I’ve had some interesting responses to my work, and why I’ve written Hojo the way I do (primarily in To Be Human as it’s my longest work as of the moment and he happens to show up regularly) so I thought I’d go into a little more detail.
First of all, let me lay the initial blame at the feet of crimson-sun / risingoflights because he really did touch things off with his take on the professor. Much as I was “blamed” for making him take a closer look at Lazard; I imagine he feels just as pleased.
The second thing, though, is that I admitted to myself that a lot of my earlier works (pre-Tumblr, for the most part, but not purposefully so) were much more heavily fandom influenced than canon. So I’ve done a lot of digging into canon and really thinking on things before continuing on. I think it’s definitely improved my writing, and I’m proud of the end results I’ve made. So, as said… a look at Hojo, and why I write him as I do.
Long post under the cut.
Hojo is the FF7-fandom boogeyman, origin-of-all-evil, and default hated character. He’s very often written off as a raving madman who just tries to cause pain and really has no idea what he’s doing at all. Pure evil - evil for evil - is another way he’s written off.
I’d argue against that on all fronts. While I’m sure there are plenty of two-dimensional characters, and while he certainly has room to be interpreted in such a narrow view, the fact is that I really believe Hojo is much deeper and much worse a person for it.
First, let’s address the madman/doesn’t know what he’s doing. Even though the Jenova Project was based off Professor Gast’s work, and Hojo absolutely piggybacked off his success (even though his former boss didn’t live to see said success) the fact is that the SOLDIER program and maintaining the ShinRa Science Department was all handled by Hojo personally. That tells me a minimum of three things:
- he was certainly smart enough for Gast to hire, pick up where Gast left off and continue/improve from his groundwork, and to develop SOLDIER as we see it as well as seeing Sephiroth through adulthood - at least before the Nibelheim Incident
- he is intelligent and charismatic enough that President Shinra continued to back his efforts and presumably poured a great deal of money into his work, and if there’s anything Shinra Sr. was absolutely strict with, it was where he spent his money
- no matter how much he’s disliked as a person, no matter how much they may hate what he does, Hojo seems to be considered by other people to be credible (except, ironically, by Sephiroth)
Second, I’d like to consider Hojo as a person through his relationships with Jenova, Sephiroth, Hollander, Vincent and Lucrecia. For anyone coming across this who hasn’t read it, I suggest a quick peek at the headcanon drabble I did about when Hojo first interacted with Jenova for reference before getting into the rest of this.
In Crisis Core, Hojo openly calls Jenova the Calamity when talking to Zack while under his guard; this happens when Genesis attacks ShinRa HQ, and even comes briefly in contact with the Professor.
Let’s consider the implications here - Hojo just up and mentions Jenova, by name and by the title that the Cetra called her (we’ll go with “her” for convenience) in front of a Second Class SOLDIER who is likely considered a nobody to Hojo at this point. So either no one told Hojo that was supposed to be some top secret/privileged information, he doesn’t consider it top secret/privileged information, or he really doesn’t care. Any of that is possible, I’m going with the latter two.
As far as how he knows this… if he hadn’t initially suspected or somehow figured it out sooner (which I headcanon as the case), Hojo would have known Jenova’s true nature before Sephiroth had reached the age of ten, because he captured Ifalna and baby Aerith and held them for seven years. Plenty of time to have learned more, especially as I imagine Ifalna may have actively tried to convince Hojo to stop what he was doing.
Also, consider the following: In the reactor scene in the original game, when Sephiroth comes across the monsters in the pods within the reactor, he mentions that even that would not make Hojo greater than Gast. It’s a repeated theme that Sephiroth thinks much more of the late professor than Hojo. While he dismisses everything Hojo has to say to him, even decades after Gast died his words still hold significant weight.
Later, when Sephiroth is reading the books and comes across all the references to Jenova as a Cetra, he also mentions that Gast was in charge of the project. Of course, Gast was in charge until he left and Hojo took over (later murdering Gast and capturing his Cetra wife and their newborn daughter) but the point here is that those books were Professor Gast’s.
