Rain scene translation (Interlude chapter – novel-only material)
Interlude – Dream (Novel-only)
Prologue: 3 Children
In the chilly night after school, the leaves are a brilliant green and pale pink petals dance in the breeze.
You and I were connected.
I’ve come for you from so far away. I wonder if you’ve forgotten?
The children who live in this city carry secrets. With loneliness coiled in their chests, they live their lives stealing from others and deceiving those around them. But is there anything wrong with that? A secret that isn’t revealed remains a secret. The emotions only sink to the bottom of one’s heart, so much so that not even God can touch them.
I remembering trembling hands and swaying eyes. I remember the flash of light that illuminated the darkness and the bone-chilling temperature. I remember laughing innocently with you and the sensation of your lips. I haven’t forgotten, not even for one day.
With every fiber of my being, I want to connect with you.
Chapter 1: Boxes
Kazuki Yasaka has three rules he cannot share with anyone.
Everyone has their own rules that they follow, more or less. Things like eating taiyaki by the tail, washing their arms first in the bath, and spoiling a mystery novel by reading the conclusion beforehand.
Even if those rules are not understood by anyone else, they are still rules that are absolutely binding to that person.
That was why he was carrying a cardboard box with him today.
It was a box with a logo from a major logistics company that was used all over the world these days. Dressed in a summer school uniform and carrying said inconspicuous box in his arms, he boarded the Blue Line which carried him across the enormous red bridge and over the Sumida River.
To anyone visiting Asakusa for the first time, the view from the bridge—Azumabashi—would probably seem a bit strange. Across the Sumida River in Taito Ward, the buildings there were rich in history and in traditional industries. It was also where the Kaminarimon Gate was located. On the other side of the bridge, if you were to gaze at the Sky Tree in Sumida Ward, you’d be amazed by the futuristic and eccentric architecture. Kazuki had lived in this jumbled coming together of past and futuristic scenery in Asakusa for 14 years and so he was used to it. In other words, in spite of this, there were only three important things.
“Good morning☆ You’ll be even happier with lucky selfies! It’s Azuma Sara, dish☆”
After crossing Azumabashi, Kazuki could hear the sleepy voice of a girl from the monitor outside of the Matsuya Department Store.
“Let’s see, what will today’s lucky selfie item be~?”
On the screen, the beautiful girl danced to mysterious music. There was a ribbon attached to her headdress that gave the impression of a dish, and her bold clothing—arranged like a kimono—swished and swayed.
It was time for the Asakusa Television program of the local idol Sara Azuma, whose program was named after herself.
Kazuki stopped in his tracks, his gaze locked with the girl on the screen with great intensity. The hustle and bustle of the morning crowd fell silent for a few seconds.
“Boxes! Boxes, dish☆ The more boxes you have, the happier you’ll be☆”
Sara drew a dish with the word “box” written on it from the roulette. The background was a colorful space, filled with CG backgrounds and papier-mâché with Sara’s mascot, made in her image, looking quite playful.
The signal from the television turned blue and the crowd dispersed and walked away.
“…Boxes?” Kazuki echoed and cast a quick glance around. He absolutely could not fail this mission.
“If you take a lucky selfie and send it to someone special to you, you’ll be even happier, dish☆ Well, that’s all for today! Good Sarakku☆”
Kazuki echoed her back. “Good Sarakku….”
Praying that no one would notice him, he walked off alone.
His first rule was to always carry a box around.
His second rule was to check the lucky selfies every day.
Lastly, his third rule was to exchange lucky selfies with a certain child every day.
On his smartphone, he opened up his messaging app and typed “I should be able to clear this mission sooner than usual, dish☆” The ending of “dish☆” was a little weird to him, honestly. He sent the message to its recipient, the only person in this world who he wanted to forgive him.
“Good morning☆” he sent. “I’ll be sending you happiness today, okay?”
The child read the message instantly and then responded with a cheerful emoji stamp. It’s only because of that response that Kazuki would be able to do his best today.
Truthfully, it was okay if he wasn’t forgiven. It really was.
Their relationship was a secret to everyone, and Kazuki knew from the very start that he wouldn’t be forgiven. He didn’t need anything else. As long as he had this connection, everything was fine.
Tooi Kuji was boldly and carefully breaking the rules.
Even during the middle of the day, the parking lot under the overpass near the Sky Tree wasn’t crowded. The faded “Be cautious of vehicular break-ins” was humble in its appearance, but it did absolutely nothing to stop Tooi from doing exactly what the sign warned about. The Lexus was defenseless against him, and Tooi—looking vividly out of place—would get today’s spoils from the car regardless.
Without concern, he removed the black hood from his sweatshirt and his skilled hands moved like a river. They reached for his back, removing something silver that glinted brilliantly for a moment. He assessed his target and then, without hesitation, violently drove his weapon into the door belt molding, allowing the Lexus to remain unscathed.
Thunk, scrape, thunk, thunk… click!
…A camera shutter? When Tooi heard that sound, his hand stopped. Slowly, he turned his face toward the direction of the sound and spotted a girl who was deciding on a strange pose. No, the pose wasn’t the only strange thing here.
It was a girl in a dress who looked otherworldly, as if she’d fallen straight out of the television. She wore a mini-skirt and a ribbon attached to a headdress that gave the impression of a dish. Even though Tooi didn’t have a drop of interest in fashion, he knew that the girl before his eyes wasn’t fashionable in the slightest. However, what surprised Tooi when he turned his gaze was not the distress of the girl, but rather the smartphone she clutched in her hand.
“You… took a picture, didn’t you?” said Tooi, his voice was brimming with anger. Somehow, he managed to ask her a question rather than accuse her directly.
“I didn’t take a picture…” came the girl’s reply. Her face seemed so fragile, as if it might disappear if anyone were to touch it. No—that didn’t matter right now.
“Don’t screw around with me,” said Tooi. “Hand over the smartphone!”
“No!” Despite her eyes that looked as sweet as confectionary, her rejection was strong. The keychain tied to her smartphone quivered. “Sara has to complete this mission for that child, dish!”
Upon hearing such an unfamiliar way to end a sentence, his thoughts came to a halt. The next moment, Tooi saw the back of the girl running in the other direction.
“The more boxes you have, the happier you’ll be, dish…!☆” she called, her long black hair swaying and her feathered skirt lightly billowing in the wind. Underneath, above her toned thighs—
—No, that couldn’t be right!
“Wait!” Tooi finally regained his senses and started running after the girl who had run away from him in a flash.
“I hope I’ll be able to connect with that child today, too…”
Suddenly, there was a golden, glittering statue of a kappa before his eyes.
If one were to ask why the statue was of a kappa, then the answer would be because Kappabashi Street was nearby. Taito Ward was no stranger to historical buildings and traditional industries, so of course the area maintained a kappa-based theme here and there.
It wasn’t an exaggeration to say that the area here was a highly competitive marketplace for kappa objects, and their presence was a little overwhelming. There was even a golden kappa statue enshrined in the Kappa Plaza.
Although he didn’t know why the statue was golden, when it was sculpted, or who sculpted it, the statue looked as though it might just grant wishes. So, sometimes, Kazuki would decide to visit the kappa statue when the mood struck him.
“Hey!” A small, angry voice cried out in the plaza.
Kazuki looked over and saw a boy who stood at the entrance to the plaza. For whatever reason, the boy looked just as irritated as he sounded.
“Did a weird-looking girl come by here?” the hooded boy asked as he took a step closer, and then another, a long weapon of sorts firmly grasped in his hand.
“I… I didn’t see anyone…” said Kazuki, feeling afraid.
How did he end up in a situation like this? It had to be a mistake. He clutched his smartphone tightly, the keychain spilling out of his grasp and swaying.
It was the same mascot that girl had on her keychain.
“That smartphone… you’re connected with that girl somehow, aren’t you?” The boy’s eyes narrowed sharply, his expression turning fouler.
“I… I said I don’t know her!” said Kazuki, feeling like he had been touched by the wrath of God.
“I’m gonna shank you!” shouted the other boy. The rod-like object in his hand caught the light sharply. Kazuki’s prayers went unanswered and the hooded boy attacked him, wildly swinging his weapon.
Only dodging the weapon by a hair’s breadth, Kazuki clung to the feet of the kappa statue in an effort to avoid being struck.
That was the biggest mistake he ever made.
The kappa statue had been balancing on one leg and one of its ankles had snapped off.
It was at that moment that Kazuki, entangled with the kappa statue, fell down with it and smoke burst from where the ankle had snapped off. The smoke enveloped both Kazuki and the hooded boy in an instant.
In times like these, when someone finds themselves in an unforeseen situation, the only thing they can think to do is react stereotypically.
“What the heeeeeeell…!!”
Kazuki realized he was sitting by the window in the back of his classroom. He had made it to school in Asakusa and was sitting in his seat in his classroom in Sara Middle School.
“Was I dreaming…?”
The thought of his box floated dimly to the forefront of his mind. Kazuki looked around and saw that, as usual, his box was underneath his desk.
Now that he knew his box was safe, he could focus on the strange things that had happened in his dream. Kazuki tried to separate the things that were important from the things that weren’t so important in his mind until the weight of it felt smothering. Someone trying to be positive might call his efforts “earnest,” while others would just call him “stubborn.”
“Kazuki…!” A voice cried out. Kazuki became distracted from categorizing his thoughts when the owner of the voice came into the classroom.
Enta Jinnai was someone who followed the rules to a T. Thinking about it now, Kazuki realized that Enta was the type of person who was already bound to many rules. If someone were to break a rule, they should be penalized. If Enta hit a soccer ball in a way that went against the rules, he felt obligated excuse himself from the game.
Enta must have heard the shocking news from their adviser after he had finished the soccer club’s morning practice a little while ago.
“What do you mean you’re quitting the soccer club?! Listen to me…!” Wearing his training gear and holding a soccer ball in his arms, Enta rattled on without taking a breath.
“I was gonna tell you later, Enta.”
“After the fact?! Even though we’ve been the Golden Pair since we were kids?!”
That’s just how Enta was.
When Kazuki heard those words, his face turned sour. The “Golden Pair” was a title usually applied to the protagonists of popular soccer cartoons in the past. Of course, Enta was probably well-aware of that.
Truthfully, Kazuki was pretty sure that Enta’s love of soccer came from the influence of his older sister Otone. Due to his parents’ work, Enta spent much of his childhood abroad. It wasn’t long before he became addicted to manga. A little while after that, he started playing soccer.
“Good morning! Homeroom’s starting!”
Otone Jinnai—their homeroom teacher—entered the classroom, her voice bright and cheery.
Although she was Sara Middle School’s soccer club advisor, she was actually Enta’s older sister as well.
“Hey, again with this?” she said to Enta. “How many times do I need to tell you to change your clothes after morning practice?!”
“Come on, Sis, now’s not really the—”
“It’s sensei when we’re at school!”
“All right! I’m sorry!”
“Say it again!”
This was a typical exchange between the two of them. Enta, who seemed reluctant with his arms folded, sat in the seat in front of Kazuki.
“Did you think I wouldn’t notice…?” Enta muttered. He was proud to be Kazuki’s childhood friend. But even so, Enta knew it would be impossible to change Kazuki’s mind. It would take something forceful to make him change it.
Enta didn’t want to allow his childhood friend to exit the field.
“I’ve got a transfer student to introduce!”
A transfer student at this time of the school year?
After seeing who was at the teacher’s podium, Enta immediately lost interest. If had been a cute girl he would have looked, but it wasn’t. Instead, it was an unfriendly looking boy. He wore a black, hooded sweatshirt over his uniform, a harsh-looking belt, and scraggy, high-laced boots. He looked like a delinquent, like someone you wouldn’t want to go near.
“His name is Tooi Kuji-kun. Make sure you treat him well. ♪”
It would be hard to get along with someone who couldn’t even be bothered to say hello.
Then suddenly, there was a loud crashing noise behind Enta and the transfer student somehow looked even more annoyed. When Enta turned his head to look, Kazuki was staring at the transfer student in absolute and utter shock.
“Kazuki…?” said Enta. He had a bad feeling about this. A really bad feeling about this.
The next moment, the words that spilled from Kazuki and the juvenile delinquent were enough to push Enta down into the deepest depths of melancholy.
“It wasn’t… a dream…?!”
The boy Kazuki had met in his dream had transferred into the same class as him. If it were between a man and a woman in a Sukoshi Fushigi love story, this development wouldn’t be strange. But the truth was that this person was the boy he’d encountered with the sharp ruler. From the other side of the room, the boy seemed to remember Kazuki’s face. The boy’s eyes took in the sight of him, but he seemed to not want any more trouble.
At any rate, Kazuki’s throat felt positively parched today… During his break period, he bought a plastic bottle of water and twisted off the cap.
It was a soothing, far away sound.
Sploosh shh shh shh…
An unconscious sigh left him as he felt the coldness of the water flow over his head.
Next to Kazuki, the delinquent boy from earlier was also pouring water from a plastic bottle over his head.
It was as if this situation really was from a Sukoshi Fushigi story… As Kazuki stood before the vaulting box during phys. ed., the same chime from before resounded in his ear.
“Dosukoi!” Kazuki and the transfer student said the phrase together as they moved their bodies in unison. Enta’s expression looked like someone on the receiving end of a peashooter.
The next time he heard the sound, Kazuki—feeling a strong craving for cucumbers—was indulging himself with the foodstuff. This was no longer an excerpt from SF. It was KF—Kara Fushigi.
However, whether lucky or unlucky, there was one other person who could understand the situation Kazuki was in. That person was sitting back-to-back with him, eating a cucumber. Then, when they both heard the sound again, they shouted in tandem, “something is calling us!!”
“Next up on the news: the kappa statue in the shopping district was found destroyed this morning. Crash!”
An elderly woman was wearing a flashy bandana, and she sat with her hands tightly clasped together in front of the television as Sara Azuma gently delivered the news. The room was traditional, a tatami mat floor in the living room and paper sliding door that partitioned it from the beautiful garden and veranda outside. The Asakusa soccer memorabilia plastered all over the walls gave the room a chaotic feel. The traditional aspect came from the elderly woman while the soccer theme came from her grandson and granddaughter.
“Ah, I went through so much trouble to buy this, but… what am I supposed to do with it now?” said Enta, lamentful. One of the grandchildren, Enta, had opened a box that had just arrived. Compared to the small box inside, the box it had been delivered in was huge in contrast. Inside the box was a miçanga with red, knitted thread.
“I can’t give it to him now,” said Enta, “but I know he’ll come back to the club someday…”
Enta didn’t want to forcibly drag Kazuki back into soccer while the latter was taking a break from club activities. He understood Kazuki’s feelings and intentions very well, and so he firmly believed that everything would be resolved in the end.
“Kazuki was acting so weird today. I wonder if it was because of that transfer student…? That guy’s definitely bad news, and yet Kazuki was somehow already acquainted with him when I’d never even seen him before…”
“There aren’t any clues as to who the perpetrator might be” said Sara, “and so Asakusa’s investigation continues. Osu☆” Her energy seemed to practically leak out of the television.
“The person who did this is going to have their shirikodama taken by a kappa…” muttered Enta’s grandmother.
Shirikodama was a word Enta hadn’t heard before, and so he asked her about it. “Hm? What’s a shirikodama?”
“It’s an organ in the anus of every human being.” she responded. “I was always threatened that a kappa would take my shirikodama whenever I misbehaved as a little girl.”
Enta struggled to picture his grandmother as a little girl, but his unsuccessful attempt was interrupted by the sound of the door opening as his sister came into the room.
“Enta! Did you waste your money again? What’s in the box this time?!”
“It wasn’t a waste!” he countered. “This is for Kazuki.”
His sister gave him a criticizing look. Admittedly, Enta had a habit of spending too much money on mail order products, but that wasn’t the case this time. If his sister found out what was in the box, it would only be a matter of hours before his gossip-hungry sister would let it slip out to Kazuki. When you give someone a miçanga, it has to be at your own timing—and that time wasn’t now.
“Huh? What the—”
Suddenly, Otone’s threatening attitude changed into a wide-eyed look as she stared behind Enta. Intrigued, Enta turned his head over his shoulder, only to find his box floating in mid-air, suspended above the tatami floor. Just like that, the box flew out to the veranda and quickly disappeared.
“W-Wait! My box…!!”
Kazuki and Tooi arrived at the plaza where the two of them had met each other earlier this morning. As they suspected, the sound seemed to be coming from this location. However, it seemed that no one else passing by was concerned by the sound.
“Nobody else can hear it, huh?” said Tooi.
Kazuki muttered, “The kappa cursed us for breaking its statue…”
“Curses aren’t real!” countered Tooi.
Yellow “Keep Out” tape was spread out all around the plaza, making the remains of the kappa statue look more like the scene of a murder than anything else.
“If the police find out about this,” started Kazuki, “they’ll arrest us, won’t they?”
“I can’t afford to get caught by the cops…!”
With all his strength, Kazuki squeezed the box in his arms and cried out, “I absolutely can’t lose my connection with that child…!
Suddenly, smoke spilled from the kappa statue, emanating from its butt crack.
The next moment, the kappa statue’s beak opened with a crack, followed by the sound of a huge explosion.
“What the heeeeeeell…!!”
The smoke gradually began to clear, as did the fog from their minds.
“Didn’t we just say…”
“…the same thing this morning?”
“I’ve been waiting for you, kero.”
Seated where the kappa statue had been enshrined until this morning was a large, white mochi-looking thing.
“I am Keppi, the immediate heir to the Kappa Kingdom, kero.” Apparently, the chiming sound had been coming from the mochi hitting its head with a cucumber. “I have erased your memories of this morning, kero.”
“Erased our memories?”
“That’s right, just like that.”
The mochi gave itself a shake, causing a beak and sleepy eyes to appear.
“I can’t just let anyone know about my existence, after all, kero…”
The way the mochi talked sounded troubled, but it also completely lacked a sense of urgency. The extremely weird looking mochi began to indulge itself by eating the cucumber it held.
“Ahh! P-Please don’t curse us…!” shouted Kazuki.
“However, I believe there must have been a reason that the two of you awakened me, and so I called you back here—gulp.”
The mochi extended its forelimbs in a dazzling display of prostrating itself.
“Human children! Please help me, kero! I beg of you, kero…!”
Kazuki dangled his pennant of academic achievement in shock. Who would have imagined that robots or magical girls or something like this would be in Asakusa’s Kappabashi?
“I refuse,” asserted Tooi, as if he wouldn’t do it without being paid.
“Is it okay to refuse…?” Wouldn’t the two of them be punished…? Kazuki was bubbling with worry while beside him, Tooi was being an ultra-realist. Naturally, he didn’t believe in kappa.
“What do you think?” said Tooi. “I’m not going to listen to a frog!”
“…I’m not a frog…!” The voice was mumbling at their feet.
“Eh? What? Frog…?” echoed Kazuki.
At that moment, it seemed like Kazuki had stepped on a landmine, triggering rage within the immediate heir to the Kappa Kingdom.
“I’m not a froooogggg!!”
Keppi—who had now thrown away the idea of using honorable speech—flew up high into the sky and rotated so quickly that his legs were like the wheels of a locomotive.
“This is bad…!”
Both boys, finally feeling the weight of the danger they were in, turned away to escape.
They felt an impact on their butts that they’d never felt before, and after that moment, their thoughts ceased.
“Huh…?!” Then next time Kazuki opened his eyes, it looked like it was the middle of the night.
A voice cut through the quiet darkness. “Nnnn…. Unnnnghhh.” Keppi—looking no different than a mother—pushed out something large from the entrance to his buttocks as if giving birth. “Nnnngh… aahhnn…!”
“Uwaaah! A kappa?!”
Keppi expelled a kappa wrapped in amniotic fluid from his buttocks.
“Kuji turned into a kappa!” That kappa was definitely Tooi. He was sure of it.
“You’re a kappa, too!” Kappa Tooi pointed out that Kazuki had also turned into a kappa just the same as he had.
“I’m a prince and you called me a frog, so therefore I lost my temper and pulled out your shirikodama, kero.”
“This is… this is terrible!!” lamented Kazuki.
Somehow, Kazuki and Tooi had both ended up as kappas.
“This is the Field of Desire, kero.” explained Kepp. “It’s a different realm inside of this world. Humans can’t see this realm or its kappa inhabitants, kero.”
It was as if the everyday Kappabashi Street had sunk beneath the water. The air was cold and gloomy. It felt weighty with loneliness as the streetlights burned red in the dark.
“In other words, you’re both alive and dead in this place, kero.”
It was like no story these two freshly made kappa had ever heard before.
“Wait! My box…!” It was a familiar voice, and it wasn’t long before Enta ran over. Kappa Kazuki automatically approached him.
“Enta! It’s me!”
However, Enta didn’t respond at all.
“Allow me, kero. Here… pew!” Keppi suddenly produced a blowdart, firing right toward Enta’s eyes.
“Huh?!” There was then a big red “ア” mark right on Enta’s forehead.
“Whoa! That’s a huge frog!” said Enta.
“I’m not a frooooggg!”
In the Field of Desire, Enta screamed.
A police box was situated south of Kappabashi Street where two young, good-looking men were gathering information from someone. Being an SNS-based society resulted in both good and malicious deeds being easily exposed. However, due to Asakusa’s peacefulness, the principle issues that cropped up were looking for cats or lost objects
At least, that’s how things appeared to be.
“Next up in the news, dish☆ There’s an incident where boxes are flying off one after another! Pow!”
The two police officers wore nonchalant expressions as they ignored the mysterious news on the television.
“Huh…?!” When Enta opened his eyes, he was a kappa like the other two.
“Oh, dear. I’ve gone and pulled out another shirikodama, kero…”
Kappa Enta was unable to grasp the situation at all, and so Kazuki asked, “What’s a shirikodama?”
“A shirikodama,” began Keppi, “is an organ in the anus that stores human desire energy.”
“Change me back right now!” Kappa Tooi was furious and wasn’t sure if he could deal with them much longer.
At that moment, a black shadow crept up behind Kappa Kazuki and snatched away his box before disappearing.
“Ah! My box!”
When he looked up, he saw black, squishy-looking creatures flying around in the sky, all of them holding boxes. There were red lamps on their heads, similar to that of a school of deepsea fish.
“That is a Kappa Zombie underling, kero. Humans can’t see them, either, kero.”
“My box is flying up there, too!”
While Kappa Enta lay on the ground in confusion, Kappa Tooi was secretly feeling impatient. Amongst the kappa underlings was a box that seemed important to Tooi. “If anyone opens that box, I’m screwed…”
“I want to get my box back!”
Keppi seemed critical of how emotional Kappa Kazuki had gotten and announced, “Please come with me, kero.”
“From now on, I’ll have you fight against the Kappa Zombies. They will try to satisfy the desire they had while they were still attached to life, kero.”
The red bridge—which should have been familiar to them—was surrounded by the illuminating glow of blue rings. The idly wandering underlings up in the sky created an unsettling atmosphere. At the center of the bridge was an incredibly distinctive presence. It was something in the shape of a human man with a huge box affixed onto its head. The box had eyeballs and a mouth which chanted the same words over and over again.
“Boxes… Boxes… I want boxes…!”
Based on what Keppi said, this was probably the Kappa Zombie and its desire was somehow related to boxes. That must have definitely been the case because the countless boxes collected by the underlings were piling up on the bridge.
But more importantly than that was that they wanted to know how to defeat the monster. As for Kappa Kazuki, he certainly couldn’t afford to give up. Kappa Tooi and Kappa Enta apparently felt the same.
“If you remove the shirikodama from its anus, the Kappa Zombie will dissipate, kero.”
The only choice that three kappas had was to pull out the shirikodama of the Kappa Zombie.
“Sing! Sing the song!”
Their bodies moved without reason the moment they heard Keppi’s voice.
Kappa Kazuki and the other two suddenly burst into a mysterious song. Even though they had never heard it before, it was a sharp, nostalgic song. As they sang, the three of them were able to freely utilize their Kappa-like power.
On Keppi’s cue, the three kappas formed a row and plunged deep into the Kappa Zombie’s anus.
“Gyaaaaaaah…!” The shriek of the Kappa Zombie’s soul echoed all throughout Azumabashi.
After they had thrust themselves inside the Kappa Zombie’s anus, all Kappa Kazuki could see was darkness all around him. As he looked harder, he saw something sphere-like in the distance flying away. It had the word “butt” written on it. Without a doubt, this was definitely the shirikodama.
“I’ve got it!” Once Kappa Kazuki had grabbed the shirikodama, Kappa Tooi and Kappa Enta seized his leg, bracing themselves on the rim of the Kappa Zombie’s anus.
“Dammit! It won’t come out!”
The Kappa Zombie desperately tightened its sphincter so that the shirikodama couldn’t be removed.
“Stop it! Don’t steal my desires away from me!”
The mysterious liquid gushing from the Kappa Zombie’s anus, coupled with the lower half of a kappa sticking out, was quite a spectacle to behold to say the very least.
But Kappa Kazuki refused to give up. “I’m definitely going to pull out this shirikodama…! For the sake of connecting with that child!”
After a lot of tugging, the three of them were finally able to rip out the shirikodama from the tightened anal sphincter.
“We swiped it!” they shouted together.
Kappa Kazuki’s hands were freezing cold and moist where he had made contact with the shirikodama.
“So this is a shirikodama…”
At that moment, Kappa Kazuki’s consciousness was stolen away by the shirikodama. Or rather, it only felt like his consciousness had been stolen away.
There was an unfamiliar man in front of Kazuki. He wasn’t able to see his face very well, but after a moment, the man began to take off his clothes. It wasn’t long before the man was stark naked and then took a nearby box into his hands. The man held the box upside down and slowly lowered it onto his head. There was no hesitation. Kazuki could feel an inexplicable satisfaction spread throughout him. Abruptly, the image faded away from his brain.
“I get it. He liked to steal boxes and wear them on his head while naked…!”
Suddenly, the Kappa Zombie’s shirikodama began to melt.
Keppi’s voice echoed from somewhere. “The shirikodama will melt if it touches the open air, kero! You need to quickly transfer it over to me, kero!”
Again, Keppi’s voice resounded in the minds of all three kappas who didn’t have any idea what to do with the shirikodama.
“The sarazanmai, kero.”
