone could have asked for a better outcome. Their love is built on a solid foundation of trust and having overcome many hardships together.
Aside from his devotion and deep love for Naala, I feel that Suren also brings out her strengths. Naala loves to fight against the societal norms for women and I feel that in Tooya and Noll's routes, she ended up being more domestic. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but you can clearly see how happy Naala is when she's out there kicking butt and helping people. Suren, though he seems like the most misogynistic at first, ends up being the most accepting of Naala's less feminine hobbies and behaviors, which makes her feel more free to do what she wants.
Another thing I love about Suren is just how selfless he is. The three supporting love interests' routes piggyback off of the main routes. That is, in order to pursue Naran and get on his route, you have to go for Suren first. You have to marry him and have sex with him and then later circumstances lead to... Well. I'll get to that in a moment.
Suren's worst end is the expected yandere bad end, which all of the main guys have. The trigger for this ending is a single decision. After the aforementioned scene where Naala finds out that Suren risked his life to get her fruit, when heading for Naran's path, an extra bit of dialogue opens up where Suren asks Naala if she loves him. He wants the truth. Since this only happens on Naran's route, the correct answer is, of course, "no". She doesn't love Suren, she loves Naran. If you answer truthfully, Suren bows out of "courting" her. Naala tells Suren that she no longer hates him, but that she doesn't love him. After that, their relationship becomes a completely platonic friendship. Suren never touches her again. If Naala lies, however, the route continues on fairly normally for a while until Suren basically catches the two of them and then... Bad end. Suren completely snaps and alternates between demanding that Naala say she loves him and screaming at her that she's a liar and he can't trust a word she says anymore. Yet he still can't bear to let her go. To date, I think this is the most painful bad ending I've ever seen in a visual novel, especially when you know just how much Suren loved Naala and how willing he was to give up if only she was honest with him. Some people may complain that this was excessive, but I think that it was a valuable look at how things can go so wrong, with Suren having to hurt the two people he loved the most.
Back to the correct decision... After letting Naala go, as her friend Suren is still very supportive of her and of her budding relationship with Naran. When war breaks out between Luce and Nasura, Suren gives up his life to let Naran escape so he can go home to Naala. Even if he has to give up his life and the woman he loves the most, he wants the two of them to be happy. I cried buckets at this scene.
In light of all this, I think that to accuse Suren of being a possessive, boorish rapist is unfair when he is able to lay down his life for Naala's happiness in multiple situations and he never really raped her in the first place. (Naala herself says in Noll's route that she sees sex with her husband as an inevitability; she herself does not consider sex with the guys as rape and rarely says no to them—and when she does, they back off) I can see why some people might be kind of hesitant to trust Suren after the beginning of his route gets off to such a bad start, but I think he's able to beautifully redeem himself by the end.
Also, it's so rare to see a male character who is painted as the strong alpha male actually cry and open up about his feelings. Suren is a very strong person physically, but it's not until the end that he becomes strong emotionally, too, and that transformation is just wonderful to see. I know that I'm a sucker for flawed characters in general, but I think that his development was just so well done and even though I myself disliked him so much at the beginning, by the end I was just blubbering over everything he did and wishing everyone would love him.
And then Naala's words for Suren in his good ending when they were finally reunited, a teasing "Won't you please impregnate me?" It really drove the point home that both of them changed so much from the beginning. I thought that was a beautiful and wonderfully snarky way for everything to end. They're happy together, yet neither of them are going to change who they are at their very core. It's simply that they are even better together.
So wow yeah, that's a whole lot of tl;dr to say that I love Suren to pieces because he's a flawed human being who's able to make up for his mistakes and go through a whole lot of character development that makes him into a better, stronger person. He has a deep, selfless love for the heroine and brings out the best in her, so I just found their relationship to be my OTP of the game. If you're reading this and haven't played Koezaru/Suren's route yet, do remedy that as soon as you can! ♥