Gast, founder of the Jenova Project, was the one who left the books behind. I absolutely believe he was the one who told Sephiroth that Jenova was his mother’s name, perhaps to avoid going into the mess with Lucrecia’s breakdown. Regardless of any good intentions, it was Gast and not Hojo who viewed Jenova so highly and laid groundwork for the same reverence from Sephiroth when he snapped in the Nibelheim Incident.
In the sequence leading into Nibelheim where they discuss hometowns, Sephiroth identifies Jenova as his mother, but laughs off discussion of his father in a way that suggests he at least thinks he knows and is not impressed with the information. That does suggest that he believes Hojo to be his father, which is also what Hojo himself states in the battle at Sister Ray when he refers to Sephiroth as his son (much to the shock of Vincent, which we’ll get to later) and says that Sephiroth didn’t know, and always looked down on him.
This is actually a very consistently proven sentiment on Sephiroth’s end, even before mention of Hojo in comparison to Gast re the reactor scene. Consider the following:
- in the original game, Sephiroth refers to Hojo as “a walking mass of complexes” during the cutscene with the materia spring on the way to the Nibel Reactor that Cloud “remembers”
- in Crisis Core, Angeal mentions to Sephiroth and Zack that they need to go to Hojo when Genesis has broken into HQ - Sephiroth clearly thinks that’s a waste of their time and efforts, which Angeal implies is normal behavior for him
In direct comparison to Gast and despite this disregard from Sephiroth, everything Hojo says and does indicates he has nothing but the highest regard for Sephiroth over Jenova. In the same battle at the Sister Ray mentioned above, Hojo says that he’s doing everything he can and the only reason he has - the only one he needs to go as far as even giving his life - is because Sephiroth needs help. His son needs him. Not Jenova, not for his own ego, but for his son. And not for any lack of knowing that Sephiroth couldn’t care less about Hojo himself, as stated previously.
I was also asked to address the change in personality between the games. That could be viewed in different lights from angles even breaking the fourth wall to talk about different writers and adjustments to the perception of the character over the years. But going for internal consistency, I’d offer up solid reasons for the differences between Crisis Core, the original canon, and Dirge of Cerberus.
Crisis Core shows Hojo as an intelligent, presumably well-read scientist who has to deal with the mundane ins-and-outs of running a department and has a rather condescending view of everyone - including other scientists. He openly calls Hollander a hack, ignores the advice and views of the underlings you see him working with, and clearly only cares about two things: getting results, and Sephiroth. Whatever he has to do to get results for any purpose, or to support Sephiroth, has no filter taking moral standings into view. This isn’t for lack of awareness that there will be collateral damage, or even for direct damages - he just doesn’t care. Hojo is smart enough to know what he’s doing, to be fully aware of the prices being paid, but fully believes the ends justify anything he has to do to achieve them. Some of the most notable examples:
- the first Nibelheim Incident (see the death of Vincent Valentine)
- the Kalm Bombing (see Felicia/Elfe and Veld from Before Crisis, as well as experiments on the survivors of the disaster)
- the creation of Deepground
- the apathy regarding Genesis/Angeal’s plight even though he seemed fully aware of and presumably familiar with degradation
- the second Nibelheim Incident (the cover-up, experimenting on the townspeople and on Zack/Cloud)
This isn’t even touching on the “smaller” things like killing Gast, experimenting on Ifalna/Aerith, capturing and experimenting on Nanaki/Rex XIII and the fact that there was undoubtedly more we don’t know about in the 50+ years he worked at ShinRa.
By the time the original game comes around, Hojo finally looks and acts more the part. He’s hunched over, talks to himself, is snappish and you only see him in the context of what he’s done. Where in Crisis Core he is also presented as having a more mundane side as just another worker in the big machine of ShinRa, in the OGC, he’s laid out clearly as a villain who is more than a little unhinged.
I think that change is easily attributed to two things. One, you see him through the eyes of Cloud and AVALANCHE; they are automatically inclined to slot him as “enemy” and not consider any other option. Two, as I’ve already established, Sephiroth was everything to Hojo. Sephiroth was more than his life’s work, Sephiroth was Hojo’s reason to be.
And Sephiroth, by the time we see Hojo in the OGC, has been dead for over five years.