The realization hit them suddenly and all three of them cried out:
“Sarazanmai!” they shouted in unison.
Kappa Kazuki took the shirikodama within his own body and began to glow brightly. In that moment, the consciousness of the three boys came together like melted chocolate.
They didn’t know if they were experiencing reality or a dream. It was a strange sensation as if they were becoming one with the universe. Were they Kazuki Yasaka? Tooi Kuji? Enta Jinnai? The minds of the three boys united as one. It was as if the only thing separating them from joining the burning primordial soup was a precariously thin thin membrane.
The heat of everything made them want to scream as an overwhelming energy swept over them and the pleasant sensation felt like being splashed with crystal clear water. It was like spending the night with desire building up and finally being able to satiate that desire in the morning. It was if they were being touched by desire for the first time, then being corrupted by it. There was no doubt about it: it felt good.
Even though they couldn’t bring themselves to say it, it felt so good that they felt guilty about it. Now that they knew this world existed, they wouldn’t be able to go back. From within the shirikodama that they had pulled out from the Kappa Zombie, the deepest desires that Kazuki and the others kept locked away were very easily dragged out into the open.
Their consciousness jumped to the incident in Asakusa that morning and the three of them relieved it with vivid detail. The sensation of watching the scene play out as if on a screen didn’t feel all that surprising, but it was something the three of them didn’t quite understand. Everything in this world has two sides to it.
Their vicarious experience began with a scene from Kazuki’s school. After confirming Sara Azuma’s lucky fortune-telling, Kazuki walked toward the children’s park with a box in his arms. His goal was the multi-purpose bathroom in the center of the small park. There was no hesitation in the way he slipped into one of the barrier-free stalls, as if this were an everyday occurrence for him.
“This is me… from this morning?”
Kazuki was suddenly taken aback at witnessing himself and he felt the sensation of breaking out into a cold sweat somewhere along the thin barrier between his body and everything else.
“Stop! Don’t look…!” Despite his efforts, his voice barely even left his lips and the scene mercilessly continued to play out.
In one of the private toilet stalls, Kazuki began to remove his uniform. From the box, he withdrew the articles of clothing and put them on one by one. Next, he put on a pair of red shoes. Then came a wig with long, shiny black hair. After he carefully brushed out the hair, he puckered his lips and applied pink lipstick to them. Finally, he put on a headdress that gave the impression of a dish. When Kazuki stood in front of the mirror, what reflected back was someone who looked eerily similar to the local idol Sara Azuma.
Kazuki’s desires coiled around the shirikodama and then flowed into Tooi.
Sara Kazuki, who was looking for today’s lucky selfie item, just happened to be there at the exact moment when Tooi had been breaking into the car earlier. The exchange from that time played out again. Unlike Tooi, whose goal had been to break into the car, Sara Kazuki’s goal appeared to be find a pile of boxes in the parking lot.
“You were the girl from before!” Tooi shouted, but his voice was muted as Kazuki’s had been.
As the scene changed, the reality of what was playing hit Enta’s consciousness.
Sara Kazuki broke free of Tooi and returned to the multi-purpose bathroom. He changed back into his school uniform, emerging from the stall later with an innocent expression on his face and carrying the box from before. He headed straight to the Kappa Plaza and found the selfie he had taken earlier on his phone, then sent it to that child.
“Good morning! Today’s lucky selfie mission is complete, dish☆”
The child quickly replied. “Thank you! Every day is happy thanks to you, dish☆”
“Kazuki was sending an SNS message dressed up as Sara Azuma girl…!” Enta’s voice was silent, but even so it melded together with the sensations the other two boys were feeling.
Kazuki’s scream, although straight from his heart, was no exception to the rule. “My secret that I couldn’t tell anyone… it’s been exposed…!”
Thus, the shirikodama from the Kappa Zombie was transferred to Keppi, who swallowed it in one gulp.
“Desire consumed,” said Keppi.
“My body… it’s human again! And my box is back!”
Enta’s cheer of joy resounded throughout the Kappa Plaza. Tooi, looking sour, was holding a box of his own in his arms.
Now that the matter was resolved and they had their boxes back—and now that their grand, dream-like experience was over—things felt real again.
“What was that we saw when we transferred the shirikodama…?”
Keppi looked full and satisfied as he was splayed out on top of the pedestal. He offered an explanation. “That was sarazanmai, the connection between the body and mind, kero. During the sarazanmai, all of those secrets you want to keep locked away are exposed, kero.”
“So then, that was Kazuki’s secret…?” Enta looked back over his shoulder.
At the entry to the plaza, Kazuki was crouched down, hovering over the spilled articles of clothing from his box. “That’s right,” he cried out. “I’m a weirdo who dresses up in Sara Azuma’s clothes and takes selfies!”
Enta thought no differently of Kazuki and so he opened his mouth to tell him so. “So what? It was a little surprising, but nothing about what I saw is going to change our relationship.” He turned toward Tooi, who let out a heavy, disgruntled groan.
“Are you serious?” asked Tooi. “He’s dressing up as a girl and pretending to be an idol.”
“The two of us have a deep connection that can’t be broken! Meanwhile, you’re a criminal!”
“There’s no reasoning with you,” said Tooi.
“What’d you say…?!” Just then, Enta grabbed Tooi by the front of his shirt.
“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!!” The sound of Kazuki’s voice caused the other two boys to freeze.
Kazuki grabbed the scattered cross-dressing attire one by one and stuffed each piece back into the box. As he did so, he cried out, “You can say whatever you want! I don’t care what anyone thinks and I don’t need anyone to understand it! This is my connection—between me and that child—and I’ll do anything for the sake of that connection, even if it means deceiving people!”
The plaza fell absolutely silent except for the water dripping from Keppi. “Let’s cool down, kero. Here. I’ll give you this as thanks for your hard work today, kero.” As he spoke, the shell on his back began to glow with a divine light. The whole surface of the small plaza was enveloped in the sparkling light.
Smoke billowed out as the shell on Keppi’s back slowly opened, revealing something golden in the shape of a dish.
“This Dish of Hope can fulfill any desire, kero. It’s very valuable and can only be produced by me—Keppi—the immediate heir to the Kappa Kingdom, kero.”
In shock, Enta took the Dish of Hope in his hand. “So something like a year’s supply of kappa sushi rolls? They’re Kazuki’s favorite kind!”
The Dish of Hope glowed in Enta’s hand and the letters for “A year’s supply of kappa sushi rolls” appeared. In the next instant, an enormous kappa sushi roll fell from the sky and hit the ground of the Kappa Plaza.
As the giant kappa sushi roll filled the square, Keppi noted, “Your wish has been granted, kero.”
The golden dish shattered and disappeared without a trace.
“Wait a sec! It’s gone now…!” Enta desperately patted around for it, but it was too late. He hung his head and then stood by Tooi, who seemed flabbergasted over the unexpected incident.
“So it wasn’t a lie,” said Tooi.
“From now on, I’ll turn you into kappa and have you remove the Kappa Zombies’ shirikodama, kero. So if you have any wishes you want granted…”
Kazuki was silent through Keppi’s explanation, but gave a small reaction upon hearing those last few words, and he thought…
This was a world where there are connections of blood, connections within the city and connections in people’s thoughts. But I know better than anyone how easily those connections could disappear. That’s why I have to do anything to protect this connection.
The night air by Azumabashi was silent that it was hard to believe that there had been a Kappa Zombie there not too long ago. The bridge was reflected on the surface of the water, the light reflecting and shimmering off the water’s surface. It was at the riverside where Kazuki’s box had spilled out its contents.
Kazuki clasped his smart phone with its Sara keychain in his hand.
“Goodnight, Sara-chan,” came the text response from that child.
Kazuki’s finger felt inexplicably heavy as he tapped out a response on the screen.
“Goodnight, dish☆” After sending that text message, Kazuki took his box and went home.
After the long day Kazuki and the others had, they went to sleep. It was around this time where there was a small burst of activity from the Kawauso Police Box located south of Kappabashi Street in Asakusa.
Inside, there was a man pleading his innocence to two police officers. “I didn’t do it, meow! This is an unfair arrest!”
On top of the office desk were a bunch of neighborhood cats who were crying out, mew mew. Beside them was a smartphone that was thought to belong to the man. As the fair-skinned police officer gazed sharply at the man, the door to the police box closed on its own. The floor beneath where the man sat changed and a deep red heart mark appeared on its surface.
“Those without a beginning, without an end and without connections…” signaled the bespectacled police officer in a low voice.
“We’ll open a door for you,” said the flashy-looking police officer. His hair was blond and his skin deep brown. Then he abruptly pointed the muzzle of a gun at the man.
Without any hesitation, he pulled the trigger.
“Is it desire…?”
There was a sound like an engine coming from somewhere, mingled in with the sound of a beating drum that grew progressively louder. Something terrible was about to happen, and the man was unable to move his body.
“Desire… extraction!” the two police officers shouted, and then the man’s body was no more. The only thing left of him was his smartphone as it clattered on top of the desk, its screen pitch black save for a deep read heart mark that made a pulsing noise.
Chapter 2: Cats
“From now on, I’ll turn you into kappa and have you remove the Kappa Zombies’ shirikodama, kero. So if you have any wishes you want granted…”
As he was waking up, he could hear the voice playing in his head. In Kazuki’s line of sight was a familiar ceiling. He sat up, only to bump his head since he’d been sleeping on the top bunk. Beside the bunk bed was a large window with red and white border print curtains hung up. Brilliant light streamed through the gap, indicating that the weather would be good today.
“A dish of hope that grants wishes…”
He only dimly remembered last night’s events. Had it been a nightmare in the end?
“Kazu-chan!” An energetic voice called out from beneath the top bunk, and Kazuki’s body began to wake up. A little boy was sitting on the bed and looking upwards. It was Haruka, Kazuki’s little brother.
“Hey, hey! Do you think it’s okay to give Nyantarou ‘sakanazanmai’ for his meal today? We gave him ‘nikuzanmai’ yesterday, right?”
Without answering, Kazuki descended the ladder and rested his hand on the sliding door. Haruka didn’t seem to mind and instead began to tap out a message on his smartphone.
“Um, Sara-chan, good morning☆ Sara-chan. do you like cats? I think they’re cool!”
There were few places in the house where Kazuki would be undisturbed. He was sitting on the toilet seat with his smartphone in his hand.
“Sara-chan, good morning☆ Sara-chan, do you like cats?” The top of the screen indicated that the message had just arrived.
Kazuki replied to it immediately. “Good morning☆ Sara loves cats, dish☆” He pressed the send button and gave a single sigh. The name ‘Harukappa’ was displayed at the top of the screen. It was Haruka’s account name.
Even more important than Kazuki’s three rules was to connect with Haruka under the guise of Sara Azuma. He figured he would get his hands on a Dish of Hope for Haruka’s sake.
“Good morning☆ You’ll be even happier with lucky selfies! It’s Azuma Sara, dish☆” Sara’s voice sounded sleepy as it came from the TV in the living room.
“Good morning☆ It’s Harukappa, dish☆” Haruka fluttered his hands about in response to the television.
“Haruka,” chided his mother who sat opposite of him. “Don’t just watch Sara-chan. You have to eat.”
His father, who sat beside Haruka, simply asked, “Do they call you Harukappa in your elementary school?”
“Eheh…. It’s a secret!”
From the other side of the door, Kazuki was listening to his family converse the way they always did. He put on his school uniform, took the box in his arms and then left the room. From his and Haruka’s bedroom, he avoided the living room on his way out. Those kinds of trivial things made his heart feel weighty. Although he’d tried to leave without making a sound, Haruka still saw him.
“Good morning, Kazu-chan. Why don’t you have some food?”
This exchanged happened every day. The four of them would be eating breakfast together and Kazuki’s answer would never change.
“Sorry, I’ve gotta go.”
“Okay… well, take care…!”
“Wait, wait! I’m going, too!” Haruka bolted down his breakfast as Kazuki waited for him by the entryway. This was their daily routine.
The Sumida River flowed just past where Kazuki and Haruka’s lived in their apartment. The nearby region was Sumida Park, which was enticing to tourists who would take their beloved dogs on strolls or go running, and so it was crowded with people.
Haruka sat on the riverbank of the promenade and fed an orange, rotund tabby cat some sakanazanmai treats. He was one of the local neighborhood cats.
“Hey, hey, Kazu-chan, don’t you think Nyantarou’s getting a little fat? When he met him, he was more slim, wasn’t he?”
Kazuki gave a half-hearted answer, caught up in watching the lucky selfie fortune telling on his smartphone. “He hasn’t changed.”
Haruka laughed at a memory that came to mind. “Eheh, but I was happy when you introduced me to Nyantarou. For the longest time, I’d always wanted a cat—and then you made my wish come true, Kazu-chan!”
“Let’s see, what will today’s lucky selfie item be~?”
On the screen of Kazuki’s smartphone, Sara drew from the roulette. “Cats! Cats, dish☆ Sara loves cats☆”
Kazuki watched Sara as she held a plate with the word “cat” written on it, then placed a hand over his heart.
“What a relief. The real one likes cats, too…”
“Oh! It’s Sara-chan,” said Kazuki. “Kazu-chan, do you like Sara-chan, too?”
“No, not really.”
Despite this, both Kazuki’s smartphone and the keychain attached were products of Asakusa Sara TV. He didn’t want to blow his cover, so he denied it.
“I really like Sara-chan! Oh, that’s right! I have a great secret that I wanna tell you!”
“No, that’s all right…”
Even though Kazuki had turned him down, Haruka went on and told him anyway. “I’m friends with Sara-chan. We talk to each other every day through messages. Look!”
With a huge smile on his face, Haruka showed the messenger app on his phone to Kazuki who did everything possible to ensure he remained calm and collected.
“Are you sure you’re not being tricked?” asked Kazuki.
Haruka was already in his fourth year of elementary school. Would Kazuki’s cross-dressing in women’s clothing be flawless, or would Haruka be suspicious? To find out, Kazuki purposefully hinted toward the person in those selfies being a fake.
“No way! This is the real Sara-chan. Look! There’s this one, this one and this one, too!”
Haruka pouted as he swiped the screen of the smartphone. There was a selfie of Sara with a squid… a selfie of Sara with a vase… and a selfie of Sara with bales of rice.
Me… me… me! All of these selfies are of me cross-dressing as her!
“Heheh. Isn’t it amazing?”
Haruka looked ecstatic and didn’t have a hint of doubt or suspicion, which made Kazuki feel a small burst of triumph.
In a certain room of a certain apartment, the sound of incessant splashing and the rushing water of the shower could be heard coming from the dimly lit bathroom. It sounded as though some great creature was struggling in the bath, groaning in-between splashes. There were three men in the narrow bathroom. One of them had a cloth covering his face and was being submerged in the water.
“Where’d you get wind of this route?” asked a man in a dark gray suit, his voice dull as he leaned against the wall.
“I don’t… know anything… bwuh!”
The man in the bathtub who had been given a chance to speak was immediately pushed into the water again by his head. The boy who pushed him under was a boy wearing a hooded black sweater—Tooi.
“Tch.” Even though the man’s hands and feet were bound, it still took a strong back to keep the adult man under control. Tooi was merciless in the way he kept the man submerged. The man slipped perfectly under the water, his struggling movements slowing down because of it.
The third man in the room spoke. “Do you think we like doing things like this? If you won’t dish the dirt, then…”
The man finally broke free from Tooi’s hand, his head breaking through the water’s surface. When he did, he saw the man in the suit retrieve what looked like a silver, glinting knife from his back.
“…I’ll have to shove this through you,” said the suited man. He thrust it into him, the drenched man tasting only the cold metal on his tongue.
In the early morning at the Sumida River water bus stop, two black shadows were lined up. One was Tooi and the other was the man in the suit. The man was sucking on a lollipop, which didn’t quite suit his appearance.
“Be more careful, dammit. I can’t always bail you out like that.” He was talking about what had just happened in the bathroom and the trouble that Tooi’s blunder had caused.
“It won’t happen again. So please, take me with you,” Tooi implored, looking up at the man. But frustration showed in the man’s features.
“We already talked about this. You’d get in the way.”
Tooi had expected that answer, but it was hard to swallow when it was coupled with that expression.
“We both know it. But if the next job works out, we’ll get our hands on a lot of money. If we’re found out before then, it’s all over.”
“If it’s the money, I can get some!”
For a moment, the man seemed moved by Tooi’s words.
“Hah. That’s good. When I screw up, I’ll be relying on you.” He wouldn’t – this man was treating Tooi like a child. He moved his hand out of reach. The water bus glided over in front of the two of them.
“Well, this is goodbye, Tooi. Don’t be too reckless, got it?” The man patted Tooi’s head with the palm of his large hand.
Tooi wasn’t a kid anymore, but when his brother talked like that and patted him with his hand, he felt like one.
“You, too, brother.”
Chikai – Tooi’s older brother by several years – boarded the water bus.
When they met again, would their next job be successful? There was promise in a distant future, but right now there was no guarantee of it. He was sorry to keep him waiting. Tooi would get his hands on a Dish of Hope for his brother’s sake.
“Now for the next news story, dish☆ The body of a man was found in the Sumida River. River~☆” An elderly woman wearing a flashy bandana rhythmically clapped her hands as Azuma Sara delivered the serious news in a gentle tone over the TV.
Her grandson Enta pulled out the box he had gone through so much hardship to retrieve last night, except…
“What the hell…?!” he cried out reflexively and swiftly moved away from the box. “It’s not my box… Wait, is this Kuji’s…?”
“Hie!! Sis, don’t scare me like that!” Enta immediately hid the box behind his back as Otone suspiciously stared at him.
“What?” she exclaimed. “Oh, not again!”
“That’s not what happened! There was a mistake with mine and Kuji’s package….”
“Oh? Are the two of you already getting along?”
“No way! That guy… Kuji’s dangerous.” Even more than that, there’s no way he could let that guy near Kazuki. The box behind Enta’s back contained a glinting, lead-colored handgun.
Later that day, after school. Enta absently completed his schoolwork and, claiming a stomachache, he skipped his club activities and stood in front of the school gates. Truthfully, he had wanted to discuss the gun with Kazuki earlier, but because Tooi’s seat was right next to Kazuki’s, every time he looked over his shoulder Enta could see Tooi there. That’s why Enta’s plan was to catch Kazuki on his way home from school.
“It’s not like I’m nervous around Kuji or anything like that… it’s just inconvenient to talk to him when his desk is right next to Kazuki’s. After what happened last night, I was right to not like him from the very start….” While Enta was distressing over this, Kazuki passed by him carrying a box under his arms.
“Kazuki! Wait!” In a panic, Enta chased after Kazuki, stopping in front of him.
“So, well, there’s something I need to talk to you about…”
“Sorry, I’m in a hurry. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Huh? W-Wait!” Before Enta could get over his shock, Kazuki had already walked away. “What?! Even though we’re the Golden Pair?!”
Someone’s voice called out from behind Enta, and from the school gates came Tooi who approached from the opposite direction. Of course. Enta didn’t need to look to know it was him.
Hanayashiki—one of the tourist attractions in Asakusa—was Japan’s oldest amusement park. The theme park grounds were narrow and, despite this, the area was jam packed with all kinds of different attractions. It was a theme park that ended up looking like a multi-tiered lunch box.
It housed Japan’s number one roller coaster as its special feature. It was the tallest, fastest and most intense roller coaster in the entire country, which was something to be proud of. It might feel that if you were to take one wrong step that you might crash into the partition separating the attractions from the walls, but if you think deeply about it, it really is one of the most thrilling places in Japan.
Tooi was walking close to the wall of Hanayashiki. He could hear the sound of children laughing joyfully on the other side of the wall, inside the theme park. The sound of it changed along with the atmosphere as he walked alone. Tooi was had the hood of his black sweater up with its zipped pulled up completely as he weaved through the various shops and businesses, finally coming to a stop in front of one building in particular. He took a step into the dimly lit elevator hall and used his right index finger to push the second button. The elevator doors opened slowly and Tooi squeezed in through the gap, immediately pushing the second button again.
“If you do this now, you won’t be able to take advantage of it later.”
It was something mysterious his older brother said a very long time ago. Tooi’s body was moving of its own accord now. It was through small habits that he and his older brother were connected. He took the elevator down, then walked with silent footsteps to a room just at the end of the hall. When he quietly opened the door, a penetrating purple light met his eyes. Inside were planters arranged in neat rows, overgrown with five leafed plants. A ventilator was aimed at the plants that were hung upside down on the walls. On top of the desk were leaves that had been neatly crushed.
First, Tooi put on one of the many available masks and a pair of thin gloves as he hunkered down to get to work. Inside of this secret was also dried cannabis, stuffed into plastic baggies. To camouflage them even further, those baggies were then packed into packages of commercial cat food. This was Tooi’s biggest source of income.
He took on the customers his brother sent his way, who then became regulars. He was mindful not to sell to the same customer twice in a month. He never saw the customers directly. He was very careful about the smell. Overall, Tooi did his work meticulously. Even so, this route had been sniffed out which had resulted in causing his older brother a lot of trouble.
Because Tooi had been the one at fault, he was in a rush to fix his mistake. The phone he used for work was vibrating, signaling a client who needed a favor.
“Oh, there’s no doubt about it,” said Kuji. “These herbs are fresh. Where are you?”
This was one small step toward being able to live with his brother again. At least, that’s what Tooi thought.
The sound of something heavy falling onto the desk shocked Tooi.
When the call had finished, Tooi had turned away for just a moment, and now there was a fat tabby cat that hadn’t been there before. It was holding a package of Sakanazanmai in its mouth.
…A cat? For a moment, Tooi and the cat started each other. It was the car who moved first.
He could have never guessed from the cat’s figure how quick it would be. The cat swiftly darted out through the vinyl weather strips and squeezed out through the gap in the window, heading outside. Of course, it carried out the fresh herb with it in its mouth.
“Hey! Get back here!” Tooi shouted loudly. As he listened to see if someone was approaching, Tooi left the room.
“That’s weird. I can’t find a single cat…”
Today, just like any other day, Kazuki was on searching for the lucky selfie item of the day as he cross-dressed as Sara Azuma.
Usually, he was able to complete his missions before he went to school, but that wasn’t the case today.
“I thought it would be an easy one with the lucky selfie item being a cat—whoa—“
Something hit his back hard and he pitched forward. “That hurt…!”
It was the tabby cat that hit him. “Nyantarou?! You surprised me! Well, I guess I can take it with you…” As Sara Kazuki approached Nyantarou to take a selfie, the cat seemed to be desperately afraid of something.
“Hey, what are you doing with those sakanazanmai treats…?”
“I found you, you damn fat cat!”
“Kuji?” When Kazuki turned to look at him, the furious expression on Kuji’s face coupled with the way he was holding a glinting weapon at the ready gave Kazuki a sense of déjà vu. Tooi’s eyes grew dark when he saw Sara Kazuki, and he brandished his weapon at Nyantarou.
“Give it back! Or I’ll shove this through you!”
Confused, Sara Kazuki stepped in the space between them. “Stop! This cat is precious to me and Haruka!”
While the two of them argued, Nyantarou sniffed and scratched at what had spilled out of the sakarazanmai treat bag.
“Get out of my way! Wh—”
“Mreonom.” And with that, Nyantaro swallowed the small packet of Tooi’s very, very important herbs.
“Don’t screw with me, cat! I’ll slice your belly clean open!”
Tooi wildly swung his improvised weapon at Nyantarou as Sara Kazuki held him back.
“Run away, Nyantarou!” Sara Kazuki cried out.
“He’s running away?!”
And thus rose the curtain on Asakusa’s Great Criminal Investigation.
“Dammit, Kazuki. What am I supposed to do about this by myself…?” Around the same time, Enta was walking with Tooi’s box in his arms after being rejected by Kazuki. “I guess the police would normally handle something like this…”
He was certain that there was a police box near the entrance of Kappabashi. Maybe he should rush it on over there…? While Enta was thinking about this, something grabbed his leg.
“Uwah!” It dragged him into Kappa Plaza. Keppi was there on the pedestal looking completely dried out, his arm extended to Enta’s leg.
“I’m so thirsty…. Help me, kero….”
“What the heck, Keppi?! Now’s not exactly the best time!”
“Mreow…” Nyantarou cried out from the symbol of Hanayashiki, the Bee Tower.
“Stop darting away like that and get down here!” Tooi was on the other side of the wall, brandishing his weaponized ruler at Nyantarou, but Sara Kazuki stopped him before he could reach him.
“Nyantarou, run away!”
“Get the hell out of my way!”
“I’m gonna be in your way”
At that moment, Nyantarou disappeared through a gap in the wall and into the other side of the park. Tooi headed for the entryway to the other side while Sara Kazuki clung to him from behind.
“Stop following me!”
“I’m following you!!
Both of them were equally persistent, but their feet stopped in front of the entryway.
“Today, entrance is restricted to bee-ninja♡couples in love!”
Tooi and Sara Kazuki stood in silence as they looked up at the huge sign above them. It read ‘No admission except for couples♡’ It looked like in anticipation for an increase of customers during the week, Hanayashiki was holding some kind of unique event.
“…Wanna do this tomorrow?”
“Sounds good to me….”
As they turned their back to the entrance, someone grabbed their hands.
“Huh?” they both said together.
“It looks like we have a lovey-dovey couple right here!”
By the time they’d noticed, it was already too late. Full of commercial spirit, the head ninja dragged them against their will inside.
“That was delicious, kero~♡ Absolutely divine, kero~♡”
After Enta had bought cucumber flavored water for him, Keppi took no hesitation in pouring it over his head. As he did so, his body returned to its normally plump self again.
“Yeah, yeah, ‘what a relief, kero.’ Anyway, I wonder what I’m going to do about Kazuki reading and ignoring my texts…”
“Burrrp! There’s no time to be so carefree, kero! Even now, their evil influence is spreading all over the city, kero!”
“Huh? Evil influence?”
Enta’s smartphone rang just then. “Kazuki?! Oh, it’s just my sister….” Otone had sent him a photo of flowers that her boyfriend had given her. Why would his sister send him something like this when he’s was not only her student, but also her little brother?
“How can she go on a date right now? Doesn’t she have any sympathy?”
“Honestly, kero. Their mission is to kill Kappa Zombies and so they really ought to have a little a little sense of urgency, kero.”
