Viral Hit – Episode 1

By: Vrai Kaiser April 11, 20240 Comments
Hobin with a black eye, grinning and holding up cash

What’s it about? Between having to pay for his mother’s cancer treatments with his minimum wage fast food job and being bullied at school, Yu Hobin feels back into a corner. When he finally snaps and the ensuing fight with one of his bullies ends up going viral online, Hobin stumbles into a potentially life-changing source of income.

I always feel a very keen sense of my own lacking expertise when trying to review a manhwa adaptation, particularly one that’s very clearly drawing on contemporary cultural frustrations like this one. But Viral Hit is a show about frustrations with the medical system and the exploitation when working online—something that’s also sadly relatable across cultures.

Most of the bullying in this episode, faced by Hobin are under the auspices of “do it for the views,” which becomes a handy way for “NewTubu” celebrity Pakgo to exert control on those around him. In the scheme of things he’d probably be considered B-tier, with under a million subscribers, but he still has enough income and clout to make life hell for those around him. For Hobin this means humiliation and physical abuse, but for the women Pakgo encounters it’s all about sexual menace: classmate Rumi is clearly trading sexual favors in exchange for featuring her small 5K channel, while Hobin’s coworker Bomi is pressured into giving up her phone number if she can’t complete an arbitrary challenge.

Hobin in full face clownish makeup
You ever have one bad day

It’s not hard to watch those scenes and think about the dozens of YouTubers who’ve had accusations of serial abuse levied against them, though the way I’ve phrased it gives the episode a bit more credit than it maybe deserves regarding its female characters. Rumi’s few lines paint her as a willing accomplice to Pakgo’s cruelty as long as it elevates her, while Bomi is so flatly angelic she’s practically backlit. There’s also Hobin’s mother, but she’s busy carrying the weight of motivating the plot from her hospital bed; though there seems to be a prominent gal in the credits who ends up part of Hobin’s streaming career, she’s mostly just lurking in the background here. No, this is a story about Manly Struggles.

It’s hard not to think about Fight Club a tiny bit whenever one sees a story about a woeful emasculated protagonist who thinks he’s found a way to solve his angst through physical violence, but a closer comparison to the feeling of watching this episode might be Oshimi Shuzo: the art style leans toward the realistic with a sort of gurning cruelty to the facial expressions, women at best are a slightly terrifying Other, and the worldbuilding rests on the assumption that everyone we’ve met is a pathetic bastard crawling toward the next backstab that might get them ahead.

A snarling Jihyeok. "You're the reason your mom has cancer!"
I didn’t say it was subtle writing

But y’know, I kind of like Oshimi when I’m in the right mood. And if it can hold fast to its elements of social commentary rather than getting lost in the sauce, there’s a sort of bleakly fascinating story going on here. Hobin’s one-time bully and now opportunistic collaborator Jihyeok proposes that their channel gimmick with be “calling out bullies in real time,” but there doesn’t seem to be nobility in that goal when they’re both openly chasing the bottom line and the next biggest hit. Hobin is motivated by helping his mother (Korea, like America, has a majority privately-owned medical industry and a large percentage of out-of-pocket fees) and is willing to put his body on the line to do it, but this could easily work as a “making a monster” story rather than one where the reader is supposed to simply root for the put-upon underdog. The balance of frustration-to-cynicism is hard to maintain in this kind of story, and when it goes wrong the first victims are almost always women, but I’m willing to give it three episodes to win me over.

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