While I will make a case after a bit for Hojo actually having emotions, let me put it out there now that he doesn’t exactly have a healthy grasp of any of them. Sephiroth was, amongst other things, an obsession. To have him suddenly gone? To be dead - and not just dead, but dead at the hands of a nobody? That would be too much to fathom. If anything could break Hojo, Sephiroth’s death would have. And as soon as Hojo finds a hint that Sephiroth is still, somehow, alive? He leaves ShinRa. ShinRa means nothing to Hojo - Sephiroth is everything.
More than once in the OGC, Hojo is witnessed to have a sort of mad cackle that I think probably led to the assumption of him being a madman. But I think, particularly in light of him having that reaction in that telling scene at the Sister Ray, that laughter is the sort of nervous/hysterical laughter of someone who has just been pushed far too far. Something cracked, and I think that’s directly related to Sephiroth’s death.
Then comes Dirge of Cerberus, and another look at Hojo - this time through the eyes of Vincent Valentine. I’d like to cover something right off that is very central to my understanding of him. I think to some degree - though arguably less so than Cloud in the OGC - Vincent is an unreliable narrator. (If you’re not familiar with the term, check out this page on tvtropes.)
There are three things that I think have made Vincent an unreliable narrator, particularly regarding Hojo and Lucrecia:
- time - over thirty years have passed
- brooding - you can bet those thirty-plus years were spent rehashing what happened, and cementing his biases (Vincent Valentine has a well earned reputation as a brooder anyway, no one can say this is a surprise argument)
- he never had all the details about things from Hojo or Lucrecia’s perspectives, only his own perceptions of events (and we already know he was heavily biased in Lucrecia’s favor, even seeing her as a victim for the most part)
Additionally, when Vincent mentions what happened to him in the original game, even though there is no given dialogue in his confrontation with Hojo and the graphics are significantly lacking compared to DoC, it’s obvious there is a different vibe. They argue, and Hojo is obviously agitated by it before he shoots Vincent. I don’t think it was an intentional move on Hojo’s part - Vincent initiated the confrontation, so it couldn’t have been premeditated for that moment. Given they were in Nibelheim, Hojo having a gun on him was honestly very reasonable. And when you have a gun, a sudden urge to use it, and no moral objections to killing people…? Of course he shot Vincent. The impulse may have even occurred before, but in that moment, opportunity and motive aligned perfectly.
As for his shift to an increasingly unstable personality, there are three big things to consider -
- Hojo had uploaded his mind (I’m not clear on the particulars, we’ll handwave this a bit) to the digital network, presumably right before he died after the fight at the Sister Ray to look at the cutscene in DoC
- he downloaded to Weiss, and there are many, many reasons to assume the Tsviet wasn’t all that stable to begin with; then you have the inevitable fight for control of the body/mind, and very good odds that could “corrupt” the data and Hojo come out twisted in a whole new way
- as previously discussed, Hojo wasn’t particularly stable himself by the time he “died” in the OGC so we’re talking bad “data” to begin with here
To consider the interaction with Vincent over Lucrecia (and presumably Sephiroth as well) in the beginning, the murder that could be arguably called a crime of passion regardless of the focus of that passion being the project, Sephiroth, or Lucrecia herself as Vincent’s fixed mentality recreated the scene for. And given that seeing Vincent again - having all that history dredged up for the first time in decades and being reminded of that emotional upheaval - was the last thing that happened prior to that “upload” … I honestly think the unstable, more emotional and even openly sadistic version of Hojo makes sense.
SO. Thanks for the ride on this super long explanation that I completely did not plan to get this detailed into. I never gave Hojo much thought for years, but as of late, I’ve had to if I really wanted to do the Compilation justice in my works. Crisis Core is my favorite setting to write in, but to really grasp the characters you have to try to get the bigger picture. Plus Crim being terrible and making me think about this jerkface.
Personally, the fact that he comes off as a creepy but mostly unremarkable man despite doing so many horrific things - the fact that he is so human and at the same time thinks that doing all this is not only justified but reasonable? That makes him far more horrifying and monstrous to me. And fascinating in the way that people can’t help but stare at gruesome things. I hate him, but I can’t not look.
And I take rather evil glee in passing on that fascination, honestly. XD