“Huh? Is that…” While Keppi was speaking, Enta stared at the image on his smartphone again. His sister’s boyfriend was hugging her from behind, their smiling faces looking like the protagonist from some shoujo manga. Behind them, there was another couple riding a children’s attraction.
“That’s… Kuji and Kazuki?!”
Today, Hanayashiki was holding the Lovey-Dovey Bee Ninja Festival. Lovey-dovey was a term for two people in love. The ninja, of course, was a type of Japanese mercenary. But what about bees? Bees are “bees.” How many people knew that the sign affixed to the Bee Tower was that of a male honeybee? Long ago, the mascot for Hanayashiki wasn’t a panda car, but rather a honeybee named “Bee-chan.”
Saara Kazuki looked confused as he wandered around inside the park. He was wearing a black ninja costume with a honeybee’s abdomen over his Sara Azuma clothes as well as a headband. There were wings on the back of the costume and the bee abdomen was striped yellow and black with a sharp stinger attached.
“Those dressed up for the Bee-Ninja event must never let go of the other’s hand!” In other words, it was a cosplay event of honeybee ninja. Sara Kazuki watched Tooi’s back as he walked in front of him, taking in the vastness of everything around them. He felt so embarrassed by this half-baked plan right now.
Determined to follow Nyantarou through the entryway, Tooi wore a fierce expression despite his reluctance as he pursued the cat. Because he’d argued with the ninja by the entrance, it felt like he was playing some kind of sick punishment game with the way his honeybee cosplay was over his ever-present black hooded sweater.
“There! That damn fat cat!”
Sara Kazuki was surprised at how suddenly Tooi began to run. How many times has it been by now? He hoped that Tooi would learn his lesson by Nyantarou slipping through his fingers.
“You there! The lovey-dovey couple! Holding hands is a sign of being connected through love! You must never let go of your hands!” One of the ninja In charge blew a whistle hard as a warning. After he caught up with Tooi, he grabbed his hand firmly and put on a smile.
“Sorry for letting go, dish☆ Darling♡”
“No! Let go of me!”
“…Couples who aren’t holding hands are kicked out.”
It was in this way that the (temporary) lovey-dovey couple chased the cat with their hands connected, dominating the various attractions at Hanayashiki as they did so. Thus, they found themselves in the skyship.
“Lovey-dovey couple, let me show you around!” A carefree voice of one of the ninja floated over to them. A boat that was decorated in hearts floated into Hanayashiki’s sky and swung. On top of the rail on the other side, Nyantarou was walking briskly.
“Nyantarou! Quick! Run away!”
“Damn you! Cut it out!”
“Nyantarou is the cat who connects me with Haruka!”
“Who’s Haruka? Your lover?”
“Haruka is my… precious little brother.”
It was important for him to trick his little brother by disguising as an idol. As soon as he said those words, Sara Kazuki turned away guiltily and pressed onward. Despite it all, he wanted to be able to laugh with Haruka. Without Nyantarou, that would have been impossible.
“I guess that I can give up on the cat,” said Tooi simply.
“In exchange, I want your Dish of Hope.”
“…I can’t do that!” Even if Nyantarou was safe, Kazuki wouldn’t be able to achieve his goals without the Dishes of Hope.
“Then you’re nothing but selfish!”
“Kuji, what did Nyantarou even do to you?!”
As the two boys bickered while still holding hands, Nyantarou disappeared.
There was a heavy mood hanging over the large conference room at the Asakusa police station, the officers were in the middle of a conference. The words “Asakusa’s Strange Criminal Investigation” were written on a poster above the door.
Inside the dimly lit room, the voice of the chief of police echoed out. “We’ve been able to identify the identity of the corpse that was discovered today. Moukichi Nekoyama, age 38. Unemployed. Half a year ago, he was a suspect in the “Asakuka Cat Shaving Incident,” when pet cats were abducted and had their fur forcibly shaved off, but he was released without indictment.”
On the screen, the slideshow of photographs flashed up one by one. They were photographs of cats that were evidence in the case half a year ago. All of those pet cats with their fur shaved off was an appalling sight. For someone to do such a cruel thing, they must have bore a grudge. The atmosphere in the conference room was weighty with the seriousness of the situation.
In the middle of the conference, two people abruptly stood up. It was the same two police officers as always.
“That was our doing!”
“That’s yesterday’s news!”
Yesterday night, during the incident at the police box where they worked.
“I didn’t do it, meow! This is an unfair arrest!”
“Those without a beginning, without an end and without connections…” The bespectacled police officer—Mabu Akutsu—gently held up a photograph. In it was Nekoyama, carrying a sack full of cats.
“We’ll open a door for you,” said the blond police officer—Reo Niiboshi—as he turned his gun to face Nekoyama.
“Is it desire?”
A huge Taiko drum appeared above Nekoyama’s head.
The next moment, Nekoyama’s form was sucked into the Taiko drum, disappearing without incident.
The sound of Taiko drums filled the room as the floor of the police box began to descend underground. It was the beginning of a secret ritual. The captured man was placed into a box, then carried off on a conveyor belt with numerous other boxes. The boxes were headed to the deepest depths in the huge building.
Along the way, the boxes were stamped with a heart mark, then gathered up into huge piles. From there, they were then carried off by a red crane.
“Don’t let go of your desires.”
“Squeeze out every last drop of desire.”
As Reo and Mabu performed a fluttering dance, they arrived at the deepest level of the building. In the dim space there, a Taiko drum was suspended, surrounded by rings resembling those of Saturn. Inside of that space, the captured man’s furry body began to undergo a metamorphosis.
Simultaneously, the Saturn-like rings emitted a light. Reo boldly took hold of the front of Mabu’s shirt, pulling at it so that it ripped open. Underneath was pale skin where a glowing, dark gray heart was beating fiercely, as if in response to him. Without hesitation, Reo’s dark brown fingertips reached inside of Mabu’s pale chest.
As usual, Mabu’s chest was quivering and, without spilling a single drop of blood, Reo wrapped his fingers around Mabu’s heart. At that moment, Mabu’s mechanical heart began to whir and emitted a glow. It was a sign that Reo and Mabu were connected, and Mabu’s eyes seemed as if they might overflow with tears at any moment.
Reo, without any concern for the ecstasy Mabu felt, gripped Mabu’s heart and vigorously ripped it out. The heart was crimson red in the darkness, like a mysterious flower that only the two of them could bring to full bloom.
High up on the Bee Tower’s sweet house attraction, Nyantarou reclined, a snot bubble expanding.
“He’s up there!”
Sara Kazuki was still holding hands with Tooi, his hand numb and his thoughts on the cat’s safety.
“Hey! You damn fat cat! Stay there so I can catch you!”
Sensing Tooi’s bloodlust, Nyantarou’s snot bubble popped and he leapt to his feet. “Mreowww?!” Nyantarou recklessly jumped off the roof of the sweet house, falling dozens of meters down to the ground.
Both of them thought what happened next would be tragic, but Nyantarou’s body abruptly stopped just before he hit the ground. As they wondered what happened, Nyantarou’s body twirled and rotated as it flew off toward Azumabashi Bridge. It was just like what happened to the boxes last night.
“It can’t be…”
“This is the work of a Kappa Zombie, kero!” called out Keppi’s voice from behind them.
“Kazuki! Are you safe?!”
When Tooi and Sara Kazuki turned their heads, they saw Enta dressed up as a Bee Ninja and Keppi as an Oiran. The two of them were holding hands.
A gust of wind blew Keppi’s clothes off of him, exposing Keppi who was standing on stilts with his pectoral muscles swelled out and makeup on his face. Sara Kazuki was left speechless but composed himself when he heard the ringtone of an incoming message. It was an SOS from Haruka.
‘Sara-chan, it’s terrible! Nyantarou is gone!’ read the message.
“Haruka is asking me for help!”
Tooi looked off to where Nyantarou had flown, his expression angry. “Without those herbs, I won’t get any money.”
“If the three of you turn into kappa and pull out the Kappa Zombie’s shirikodama, everything will turn out just fine kero.”
“No way,” Enta cried out. “Kuji! Don’t get any closer to Kazuki!”
Enta delivered his reasoning to Sara Kazuki, who was admittedly dressed up even stranger than usual. “Look at what this guy had on him! Is this really okay?” Without any hesitation, Enta presented a well-used silver Tokarev pistol. There was no doubt about it; it was Tooi’s pistol.
“You! Where did you—give it back!”
“It’s not something you can just take with you!”
“You think I don’t know that? Anyway, stay away from Kazuki!”
“Everyone…” said Sara Kazuki, finally speaking after being silent for so long. “Everyone has a secret they can’t tell anyone. I want to help Nyantarou, for Haruka. In order for me to that, I need Kuji!”
When Enta’s gaze met Sara Kazuki’s direct stare, he shut his mouth.
Sara Kazuki presented his butt and Keppi accepted it by crashing into it.
The rickshaw was running along Nakamise Street.
“Now, let’s have a nice and smooth connection with the sarazanmai, kero.”
“Another relay with the shirikodama?” complained Kappa Enta.
Meanwhile Kappa Tooi pressed a question of his own. “Our secrets aren’t going to leak out like before, are they?”
“Of course they will. It’s an unavoidable risk that’s part of the fight, kero.”
“…No matter what, I have to help Nyantarou!” said Kazuki.
“We swiped it!”
The targeted desires of this Kappa Zombie were “cats.” When Kappa Kazuki pulled out the shirikodama and looked into it, he saw that the man had desired a woman whose love for cats was greater than her love for him.
“I wanna be a cat. Cat jealousy….”
He had been able to make a cat suit from the fur of the cats he’d stolen. Kazuki was filled with a feeling of utter satisfaction when he saw Nekoyama’s dream of sleeping with his head in his girlfriend’s lap.
“I get it,” said Kazuki. “You wanted to become a cat, so you collected cat fur, right? You wanted to be loved by someone precious to you…”
“The cat’s out of the bag meow…!”
With that, Nekoyama Kappa Zombie exploded.
“Sarazanmai!” they shouted in unison.
This was the second time this done this, and now they swayed in the ocean of pleasure. Keppi’s bodiless voice called out.
The leak was from Kazuki again this time, who had pulled out the shirikodama. He had been prepared for it, but it was difficult to admit how nice it felt. A scene from the Yasaka flowed into the minds of the three boys. Kittens could be heard playing on the television in the living room. Haruka stared at the television, excited. Kazuki sat beside him, making an uninterested expression.
“Aren’t they great?” said Haruka. “I want to have a cat someday.”
The apartment complex where Kazuki lived banned animals.
“A cat, huh?”
While Haruka watched television, Kazuki came up with a plan.
The next scene was of a luxurious mansion with a huge front lawn. Kazuki stood in front of it where Nyantarou was, the cat dressed up in an ostentatious dress.
“Yasaka and the fat cat? What are you doing?” Tooi’s question was immediately answered.
Kazuki grabbed Nyantarou (formerly Elizabeth) while he had been basking in the sun in the garden near the house. Then he ran away at full speed, holding the cat in his arms.
A few days later, Kazuki approached Haruka who was sitting by the river’s edge.
“Look! This is Nyantarou, a neighborhood cat!”
“Wow! He’s so cute!”
The cat that Kazuki held in his arms had a notched ear, a sign of being a neighborhood cat. However, it was Kazuki who had notched Nyantarou’s ear himself.
“Kazuki… stole someone’s pet and turned it into a neighborhood cat?” Enta’s voice was muted, the shock he felt about Nyantarou unvoiced.
“That’s right. Because… I wanted to make Haruka happy!”
“Desire consumed,” said Keppi.
The Field of Desire dissipated. The two police officers—Reo and Mabu—used the elevator to move throughout the labyrinth in the basement.
“It looks like someone is getting in our way.” Nekoyama disappeared from the photograph of the scene of the crime that Mabu held.
Reo grumbled, his eyebrows raised. “We have to hurry. The future belongs only to those who can connect their desires. As the elevator ascended, it made an ominous noise.
Nyantarou had been rescued and was resting safe and sound on the pedestal in Kappa Plaza. With all the commotion, he hadn’t been able to do his business. Cats are naturally prone to constipation, and for a fat cat like Nyantarou, the odds were even greater.
In front of Nyanatarou, Kazuki and Enta accepted the Dish of Hope from Keppi, making the atmosphere rather delicate.
“You know… I know Haruka is important to you, but it’s crazy to steal a pet cat…. I actually feel really sorry for Ny—”
Enta felt a kick in the middle of his back and pitched forward. “What was that for?!”
The lead-colored muzzle of the gun was turned toward Enta. The owner of the gun was Tooi, who held a box and a plastic baggie.
“Take back what was taken from you. I’ll be taking these herbs back.” It seemed like the contents of that plastic baggie was the source of Nyantarou’s constipation.
“This is my…!”
Inside of the box was the miçanga that Enta had bought. In the middle of the chaos of last night, Enta and Tooi’s boxes had been switched.
“You should be grateful I didn’t throw it away,” said Tooi, then turned his gun on Kazuki. “Hand over the dish.”
Tooi’s response was quiet, as if he had predicted such an answer. “You and I aren’t very different. We’re people do what we have to in order to get what we want.”
Kazuki stayed silent, knowing that Tooi had hit the nail on the head.
“He’s going to use that dish for his little brother! He’s different from you!” said Enta, who came to Kazuki’s defense.
“I see, I see. I forgot to mention something, kero.” Keppi was standing on the stilts as he began telling his story. “Your wish won’t come true unless you have 5 of these silver dishes, kero.”
“What?! You should have said something earlier!”
Tooi lowered his gun and walked away, still angry with Enta. “I’m taking the next dish.”
Kazuki watched Tooi’s back as he walked away, a bitter expression on his face.
“I’m going to do this for Haruka’s sake….”
Sara Kazuki and Nyantarou sat side by side near the Sumida River. He uploaded the selfie he had taken with Nyantarou.
“Phew. Today’s mission is complete….”
So many things had happened today and Sara Kazuki’s body was already at its limit.
A ping sound went off as a message arrived from Haruka.
‘It’s Nyantarou! He’s safe! I knew that Sara-chan’s selfies would bring good luck!’
“What a relief,” he said with a yawn. When he saw Haruka’s message, he felt an intense wave of relief and sleepiness. Nyantarou was also feeling a little sleepy. The sound of the flowing river was lulling Sara Kazuki to sleep.
In the darkness near the glittering Sumida River, a black shadow fell over Sara Kazuki, the sound of wind and soft breathing in the air. Nyantarou woke up to the sign of someone approaching. “Mreow?” Nyantarou’s eyes were wide as he witnessed the incredible scene before him.
It was Enta, who kissed Sara Kazuki as he slept.
Episode 2 – ReoMabu heart removal translation
Reo audaciously ripped apart Mabu’s shirt. Underneath Mabu’s pale skin, his glistening dark gray heart quivered like it was responding.
Without wavering, dark brown fingers extended deeply into that pale chest. Trembling, like always Mabu’s heart was shaking. Without spilling a drop of blood, Reo held Mabu’s heart in his palm.
At that moment, Mabu’s mechanical heart emitted rotating light. This was a sign that Reo and Mabu had connected. While looking like they would overflow with tears at any moment, the pupils of Mabu’s eyes expanded.
Without paying any mind to Mabu’s feeling of something like ecstasy, Reo vigorously dragged out Mabu’s heart in his hand. Something only these two are able to make bloom, like a crimson flower blooming alluringly in the dark.
Chapter 3 – Kisu
Posted by an anon on 4chan.
It was a delightfully sunny Sunday morning.
And in the living room of the Jinnai household, Enta’s grandmother was sipping away at her tea like she always did.
That was when Otone, dressed appropriately to go fishing, was cleaning her fishing rod as she called out to her little brother.
Asakusa Sara TV was playing on the TV like it always did.
She was about to announce the Lucky Selfie item of the day.
Enta stumbled into the room, still in his pajamas. He was stifling yawns because he couldn’t sleep a wink the previous night.
He tottered over to the table and stared down dejectedly at the meal that had been set out for him.
“Ugh, fish again?”
Just as he nimbly picked up the fish fillet with his chopsticks, Otone replied promptly,
“It’s kisu!” [a kind of fish, the entire chapter revolves around this pun, I’m not even going to try]
The fish fell from his chopsticks.
What?! How could his sister have known?!
Paying no mind to how flustered Enta was, Otone continued matter-of-factly,
“I mean, breakfast is salt-cured kisu?”
“Huh? O-Oh, that kind of kisu… I should have known.”
Enta pulled himself together and returned the fish to his plate.
“Was this another present from your boyfriend?”
“You bet it was. He’s a total catch––handsome and he knows his way around a fish! We’re going on another fishing date today too!”
As you can see, Otone was the kind of girl who lived for love. She’d even been one to say herself that she isn’t as energized when she’s not in love.
And she certainly had a point. Otone had a glow about her when she talked about her boyfriend. Enta was plenty accustomed to her gushing about the objects of her affections, but today the particular radiance with which she glowed was especially painful, and he didn’t want to hear a word of it.
“Well, I wish you’d decided to date a butcher instead of a fisherman…”
“Rude! That’s a yellow card!”
Enta ignored Otone, and just as he was taking a sip of his his bowl of miso soup, Sara drew that day’s Lucky Selfie Item.
“Mwah, mwah, mwah! It’s a kiss, dish!”
Enta spit out his miso soup.
“A kiss! Maybe that means my boyfriend will kiss me on my date today?! Or maybe I should do it?! Oh my gooood!”’
Sara called out to Enta as he choked and Otone as she gushed. [not literally]
“I wish you Good Sara-luck again today!”
At the base of the Azuma Bridge, on the east bank of the Sumida river there was a tunnel beneath a different bridge which had been walled off so it couldn’t be traversed anymore. The area didn’t see a lot of foot traffic since the tunnel was closed, and it was a decent size so Enta found it a perfect spot for independent practice.
His Sunday schedule was relatively fixed: after breakfast he’d come to the spot, pick up trash and start practicing with the ball he brought with him. Normally he could lose himself for hours in just dribbling the ball, but today his motivation was especially lacking.
He sighed and looked back at the bricked up tunnel.
The wall had a soccer goal drawn on it in white paint. He walked over to it and traced the lines with his fingers. It had been painted four years ago and the paint was worn and faded.
I’m in love with Kazuki. I can’t remember when it first started, but the feeling’s always in my mind now. I can’t accept that Kazuki’s just quit soccer…
When he was ten years old, Enta stood out a bit at school.
He had lived overseas for quite a while starting when he was quite young because of his parents’ work circumstances. His energetic sister had no issue making friends with anyone, even if she didn’t speak the language. But Enta on the other hand was painfully shy, and upset his parents by crying to go home to Japan.
Several years later, he took the opportunity presented by his sister wanting to return to Japan to get her teaching license to go back to Japan and live in Asakusa with his grandmother. But all that awaited him as a returnee from overseas was a cold welcome. But perhaps the young Enta was just making assumptions and his classmates were merely curious.
But the thought alone was enough to pierce the introverted Enta’s heart.
After school, he’d always sit agains the school building where he could see the school yard and gaze at his favorite soccer magazines. He could hear his classmates voices as they happily played soccer in the yard.
I want to play too!––But unable to actually voice that simple phrase, all Enta could do was hug his knees to his chest and watch. He had always been alone when he was overseas too, so he’d never had anyone to play soccer with in the first place.
But the person who reached out a hand to him, was Kazuki. And when he told him that he loved soccer, but he’d never played before, Kazuki simply replied with a smile that he was just a beginner himself.
“I just know the two of us will become a Golden Duo!”
The young Kazuki had a blue good luck band around his right leg.
It was the same one Enta’s favorite soccer player always wore.
Enta took Kazuki’s hand, and that’s how their days of practicing together started.
That’s about when they found the spot by the bridge.
The two of them painted a little soccer goal on the former tunnel entrance. And ever since then the spot had become Enta and Kazuki’s secret practice spot.
With the coaching of Otone, who was aiming to become a middle school PE teacher, the two of them eventually became acknowledged by the rest of the team as the “Golden Duo”. The two of them would always strike their signature pose during matches after Enta passed to Kazuki and he made the goal.
Their slogan was, “Just like that!” [It’s “saratto”]
Just like their favorite soccer player did.
But just a few months ago, Kazuki had decided to say goodbye to soccer.
And the blue band had vanished from his right leg.
Out of concern for Kazuki’s feelings, Enta decided to just take a wait and see approach when he stopped showing up for soccer club. He figured that in time, Kazuki would come back to soccer.
Kazuki and I have been the Golden Duo since we were little kids. I know him better than anyone in the whole world. I want Kazuki to score a goal with my pass again.
Enta pulled a small box from his pocket. It was the new good luck band he’d bought for Kazuki. But just before he could give it to him, Kazuki formally resigned from the club.
“If Kazuki’s wish gets granted with the Plates of Hope, I’ll give it to him and we can become the Golden Duo again. That’s all I want…”
Suddenly the memory of the kiss from the previous night flashed through his mind.
Ultimately, Kazuki hadn’t woken up and didn’t seem to have noticed.
Enta should have been relieved that he hadn’t been found out, but part of him was disappointed that he wasn’t discovered.
That must’ve been why he felt like shouting at Otone that morning. Seeing his sister being able to pursue the object of her affections so earnestly, without drawing any unwanted attention was just too much for him. Sure, she had failed plenty of times, but even the wounds of failed loves just became fuel in her pursuit of her next one.
I could never do that. Even though Enta felt that way, when he kissed Kazuki he realized that he really did want him to notice. It made him feel miserable.
“…Why did I do something so stupid and kiss him?!”
Today, just as he always did, Kazuki, dressed as Sara, was hard at work looking for the Lucky Selfie item. Kazuki was standing in front of a specialty kisu fish shop, which was rather unusual even for Asakusa, named “Kiisu Fish Market”.
At any rate, the owner of the shop, Kiisu Mont Claire, was unparalleled at preparing kisu, and his shop’s catch phrase, [honestly I give up, it’s a stupid kiss pun], was proudly displayed on a sign outside.
By the way, Mr. Kiisu was extremely good looking and there was a rumor that he would take pictures hugging the ladies who came to the shop as a little bonus and allegedly the girls flocked to the store every day.
“I figured I could cheat the item a bit using a kisu fish since Sara’s an idol and I could argue that kissing photos are not allowed, but… What do I do now?!”
His only real option for the time being was to visit all of the other fish shops in town. Kazuki took off running, not even caring how his short skirt fluttered in the wind. He had to complete the mission for Haruka’s sake.
Haruka and Enta were sitting on a bench on the bank of a pond with an arched bridge over it playing old maid.
“Ummmm… This one!”
Enta shouted when the ace of hearts was stolen from his last two cards.
“Maaan, you got me again!”
“Hooray! I win!”
“You’re seriously way too good, Haruka. Almost makes me think you have lady luck on your side!”
“Ehehe, maybe I have Sara-chan to thank?”
Beep! Haruka’s phone rang.
“Oh, I have a text!”
Enta nimbly shuffled the cards as he asked, “From Kazuki?”
Haruka’s phone displayed a message from Sara.
“I’m so sorry to dishappoint, but today’s Lucky Selfie is going to be a little late, dish!”
“It’s okay! Good luck at work!”
Haruka shot off a response before answering Enta.
“I don’t text with Kazu-chan.”
“Oh, well, I guess you can see him face-to-face any time you want at home, huh!”
Of course, Kazuki was texting Haruka… as Sara.
But Enta dodged the topic without mentioning it. But before he knew it, Haruka’s expression had grown gloomy.
“Kazu-chan doesn’t smile like he used to anymore. He quit soccer even though he loved it so much and he threw his lucky band out too…”
Knowing the circumstances behind that, Enta couldn’t really say anything. The good luck band in his pocket began to feel especially heavy.
“You know, I really loved watching Kazuki play soccer!”
“…Me too. I love it when Kazuki plays soccer.”
“I want Kazuki to play soccer again, but I don’t think it would matter if I said something to him…”
As young as Haruka was, he really knew Kazuki well.
Then I’ll just have to do what I can for him! Enta concluded.
“Don’t worry! I’m sure Kazuki will smile again and play soccer again! Just leave it to me!”
Enta stood up and thumped his chest.
“Hehehe, I mean, Kazu-chan and Enta-oniichan are the Golden Duo after all!”
“We sure are!”
Near a houseboat dock on the Sumida River, Otone sighed, having tired of waiting.
“Kiisu sure is late. Normally he calls if he’s late…”
She pulled out her phone and called his number.
In the pitch-black interior of Kiisu Fish market, a cell phone lay on the ground, announcing an incoming call for its decidedly absent owner. The screen displayed a picture of Kiisu hugging Otone with the name “Otone Jinnai” before noise covered the screen and left a bright red heart mark on the screen.
After he left Haruka, Enta sat down on the west bank of the Azuma Bridge.
“Kazuki won’t smile in front of Haruka? …No, I have nothing to do with the situation. I shouldn’t stick my nose in…”
He muttered, self-deprecatingly, when––
“You have everything to do with the situation!”
When he turned around, he saw Kazuki running across the Azuma Bridge. He was wearing his favorite windbreaker from soccer club.
“Kazuki… Why are you here?”
When Kazuki was in front of him, he started to talk with an unusually earnest look on his face.
“Enta, there’s something I have to tell you…”
Kazuki’s intense gaze made Enta’s heart skip a beat.
With this atmosphere… was he about to confess…?
“I think I’m going to start playing soccer again.”
What he said was even more amazing than any confession could have been.
“I’m sorry for making you worry so much, Enta. I know I don’t deserve it, but would you consider becoming the Golden Duo with me again?”
Enta was already overcome with emotion.
“Fuwaaahiii…! Don’t you lose it this time!” [I’m sorry I can’t be assed to try to figure out what equivalent weird noise to use there]
He reverently tied the new good luck band around Kazuki’s right ankle.
“Yeah, that’s a promise. We’ll be the Golden Duo until death do us part!”
Enta and Kazuki struck their signature Golden Duo pose for the first time in ages again.
Ahh, my wish suddenly became reality…
“What? You’re giving me this good luck band?”
Kazuki had vanished from his side, and in his place was Otone, wearing the good luck band.
“S-Sis?! Why are you here?!”
“I’m on my way to meet my boyfriend, see ya!”
Otone ran off, leaving Enta there dumbfounded.
“Wait! That’s for Kazuki…!”
Enta ran after here when he snapped out of his daze.
But just as he was about to cross Azuma Bridge, Enta saw something even more shocking.
“What the hell are you two doing?!”
Enta ran as fast as he could for his secret practice spot.
Two students from another school were kicking a soccer ball around.
“Huh? If it isn’t Jinnai from Plate Middle School.”
“Hey, how’s it hangin’?”
Enta knew who they were. They were players on the team they had played against last year.
“This is my and Kazuki’s spot! You can’t just use it like that!”
“Huh? What are you talking about?”
“Kazuki? Was he that other forward? I heard he quit the team.”
“Huh? Then what’s the problem with us using this spot?”
“Kazuki will come back soon!”
“You sure about that? I mean, he quit and abandoned you, didn’t he? He betrayed you and you still trust him? Isn’t that just pathetic?”
“Shut up! Sut up!”
Enta knocked over one of the boys no sooner than he had opened his mouth.
“What the hell are you doing?!”
The other boy grabbed Enta by the collar and tossed him away.
Enta was quick to start a fight, even though he wasn’t particularly strong, and he stood no chance at all in a two on one conflict.
But Enta charged them nonetheless.
At the Asakusa Police Station, in that large conference room, a meeting was being held in a solemn atmosphere.
Sign with the words “Asakusa Unnatural Death Incident Investigative HQ” was hanging outside the door.
The chief of police’s voice echoed through the dark room.
“We have identified the corpse that was discovered this morning. Kiisu Mont Claire, age 27. Owner of Kiisu Fish Market. Six months ago, he was arrested on suspicion of driving a woman to suicide in an attempted marriage fraud case, but was released without charges. We are investigating his murder.”
With a shhk shhk sound the chief flipped through the slides projected on the screen.
Several photos of Kiisu getting cozy with various women flashed by.
What aggressively normie-looking couples photos that almost looked fake. The only thing that made a real difference there was how handsome his face was. If that’s all it took to be popular with the ladies, he probably deserved to be arrested even if he wasn’t a con man. Such was the atmosphere in the meeting room.
In the middle of that, two figures abruptly stood up. It was Reo and Mabu.
“That was our catch!”
Yes, it happened last night.
Right in the police box they were stationed in.
“What else do you need? I have an early morning fishing date with my honey tomorrow.”
“To those for whom there is no beginning, no end, and no connection…”
Mabu held up a photo of Kiisu partying in a crowd of women.
“We’ll open this door for you…”
Reo abruptly pointed a gun at Kiisu.
A large taiko drum appeared above Kiisu.
The next instant, Kiisu was sucked into the drum and disappeared.
The sun was beginning to set and Enta was lying on the ground at his practice spot.
His face and body were covered in wounds and even his jersey was torn.
“Woah, what is your problem?!”
“Oww! How dare you!”
He could faintly hear their shouts. Someone seemed to be fighting in his stead.
When he mustered all his strength to open his eyes, Enta saw a right foot wearing a good luck band.
The players from the other school, who were clearly at a disadvantage, whined impotently, “Damnit! People who have nothing to do with the situation shouldn’t stick their heads in!”
At which point, Kazuki, who had knocked the one of the boys down and was standing protectively over Enta said, “But I have everything to do with it! Don’t you dare lay a hand on my partner in the Golden Duo!”
Kazuki landed a graceful roundhouse kick on the other boy, ending the fight.
“Enta! Are you okay?”
Enta drug himself up off the ground, sobbing, “Kazuki… Please don’t put yourself in danger for my sake. If anything ever happened to you, I wouldn’t even be able to make it up with my own life…!”
Kazuki held out his hand.
“Don’t sweat it. No matter what happens, we’ll be the Golden Duo, until death do us part!”
And then they struck their signature Golden Duo pose.
Ahh, if I died now, I wouldn’t care…
“You’re not gonna die.”
The person looking down at Enta with icy eyes as he lay on the ground was Toi.
“K-Kuji?! Why are you here?!”
“You’re a total joke in a fight.”
“Wh-Where did they go?! …Don’t tell me you saved me?”
“Not really, they high tailed it out of here the second I said something.”
Toi said and started dribbling the ball they left behind.
In the distance, Enta could see the rival school players running away, beaten to a pulp.
“You know them?”
“They’re from the team we beat last year.”
Toi seemed especially disinterested, but Enta continued.
Maybe he had just loosened up a bit since Toi had already seen him embarrass himself.
“Our soccer team actually got pretty far, right? And last year… it was all because Kazuki was on the team. But the day you transferred into our class, Kazuki formally quit the soccer club. I still can’t accept it.
“It’s not my fault he quit.”
Toi was, of course, right.
“And this place… This is where we used to practice together, ever since we were kids… But without Kazuki, it’s just a place, nothing special.”
“…You two are kinda like brothers.”
“Yeah, maybe. …But maybe that’s why I know that at this rate, Kazuki is never going to play soccer again.”
“But if I abandon this place, that means that I’m accepting that it’s over. But I want to pass the ball to Kazuki again! That’s why I need the plates of hope!”
Toi silently turned toward Enta.
Enta shirked instinctively and Toi just walked past him and looked over his shoulder.
“…The plates are mine. I’m not letting you two have them.”
Of course, Toi wasn’t about to compromise.
The thought distracted Enta from the guilt he felt for losing the opportunity to thank Toi for saving him.
The sun had started to set and Kazuki was in tears, taking off his Sara costume in front of Keppi in the kappa square.
“What do I do? There isn’t any kisu anywhere. All the fish shops in town are sold out…”
“It’s the work of a kappa zombie, kero.”
Keppi said and then the plate on his head began to spin and an arm with a monitor on it appeared.
The monitor had a live feed of Azuma Bridge on it.
Through Keppi’s monitor, even Kazuki in human form could see the kappa zombie and its underlings.
The zombie in the middle of the bridge had a kisu for a head. And the gaggle of girls in wedding dresses gathered on the bridge kissed the zombie one by one and were transformed into kisu themselves.
Otone was waiting in the line of girls.
Enta shouted as he ran. Toi was right behind him.
And right there on the monitor, fastened tightly to Otone’s ankle, was Enta’s good luck band.
Why is the good luck band I got for Kazuki there…!
“Keppi! Turn me into a kappa!”
His body was already moving before he even realized it.
Keppi mercilessly crashed into Enta’s ass.
“The target of today’s kappa zombie’s desire is kisses, kero.”
Kappa Toi reacted to the word “kiss”, and mumbled bashfully, “My brother told me that kisses are the devil’s work…”
“But I still need a kiss to make Haruka happy!”
“I want to get my good luck band back!”
With their individual hopes in their hearts, they went into battle again that night.
“Quantity over quality! I’m going to steal all the kisses!”
“Quntity over quality?”
“All the girls in the world love me!”
“What is this guy talking about?”
The kappa zombie’s claims really set Enta’s anger off.
“Kisses don’t mean anything if you give them to anyone! Kisses are the manifestation of an unstoppable feeling you have for only one person in the entire world!”
The kappa zombie exploded with Enta’s shout.
When the shirikodama transfer started, Enta finally realized what he had done.
Retrieving the kappa zombie’s shirikodama himself meant his secret would be leaked.
But it was far too late for regrets by then.
As the boundaries of his self began to dissolve, Enta shuddered at what he expected to happen next.
The first images that streamed in was of the soccer club’s locker room.
Enta had snuck away during a break and was standing in front of one particular locker.
The name plate read “Yasaka”.
Enta threw open the door of the locker and snatched Kazuki’s jersey.
Then he hugged it tight to his chest, and took in as deep a breath as he could, burying his face in the cloth… and breathed in the smell.
“Stop! Don’t look!”
He hated it. Sure, he wanted his feelings to be known, but even if Kazuki had learned how he felt, he had hoped to take this particular secret to his grave…
When Toi received the shirikodama from Enta, a mess of feelings disturbed the sea of his consciousness.
He wondered if it was alright for an outsider like him to learn about this.
But once the leak had begun, it couldn’t be stopped. Their three minds were mixed together.
The next scene took place in the classroom as the sun had begun to set.
Enta, who had once again slipped out during practice, was searching around in Kazuki’s desk.
And he pulled out… a recorder case.
At that point, it was easy to imagine what was about to happen.
It wasn’t Toi’s secret being divulged, but he wanted to shout for it to stop nonetheless.
Enta stood alone in the red glow of the classroom.
He stared intently at the mouthpiece of Kazuki’s recorder as he held it tight and resolutely put his mouth on it.
And Toi even felt the sense of accomplishment Enta had in that moment even though he desperately did not want to.
“You have got to be kidding me…”
Then the shirikodama passed from Toi to Kazuki.
Finally, the last disclosure was beginning.
It was last night.
The scene of Enta kissing Kazuki as he slept along the shore of the river dressed as Sara.
“Enta… kissed me?”
All Enta could do as he felt the same confusion Kazuki did, was scream.
“It’s all oooooover!”
The desire field broke and Otone awoke atop the Azuma Bridge.
“Why am I here…?”
Despite how late it was, the bridge was absolutely brimming with women walking alone.
When Otone saw her fishing rod, she remembered her date.
“That’s right! I had a date!”
She hurriedly pulled out her phone, planning to apologize for standing her date up, but…
“Huh…? Who was I waiting for again?”
Kiisu had suddenly vanished from Otone’s homescreen background.
Meanwhile, in the underground elevator, Reo was watching the photos of Kiisu disappear.
“Humans are such foolish creatures, aren’t they? They cling so desperately to such fragile connections…”
Mabu listened quietly, when a mechanical announcement echoed through the space.
“Incoming call from the Empire. Incoming call from the Empire.”
The two of them promptly knelt in front of the heart marks on one of the pillars.
The bright red heart mark flashed and a deep voice boomed out.
“Usso. The desire energy being transmitted from this station has dropped considerably as of late… I hate to even make the suggestion, but need I remind you that betrayal equals death…”
Mabu responded with a meek expression on his face.
“My most humble apologies. We’ve experienced some interference.”
“Usso. I don’t want to hear excuses. Just do what you can…”
“As you wish…”
Reo replied with false courtesy and the transmission ended there. [sorry that’s a shit translation of 慇懃無礼 but Reo’s being overtly polite/formal even though he doesn’t mean it]
“Unfortunately, today’s Plate of Hope is silver again.”
Enta broke out in a cold sweat as he accepted the plate, and then Kazuki addressed him.
“Enta. So about that kiss…”
“Uwahh?! Th-That was just, just, uh…!”
Toi maintained an expression of utter indifference as he stood behind a panicking Enta.
Given the price Enta had paid, he figured he might as well give up on the plate for today.
He had an entirely different vector of indifference toward Kazuki though.
“It’s not a big deal. It was just one of those typical punishment games in soccer club, right? Well, I don’t have anything to do with the club anymore, so…”
That phrase made something inside Enta burst.
“…You have everything to do with it!”
Once it was out there, he couldn’t take it back anymore. Enta steeled himself.
“You’re all I think about. Even though I know that you quitting soccer and not smiling anymore ultimately has nothing to do with me! But you and soccer really changed my life… So I just thought this time I might return the favor… Damnit…!”
He felt like he’d start crying if he kept going.
That’s why Enta decided to get Kazuki to kill the feelings for him.
He held out the silver plate with the good luck band he’d retrieved from Otone on top of it.
“I”m in love with you, Kazuki! Please become the Golden Duo with me for the rest of our lives!”
Even with his head bowed, he could hear Kazuki gulp.
Ahh, this is it. Just make it a clean cut, please…! [if I didn’t get the image across effectively, he’s comparing Kazuki breaking his heart to getting his head chopped off execution style and hoping he does it in one stroke]
Kazuki slowly reached out for the plate.
“…I got it. I know how you feel now, Enta.”
Enta lifted his head and saw Kazuki smiling at him almost like it was a dream.
“We’ll be the Golden Duo, ’til death do us part!”
Kazuki, wearing the good luck band Enta had given him, took one step toward Enta.
And Enta responded in kind, taking a step toward Kazuki.
All the sound around them seemed to vanish, like the entire world had melted away and it was just the two of them standing in a spotlight.
When Enta felt Kazuki’s hand grip his shoulder, he closed his eyes and stood on tip-toe.
And just as their lips were mere millimeters apart––
Enta’s eyes snapped open and he got a face full of Keppi.
“Mwah! I stole it, kero…”
[Enta screaming incomprehensibly]
Keppi acted embarrassed as Enta squirmed on the ground.
Toi, having seen the entire scene play out, had the phrase “and this is why my brother always said kisses are the devil’s work” written on his face.
“Enta, what’s wrong?”
The man of the hour, Kazuki, had been so busy preparing a text to Haruka that he hadn’t noticed anything that had just happened.
“Uhh?! U-Um, n-nothing!”
I should’ve known! I should have known it was just another one of my stupid daydreams!
“Your clothes are a wreck. Did something happen?”
“Huh? O-Oh, this? I just had a pretty nasty fall is all!”
“You can be a real klutz sometimes, huh?”
“I sure can! Ah, ahaha!”
Enta, who had been both saved and wounded by Kazuki’s indifference many a time, decided to try to simply forget about it this time.
Toi seemed to notice something as he watched Enta force a laugh.
At some point, a rat had appeared atop the silver plate of hope Enta was holding.
“Squeak, squeak, squeak~”
The rat picked up the good luck band in its mouth, and had vanished into a drain before anyone could even react.
Enta’s pathetic shout echoed through the muddy sewer water.
Haruka had been waiting on the bench next to the pond when Enta joined him.
It was Sunday. The day Enta came to meet Haruka after his morning practice.
But Enta’s expression was gloomy today. He plopped down on the bench and the words just overflowed from his mouth.
“Aghh, I give up! I completely give up! Kazuki won’t listen to a word I say…”
Haruka looked at the frustrated Enta with concern.
“I knew it too. I’ve known it for ages, but I just pretended not to notice… But in the end, it was all just in my head, talk about embarrassing!”
Enta stood up, pretending it was to stretch. Haruka couldn’t see his expression anymore.
“That’s why I made my decision. I’m going to give up on him. I’m not going to bother him anymore. I’m not going to expect anything anymore…”
He turned around, and Haruka was holding his hand out to him.
And in his little hand was a slightly worn blue good luck band.
“See, I secretly stole it from the trash. It’s the good luck band Kazu-chan threw away.”
Haruka took Enta’s hand and pushed the good-luck band into it.
“I can’t run with Kazu-chan anymore, so… Would you give it back to him for me some day, Enta-oniichan?”
“Huh? Oh, I-I couldn’t! I don’t…”
…have any right to, Enta hesitated to finish. There was still some lingering affection that wouldn’t leave him.
He wasn’t really sure what do with it after he’d just declared that he was going to bow out of his role as Kazuki’s childhood friend.
Haruka said with a smile.
“You two are the Golden Duo after all, right?”
Ever since that night, he’d been desperately wanting to hear someone say those words to him.
Enta squeezed the good luck band tight.
Maybe I don’t need to give up yet…?
No, there was no way I could have ever given up from the start.
I mean, we are the Golden Duo after all!
“Thank you, Haruka!”
The two of them laughed and then they heard someone call from the distance.
“Haruka! It’s time!”
Haruka’s mother was waving to them.
He shouted back, and Enta stood up.
“You know, I had an amazing dream today!”
“Did you now?”
Enta pulled the wheelchair from under the bench and set it up and then helped Haruka get into it.
“Thank you for always being so helpful, Enta-kun.”
Ever since Haruka lost the ability to walk, Enta would accompany him every Sunday to go to the hospital for rehab.
“You’re very welcome! So, what was that dream you were talking about?”
“Ummm! So I was riding a giant Nyantaro into space and I met the prince of the stars!”
“Hahaha! What the heck!”
The rest of that Sunday came and went quietly just as it always did.
Rain Scene translation
In this country, rain is welcomed as a gift from heaven. It enriches the earth, rain is what keeps all plants and animals alive. For all living things it is a indispensable thing.
When I was a child, I hated rainy days. Rain brought my loneliness to the fore, coldly washing over my heart. I had no place I could feel safe and belong.
It’s not like I asked heaven for it.
I don’t believe in God.
Rather, it would be good if the world dried up, I seriously thought that.
On that day too, irritating rain poured.
He reached out his hand towards me.
His pure white palm had not one flaw.
I become ashamed of my own dirty hand.
At the same time, I also wanted to dirty that beautiful hand.
In my heart which had completely abandoned hope, a faint flame of desire was lit.
“Do not let go, desire is your life”-
I just wanted a place I could fit in and be myself.
I wanted a voice to respond to my calls.
I wanted to feel warmth at the tip of my extended hand.
Much much more than rain, for me those are indispensable things. The one who made me realise that, was you.
Rainy days bring back too many memories. As Reo was thinking, with a bitter look on his face he stared out the window. In Asakusa it was raining all day. Mabu wasn’t there. He had an idea where he was. This made Reo’s mood even worse. “Quickly, come back! Mabu…”. His real thoughts spilled out from his lips like drops of rain. Even after becoming an adult, he hates rainy days. They reminded him of the sensation of the cold heart that met the fingers of his extended hand.
I have this recurring dream.
It’s a memory of that winter night four years ago.
Right before I left Asakusa.
The sharp bang and the light flickering.
The way the smell of gunpowder tickled my nose.
That vivid red.
The feel of that cold hand, as the cold air felt like daggers against my skin.
“In this world, only bad guys survive…”
The image of my brother’s face when he looked back at me was burned permanently into my mind.
“Good morning! Happy every day! Even happier with lucky selfies! Azuma Sara, dish!”
Sara’s vaguely drowsy sounding voice came from the living room.
“Good morning, Harukappa dish!”
Haruka mimicked Sara’s hand gestures.
“Tomorrow’s the day, Haruka.”
“You said Enta-kun was going with you, right?”
“Yep! I’m so excited!”
Haruka’s cheerful voice filled the Yasaka household again today. Kazuki prepared himself and opened the sliding door to the living room, and Haruka greeted him with a smile from his wheelchair.
He waited at the front door for Haruka and his father after announcing that he didn’t want breakfast. His father had taken great care with the renovations they’d made to the home a few months ago. Any obstacles that could have obstructed the movement of the wheelchair were gotten rid of, and even the toilet and bathroom were expanded. All of the doors were switched to sliding doors, and handrails had been installed on the walls for when Haruka would eventually learn to stand with their support.
And Kazuki stood there with his back to it all.
Their father would always accompany them when they went to feed Nyantaro. Once Haruka was safely seated on the wall, he would step away to sit down at an outdoor cafe and have a coffee. [I dunno why this is so hard to phrase in English, but he goes to a coffee shop, that has an outdoor seating area, and sits in the outdoor seating area so he can keep an eye on them but still give the kids some privacy]
Kazuki leaned against the wall and checked his phone for the lucky selfie item of the day.
“Now, then, today’s lucky selfie item is…”
And the item Sara selected from the roulette was,
“Soba! Soba, dish!”
Thankfully for Kazuki, there were tons of soba shops in Asakusa. And worst case there were always instant noodles. Some unimaginable news hit his ears while he was preoccupied with planning his strategy.
“Lastly, I have a big announcement! Tomorrow in Asakusa I’m doing a fan meet-and-greet, dish! I hope you all come to see me~”
“Hey, Kazu-chan, I’m going to meet Sara tomorrow! Isn’t that cool?”
“Wha! Don’t tell me… you’re going to the meet-and-greet?”
“I am! I’m suuuper nervous because it’s the first time I’m meeting Sara for real!”
“Well, I wish you good Saraluck today as always!”
Kazuki’s face twitched as he mumbled to himself,
“More like bad Saraluck…”
Off Asakusa’s Orange Street just as you enter the Tanuki Street Shopping Center you’ll find a soba shop named “Soba Kyuu”. The shop has a good reputation and a lot of regular customers. But there weren’t many people who remembered Soba Kyuu before it changed owners.
The second floor of the shop was a living space. And in that little apartment, Toi was talking to his brother on the phone. The little six-tatami room was still stuffed with cardboard boxes from when Toi had moved back to town. He could hear the sound of water mixed in with his brother’s voice. But he had no way of knowing exactly what he was doing.
“Yeah, nothing much going on with me. What about you?”
“Same as always. Don’t you worry about me.”
“How’s the new school? Made any friends yet?”
“I don’t need friends. I’m not going to be here very long anyway.”
“Now, don’t be like that. How’s our aunt and uncle? They lookin’ after you like they should?”
“Who cares about them.”
“Oh, are they bad mouthin’ you because of me? Sorry ‘bout that.”
“I don’t care what they say about me! You’re the one who rescued the shop, but they just…”
“Don’t sweat it. This is one secret you and me are takin’ to the grave.”
“I know that. I’m only waiting here because you stuck your neck out to save this place.”
The room smelled of tatami as Toi laid back on the floor, fiddling with the gun. It was the gun that had knocked his and Chikai’s lives off track four years ago. To Toi’s mind, the gun was almost a physical manifestation of a curse. And yet he kept it close to him at all times. It made him feel like he was connected to his brother, even when he couldn’t see him. Made him feel like he was shouldering some of his brother’s sins. The merciless cold of the weapon and it’s pronounced weight served as a constant reminder that he didn’t deserve to exist.
“I got some good news for ya. I’m gonna be showin’ my face around your parts soon.”
Toi shot up.
“Really?! Does that mean I can go with you this time?”
“Who knows, maybe?”
“You promised. We’re gonna live together again once all this is settled… I’m sick of living apart.”
“You and me both. …Sorry I couldn’t be there for you all this time.”
Toi concealed the gun in the back of his waistband when he heard the knock at the door. He knew they would never open the door, but he figured it was better to play it safe.
He could hear the timid voice of his aunt through the thin door.
“Toi-chan? One of your friends is here to see you…”
One of my friends…?
He had no idea who it could be. Well, that wasn’t exactly true, but he didn’t want to deal with it either.
He grumpily descended the stairs and met his uncle’s eyes, before looking away from him heading directly for the front of the shop. He could hear his terribly worried aunt’s voice from behind him.
“What have you been doing that’s been keeping you out so late every day? You’re not doing anything dangerous, are you?”
“Not like he’s gonna listen to a damn thing you say! He won’t even cut ties with that damn murder!”
For better or for worse, Toi’s uncle was an extremely honest man who was not one to mince words. Not wanting to hear any more of his criticism, Toi slammed the door to the shop. The shop’s name may not have changed, but everything else did after that day––the flavor of the soba, his brother Chikai, and he himself.
“What are you doing here…?”
He had predicted as much, but he was mostly annoyed to have guessed right.
“N-Now, just so we’re clear, I just lied and said I was your friend to get you out here!”
It had been Enta, clad in his practice uniform.
“…Yeah, I got it.”
Toi had made a point to bring him to an empty area away from the shop, but Enta just had to steer the conversation exactly where Toi didn’t want it to go.
“So your family runs a soba shop, huh! My family always has our new year’s soba at Soba Kyuu. Your family’s soba is really good!”
Toi was dumbfounded by how Enta just started talking while dribbling the soccer ball he brought with him for no apparent reason.
“Wait, but you only transferred in recently. Why?”
Toi took a breath, looked up at the sky and started to talk. It wasn’t like Enta’s praise of his family’s soba shop was what did it, more like he just wanted to vent.
“My mom and dad died, so I left Asakusa for a while. My relatives took over the shop, so now I’m just freeloading off them.”
“Oh… Sorry for asking.”
Enta’s apology was sincere. Toi tried to change the subject.
“Enough about me. Why are you here?”
Enta rushed in front of Toi and swiftly bowed his head.
“I’m begging you! Please give your Plate of Hope to Kazuki!”
He was a little annoyed, but actually thinking about it, what else could Enta have possibly wanted with him?
“You know… All he does is use you and hurt you. Aren’t you out of patience with him?”
As far as Toi was concerned, the way Kazuki was ignoring Enta was over the line. Even after Enta’s feelings for him were forcibly disclosed during their last battle, Kazuki’s heart still had no room for anyone but his little brother. Well, admittedly Enta’s attachment to Kazuki had probably gone a bit too far to begin with, but still.
“I owe Kazuki my life, so that’s why I’m going to do something to help him this time! I’ve made up my mind…!”
Enta’s words jolted Toi’s memory.
Chikai had said the same thing to him in the past.
In this world, the things that don’t survive disappear. And the things that have disappeared are forgotten. Towns, buildings, people, it’s all the same. Once they’re gone, new things take their place. And in this town, no one even notices.
In a sense, Asakusa is a town where the change of the seasons is especially noticeable. As a tourist spot, every poorly mainted building and store is in a desperate fight to survive.
Before he knew it, he found himself at the dock for the ferry where he had said his goodbyes to his brother.
“You’re gonna do something to help him this time, huh…”
He hated to admit it, but Enta’s words had tugged at Toi’s heartstrings.
He was an annoyance, but in a different way from Kazuki.
And speak of the devil, Toi’s other source of annoyance, clad in full idol garb, came running.
“There you are! Kujiiii!”
Kazuki came running as fast as he could across the dock. And his momentum carried him right into Toi’s arms.
Kazuki’s voice rang in his ear.
“Kidnap Azuma Sara for me please! Diiiish!”
And that was when Toi was dragged into an extra large annoyance. [sorry that sounds dumb but I kinda wrote myself into a corner with that word choice]
[Blowing on noodles sounds]
His pale lips formed an adorable o-shape, as Kazuki, dressed as Sara, slurped his convenience store instant soba in the parking structure.
[Camera shutter sound]
Toi grumbled after he took the shot for him.
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Hehe, I’m totally serious diiiish!”
Kazuki cocked his head and smiled.
Toi was suddenly reminded of when they first met.
It was the morning he transferred into school. And when he was interrupted from breaking into that car by Kazuki, who he’d thought was Azuma Sara, he genuinely had thought he was cute.
“Tomorrow sluuuurp I need you to kidnap Sara sluuurp before her meet-and-greet sluuuurp…”
He was slurping while he was talking, but only managed to suck up one noodle at a time.
“You really suck at eating that.”
As Kazuki drank the soba broth, his features were highlighted by the sheen. [I can’t think of a good way to phrase this, it’s insinuating that his lips are like shiny and alluring looking from the noodle broth]
And for some reason Toi’s heart seemed unbearably loud.
“Bwaah~! You’re my only hope, Kuji!”
He wanted to knock himself upside the head for feeling vaguely disappointed when Kazuki returned to his usual form, and feigned indifference.
“…It’s gonna be a disaster if anyone finds out.”
“No need to worry about that. I’ll be taking Sara’s place. I promised Haruka that we’d exchange our secret passwords at the meet-and-greet.”
“Do you seriously think that’s going to work?”
“I’ve kept the secret this long! I have to keep the fact that I’m Sara a secret from Haruka for his sake!”
Toi’s thoughts were overwhelmed by Sara-Kazuki and had him reminiscing again. [as an aside they always do a tag like this on the characters when they’re in a different form/outfit, so when he’s dressed as Sara, Kazuki is typically “Sara Kazuki” but when he’s a kappa he’s “Kappa Kazuki” etc I’ve been smoothing that out in English but Toi’s sorta been making a distinction here so I gave up]
If no one protects the weak, they won’t survive.
He was made to face that reality back then.
“Soba Kyuu, Closed Due To Owners’ Sudden Deaths”
Thus read the fresh sheet of paper plastered outside Soba Kyuu.
His parents had died the winter of the year he turned 10. Based on what he heard much later, they had been tricked by some friends of theirs into taking on a massive debt.
Chikai had already gotten himself mixed up with a bad crowd at that point, and didn’t come home very often. But nonetheless, Chikai was the only person little Toi could depend on.
Even though he couldn’t even turn on the lights after the sun went down, little Toi spent days staring obsessively at the alter for his parents that was set up on a little desk tucked snugly into one corner of the room.
When suddenly, he heard footsteps racing up the stairs and he froze.
The door crashed open and Chikai, clad in a sukejan, appeared.
Before he could even welcome his brother home, a wad of something hit the ground with a soft noise and rolled toward his feet. It was 10,000 yen [about $100].
“Use that to feed yourself somehow for the time being.”
Chikai pulled out a drawer from his parents’ dresser and pulled out a pearl necklace with a smirk on his face.
“But, that’s mom’s…”
Toi said disapprovingly, and Chikai spat back, “Once you’re dead, it’s all over. I’m sure those people’d be happy it’ll provide us with a little cash.”
Toi’s brother felt so distant the way he called their parents “those people”.
“But dad was always saying not to do bad things.”
Chikai added as he searched around for anything else that might be worth a few bucks, “Idiots who pretend to be good people, end up dead.”
But Toi couldn’t stand it.
“I hate it when you say mean things about mom and dad! I wish you had died instead!”
Fwump! The next second, Toi felt something hard against his cheek as he was knocked into the wall.
Tears began to well up in his eyes from both pain and fear.
“Don’t make me finish you off…! Toi, you best remember this: in this world, only bad people survive.” [sorry that first one is his catchphrase, it hasn’t been translated consistently in CR’s subs so I give up]
A different night.
Toi watched Chikai secretly meeting with a mean looking man in the alley behind Soba Kyuu. He had no way of knowing at the time, but the man was Yuri Kamome the young head of a gang that had been throwing its weight around in Asakusa, the “Yurikamome”. He tried to hand Chikai something wrapped in cloth with his signature laugh.
“Chikai, my man, you’re one of us now. You can handle this.”
“No, I’m good where I am.”
“Then as your superior, I’m just askin’ you to hold onto this for me. …Capice?”
Chikai must have determined that disobeying him any more than that was a bad move, because he sighed and gave in, taking the item. Kamome’s laugh echoed eerily down the night streets.
Toi got into bed and pretended to be asleep, and before long Chikai came into the room. But after he clattered around with the desk he immediately left again.
Toi crawled out of bed and timidly pulled out the desk drawer.
And there he found a TT-30 glinting in the dark.
“…Chikai really is a bad guy after all.”
A wrinkly 10,000 yen note was left haphazardly in front of their parents’ photo.
It wasn’t long after that that they were made to vacate Soba Kyuu.
“We’re getting kicked out? You mean our parents’ shop is going to go away?”
Even he pressed his brother, who hadn’t been home in ages, for an answer, all he got was a cold and curt response.
“If you don’t survive you disappear. And when you disappear you’re forgotten.”
“I don’t like that! I’m never going to forget them! I’m never going to forget the taste of our soba or mom and dad…!”
The young Toi was opposed to it to the bitter end, but as a powerless child he couldn’t do anything.
The day before they were evicted, some relatives of his came by the shop to clean it up.[it specifies that they’re a couple, the “aunt” and “uncle” Toi’s living with now, but I couldn’t think of a good way to phrase it]
“Stop it! Don’t touch our shop!”
Toi’s uncle glared at him as Toi clung to his ankles.
“Whine all you like, but you’re getting evicted tomorrow.”
“It does feel like a bit of a waste to abandon this place…”
“Not much we can do about it without cash. You two outta be grateful that we’re taking you in at all.”
Toi was just about to give up and accept that it was all over, when––
“If it’s money you want, you can have it!”
The door flew open and Chikai was standing there.
“Chikai! Where have you been all this time…”
Chikai ignored him and plunked the briefcase he was carrying down on the desk. Inside it was the deed to the shop and rolls of bank notes.
“I got the shop back. And I’m giving you this money. So…”
Chikai turned toward his aunt and uncle who were flabbergasted at the sight of more money than they’d ever seen in their lives and said,
“Please take over the shop.”
It had been a bitter decision for the siblings. Toi could still vividly feel the sting of how powerless he was in that moment, how he was nothing more than dead weight that Chikai was protecting.
“Kuji, are you listening?”
Kazuki said, pulling Toi out of his reverie.
“Huh? Oh, sorry.”
Kazuki was moving pieces with little faces drawn on them on a hand drawn map he’d spread out on the ground.
“See? The day of the meet-and-greet, we get into Sara’s dressing room. First, you trap her manager in this bathroom, and then you call Sara out, then I slip into the dressing room… Yeah, my plan is absolutely perfect, dish!”
“Why are you pushing all the work off onto me?”
“I already explained that! You’re the only one I can rely on for this! I have to focus all my energy into impersonating Sara dish-slurp, slurp, slurp…!”
Kazuki groaned as the full force of Toi’s Iron Claw hit him, and then the instant soba he had been slurping began to float away.
“Another kappa zombie?!”
At the Asakusa Police Station, in that large conference room, a meeting was being held in a solemn atmosphere.
Sign with the words “Asakusa Unnatural Death Incident Investigative HQ” was hanging outside the door.
The chief of police’s voice echoed through the dark room.
“We have identified the corpse that was discovered this morning. Sobatani Yu, 30 years old and proprietor of the soba shop “Soba no Yu”. Six months ago he was arrested on suspicion of breaking into the residence of one of his regular female customers and stealing her leftover bath water, but was released due to lack of evidence. We are investigating his murder.”
With a shhk shhk sound the chief flipped through the slides projected on the screen. Photos flashed of hoses snaking through the victim’s bathroom window and sucking up her remaining bath water into a plastic container. This guys was a serious nut… was the atmosphere in the meeting room.
“We boiled that noodle!”
“It was yesterday’s soba!”
Yes, it happened last night.
Right in the police box they were stationed in.
“Um… I have to prepare for tomorrow’s service…”
“To those for whom there is no beginning, no end, and no connection…”
Mabu held up a photo of Sobatani carrying a plastic container and winding up the hoses from the bathroom window.
“We’ll open this door for you…”
Reo abruptly pointed a gun at Sobatani.
A large taiko drum appeared above Sobatani.
The next instant, Sobatani was sucked into the drum and disappeared.
The Desire Field enveloped Asakusa, and the zombie underlings stole everything that resembled soba in town. And naturally Soba Kyuu was no exception.
“Ahh! My soba…!”
Toi’s uncle fell to his knees, horrified as his soba flew away.
And Toi saw it all through Keppi’s monitor. Enta, who was standing next to him, shouted, “Isn’t that Soba Kyuu!”
Toi grabbed Keppi by the beak and threatened him.
“Make me into a kappa right this instant!”
Keppi crashed right into Toi at point blank range.
“The kappa zombie’s object of desire is soba this time, kero.”
“Kuji, is your family’s shop going to be okay?”
“Huh? Kuji’s family has a soba shop?”
Kazuki’s eyes went wide at the new information.
“Steal from me, and I’ll just steal it right back…!”
The three of them faced off against the kappa zombie at Keppi’s shout.
“I love the girl who loves my soba!”
The kappa zombie relentlessly tossed soba at them.
“Left over bath water isn’t enough! I to be by her side!” [this is a stupid pun on “soba”]
Toi flatly rejected the kappa zombie’s assertions.
“There’s a point where your selfish demands to be by her side are crossing a line!”
Toi shouted as he caught the shirikodama inside the zombie’s ass.
“I want to protect the things my brother did…!”
“We got it!”
When Toi pulled the zombie’s shirikodama out, what he saw was the man’s desire to eat soba noodles that had cooked in girl’s bathwater.
“I got some nice broth…”
“I see, he wanted to cook his soba in the bath water he stole…”
“I’ve been found out!”
The zombie burst.
As the shirikodama transfer began, Toi felt something akin to resignation. And it wasn’t long before the other two felt it too.
The first scene was that winter, four years ago.
It was right after Chikai had bought back Soba Kyuu and disappeared again. Toi was running through Asakusa, puffs of white breath spilling out of his mouth.
“Chikai, where did you go? Don’t leave me…!”
He heard a familiar laugh from one of the alleys he ran past.
Toi held his breath and peered around the corner where he saw Yuri Kamome and one of his underlings, Yasuda Yasu.
“Kuwaa! That damn Chikai doesn’t seem to have come home. And the old man at the shop says he cut ties with ‘im and don’t know where he is…”
“Screw it… It’s just a matter of time before he shows up again. He better not think he can steal our product and high tail it out of our territory and get away with it… Ehehehe…”
His eyes were wide open as he laughed.
“If you see him, shoot him. I can’t believe I gave him my piece.”
Toi hurried home after he’d overheard their whole chat.
Soba Kyuu had reopened and some of its customers had started to return. When Toi opened the shop door and went inside, his uncle yelled at him.
“Toi! How many times do I have to tell you to come in from the back!”
But Toi didn’t bother responding and ran upstairs.
There was a 10,000 yen bill sitting in front of his parents’ portrait that hadn’t been there that morning. And when he pulled open the desk drawer, the gun was still there. His brother hadn’t taken it with him after all. For a moment, a scrap of paper that was in there with the gun caught his attention. He hadn’t thought much of it and turned it over where he found––
––a photo of a young Chikai smiling with Toi.
It was a family photo from when Toi was five years old.
The warm memories filled Toi’s heart.
The day before the shop opened, when the four of them had eaten the soba they made.
On the Sanja Festival, when he and his brother wore happi coats and sold soba in front of the store.
And those few and far between days off when they went to Hanayashiki as a family.
“Fuck, I knew it was going to be this…!”
Toi thought he had been prepared for it, but the thought of experiencing that day again filled him with regret toward his brother.
Yes, this was a secret just between him and Chikai. One they were supposed to keep to their graves.
The shirikodama transferred to Kazuki.
The Yurikamome gang was getting tired of not being able to locate Chikai, so they set their eyes on his little brother, Toi.
Toi couldn’t let them catch him and cause his brother more problems, so he ran as fast as his little legs could go.
He heard some men wearing the same sukejan that his brother had talking on top of Azuma Bridge.
“That fucking brat…! Where the hell is he hiding!”
“We need him to lure Chikai out! Find him or else!”
When the men’s footsteps got further away, Toi poked his head out of the tunnel under the bridge. He had to hurry, but where to…? Toi’s steps were heavy in the tunnel.
“Where are you goin’, son?”
Toi looked up and Yuri Kamome was standing there at the exit to the tunnel.
“Ehehehe… Why don’t I take you home?”
Step by step, he drew closer.
Kazuki couldn’t take it anymore and shouted out, “Look out…!”
Enta felt the same way when he received the shirikodama from Kazuki. But he was concerned about how calm Toi had been.
For a second the tunnel lit up as bright as it’d be in the afternoon. A bullet pierced Kamome’s gut. His large body sank into the ground. It almost seemed to happen in slow motion.
It was only then that he noticed his hand gripping the gun was trembling.
He had just––right in that very moment––taken a human life.
On the other side of Yuri Kamome’s unmoving body, he saw a familiar figure.
He had been so desperate to see his brother again, but in that moment he wanted nothing more than to run away.
No. I’m scared. I’m a murderer. Help me. I’m so sorry. Dad. Mom.
Chikai walked straight for him. And Toi felt like his feet had been stapled to the ground. He felt something cold touch his hands as he squeezed his eyes closed.
It was Chikai’s hand.
He gently pulled Toi’s trembling fingers off the gun, and took it from him.
Toi felt his cold fingers pull away from him.
Chikai readied the gun, and without hesitation, pointed at Kamome and pulled the trigger.
The sound seemed to release Toi from his paralysis.
Chikai looked back at Toi as Kamome’s lifeless corpse stared at him[Chikai].
“In this world, only bad guys survive…”
Chikai crouched down to Toi’s eye level and flashed him a smile.
“I killed him… With this gun.”
“Us two are gonna survive. No matter what it takes. …Got it?”
And then he hugged him tight.
He’d never done anything like that before.
His back was so broad, no matter how hard he tried, Toi’s tiny hands couldn’t reach all the way around him.
He felt ashamed of his young self.
For how helpless he was. How all he could do was be protected by someone else.
Hot tears spilled from his eyes, wetting his cold cheeks.
It was that day that he swore to never let him go again. [swore is the same kanji for Chikai’s name]
Toi’s cry of grief echoed through the sea of emotion.
After the Desire Field dissipated.
Toi noticed that he had gotten a message on his phone.
“Circumstances have changed, so it doesn’t look like I’ll be over there for a while. I’ll contact you again later.”
It was a blunt sentence. He’d seen the very same one so many times by now. But today the message really got him down.
“Unfortunately, the plate is silver again today.”
He carelessly grabbed the plate from Keppi and as he was about to leave, Enta stopped him.
“H-Hold up! I saw that… Kuji, you, you…”
“…Yeah. I killed a man.”
“How can you… How can you say that with such a clam face…”
He didn’t feel like there was any point in arguing. He wanted to get away from them as fast as he could if he didn’t need to be there any longer.
“…If I hadn’t shot him, he might’ve killed me or my brother.”
“Argue all you like, but morality doesn’t mean a damn thing in front of someone stronger than you. That’s why I decided I would get stronger, so I could live by my brother’s side and for his sake. I don’t give a shit what anyone says about me now.”
“But I’m not about to let the price my brother paid for me go to waste. If this gets out, I’ll…”
Toi swiped his ruler right under Enta’s nose.
“I’ll finish you off…”[again it’s the catchphrase]
Enta stumbled back in fear and Toi tried to leave.
He wasn’t in the mood to deal with any more annoyances. Or at least he thought as much, but Kazuki ran after him.
“Here. It’s yours. …You can have my plates.”
Enta caught up with them.
He looked at the plates and Kazuki’s face.
“…What’s your angle?”
“I think you deserve to use the plates more than someone like me does, that’s all.”
Enta couldn’t stand silent after that.
“What are you saying?! You’ve been doing all this for Haruka’s sake! How can you just hand them over to Kuji! Don’t you care about Haruka?!”
He balled his hands into fists and forced the words out.
“…I hate Haruka.”
Kazuki was five years old.
It was a glorious afternoon in the beginning of spring when the three person Yasaka family became four.
The boy was named Haruka.
It was a gentle name that seemed to herald the coming change of the season, and carried the image of the cherry trees along the Sumida River that they could see from their living room in full bloom.
He quietly said the name. The baby’s glistening eyes looked back at Kazuki. And then his tiny hand reached out for him. Kazuki put his hand against it and the baby squeezed. Kazuki was surprised at how much strength the baby had, and at the same time it filled his heart with an indescribable sense of duty.
Kazuki’s father, who was watching over them nearby, hugged Kazuki and said,
“You’re a big brother now, Kazuki.”
That’s when it crystalized for him.
That’s right, I’m a big brother…!
Kazuki felt this distinct sense of joy at having met something he was meant to protect.
He gently drew close to little Haruka’s face. He smelled of sweet milk and sunshine.
After that, Kazuki and Haruka were inseparable.
Haruka’s first word was “Kaacha”, and both Kazuki and his mother had insisted that Haruka was referring to them. Their father mediated, despite feeling a bit left out.
But those happy days suddenly came to an end.
“Your mother was a disgraceful woman…”
Kazuki’s grandfather on his father’s side passed away when he was ten.
All of his relatives were gathered around his hospital bed when Kazuki’s grandfather suddenly pointed to Kazuki and said that.
For a second, he didn’t understand what he was talking about. But from the chilly atmosphere around him, he gathered that the woman standing next to him wasn’t his “mother”. Followed by the vague sense that he wasn’t supposed to be there. His only solace was that young Haruka was asleep and hadn’t heard any of it.
He had a “real” mother, and had been adopted. His parents didn’t give him any details, but apparently he wasn’t his father’s child either.
“Like I said, we’re a family and this changes nothing.”
His father showered him with those kind words. Kazuki tried to accept it.
We aren’t really a family.
I’m the only one with no connection to any of them.
Those thoughts crossed Kazuki’s mind seemingly at random in the days that followed. Even when they all wore their matching pattered clothes, or when all four of them ate breakfast together. Everything that he had just accepted as a given so far in life, suddenly felt completely impossible to comprehend. Even Haruka’s face as he innocently idolized Kazuki pained him.
He started to forget what happiness smelled like.
If you mention Kaminari Gorogoro Kaikan, Asakusa’s storied entertainment hall, the first thing you think of is the headquarters of Tokiwadou Kaminariokoshi located inside. At first glance, it’s a really flashy looking building that looks like it could be the Palace of the Dragon King, but the section of the basement that housed that famous headquarters had a modest, refined quality to it too.
The headline event at that very same Kaminari Gogorogoro Kaikan today was a meet and greet for the local idol, Azuma Sara.
“It’s here! That’s Sara’s car!”
Kazuki watched the car slip into the first floor of the parking structure.
“…Hey, are we seriously doing this?”
Toi, who was ultimately dragged into the mess, was standing behind him.
“Of course we are. I’m going to complete this mission no matter what…!”
The mission in question was the “Azuma Sara Abduction Plan”.
“Wait… why are you so normal?“[sorry, this sounds dumb, it’s vague in Japanese so you’re meant to assume he’s asking about Kazuki’s clothes but he’s actually talking about his demeanor]
Toi asked, looking quizzically at Kazuki in his school uniform holding a box.
“Huh? Oh, I’m gonna get changed later in the bathroom…”
“That’s not what I mean! You know my secret… why haven’t you said anything?”
Kazuki lowered his voice in response to Toi’s awkward attitude.
“…I was scared of you at first, but I’m actually jealous… really jealous.”
“Huh? What is wrong with you?”
“Good question. Sorry. I know I’m being selfish here…”
Toi looked utterly baffled. But Kazuki changed gears.
“Let’s do this. First target: her manager!”
“Okay Sara, I’ll call you ten minutes before you’re meant to go out.”
Azuma Sara’s manager said as he left her dressing room.
Sara responded from inside the room in the same drowsy tone she had on TV.
Toi followed her manager after glancing at the room with the sign “Azuma Sara Dressing Room” on it.
Sara’s manager was taking care of business in a slightly old fashioned but elegant men’s bathroom.
“ I can’t believe our little Sara’s gotten to the point of having a solo event at Gorogoro Kaikan. At this rate, getting to Budokan might not be a dream after all!”
Just as he was expressing his magnificent dreams and zipping up his fly––
He heard one of the stall doors open behind him.
What Sara’s manager saw through the mirror was a man wearing a kappa mask, pulling a cucumber out from behind his back.
“Gyaaaa! Mmmph! Mmmph!”
A “closed for cleaning” sign hung on the door to the men’s restroom.
The “cleaning” crew made quite a suspicious racket before finally settling down.
Toi shifted the kappa mask and sighed.
In the stall in front of him, Sara’s manager was bound and pantsless.
“What the hell am I even doing…”
He mumbled to himself as he tossed the manager’s pants out the bathroom window and they fluttered away on the wind.
Sara looked up when she heard the knock at her door.
The phone in her hand was displaying image search results for the phrase “cucumbers of the world”.
Said the man in the kappa mask as he entered the room.
If Sara had been a normal idol, she would have been looking for help with the mysterious intruder. But perhaps by some strange twist of fate, the kappa masked man was still holding the cucumber he had used in his previous misdeed.
“…A cucumber, dish!”
“I’m here to ask you to take some PR photos before your meet-and-greet starts…”
Sara’s eyes followed the movement of the cucumber the kappa masked man had in his hands. Sara wasn’t listening to what he was actually saying anymore.
And thus, Toi, wearing a kappa mask, was successful in getting the idol, Azuma Sara, to accompany him.
“What the hell am I doing…”
That was the second time he had muttered that to no one in particular, but there was someone watching his brave actions.
Namely Kazuki, dressed as Sara.
“Kuji… Good job!”
Kazuki slipped out of his hiding spot and successfully snuck into Sara’s dressing room without anyone noticing him.
“We did it…”
Just as he sat down in front of the dressing table, he got a text message.
“I just got to the hall! I’m finally going to meet you soon!”
Haruka’s message came with a photo set in front of Gorogoro Kaikan.
“Thank you soo much for coming! I can’t wait to meet you, dish!”
“I thought of a good secret password to use, like we talked about yesterday.”
“Oh, what is it?”
Contrary to the cheerful tone of his reply, Kazuki’s expression had grown dark.
“You and I aren’t very different. We’re both people who will do anything to get what we want.”
Toi’s comment echoed in his mind.
He was completely right.
I had done it all for Haruka––dressing up as his favorite idol, Sara, connecting with him through a fake account, and today even, I had Sara kidnapped just to keep a promise to Haruka.
Even I know how messed up it all is.
“When I say ‘from beginning to end’”
The phrase sounded familiar.
“You say ‘we’re connected in a circle’!”
His trembling fingers shot off a reply.
“What a dishlicious password!”
“It’s a sign that we’re connected!”
He hugged the phone to his chest when he saw Haruka’s reply. And when Kazuki lifted his head, all doubts were wiped from his mind.
Haruka and I are connected. Even if it’s a lie.
Floors five and six of Gorogoro Kaikan were joined and a stage called Tokiwa Hall was installed. Fans were lined up at the entrance to the hall.
Enta was flanked by his parents and Enta.
“Haruka, what are you looking at?”
He said, looking at Haruka who was entranced by his phone.
“Today’s Lucky Selfie fortune!”
Sara was announcing the Lucky Selfie Item for the day on the small screen.
“You really are a true Sara fan to be watching her show even though you’re about to meet her.”
“Yup! I love Sara!”
“Now, then, today’s lucky selfie item is… A sachet, dish!”
Haruka turned around and asked his mother, “Hey, Mom, what’s a sachet?”
“It’s a little bag that smells good.”
“A little bag that smells good…”
Enta didn’t notice the way Haruka’s eyes were glistening and cut in.
“S-So, Kazuki isn’t with you today…?”
“Yeah, Kazu-chan left early.”
Enta twitched as he forced a smile. His thoughts were a complete mess.
What are you doing, Kazuki! If Haruka finds out, it’s all over…!
“Well, I wish you good Saraluck today as always!”
At the Asakusa Police Station, in that large conference room, a meeting was being held in a solemn atmosphere.
Sign with the words “Asakusa Unnatural Death Incident Investigative HQ” was hanging outside the door.
The chief of police’s voice echoed through the dark room.
“We have identified the corpse that was discovered this morning. Nioino Fukurou, age 35. Unemployed. Six months ago he was arrested as a suspect in the ‘Asakusa Protected Species Scented Bag Incident’, but released due to lack of evidence. We are investigating his murder.” [as an aside his name, as all the zombies names are, is a joke and can be read as “scented bag” (the way the sachet is described)]
With a shhk shhk sound the chief flipped through the slides projected on the screen.
Several photos of the protected Japanese Giant Salamander being abducted and confined, and then bizarrely, being made to eat curry, and having its sweat extracted were projected on the screen.
There’s no way a scented bag produced in this way could smell good… Such was the atmosphere in the meeting room. The air in the room seemed vaguely spicy too.
In the middle of that, two figures abruptly stood up. It was Reo and Mabu.
“We sniffed that one out!”
“That was yesterday’s sachet!”
Yes, it happened last night.
Right in the police box they were stationed in.
“This arrest is down right fishy!”
“To those for whom there is no beginning, no end, and no connection…”
Mabu held up a photo of Nioino forcing salamanders in a bucket to eat extra spicy curry.
“We’ll open this door for you…”
Reo abruptly pointed a gun at Nioino.
A large taiko drum appeared above Nioino.
The next instant, Nioino was sucked into the drum and disappeared.
“This is the spot. Please come in.”
The place the kappa masked man had brought Sara was the Asakusa Kannon Hot Spring which wasn’t far from Gorogoro Kaikan.[as an aside, this hotspring was recently demolished]
The ivy twining around the building really added to its charm, but the building was already condemned. The gloomy ruins of the spring opened up after the door opened with a squeak.
“My… What a suspensful atmosphere this building has, dish!”
Sara, who was no ordinary idol, stepped inside with not an ounce of doubt.
The moment she was inside, the door slammed shut. Naturally, the culprit was the kappa-masked Toi. He wrapped chains around the doorknob and closed it with a big lock.
“I’ll let you out once the meet-and-greet ends. If you need someone to blame, blame him…”
Just as Toi turned around, having finished his job––
Sara was right there, striking her signature pose.
“What?! How did you get out?!”
He turned around to check the doorknob and it was still chained shut.
After that, Toi and Sara went in circles for a bit, with Toi locking Sara up and Sara escaping. Phone booth, a large coin locker, even one of those sword boxes like you see in one of those magic shows. No matter where Toi tried to lock her up, she would just “saratto escape”.
Toi, who wasn’t exactly a newbie when it came to criminal activities, but this made him lose all confidence.
“How in the hell…”
“We’re about to open the meet-and-greet for local Asakusa idol, Azuma Sara!”
The announcement filled the hall, finally they would get to meet Sara.
This would be Enta’s first time meeting the real Sara too, and the excitement of that prospect had briefly made him forget that he was really there to keep Kazuki’s secret from being revealed.
“Good morning! Azuma Sara diiish!”
That is until Kazuki took the stage dressed as Sara.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, what the hell are you thinking?!
Enta was so shocked by Kazuki’s unexpected appearance that he remembered his original objective.
Crap! Haruka’s going to find out…!
“It’s Sara! She’s sooo cute!”
And it wasn’t just Haruka, cheers went up all over the hall.
Th-They can’t tell?!
Kazuki smiled in response to the cheers.
“I’m soo happy that you all came to see me today, dish! I’ve been looking forward to meeting you all… Uhwuh?!”
Their eyes met.
Kazuki was visibly ruffled when he noticed Enta.
(Haruka hasn’t figured it out! Looks like it’s gonna work!)
The signals they made up for fun in soccer club came in handy.
The meet-and-greet progressed without a hitch, and ultimately Enta’s turn came. Haruka was waiting just behind him.
“I-I’m rooting for you. In more ways than one…”
Enta was cheering him on from the bottom of his heart.
“T-Thank you, dish…”
Kazuki flashed an awkward smile and shook his hand.
Haruka’s father pushed his wheelchair up and he finally was face to face with Kazuki.
The two hands clasping his felt just as warm as they had on that day.
Unable to shake off the discomfort that had developed after his grandfather’s death, Kazuki started to play soccer.
Anything would have done really. He just wanted an excuse not to go straight home after school. When he played soccer, he could just put all his mind into it and not think about anything else. Whatever his reasons for starting might have been, Kazuki started to develop a genuine love of the sport.
His and Haruka’s bedroom quickly filled with soccer goods and posters of foreign soccer players.
Having found some source of emotional support, the next thing Kazuki did was stop wearing his matching family clothes.
Just what had Kazuki’s parents thought when he threw his matching print clothes when the season changed?
That day, Kazuki was practicing soccer in the park outside their apartment.
Somehow he figured Haruka would come to get him. Kazuki stopped practicing and climbed the large whale-shaped slide. Haruka followed and sat down next to him at the top of it.
“Ehehe. I saw you from the balcony so I came down!”
The night sky before them was filled with sakura trees in full bloom and the Skytree, and the Sumida River was flowing quietly that spring night.
“Is soccer fun? Maybe I should try it too when I go to elementary school.”
Kazuki had been so busy with soccer lately that he had less time for Haruka. Kazuki felt a little guilty and couldn’t keep quiet anymore, so he opened his mouth.
“…Are mom and dad mad at me?”
“No. They’re not mad, just worried. Thinking you’ve always hated matching with the rest of the family. …Do you, Kazu-chan?”
He knew it.
“I don’t hate it or anything, just I’m gonna start middle school soon. I think it’s time I graduated from wearing matching clothes with my family.”
He bullshitted an answer on the spot, but Haruka seemed to believe him.
“Right, you’re all grown up now, aren’t you, Kazu-chan?”
He wished he was a grownup. If he was, he could’ve lived on his own… But Kazuki was still just a powerless child.
“But, you know…”
Haruka took Kazuki’s hand as he spoke.
“Even if we wear different clothes, and even when we grow up, you and I, Kazu-chan, we’re connected, from beginning to end, in a big circle.”
Kazuki never forgot the warmth of Haruka’s hands in that moment.
“From beginning to end!”
He was a little startled when he heard Haruka say it.
But this was Sara’s meet-and-greet and he was pretending to be Sara, so he had to respond with his half of the password.
“We’re connected… in a big circle.”
Surely his voice had trembled with the words.
“Ehehe! Thank you!”
His heart began to twist and creak when he saw Haruka’s innocent smile when––[this line’s kinda weird and I probably fucked it up somewhat so lemme just drop the JP here 春河の屈託のない笑顔に、こころがギシリと歪んだ音を立てたその時。]
“That Sara is a fake!”
Sara’s manager had appeared from a side door on the stage. The entire hall was in an uproar in an instant. And no wonder, for the manager was not wearing pants.
Haruka had heard his words too.
“Where has my Sara gone?!”
Enta pinned the manager as he shouted.
“Oh my god! A flasher! Look out Sara-chan!”
“Ugh! What are you doing! Let go of me, four eyes!”
“Shut up! You wear glasses too!”
Haruka objected to the manager’s claim as Enta struggled with him [the manager].
“The person here is the real Sara! She even gave me the password and everything!”
Kazuki had never seen Haruka raise his voice to anyone before. Their parents were surely the same. It was so sudden, everyone was surprised.
“Oh my? What on earth is going on, dish…?”
The drowsy voice echoed through the hall.
Azuma Sara was standing in the entrance furthest from the stage. And behind her was Toi, frantically trying to catch his breath.
“Huh? There are two Sara-chans…?”
“Sara! You’re safe?!”
“I just went on a little walk, dish!”
Sara seemed to have no idea that she had just been abducted. As she leisurely approached the stage, Haruka shouted to her.
“From beginning to end!”
“The password! Our password!”
Of course there was no way the real Sara would have known about that.
“Who… are you?”
Haruka’s expression abruptly changed.
“I knew it, this one’s the fake! Right, Sara-cha…”
When Haruka turned back around he saw––
––Kazuki’s miserable face as Sara’s manager tore the wig from his head.
As he stood in the dazzlingly bright lights of the stage, everything in front of Kazuki went black.
In the chaos of the hall, silence fell across the stage alone.
At that moment, a little bag flew out of Haruka’s pocket.
Haruka reached for it, but couldn’t grab it.
Enta saw it as he was wrestling with Sara’s manager.
“No way, a kappa zombie?!”
While Haruka was momentarily distracted, Kazuki grabbed the wig and ran off stage. The headdress had fallen to the floor too, but he didn’t have time to pick it up.
Haruka’s voice hit Kazuki’s back as he ran as fast as he could.
Kazuki ran at top speed, as if trying to escape that voice.
Enta arrived at the usual kappa square. And just as he’d expected, Kazuki was standing there still in his Sara costume.
The long black wig fluttered from Kazuki’s hand.
“It’s over… Everything I’ve been working so hard for…”
There was nothing Enta could say. He was painfully aware of how Kazuki felt.
“You were bound to be found out eventually. That day just happened to be today.
The one who broke the silence was Toi.
“Secrets always come out eventually. They always do. Just like yours and mine.”
Bullseye. Enta had been prepared for his whole world to end when the closely guarded secret of his feelings for Kazuki came out when the fact that he kissed Kazuki when he was asleep leaked.
“This whole idea was stupid from the start. Did you really think you were going to get away with it?”
“Haven’t you done enough already?!”
Enta shouted, unable to bear it any longer. But Toi ignored him and kept going.
“Why are you pretending you’re the one hurt? You hurt your little brother, you did. You’re the one at fault here!”
Kazuki’s shoulders trembled, and Enta grabbed Toi at almost the same time.
“Like you’re in any position to talk, murderer!”
The moment he said it, Enta realized that Toi’s earlier statement had applied to himself too, but it was too late to back down, and Toi was in the same position.
“Then you tell him! If you’re the Golden Duo, kick him in the head and wake him up!”
The two of them turned around as they clutched at each other’s collars. Kazuki still had his back to them, but his shoulders were trembling.
“I hurt Haruka… Even though I promised I’d never hurt him again… I hurt Haruka again…”
At which point Keppi shouted loudly enough to drown out Toi’s quiet question, “Extraaaaaaact… desiiiire!”
And the next moment, all three of them were kappas.
“That was cruel to do it with no warning, Keppi!”
“When the sun sets, kappa zombies appear. So I turned you into kappas. What’s the problem, kero?”
“Too many to count…”
Out of concern for Kazuki, who hadn’t said a word, Enta changed the subject.
“So that thing they stole from Haruka, you know, those, uh, things.”
“The object of this kappa zombie’s desire is scented pouches, kero.”
“Yeah, that’s right! If it’s something important to Haruka, we should get it back! Right, Kazuki?”
After a brief pause, Kazuki nodded slightly.
The three of them faced off against the zombie along with Keppi’s shout.
“Nice smelling sachets~!”
The zombie relentlessly blew perfume at the boys.
“Bwah, it smells good…”
It seemed to dizzy the three of them so they couldn’t attack.
“Scent memories stay with you until death! I wanna burn her smell into olfactory center of my brain!”
The three of them got a lucky hit on the zombie and disabled it and then Kazuki dove head first into the zombie’s ass.
“It’s impossible to make invisible things like that tangible!”[sorry this sounds dumb as hell]
When Kazuki pulled the zombie’s shirikodama out, he saw the man’s desire to have a woman step on his nose right after she pulled boots off.
“I see, he was searching for the smell of someone he cared about…”
“I’ve been found out!”
The kappa zombie of Nioino exploded.
Kazuki’s secret that was leaking was from that night on top of the whale slide.
“Even if we wear different clothes, and even when we grow up, you and I, Kazu-chan, we’re connected, from beginning to end, in a big circle.”
“Ehehe. Kazu-chan, wanna go home together?”
Haruka’s words reminded Kazuki of who his real family was. And after that he retrieved his matching patterened clothes from the trash. His parents watched him as he did with relieved expressions on their faces.
Things returned to normal, almost as if nothing had happened.
Kazuki got even more serious about soccer and he and Enta started getting called the Golden Duo.
Time passed and before long it was the spring break before 2nd year of middle school.
The soccer posters in their shared room had started to fade.
And Kazuki met a woman on his way home from practice.
When the fragrance of sakura gently enveloped him, it unlocked a long lost memory. This should have been the first time he’d ever met this woman, but something about her smell was so familiar––
Kazuki’s birth mother carried a sakura-scented sachet.
Kazuki realized something in the middle of the leak. He realized what the thing that had flown out of Haruka’s pocket actually was.
“I got it baaaaack!” [this is the zombie talking]
That was the first time they failed a mission.
Clatter clatter clatter…
An earthen-ware kettle boiled.
“You did not defeat the kappa zombie, so no plate of hope for you, kero. I’m so steamed I can brew tea on my belly, you idiots! Kero!”
Keppi was brewing tea in his belly to express his displeasure. [ヘソで茶を沸かす this is another stupid pun that I didn’t really try on, sorry]
“And of course, I won’t be restoring you to human form either, kero.”
Enta and Toi were naturally not very happy to be stuck as kappa.
“…I don’t care if I ever turn back.
Kazuki muttered softly.
“Wh-What are you saying, Kazuki…”
“Haruka knew. I’m sure of it… He knows that I’m not really his brother…!”
And thus Kazuki confessed the rest of what was revealed during the leak.
“You joined the soccer club? And you made forward? That’s wonderful!”
His birth mother, who had shown up out of nowhere, was beautiful and kind, and smiled a lot. Kazuki was trying to hide his confusion at first, but the more they talked, the more he opened up to her.
When he was younger, Kazuki often worried about what it would mean if his birth mother was actually a horrible person. But ultimately those fears transformed into a feeling that, if his birth mother really was a horrible person, then that was all the more reason for him to treasure the family he had now.
Right after Kazuki was born, her husband, Kazuki’s father, died in an accident. And, pushed to the breaking point mentally where she couldn’t even take care of herself, Kazuki’s mother followed her father’s advice and gave up her son.
It wasn’t a situation anyone could really be blamed for.
“The truth is, I was so young and inexperienced back then. I had just lost the love of my life. The world just seemed so dark all around me. I wanted to run away from the pain of reality. But even after I gave you up, you were the one thing from back then that was always in my thoughts…”
His mother honestly told him the truth of why she’d come to see him. And about her current circumstances without hiding anything.
“You see, Kazuki, I have a family I care about just as much as I care about you… I know it’s selfish, huh? But I desperately wanted to meet you…!”
She said and hugged him. He couldn’t even smell the sakura anymore. In it’s stead, he remembered the smell of sweet milk and sunshine.
“…I care about my current family very much too. I have a really cute little brother.”
He wondered what his mother thought about that. He had no way of knowing, but both of them smiled.
“Let’s make this reunion our secret. I’ll see you off at the station tomorrow, so…”
I figured that was for the best. I had a family that was more real to me than any “real” family after all.
The next day, Kazuki slipped out of the house without any of his family members noticing.
His real mother would be going far away to return to her family from Tokyo Skytree Station.
He thought back on the previous night, and concluded that he was right, his current family meant more to him than anything. So he didn’t want to worry them about this, and decided to keep the meeting a secret.
But despite his best intentions––
As he was waiting for the signal to change at the crossing on the east end of Azuma Bridge, he heard Haruka’s voice from across the bridge.
“Haruka, why are you here…?”
Haruka caught up to him, out of breath.
“Where are you going? I wanna go with you!”
He couldn’t bring Haruka with him to see off his birth mother.
“Why? Is it because I’ve been bad?!”
Haruka would occasionally come up with these strange explanations for things.
“No one ever said anything about that.”
He had to hurry, his mother’s train was leaving soon.
“I”m sorry! I”m sorry! I’ll be a good boy, so… Please don’t leave me, Kazu-chan!”
He impulsively slapped away Haruka’s outstretched hand.
Both of them gasped at the same time.
But Kazuki was out of time. If he didn’t leave Haruka here, he would never see his birth mother again.
The signal had turned green before he realized it. Kazuki hardened his heart and started walking across the crosswalk, leaving Haruka behind.
The light started flashing.
“Wait… Wait! Kazu-chan…!”
He didn’t remember remember much after that.
The red light.
The way the setting sun illuminated the road.
The slender legs splayed out on the asphalt.
The puddle spreading over the ground, an eye-searing red, red, red.
Everything seemed like it was underwater, in slow motion.
Kazuki could barely breathe.
The Kappa square was sunk into a deep silence.
Kazuki’s forlorn voice burbled up like little bubbles and then vanished.
“I regret it so much… And Toi was right, it was all my fault. …It’s my fault Haruka can never walk again.”
“But… But, look…”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was Enta who spoke up.
“Just, like… it’s not like it’s all your fault, Kazuki…”
“That’s what everyone said. Dad, Mom… Even Haruka!”
After that response, Enta held his tongue.
“No one blamed me…! Even though I destroyed everything…!”
Toi just watched without saying a word.
“That’s why. That’s why I had to punish myself… I decided that I’d spend my whole life with a “fake” family to make up for it. But… They all just kept treating me like I was their real family…”
Enta began to cry.
It felt like he’d just been told that no one could ever get close to Kazuki now.
“Every time I see Haruka in his wheelchair, I can barely breathe… I quit soccer, but it’s not enough to make up for it, I stole Nyantaro… Pretended to be Sara… I connected with Haruka…!”
Through his tears, Kazuki spilled his last confession.
It was the truth he had never told a soul until then.
Even Kazuki himself had looked away from that darkness in his heart.
“I did it all for Haruka? What a blatant lie… I… I deceived Haruka to protect myself…! I…!”
I want to connect, but I can’t let myself.
Chapter 6 + Epilogue
Chapter 6: Haruka
Yes, it happened last night.
“I’m glad our zombie is such a tenacious one this time.”
Reo was in a good mood, fiddling with a photo as the elevator rose. The man in middle of the photo, Nioino, hadn’t disappeared.
“Indeed. Now I can finally leave my post.”
Reo’s expression soured at Mabu’s comment.
“What? …Maintenance again?”
“Yes. It is my lifeline after all.”
Whether Mabu had noticed the precipitous drop in Reo’s mood or not, he was operating exceedingly normally.
“Hah! That’s a good one! You just like doing things that make you feel good, don’t you?!”
Reo spat, his words brimming with distain, as the elevator came to a stop.
They were back in their usual police box.
And Mabu began walking toward the door, without a moment’s hesitation.
“Don’t be ridiculous. What good will come of prioritizing personal feelings?”
After Mabu’s figure melted into the inky black of night, a brown fist hit the wall of the police box.
“As if you would know the first thing about that[feelings/putting feelings first]…!”
“Good morning! Happy every day! Even happier with lucky selfies! Azuma Sara, dish!”
Things were less cheerful than usual as Asakusa Sara TV played in the living room. Haruka hadn’t started eating his breakfast and just silently stared at the TV. His father, watching the situation, asked a question.
“Have you heard anything from Kazuki?”
Haruka’s mother, holding her coffee cup in both hands, shook her head.
“I got a message saying he was staying at Enta’s last night…”
“Huh… You know, now that you mention it, he does look a little like her.”
Haruka’s father was looking at Sara dance on the TV.
“Yeah, maybe that’s why he got so obsessed with her…”
“Now, then, today’s lucky selfie item is…”
Haruka’s parents couldn’t see his expression from where they were.
“Oh my, my~? It’s a sachet again today, dish…”
In Haruka’s lap was the headdress of Kazukis’ Sara costume. The real Sara had picked it up after Kazuki ran the previous day and handed it to him. Haruka’s heart didn’t even quiver even though his beloved idol was right in front of him. He just thanked her and Sara calmly nodded.
“Well, I wish you good Saraluck today as always!”
“Crunch, crunch crunch, crunch crunch, crunch crunch, crunch crunch…”
In the kappa square, Toi and Enta, who were still in kappa form, were at a complete loss for words. Kazuki was stress eating a massive pile of cucumbers.
“Crunch, crunch crunch, crunch crunch… Cucumbers are delicious! So much better as a kappa than as a human!”
Toi looked on at Kazuki, who was in higher spirits than he had ever seen so far, with pity.
“He sure lost it fast…”
“That’s what we call a kappa’s high, kero. It’s a symptom that can happen when [a human] remains in kappa for m for an extended period, kero.”
Keppi had given up too.
Kazuki was still stuffing his face obsessively with cucumbers.
“Being a kappa rules!”
To-ton, ton, ton, ton…
“In the east corner Kazuki of the sea~ In the west corner, Entayama~”
Keppi announced sumo-referee style, standing in the ring that had appeared in the middle of kappa square along with the brisk beat of a taiko drum.
“Face your opponent~”[this sounds like some sumo thing, I’m not super familiar with]
Enta, who had a topknot now, came to his senses as he did the ceremonial stomp.[I’m sorry I don’t know shit about sumo terms, especially in English]
“Sumo doesn’t have anything to do with this, does it?”
Kazuki, with the same new hairstyle, joined him in the ring.
“Oh it has everything to do with this!”
[Kepi makes a sumo call to initiate the match, I gave up on trying to make it English]
And thus the final round between kappas Kazuki and Enta began.
The two kappas grappled, struggling against each other with all their might.
They started sweating.
Drip, drip… the kappas’ sweat hit the arena floor.
“Ahh, haa… Kazuki’s skin is rubbing up against mine…”
In contrast to Enta’s expression of ecstasy, Kazuki was serious about trying to win.
“Come at me with all you got, Enta!”
Their kappa skin was getting progressively wetter.
Squish squish squish…
Dribble dribble dribble…
“I-I can’t… go on…”
“You’re pathetic, Enta! Aren’t we the Golden Duo!”
Kazuki thrust his knee between Enta’s legs and pushed up.
Enta was tossed spectacularly out of the ring.
At which point Enta realized.
This had been another one of his fantasies.
But the fantasy didn’t end there.
“Are you okay? You’re not hurt, are you?”
Kazuki was holding out his hand.
“Huh? Is this part of my fantasy too…?”
He pulled on the stick of gum Keppi had suddenly offered. [I think I’m missing a joke here]
And snap! His fingers were caught.
“Ow! It’s not a fantasy?!”
Sumo referee Keppi bowed reverently.
“Being a kappa is the best!”
As the kappa locked arms and began to dance, they saw Toi behind them sweeping the ring.
“And now for the news, dish. The ‘Asakusa Scented Bag Incident’ continues from yesterday and is being investigated as the work of an organized crime ring in Asakusa.”
The screen outside the Asakusa tourism center was reporting on last night’s incident.
Toi looked up when he saw it and muttered,
“Hey, if it’s still making the news today, is it still happening now?”
“It couldn’t be… Oh crap!”
Enta abruptly shut his mouth when he started answering without thinking.
In the flurry of everything that had happened, he had forgotten that they were in a big fight up until they got abruptly turned into kappa.
Toi didn’t seem to be particularly concerned about it anymore, and Enta’s decision to avoid him entirely seemed like the right choice.
Toi just rolled his eyes at Enta’s very deliberate attempt to ignore him.
“I know! No one can see us when we’re kappas, so doesn’t that mean we can get into Hanayashiki for free?”
Enta made a very Enta-like suggestion as the four of them arrived at the little park where that public bathroom was.
“Oh, found a ball!”
Enta started playing with a soccer ball someone had left behind.
Kazuki smiled and answered Toi’s comment,
“Yeah, this is the bathroom I always used to become Sara. Man, what an idiot I was to dress up as an idol girl! Hilarious, huh!”
“Well, you were trying your best in your own weird way.”
“Enough of that! Alright, let’s go have some fun! I love being a kappa!”
Toi sighed at Kazuki’s transparent attempts to feign cheer.
Meanwhile, Enta was pretending to play with the soccer ball, all the while working on an elaborate plan. Even if Kazuki was just feigning his good mood, he was a lot more energetic than usual.
“Today I might be able to get Kazuki to accept my pass real naturally…”
He turned around and saw Kazuki running toward him.
“Pass to me!”
“Are you sure? You said you had nothing to do with soccer anymore…”
“Oh but I have everything to do with it! Let’s bring back the Golden Duo!”
Enta responded without hesitation to the words he’d been waiting to hear for so long.
Enta kicked the ball high in the sky and Kazuki jumped, landing a magnificent overhead kick on it.
“Enta! My Miracle Shot is aimed right at your heart!”
The next instant, the projectile, fired from Kazuki’s golden right leg, nailed Enta right in the stomach.
The ball, however, didn’t change course and shook the goal net.
Toi, who was playing goalie, looked frustrated.
Even as he coughed up blood, Enta was happy.
“Haa, oh no, this isn’t good. My fantasy went too far again…”
As Enta was snapping himself out of his day dream, Kazuki called out to him.
“This is it, just act natural, real natural… Kazuki, catch!”
The ball made a fwump when Enta kicked it and flew through Kazuki’s unmoving legs.
“Sorry, I’m just headed to the bathroom.”
Enta’s shoulders drooped when the ball bounced off the wall.
“It’s never gonna happen, huh…”
As he stared at the bathroom door locking, he heard a voice at his back.
“We can’t let him keep doing this.”
Enta snapped back at him.
“I don’t need you to tell me that… I know!”
Enta and the others arrived in Sumida River Park.
“There’s a really good cucumber spot just over there! You like cucumbers, right, Kazuki?”
“What’s a cucumber spot…”
Just as Enta was thinking his plan was working a little better.
Kazuki stopped in his tracks.
He was looking at––
“Nyantaro! Come out!”
Haruka in his wheelchair and his father.
Tk, tk, tk, tk, tk…! [kazuki’s kappa feet slapping against the ground]
The remaining three grumbled as they watched Kazuki off in the distance.
“He ran away…”
“Sorry for being late with your food, Nyantaro.”
Nyantaro meowed as he chowed down on his food, seemingly to say he didn’t mind.
“Hey, Nyantaro, Kazu-chan’s gonna come home, right…?”
But neither Nyantaro, or anyone, could answer that question.
Haruka suddenly pulled out his phone.
Nyantaro had just started to nod off after he finished his meal.
“I hope this reaches him…”
Haruka whispered like a prayer and hit the send button.
Some noise ran across the phone screen and a red heart mark appeared.
“Huh? When did I download that app…?”
At that point, a large shadow came over Haruka.
“Who’s been a bad boy?” [as an aside this is echoing Haruka’s sort of out of place comment when he chased Kazuki down before the accident––asking if Kazuki was leaving because he was “bad”]
He looked up and saw a man in a police uniform standing there. He had brown skin, jagged teeth and a daring smile––it was Reo.
Reo leaned up against the wall and started eating ningyouyaki from the paper bag he had with him.
Haruka asked anxiously, “Are you going to arrest me…?”
“What makes you think that?”
“I stole Kazu-chan’s smile away…”
“My big brother. He hasn’t come home since yesterday…”
Haruka had the headdress in his lap when he confessed that.
“Huh, sounds like you and me are in the same boat. He left me yesterday too…”
“Are you a bad boy too, Mr. Policeman?”
Haruka’s words felt like an attack to Reo for a moment, but he quickly laughed it off.
“Hah! As if! He’s the bad one. He’s been betraying me all this time with that calm look on his face. He’s like a doll that’s had all his emotions drained away…”
Reo squeezed the now cold ningyouyaki in his hand.
“I want Kazu-chan to smile…”
Sensing Haruka’s gaze on him, Reo turned to look him in the eye.
“Then why don’t you show me…? Whether the door deep in your heart is desire… or love…?”
Reo held his big hand over his head. And Haruka’s eyes slowly closed.
“The future belongs to those who have connected with desire…”
Just as Reo was picking up the sleeping Haruka,
Nyantaro woke up and started hissing at him.
Reo glanced at him and muttered, “Back off” under his breath.
That’s all it took and Nyantaro went flying through the air.
Reo picked up Haruka and vanished from the riverbank without any interference.
“Snap out of it already!”
Toi and Keppi looked on as Enta and Kazuki argued in an infinite loop. Kazuki was clinging to a flowerbed along the river bank and Enta kept trying to pull him out. Over and over.
“Let me go! I have nothing to do with Haruka anymore!”
“You know, Haruka has been… [so worried] about you this whole time… Gah!”
What finally put an end to their loop, was Nyantaro falling from the sky. Nyantaro landed neatly on Enta’s head and frantically started cleaning himself.
“Nyantaro! Why are you here…?”
Kazuki was astonished when he got back to the pier. [er like that little wall where Haruka always sits]
“Haruka… is gone…?!”
Haruka’s wheelchair sat empty where he had just been. And in the outside seating area of his usual coffee shop, Kazuki’s father was passed out on the table.
“You’re dad’s knocked out!”
“Tch, who could’ve…!”
Toi started running around the area looking for anyone suspicious. At which point, Kazuki’s phone got a message.
Their kappa shells were basically a portal to another dimension, and anything important placed inside it would be safe, even from water. Kazuki opened his shell, took out the phone, and was shocked by what he saw on the screen.
Suddenly Keppi turned into a black rotary phone that started ringing.
“What is it now?!”
Keppi pulled the receiver off his head and took the call while Enta and Toi watched.
“Yes? Hello, kero… Yes, yes… Understood, kero.”
Click! He hung up and then announced,
“I’ve gotten some information from a reliable source. …Yasaka Haruka has been kidnapped by the Empire Army, kero.”
“Are you serious?! The Empire Army has Haruka?! …Wait? Empire Army?”
Enta was confused by the dangerous-sounding and unfamiliar term.
“The Empire Army are the enemies who destroyed the Kappa Kingdom, kero…”
“What are they after? Why did they kidnap him?!”
Toi wanted answers.
“…To kill him and turn him into a kappa zombie, kero.”
Two of the boys were taken aback by what Keppi said, but,
“I’m not gonna let them!”
He was practically a different kappa than he had been before, as his eyes gleamed with strength.
“I’m going to save Haruka…!”
When Reo got back to the police box, Mabu had already returned from maintenance.
“Reo, where were you? And who is that child… I believe you were told not to take any unsanctioned actions.”
“Hah! You’re one to talk.”
Reo couldn’t hide his irritation with Mabu anymore.
Haruka was still asleep when Reo sat him in a chair.
“We’ll open this door for you…”
Reo ignored him and pulled out his gun. Mabu didn’t say another word.
A large taiko drum appeared above Haruka.
“The otter empire?!”
Enta’s hysterical voice echoed down the Sumida River at night.
“We kappas have been in a long and drawn out war with the otters, kero.”
They were in an area of the river surrounded by a semi-circle of aquatic plants.
“Come with me, kero.”
Splash! Keppi dove into the river.
The crescent shape wall seemed to go on forever.[depth-wise]
The plate on Keppi’s head shone, lighting up the area in front of them, but they couldn’t see the bottom of the river.
“Why did we get dragged into this?”
Toi asked, trying to think through the situation.
“Because what both forces have been stealing… is the desire energy that is stored in shirikodama, kero.”
Suddenly, faded images started to appear on the wall.
It was an illustrated history of the kappas and the otters.
“Once the Otter Empire robbed the Kappa Kingdom of all its desire energy, they set their sights on humans, kero…”
“So does that mean you’re the last of a fallen kingdom…?”
At some point, the shaft turned into a tunnel, and they surfaced from the water.
The light from Keppi’s plate was the only thing illuminating the dark tunnel.
“I am the only one who can produce the ‘Plates of Hope’. If the Empire found out about me, they would try to kill me, kero.”
They could see the light of an exit in the distance.
When they went through the exit, they found themselves inside a large structure. Suddenly, gravity lost its hold on them and the kappas were launched into a seemingly bottomless ravine.
On closer inspection, the structure, with a big white frame around it, was transporting an immense number of boxes. Almost like some kind of large distribution warehouse.
“What is this place…”
Keppi answered as he fell with them.
“The Otter Empire’s secret base, kero!”
Keppi’s tentacles wrapped around Kazuki and the others.
And the next instant Keppi had turned himself into a parachute.
“Where did they take Haruka…?”
“They pack everything into boxes, kero.”
“You mean we need to check all of these?!”
“We don’t have that kind of time!”
While Toi and Enta bickered, Kazuki was thinking.
He pulled his phone from his shell and placed a call.
Toi and Enta watched with baited breath.
He could hear a phone ring somewhere in the distance.
Where though? Which box was it…?
Among the seemingly endless boxes flowing on conveyer belts was one with the word “Spring[Haru]” written in the heart on its side.
“I found it! It’s that one…! Ah?!”
He had finally found Haruka’s box when it fell from the conveyer belt into a big pile of boxes being carried away by a red crane.
Kazuki and the others chased after the crane. They slid down the frame of the structure, running as fast as their little legs would carry them, but the distance between them and the crane only grew.
Kazuki, who was at the head of the pack, abruptly stopped.
The scaffolding was broken.
“What do we do…”
Toi grabbed Kazuki by the nape of his neck and tossed him as hard as he could.
With a slap, Kazuki landed on a piece of scaffold that continued where the other one was interrupted.
Toi was tossed after him.
Kazuki shouted when he got up.
Enta held Keppi up and waved him around.
“Go, Kazuki! Don’t give up on Haruka!”
It was a battle against time.
Kazuki decided to charge ahead.
Suddenly police lights and sirens went off.
He could see an iron gate coming down ahead of him.
Toi did an impressive slide and got right under the gate.
Kazuki and Keppi managed to get through the small gap in the gate that Toi had made.
But the next second a sturdy fence had come down between Toi and Kazuki.
Toi said, forcing a smile, “Jinnai and I will catch up to you…”
The utility elevator Kazuki and Keppi got on started to descend.
“You can still get him back… So run!”
Kazuki thought over Toi and Enta’s words in the elevator.
He couldn’t waste their feelings.
[this is going to get confusing from this point because this is a chase scene + weird Ikuhara visuals]
The elevator arrived and Kazuki tumbled out onto a giant, cylindrical floor.
A long bridge spanned the whole area.
And the crane carrying Haruka’s box was just descending from above.
Just as the crane reached the bridge it stopped in mid air.
It was surrounded by some kind of taiko drum like engine burning black flames.
It seemed almost like some kind of sacred ceremony.
Kazuki started running across the bridge and got so close to the crane.
“Haruka… I’m almost there…!”
And that was when it happened.
With that merciless metal sound, both ends of the crane opened.
And the next instant, all the boxes in the pile went flying.
It all seemed to be happening almost in slow motion, Haruka’s box fell into the gaping black maw of the abyss right in front of Kazuki’s eyes.
Kazuki’s shout was sucked up into the floor and vanished.
Puff, puff, puff…
One by one the flames of the taiko drum engines went out.
Almost like lives being extinguished.
Kazuki stared blankly and crumpled to the ground.
Toi and Enta froze on the scaffold on the other side.
Kazuki was white as a sheet and that’s when the voice came from behind him.
“Do you want to save Yasaka Haruka, kero?”
He turned around and it was Keppi.
“If we transplant your shirikodama, you can, kero. That will bring Yasaka Haruka back to life, kero.”
“You have no other options, kero.”
Before Kazuki could say anything, Toi shouted from across the room.
“Wait! What happens if he loses his shirikodama? Won’t he die like those kappa zombies?!”
Enta reacted to the comment too.
“You can’t! I won’t let you!”
Keppi had gotten up on the end of the crane at some point and started to explain.
“Humans are connected by the shirikodama. If they lose it, they can’t connect with anyone, they’ll be knocked outside the link to the world, kero.”[that last bit is probably a big key phrase and I probably handled it badly so here’s the JP 世界の縁の外側に弾かれる]
Kazuki mumbled back Keppi’s words.
“Outside the link… to the world…”
“Indeed. It would be like the human known as Yasaka Kazuki never existed in the first place, kero. All of the memories, events and things associated with you will disappear, kero.”
“What! That’s even worse than dying!”
Enta shouted at the horror of it.
“Will that mean all the kappa zombies we defeated will be undone too…”
“No, you can’t do it, Kazuki!”
Kazuki didn’t respond to Enta’s cries.
Instead he asked Keppi something.
“So would that mean… Haruka’s accident wouldn’t have happened either…?”
Kazuki flashed back to that day in his mind.
“…You are correct.”
A small smile formed on Kazuki’s lips as he hung his head.
Kazuki shot up, he had no more doubts.
“I want you to give my shirikodama to Haruka.”
His voice was quiet, but both Enta and Toi heard him.
“Understood, kero. Then jump into that abyss, kero. …Click.”
Keppi pushed a button and the crane transformed into a large hoist.
“I am holding onto your shirikodama inside my body, kero. In order to transplant it, its connection to you must be severed, kero.”
“Don’t you move a muscle!”
Enta and Toi shouted and came running.
Kazuki slowly reached for the chain on the hoist. The cold of the metal cleared his mind.[oh shit we pulleys]
That’s right, I was always on the outside of the circle to begin with… Everything would have gone well if I hadn’t been around…
He thought back to what Haruka had told him.
“Kazu-chan, you and I are connected from beginning to end in a big circle.”
He looked back as he put his foot into the hook on the end of the hoist.
This is my last chance… To make up for the fact that I can’t connect.[つながれない僕が、つぐなうための……。]
Kazuki hit the down button and the hoist began to move with a metallic sound.
“…Don’t worry. Haruka will forget everything and walk forward into the future. And Enta, you’ll forget me too…”
“I don’t want to forget you! Stop this, please… No! Kazuki!”
Toi hurried after Enta.
The hoist kept moving down.
“Tch! We’re too late…!”
Toi had pulled the emergency break.
But Kazuki’s figure just continued to get smaller.
Enta’s cry echoed in the darkness.
A flash of fire burst forth from the muzzle of the gun.
The bullet Toi had fired hit the mechanical part of the hoist.
The chain that was lowering reacted violently and started to roll up.
Kazuki was thrown off the hoist into the air and dropped right in front of Enta and Toi.
“Are you okay?!”
They grabbed Kazuki’s hands and tried to pull him up.
Once they got him up they saw he was breathing.
“Give me a fucking break…”
The two of them could finally catch their breath when Kazuki said softly, “…Why.”
Kazuki had a dreadful expression on his face.
“Why did you get in the way?! This is what I want so just leave me alone! It would be better if I never existed.”
Before he could even finish talking, his right cheek burned with the impact of the hit.
“If you have enough time to spout that nauseating bullshit, think of another way!”
Toi shouted, clenching his fist.
“Yeah! I’m not going to let you disappear, okay!”
Enta climbed on top of Kazuki as he lay on the ground.
Enta dangled a blue cord i front of Kazuki’s eyes as he groaned. It was the good luck band Kazuki had thrown away.[as an aside I’ve only been translating ミサンガ this way entirely because I can’t spell it in English and am too lazy to look it up]
“How…? I threw it away…”
“Haruka entrusted me with it! He hasn’t given up on you! He believes in you!”
Kazuki touched the band with trembling fingers.
“Determination: love. Box: to be returned.”
An announcement suddenly boomed through the floor.
Keppi noticed something at the bottom of the pit from his vantage atop the crane.
“Oh? He’s still alive, kero.”
One little box was dangling from a red crane that rose from the darkness.
“That’s Haruka’s box!”
The crane moved into another room.
The three of them took off running. This time, they were going to get him back no matter what.
There were three massive duct openings in front of Kazuki where the crane disappeared.
The three of them each lept into one without even having to consult with each other.
He slid down the dark, steeply inclined duct alone.
Kazuki had no idea when it would end, so he thought back to what had happened that afternoon.
The moment he found out Haruka had been kidnapped, he had gotten a text notification on his phone.
It was from Haruka.
It was the longest message he’d ever gotten from him, and this is how it opened:
“Dear Sara-chan. This is my last message to you.”
He had written Kazuki a message even after he found out everything.
“Connecting with Sara-chan made every day with so much fun.”
“Since this is my last message, could I tell you a secret I never told anyone before?”
The slope suddenly stopped and Kazuki found himself thrown into a flat plane of darkness.
He got up and then continued to run forward.
“You see, I did something really bad.”
“I hurt someone who means a lot to my dear big brother.”
“No, Haruka… You didn’t!”
Kazuki shouted to Haruka who wasn’t present.
“I was so scared when I chased after Kazu-chan back then. I thought he was going to go far away.”
While Kazuki was running aimlessly, Haruka continued to sleep soundly in his box as it was moved. Tears filled his closed eyes.
“I picked up something Kazuki’s real mom dropped on that day.”
It was that sakura-scented pouch. It smelled just like Kazuki had lately.
“Oh, you wouldn’t happen to be Haruka, would you?”
Haruka, who was younger than he was now, screamed at her frantically.
“Don’t take Kazu-chan away from me! Go home! Never come back here!”
“She just smiled at me and said ‘don’t worry, I’m not going to do that’. Her face looked just like Kazu-chan’s too.”
“After that, Kazu-chan stopped smiling and even threw out his good luck band.”
“I knew it was all my fault, but I wanted to be with Kazu-chan, and I wanted him to smile.”
Kazuki tripped over his own feet.
“Everything Kazu-chan did for me made me so happy.”
Kazuki scrambled back to his feet, and the blue good luck band fluttered around his ankle as he took another step forward.
“That’s why I’m not giving up.”
“I know Kazu-chan will come home. I believe he’s going to smile again!”
Faint light appeared before Kazuki.
The place Kazuki jumped out into was––
––a giant garbage dump.
When he looked up, he saw the crane that had Haruka’s box dangling off it, moving to the center of the area.
A strange structure made of several taiko drums was waiting where the crane seemed to be headed.
He looked over when he heard Enta’s voice and saw Enta and Toi appearing from their exits.
“We can’t do anything from here. What do we do now?!”
Enta called out to Toi who was at an exit further below him.
Toi looked frustrated, staring at the crane and drums floating in the sky..
“Shit. Is our only choice to backtrack?!”
Suddenly the drums started to groan.
The ominous noise of sharp blades started to come from within them.
Toi could see glimmering shards piling up beneath the drum’s hole.[sounds like the shredder in the child broiler]
“It’s a shredder?!”
The three of them immediately tensed up.
“Haruka’s going to be cut to pieces at this rate…!”
While Kazuki was flustered, Enta looked around the area.
“Isn’t there… anything we can use?!”
“Anything’s pretty broad…”
When Toi turned around as he said that, Keppi suddenly appeared.
After a pause, Keppi abruptly transformed himself into a ball.
“You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, kero. I’m sure it will pain you greatly, since I’m so loveable and cherished, but if you throw m––“
Toi stomped on the now ball-shaped Keppi with all his might and then kicked it up into the air as hard as he could.
“Catch it, Jinnai!”
The pass went to Enta as Keppi groaned.
Enta caught it with both hands and Toi called out to him.
“Pass it to Yasaka! He should be able to stop the crane with him!”
“Huh? But Kazuki…”
At which point,
When he looked up, Kazuki was looking down at him with a serious expression.
“Enta! …Pass it to me!”
“Kazuki, asked me…!”
It was time for Enta’s wish to do another Golden Duo pass to come true.
[more gross Keppi groans]
The Keppi-ball flew straight for Kazuki.
The crane carrying Haruka’s box stopped just over the drum shredder.
“I know you can be a little stubborn sometimes, but you can run straight for the goal, Kazu-chan!”[this is from haruka’s message––english doesn’t have enough punctuation for this shit]
“Nice pass, Enta!”
Kazuki got a running start and lept into the sky.
The crane opened and started to drop the box.
Enta and Toi solenmly watched Kazuki.
“You can be a little hard to understand sometimes, but I know you’re really so kind and warm.”[also haruka]
“Haruka… I’m never giving up on you again…!”
Kazuki launched one of his overhead kicks.
[more gross keppi sounds]
The Keppi ball hit Haruka’s box with absolute precision.
But in response to the hit, Haruka’s body fell from the box and was tumbling straight into the shredder.
And the next instant, there was a thunderous roar and the blades of the shredder tore the box to pieces.
The pieces fluttered down and piled up in front of Toi.[note the pieces are described as falling サラサラ]
But neither Haruka nor Keppi were anywhere to be seen.
Kazuki shouted as he looked up into the sky hopefully.
At which point he saw parachute-mode Keppi gliding down from behind the shredder drum.
And in his tentacles was a sleeping Haruka.
“I’m not the only one who’s been wishing to see your smile again either, Kazu-chan.”[also haruka’s message]
“You’re right in the middle of that big circle, Kazu-chan.”[haruka]
Kazuki spread his arms wide and caught Haruka as he slept.
His weight and gentle warmth filled Kazuki with joy.
“We did it!”
The three of them shouted for joy in the garbage dump labeled “Love”.[subtle]
That night, in the Desire Field on Azuma Bridge.
Kazuki and the other kappa boys performed their greatest sarazanmai yet.
“Just like that!”
They even struck their usually somewhat awkward signature pose with unusual grace.
They weren’t hesitant about transferring the shirikodama this time either.
They didn’t care if their secrets were shared.
It may not have been visible or tangible.
It may have been unreliable and vague.
But the connection that they very clearly had in that moment, was shared among their mixed consciousnesses.
“This really does feel more right after all!”
“You can say that again.”
Enta and Toi, who had regained their human forms, were talking normally in the kappa square.
“You know, um… I’m sorry.”
Enta sincerely apologized for everything up until that point.
“It’s cool… I don’t mind.”
Toi replied as he turned away from him.
Their issues resolved, they both turned to look at the one person left with his back to them.
Kazuki hadn’t said a word that whole time, as he felt his body to reassure himself that he was back to normal.
“…Would you have rather remained a kappa, kero?”
Keppi asked, looking quite beaten up from the repeated blows he’d taken.
And Kazuki answered, his hands groping his own face.
“…It feels so weird. I should be the same as I was yesterday, but everything feels so new…”
Enta and Toi just watched without saying a word.
“But… I am me.”
Kazuki said and turned to the two of them.
“Yasaka…”[He just calls him お前 but yeah]
And what the two of them saw was an awkward, bright smile across Kazuki’s face for probably the first time.
And then Kazuki said for the first time, “Thank you, I’m so glad I have both of you in my life…!”
Epilogue: Reo and Mabu
Reo and Mabu were floating back to back in a massive taiko drum filled to the brim with water.
“Our target was stolen from us and this location was discovered… Your failure has hindered our mission, Reo.”
“Don’t be so mad! That kid had ‘love’ after all. We can’t use that. …Heh, hehe, hahahahaha…!”
“Reo… What’s with you?”
Mabu asked, unable to understand his partner’s intentions.
“It’s all thanks to that kid that I got lucky!”
An image of Keppi rescuing Haruka appeared on a large screen behind them.
“I finally found it. Our hope…!”
” Desire Lost, and the Beginning of Unending Night”
Desire Lost, and the Beginning of Unending Night
It was year 333 of the Kappa Kingdom Calendar.
The end of lengthy war with the Otter Empire was in sight.
Crossing the river that separated Here from There seemed nigh impossible, but the Otter Empire broached the waters and invaded the Kappa Kingdom.
Keppi, the crown prince of the Kappa Kingdom, was writing in agony in his chambers.
The dark desire swelling inside him was on the verge of tearing his body to shreds.
In that moment, the entrance to the room flew open.
And Reo and Mabu, clad in black military uniforms appeared.
“We’ve found you!”
At the very moment Reo was about to rush over to him.
“The desire is… bursting…!”
Something dreadful flew out of Prince Keppi’s body.
“Reo! Look out!”
A rumble coupled with the sound of an explosion echoed through the room, and all functions of the Kappa Kingdom abruptly ceased.
An injured Reo cowered amidst the rubble.
“Why… Why did you protect me…?”
Reo cradled Mabu, on the verge of death, in his arms.
Mabu tightly gripped Reo’s quivering hands and announced,
“Don’t abandon your desire… The future… lies only in the hands of those tied to desire…”
And then all the strength abruptly faded from Mabu’s hand.
Reo’s scream of grief echoed through the sky, dyed red from the fire consuming the Kappa Kingdom.
Not a soul knew what was to come of the two after that.
All that anyone knew for sure, was that the pitch-black despair seemed to continue endlessly.
Novel 2 – prologue
Prologue — Two Children Alone
It all began with a coincidence.
I doubt it was fate that brought us together.
The end was sudden.
I have a feeling that moving forward, that’s what we will chose to keep.
The entire time, I knew.
I had to; you were me, after all.
The entire time, I was aware.
I only pretended not to see.
Some nights I wished there was no such thing as beginnings or endings.
If only we could’ve melted into one,
then there would have been no need to hold your hand.
Time passes, and the ‘now’ is over.
The world breathes on,
With not a care for where we go.
Without a beginning and an end,
I never would have met you.
And we never would have had this connection; more uncertain than fate but warm nonetheless.
Chapter 7 – Balls
“You ‘hate’ too many things, Reo.”
Upon hearing that, young Reo’s brows furrowed “So what? Something wrong with that?”
“I didn’t say that. It’s just…”
I hate rain, I hate rich people, I hate grown-ups, I hate baths, I hate brand new shirts, I hate
studying… Reo was always so quick to say he ‘hated’ something.
“It’s just what?”
“I hate you when you say the word ‘hate’.” Mabu confessed and saw Reo stiffen.
“Wh…-huh?” Tears spilled from Reo’s eyes.
“Reo!? Are you hurt?”
“I… I dunno…” Reo clawed at his chest in confusion. “It hurts… here.”
Mabu forcefully wiped away the tears quietly flowing down Reo’s face with the palms of his hands.
“Ow- Ouch! Mabu, that hurts!”
In his haste to stop them, Mabu had unintentionally gotten too rough.
Reo’s eyes were red.
“Reo, let’s make a promise.”
“A promise to not say the word ‘hate’ anymore.”
“I don’t want to hear about the things you hate, and I don’t want to see you cry either. So let’s try
not to say that we ‘hate’ things ever again, alright?”
Shocked, Reo answered that he didn’t mind and agreed.
“Just so you know, I’d never say it about you, Mabu.” And they pinky swore with their tiny hands.
That was a dream of days long gone.
Asakusa – In contrast to the bustle of daytime, late at night no one was around. There was an entrance to an underground passage, that for some reason gave off an ominous air. It was entrance number 8 to the Asakusa underground. Above the gaping wide entryway to the passage, the beloved mascot character Otter Boy’s sign dazzled. Asakusa’s underground shopping streets are the oldest in Japan.
In a corner of the street thick with remnants of the Showa era, lined with bars and pubs, it was there.
‘Too hot…. Isn’t this enough?’
Inside a dimly lit shop, the steam rising up from something sweet-smelling being baked was choking him just a bit. The profile of Mabu’s face, illuminated by the gas burner, was visibly white within the darkness.
‘Otter nonsense. It’s too early, isn’t it?’ A low voice whispered into his ear.
‘But I can’t take anymore…’
‘Otterly sad… You’ve never had very good endurance.’
‘Please, stop teasing me …!’
‘If you insist, do it yourself.’
As if he could see the true nature of everything, the Otter’s voice kept on pressing.
Slam. The sound of something colliding with metal, and then right away steam spat upwards.
‘Otter… I told you so. It was too soon.’
Mabu looked at the Ningyoyaki-like items which melted away, unable to keep their shape.
—How many times will I fail.
Satisfied with the usual result, a shadow with a red outline touched Mabu’s hand.
‘Otter… It seems some fine tuning is in otter. Show me what’s inside of you again.’
‘Please. I can’t wait to become the version of myself that’s wished for….’
Maintenance was his literal lifeline, something indispensable.
‘Mabu… Pathetic and beautiful, my doll… ‘
As he was sleeping, the shadow’s experienced hands crawled around Mabu’s chest. To be able to endure it, he closed his eyes. Those hands touching his empty heart, whose hands were they really?
A bright morning. On Asakusa Otter police box’s TV ASAKUSATV was being broadcast. Reo came to the table with a pot full of boiled broccoli. Steam still rising, he cheerfully served it with instant Yakisoba ramen.
‘Mhhhmmm, now we have a perfect breakfast!’
Reo’s method was to put Mayo onto the broccoli, covering up the Yakisoba so you couldn’t see it.
His partner’s actions angered Reo.
At the sight of Mabu starting to eat the Yakisoba broccoli, Reo reflexively clicked his tongue.
‘Stop acting like that. What’s the point of you eating that?’
‘I can eat now, after my last maintenance.’
It’s not that he was able to enjoy eating. Mabu, whose face had turned blue from chewing, looked rather in pain.
‘I see. So you thought I’d accept you if you ate our old favourites?’
Since Mabu was having trouble with swallowing, bits of food were scattered around his mouth. With empty eyes he listened to Reo’s words.
‘You can pretend all you want. But none of that matters. Everything that comes out of you is a lie.
How many times had he heard these words.
‘Still, there’s someone who’s precious to me.’
‘I know that.’
In response to what seemed to be a throwaway remark, Mabu perked up.
‘Forget it. Just don’t tell anyone what you saw yesterday. Not those bastards who are soimportant to you, either.’
Mabu’s response revebrated emptily in that bright morning’s light.
“Thanks for the meal!”
Kazuki and Haruka’s voice overlapped in the living room of the Yasaka household. The day that Haruka was rescued from the Otter Empire. Kazuki was finally able to be himself again.
Keppi had erased Haruka’s memory, who would have otherwise been frightened by the whole ordeal. However, the struggle the three kappa boys had gone through was still etched into Kazuki’s memories.
For the first time in a while, Kazuki was wearing a summer ensemble with stripes. “Good morning,” he called out as he came into the living room. Kazuki’s family was gathered for breakfast at the table there, and he realized that the smell of happiness had been here all along.
The small, sleepy voice of Sara Azuma came from the television set. “Now, have a good Sarakki day ☆!”
The summer sun reflected in the Sumida River while Nyantarou was gobbling up sakanazanmai.
“Kazu-chan,” said Haruka. “There’s something I have to give you.” As he sat on the embankment, he took something out of his pocket. It was Kazuki’s mother’s sachet.
“On that day, she wanted me to give this to you.”
“Why don’t you keep it, Haruka?”
“I think that I’m able to connect to people on my own now…” He no longer wanted to throw away his past and so that was the reason he wanted Haruka to keep the sachet.
“Does that mean you can connect with me? With dad and with mom?”
Kazuki could tell that Haruka was feeling uneasy, and so he gave an easygoing laugh.
“Of course,” he said, stroking Haruka’s head.
“Ahah…. I’m so glad!”
This casual touch was something that Haruka had been waiting for all this time.
With his back to the Midsummer heat, Reo was sitting alone in the air-conditioned police box. Mabu was once again absent today.
‘Everything would work out with the dishes.’
Reo mumbled like he was giving instructions, then he suddenly stood up and held out his hand towards the wall. As soon as he did, the usual green bulletin board flashed with digital noise.
A bright red Otter mark appeared. The time Reo targeted a child for Kappa zombification on impulse. The thieves who invaded their hideout and snatched away the child appeared on the screen. What the monitor confirmed was, 3 unknown Kappa kicked flying a white round-shaped object. That was the first heir to the Kappa kingdom throne, previously missing after going into exile due to the war. He hadn’t forgotten about the day Mabu lost his life.
When he woke up, he was in a hospital room. Above the blank wall, there was a pattern of interlocking hexagons on the ceiling. He could tell it was a hospital room from the bed he lay on and the tubes connecting his arm to IVs.
He instinctively yelled out as he woke up. His brain was all shaken up and he felt dizzy. Just how long had he been sleeping like this?
‘How are you feeling?’
In a heretofore unnoticed corner of the room, an ominous black shadow stood.
….Who are you?’
Reo was helpless since his body couldn’t move like he wanted it to. Without putting on any airs towards the other party, he sharply glared towards it.
‘I’m an Otter. I am the Otter Empire’s Chief Otticer of Science and Technology. You were caught up in an incident during the destruction of the Kappa kingdom.’
The burning flames. The collapsed rubble. His one and only irreplaceable partner whose eyes closed shut while in his arms—
The sensation of grasping that pure white hand as he’d said – don’t let go of your desires – came back so clearly to Reo.
‘Otter……’ Just as soon as Reo thought the Otter had disappeared, a light was lit on the other side of the glass facing the hospital room.
Reo stopped breathing at the sight of what appeared in front of his eyes,
‘He was seriously injured. By the time we discovered him, it was too late.’
Reo pulled out the drip tubes tangled around him, and despite his poor control over his legs he rushed over to the glass wall separating the rooms. Atop the bed you could just about see Mabu quietly laid down and sleeping. If he placed his ear on Mabu’s chest, he was sure he would be able to hear the soft sound of a heartbeat.
‘Mabu! Wake up! I won’t forgive you if you die and leave me all alone! Hey, Mabu! Tell me this isn’t happening!’
‘It’s not… a lie. Unfortunately, this is happening.
As he was crouching down, the Otter’s voice resonated into Reo’s ear terribly.
‘Do you want to save your partner’s life?’
‘To hear Mabu’s voice again, I’ll do anything…He’s all I have…’
—-The answer was determined from the start.
Even knowing the suffering I know now, I’d give the same answer to the same question.
We had no other choice.
“Okay? You have to put your heart and soul into everything this summer, no matter if you laugh or cry.” Otone’s voice rang out, echoing in the classroom of Asakusa Dish Middle School.
“Do your best when you play and when you study!” Otone continued, raising her fist in the air. She was dressed in vacation styled clothing with a straw hat, an insect net and a floatie that was in the shape of a watermelon. Once the closing ceremony was over, summer vacation would begin tomorrow.
“I’ve been wanting this for so long!”
East of the Azumabashi Bridge, Enta and Kazuki were kicking a soccer ball.
As the two of them played soccer in the spot that had been protected for Kazuki, Enta asked, “Did you tell Sis about coming back to the soccer club?”
“Sure did. I’ll start up again for the second semester,” Kazuki said. His face was relaxed without a single trace of gloom.
After Sara Azuma’s meet and greet, the sarazanmai leak about the secrecy of his birth and with everything culminating in Haruka being kidnapped by the Otter Empire, how could summer not be fun in comparison?
“All right! Then let’s train together during our summer vacation!” Enta was in high spirits as a ball unexpectedly rolled in his direction. The ball stopped a hair’s breadth away from the riverbank and Kazuki noticed someone crossing the red bridge.
Tooi stopped suddenly, not used to hearing his name called out like that. When he leaned over the railing to look for the sound of the voice, he saw Kazuki waving his arms.
“Hey! Tooi! Come over here!”
“…Why did you call me over?” As usual, Tooi couldn’t understand what Kazuki’s intentions were. Even so, he noticed the soccer ball in his hands and the blue miçanga on his ankle.
“…When did you start playing soccer?”
The memory of rescuing Kazuki’s little brother by connecting a pass was still fresh in his mind. Since then, Tooi could see that Kazuki was happy and smiling now. Tooi took a guess that Enta, who had wished for the revival of his Golden Duo status with Kazuki, was even more delighted.
Tooi caught the flying ball and made a pass. Enta received it and asked, “Hey, Kuji, have you played before?”
Before, at the Otter Empire, it was Tooi who had kicked Keppi. He’d had complete control over the ball at the time.
“Oh. Well, just a little.”
Kazuki stood next to Enta and thought it was strange for Tooi to be so humble.
“Just a little?! No wait. Wait – I know! Tooi, why don’t you join the soccer team?”
“With me and Enta and you, the three of us will have a ton of fun! Right, Enta?” said Kazuki, his voice blazing with energy.
“That’s right! If we work together on the team, maybe we can aim for nationals?”
Kazuki and Enta’s excitement was overwhelming for Tooi. “No, I…”
“Huh? No…?” repeated Kazuki, his face innocent as he asked as if unaware of Tooi’s inability to deal with them. Tooi felt like he was getting wrapped up tightly in seaweed.
“…It’s nothing. You two should just do it on your own.”
Ah, it’s happening again, Tooi thought as he bounced the ball.
Enta was grinning at him. “Come on, I can tell that it’d make you happy.”
Tooi used his experience and made an adjustment in his kick when he passed the ball to Enta, hitting him right in the face.
“Augh! That was terrible!”
“No, that’s exactly where I was aiming.”
“I’m wearing glasses! You have to be gentle – what if they broke?!”
“Are you getting pissed?”
It had been a long time since things had been comfortably busy like this. The three of them were wondering if they would be able to keep playing soccer as they continued to turn into kappa and remove the shirikodama from the Kappa Zombies.
The soccer ball dropped from Kazuki’s hand. The sound of the cicadas was deafening to his ears. As the ball rolled out into the wider area, Enta and Tooi were both absolutely lost for words. The practice field where the three of them had played soccer yesterday was covered in a huge mess.
There was garbage, cardboard boxes and empty cans. Their painted goal on the wall had been sprayed over with paint.
“Our place is…”
“This is terrible…”
“Who did this…?”
Out of the three of them, the first person to move was Tooi.
Tooi crouched down and picked up an empty can, then looked over at Kazuki and Enta. “You wanna do it? Have the three of us play soccer?”
“You…” Enta was absolutely floored by Tooi’s behavior.
Kazuki rushed to the garbage pile. “Yeah! The three of us can fix this place up again!”
And so in the end, the first day of summer vacation ended with garbage clean up. However, when the three of them looked at the area, they were all satisfied with how clean and beautiful it looked.
“Well, see you tomorrow!”
“Don’t oversleep, Kuji!”
“Same to you.”
After all agreeing to meet up again tomorrow, they parted ways.
“Our systems are currently running at only 39%.” In the Otter Empire, bare, steel frames flew past the elevator as it moved.
Mabu knelt as he reported the situation. Reo wasn’t there.
“It is not a lie,” said Mabu. “Our Kappa Zombie reserves have dwindled considerably. We’ve already hunted down most of the people in this city who have a strong desire.”
“More lies, I hope. You realize how precarious your existence is, don’t you?”
“I do know.”
“I hope that isn’t a lie. Your loyalty is judged by your actions, after all. Now then… has anything else changed?”
“As expected from you… Mabu….” The connection broke off.
Mabu would protect the promise he’d made.
Kazuki Yasaka used to have three rules he had to follow.
Big or small, everyone possess their own internal set of rules . Things like eating taiyaki from the tail-end, washing their arms first in the bath, or spoiling a mystery novel by reading the conclusion beforehand.
Even if those rules were not understood by others, they were still absolutely binding to that person.
But now, what Kazuki was holding was a soccer ball. The kind of slightly scruffy soccer ball you would find anywhere.. . Wearing summer attire, he held that run-of-the-mill soccer ball lovingly in his arms as he crossed the big red bridge over the Sumida River.
“Good morning! Every day is happy if you take lucky selfies with Sara Azuma! ☆ “
After he crossed the bridge, he could hear the sleepy voice of a girl coming from the outdoor monitor of the Matsumatsuya Department Store.
“Now then, what’s today’s lucky selfie item?”
A beautiful girl was dancing to mysterious music on the monitor. It was time for Asakuka’s local idol, Sara Azuma’s show, aptly named Asakusa Sara TV. Kazuki kept walking without stopping to listen.
“Balls! It’s balls, dish☆! The more balls you have, the happier you’ll be! ☆” Sara had drawn a dish labeled ‘ball’ from a roulette.
“Now then, have a good day and get Sarakki☆!”
His smartphone indicated that a message had arrived and a balloon image popped up in the group chat window.
Stamp: I just woke up now!
Stamp: I’ll break the plate!
Stamp: I’m sorry!!
Apparently, Enta had been the one to oversleep.
Kappa croquettes, Enta’s treat.
Kazuki smiled and typed in a brief message. The message was quickly read by both of them and from then on, he didn’t really understand the stamp exchange.
The fact that they were kappa and retrieved shirikodama was a secret that no one knew. There were times when things got tough, but they were all connected so everything would be okay─
─Or so he thought.
The soccer ball dropped from Kazuki’s hands again. The voice of the crying cicadas was even more deafening than before. As the ball rolled off into the wider area, Enta and Tooi re-examined the scene before them.
Their practice field that they had worked so hard to repair had been ruined again. It was an even bigger mess than yesterday.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me…”
“Who’d go through the trouble to prank us again when we just fixed it?!”
Enta and Tooi complained as they moved over to the pile of garbage.
“Someone who wants to harass us, I guess…” Tooi mumbled as if he suddenly understood something.
“What? Why would─”
Kazuki’s voice interrupted Enta’s complaining. “Let’s fix it again. We’ll prove that we won’t give up.”
“…All right.” It had quickly been decided.
“All right! Now let’s clean this up, just like that!!”
Enta filled his arms with garbage, and Tooi followed suit at that time.
Tooi’s smartphone suddenly got a call. There was no need to check the screen; there was only one person it could be.
“Sorry. Hang on,” he said and he separated himself from the group.
“It’s rare for Tooi to get a call,” said Kazuki aloud without meaning to as Tooi climbed the stairs.
“Maybe it’s from his big brother?”
“…Kuji doesn’t seem like the type to care about texting or anything like that, but he always seems to be conscious of his phone, isn’the?” said Enta.
“You think so? I guess I understand what you mean. It’s like he’s always waiting for it to ring .”
The two of them remembered Tooi’s older brother, who they’d seen during one of their Secret Leaks. But that was from 4 years ago and so he probably looked different now. The Leak had been a secret that up until now that only Tooi and his older brother had known about. Since then, Kazuki and Enta had kind of just avoided bringing up the topic of Tooi’s family.
“Well! Let’s get to cleaning!”
The two of them rolled up their sleeves and got to work on the pile of garbage in front of them. It took a lot of work this time since there was more trash and the paint was even harder to remove than yesterday, especially with only two sets of hands.
“Dammit! It won’t come off!” Enta was trying to scrub the red paint away with a deck brush.
“We might not be able to get it as clean as it was before…”
Kazuki was beginning to be disheartened as his brush moved next to Enta’s. Just then, there were footsteps on the stairs near the practice area. Kazuki stopped when he noticed them.
“You’re late!! Now today’s croquette is your treat!”
“…Right,” came Tooi’s half-hearted response in answer to Enta’s teasing words.
Tooi ignored how bewildered Enta seemed and continued on. “Sorry, but I can’t play soccer with you guys anymore.”
In that moment, the sound of the cicadas ceased.
“That call was from my older brother. He had a job that fell through, so… you know how it is. One mistake can be fatal. It was one of my brother’s friends who betrayed him.”
Tooi slowly descended the stairs. “It’s only a matter of time before the police come sniffing around, so I’m going to leave this city with my brother. That means we’ll have to forget about the soccer club.”
Tooi rested his hand on the goal-marked wall that was still caked in mess. It was difficult to make out his expression from the harsh shadows the midsummer sunlight was creating. However, the two other 14-year-olds didn’t have a single word to say in response.
“It’s something I’ve been prepared for… for a while now. I can’t let my past catch up with me.”
Who was this Tooi Kuji, who spoke so unilaterally?
But then suddenly, in the midst of despair, Kazuki’s strong voice called out, “One more dish.”
Kazuki turned his face toward Tooi, his gaze fiercely intense. “The Dishes of Hope,” he said in a strong, loud voice. “Just one more and we’ll have five. Then we can wish for Tooi’s big brother to be safe!”
“Kazuki…” said Enta.
For Kazuki (who up until now had been trying to collect the dishes for Haruka’s sake), to himself suggest such a thing, caused both Enta, and Tooi (to whom the suggestion had been made), to be perplexed.
“And then Tooi won’t have to go away, right?”
“Oh…. Right….” said Tooi.
“Then it’s decided! Right, Enta?”
“Yeah! We’ll get the last dish for Kuji’s sake!” Enta responded.
“Then Tooi can stay here!” said Kazuki.
Tooi couldn’t help but just stare at Kazuki and Enta who were laughing in the light of summer.
Because they’d spent the day cleaning up their practice area that had been so utterly trashed, they weren’t able to play soccer again. So instead, they bought and ate some sweets, all of them with smiles on their faces.
When Tooi tried to treat them to croquettes, he had been told not to take jokes so seriously.. So, when they spotted a convenience store, Kazuki headed inside to buy a treat for Keppi. Enta was standing off to the side and mumbling to himself.
“That Kazuki… He really is back to himself. Back to how he used to be before Haruka’s accident. This is what I wanted. I wanted Kazuki to be able to laugh again.” Enta stuffed his cheek full of croquette and chewed.. Toi thought about something that had been gnawing at him. Kazuki was still wandering around inside the store, , it looked like they had some time before he would be back. .
“…Are you okay with this?” asked Tooi.
“I thought you were collecting the dishes so that you could grant his wish.”
In Tooi’s memories, Enta was always crying, laughing and getting angry for the sake of Kazuki. Just by looking at the two of them, you could tell it wasn’t just a chance encounter, but rather a relationship built on months and years of time passing.
“Whoa, Kuji, being concerned for me? Wow, I wonder if it’ll snow tomorrow!”
“Don’t make fun of me.”
Enta slipped his hand into the plastic bag he was holding and searched around as he responded, “Sorry – don’t get angry! Like you said, I still want to grant Kazuki’s wish.”
Enta as he held up a croquette in Tooi’s line of sight. “And right now, Kazuki’s wish is to help you!”
Tooi was at a loss for words.
“You understand? So just accept the help. Here!”
As Tooi reached for the croquette, Enta’s hand quickly cut upward.
“I dunno, you might mess me up!” Enta held the croquette away from his face.
“I’ll gut you!”
While the two of them were having their exchange, Kazuki came out of the store with cucumber flavored water tucked under his arm. “Sorry it took me so long,” he said. “What are you two doing?”
“Nothing,” said the both of them in unison..
As always, Kazuki was going about life at his own pace, Enta was grinning, and Tooi was grumbling as he took a bite of croquette..
Meanwhile, Keppi was working hard as he patrolled the main street. This is because the first successor and heir to the Kappa Kingdom was in the arms of Asakusa’s local idol, Sara Azuma, and the two of them were in the middle of a date.
If people were capable of actually seeing Keppi, all they would be able to see would have been a weird-looking pet and its owner.
“Today, we will correct this city’s mistakes, kero!” Keppi stared at the kappa statue on the roadside with a satisfied expression. “This… is a kappa, kero!”
Keppi reached out his stocky arms and affixed a ‘This is a kappa’ sticker onto it.
“So smooth and lovely! ☆”
Next, Keppi’s eyes happened to catch sight of a green figurine outside of what appeared to be a pharmacy.
“This is… not a kappa!!!” He affixed a ‘This is a frog’ sticker onto the figurine.
“So smooth and cool, dish! ☆”
Keppi’s every single move was easy and flawless, and he looked at Sara with a serious expression. “And you are the only kappa for me, kero.”
“So smooth and lovey-dovey, dish! ☆” Sara said, planting a kiss on the round, white prince.
“We’re the best couple, kero….”
The two of them truly were the world’s ultimate couple.
♪ Balls, balls…
♪ Balls, balls…
♪ Otter, otter
♪ We’ll snatch away yours balls, balls
♪ Society is full of otter lies
♪ We’ll snatch away yours balls, balls
♪ Cut open the heart that’s ruled by truth
♪ A warm touch that’s nothing but a sham
♪ Don’t let go of your desires
♪ Our wish is for a night that never ends
♪ We’ll have our encounter on a morning that never comes
♪ Squeeze out every last drop of desire
Reo and Mabu’s secret ceremony, hidden away from everyone, was unfolding once again.
“Next up is the news, dish! ☆ Soccer balls are flying all throughout the Asakusa area. Balls are our friends. ☆” The Asakusa TV news was talking about the unending mysteries of the city, but without a single iota of concern about any impending danger.
When the boys arrived at the Kappa Plaza, they looked for Keppi.
“Hey! Keppi! We brought some snacks!”
“Keppi, it’s your favorite flavor! Cucumber!”
But there was no response.
“Hey, this is…”
At Tooi’s feet, there was a half-eaten cucumber rolling at the heel of his foot.
“Are these Keppi’s leftovers?”
“As if a gluttonous guy like him would throw out his favorite food…”
Kazuki stared at the cucumber and then raised his face. “No way. Do you think something happened to Keppi…?!”
Just then, they heard a mysterious song. “The two~ of~ us~ are a couple! ♪ The ul~ti~mate couple! ♪” Keppi had returned and he appeared to be in a good mood.
“What? He’s just fine….”
Keppi stepped into the plaza, suddenly wearing an intense expression and shouted, “Ho! I see that someone has invaded our base while I was gone, kero…!”
“It’s empty, kero!”
Keppi’s premonition hit the nail on the head. Under the hidden door on the floor of the Kappa Plaza—
“The Dishes of Hope… are gone!”
The four Dishes of Hope that they had collected were gone.
“This must be the work of the Otter Empire, kero.”
“Seriously?! Are we in danger?!” said Enta, who seemed flustered. The soccer ball he was holding suddenly floated up and into the sky.
“It would appear that there is a Kappa Zombie on the loose.”
“Dammit, at a time like this?” said Enta. He was finally able to play soccer together with Kazuki, but now he wouldn’t be able to thanks to the Kappa Zombie. Without any hesitation, he declared, “We’ll get the ball back! We’ll worry about the dishes later!”
Suddenly, Enta felt a familiar impact in his butt that he was all too familiar with.
A rickshaw dashed along the street. “Today’s zombie is a ‘Ball Zombie,’ kero.”
“But why?! I didn’t even say anything!”
Keppi glanced at Kappa Enta, his expression dark and they passed several shutters with something scrawled on them. He hadn’t said anything foul.
“Think about the dishes later.”
“Think = Kangaeru”
“Kaeru = Frog”
A heartless shutters had essentially announced Enta’s failure.
“Hnnngh!! I don’t understand why!”
Kappa Tooi turned his pitying gaze to Kappa Enta, who seemed resentful.
“Anyway, we can look for the dishes that disappeared after we defeat the Kappa Zombie!”
Their wish wouldn’t be granted unless they had five silver dishes. Just as Kappa Kazuki had said, they had no choice but to defeat the zombie now.
Above the Azumabashi Field of Desire was the Ball Zombie, which had a red ball gag inside of its mouth on its soccer ball shaped head. This one had palpable lust in his eyes.
“I’m jealous of every single ball!”
Somehow, it appeared as if the Ball Zombie wasn’t very attached to the balls it was supposedly attached to.
Kappa Enta was reckless and, partly out of desperation, dove right into the Kappa Zombie’s anus and slipped past its sphincter, grabbing at the shirikodama to snatching.
“I grabbed it!”
Inside the shirikodama, a man dressed up in a special costume was being kicked in the balls by a woman who was also wearing a costume.
“I get it. You wanted to be kicked by her like someone might kick a ball.”
“You spilled the marbles and now everyone knows my secret!!” the Ball Zombie cried out. His soccer head exploded as an agonizing death took him. “The cry of my soul…!”
Keppi’s voice resonated.
“The sarazanmai, kero!”
“Sarazanmai!!” the three kappa boys said in unison.
They remembered Keppi’s words from before. Doing a sarazanmai meant that everyone’s mind and body were connected so that the secrets you didn’t want anyone to know were spilled. Somehow, it felt good to lose themselves in their collective sea of consciousness. Enta, who was already in the right position to take point, had no problem doing so. Thus, Enta took his position as needed.
The first Leak conjured up the image of a familiar road. It was a practice field east of the Azumabashi Bridge in the evening where not a single person was. A long shadow fell over the wall where a goal made of faded chalk was illuminated. When the person who owned that shadow turned around, it was none other than the one who had been protecting this place.
He was holding a large garbage bag, and he scattered the trash as much as possible and threw paint over the wall where the goal had been drawn.
Tooi, who received the shirikodama from Enta, was confused.
“Why? Why would you do that to the place that was so important to you?”
The visual information of this Leak entered their minds, along with the chaotic emotions Enta had felt. They tried to understand the bits and pieces they got, but it felt impossible. It was as if every conceivable type of thread, chain and string coiled around them relentlessly.. Even as Tooi harboured doubts, a small part of him knew that his presence was most likely what had driven Enta to go so far. . This was not a result of their shared emotions, just pure speculation on Tooi’s part
When passing the shirokadama, the thing Tooi was most scared of was Kazuki’s reaction to what Enta had done. . Depending on the fallout, it wasn’t just his own relationship with Enta that was at risk of breaking, but Enta and Kazuki’s too . Without concern for Tooi’s thoughts or worries, the Leak carried on.
Kappa Plaza at midnight.
Enta, his head covered with a handkerchief the same as the previous leak, approached stealthily. Without any hesitation, Enta proceeded to the far end of the plaza and opened up the hidden door. The silver dishes of hope were still there, gleaming brightly. Enta’s supremely evil face was reflected in the four dishes he carefully lifted up.
“Enta’s the one who stole the dishes…? Why would he do such a thing?”
Enta, who had sensed Kazuki’s utter bewilderment, cried out, “God dammit!! You only ever pay attention to Kuji’s feelings!”
Alas, why are people burdened with desire? Flung around at mercy, your sense of self unravels, and in the end, you inflict pain on another. If it was to be granted, I wanted to show you only the beautiful things. I should have been thrown out with the trash.
Ah, why did people have desires…? When you were swayed by your desires, you might not act like yourself and instead you might hurt others. You may only want to give them beautiful things and raise them up.
Enta wished that Kazuki had thrown away like the mountain of trash.
The conditions that the Otter issued at that time were as follows.
From the beginning, the war was a war for energy. While the Otter empire had been triumphant, it was just a matter of time before the Kappa kingdom’s resources were used up. In exchange for his partner being brought back to life, in order to acquire new resources we want you to work under us, is what the Otter had said. In short, become slaves. Reo understood this bargaining point, and swallowing the other conditions, he saw the true nature of the Otters. Without hesitation, Reo wished for Mabu’s revival.
Finally, at last being given the permission to meet Mabu, Reo was riding a dark elevator. For a period he wondered where the hell the elevator was going to, if the top floor really existed. Quitely the cage came to a stop. The time before the door opened felt like it was being stretched out. He wanted this nightmare to end already.
The light of daybreak pierced his eyes. The top floor deck stood out as if it were floating in the clouds.
In front of Reo’s eyes he saw from behind what he’d dreamed so many times about. As he waited anxiously, inside his chest a storm of conflicting feelings was rushing about.
—- I want him to turn around. Don’t turn around. I want him to look at me. I don’t want him to look.
Both were true to his heart. Without turning his eyes away from the storm inside of him, step by step he walked forward.
He stopped when his name was called. This voice that he yearned for and had just rocked his eardrum, was not one bit different to the one in his memories.
‘I’m sorry for worrying you. I’m back to how I was.’
For the very reason everything was the same, a sense of unease stuck to Reo thickly.
—- With the same appearance and the same voice as Mabu, you are-
‘Who are you…..?’
‘I am Mabu. Your partner.’
A strong wind blew between them.
‘No! You aren’t the Mabu I know! Mabu would never look at me like that!’
‘The Empire’s technology is the real deal. My personality has been replicated perfectly.’
‘Lies! I won’t accept it!’
As if waiting for that word, the Otter appeared.
‘It’s not a lie. The version of Mabu now is furnished with a machine heart. He needs your help to keep it moving.’
‘If you don’t like it, you’re free to stop his heart. With your own hands.’
‘You’re asking me to… kill Mabu for a second time…..!’
Mabu again refrained from saying anything. The person who had said ‘Don’t let go of your desire’ himself, Mabu looked at Reo’s suffering with calm eyes. The Otter raised his voice, just as if celebrating someone’s birthday, and said: ‘You’ll be transferred to the human world today. Along with the hope we’ve seized from the Kappa kingdom. From an animal crawling out from the bottom of the hellish cauldron, a male shout reverberated.
Chapter 8: Candy
My brother threw away everything for me. So I also threw out what was most important to me.
Four years ago in winter.
A small soccer ball fell into the river from the Azumabashi Bridge at dusk. It caused a few tiny, circular ripples and bobbed up and down in the water. A 10-year-old Tooi stared down at it from the railing.
“Why did you throw it away?”
Tooi squared himself up and looked at the person who asked the question. It was a child about the same age as him who was looking up at him from the riverside below.
“Do you hate soccer?” The boy tossed another question to Tooi.
“I don’t,” responded Tooi. “But for the sake of surviving, I have to throw it away.” He said the words, but he knew they wouldn’t be understood. He didn’t need them to be understood, anyway.
The boy looked like he was mumbling to himself.
“I wonder if that’s the same for me? I’m… not connected to anyone.”
Tooi was too young to understand the meaning behind the phrase ‘the same for me,’ but he could tell that he and the boy felt similarly.
“People only realize they have connections once they’ve lost those connections,” he said, speaking as if he’d lost someone himself.
Tooi had felt this way since his parents had died. “I have to protect the connections I have left, so… I have to throw away soccer.”
This was the vow that Tooi made to himself on that night – his final act of selfishness.
Tooi clutched something small and circular in the palm of his hand, then with all of his strength he threw it as far away as he could. The other boy reached out and slowly, but without a doubt, caught the blue miçanga in his hand.
Tooi could throw it away, or he could give it to someone. After all, it didn’t seem like Tooi’s childish wishes would ever come true.
“There are wishes that can come true because you’re not connected!” said Tooi. He decided on a pose that would be the most inspirational. With this pose, he left everything behind on that bridge.
“He doesn’t remember, huh….?”
Immediately after that, Tooi and Chikai left Asakusa and stayed with some distant relatives briefly. There were times when Tooi was unable to attend elementary school. Even so, no matter how much the environment around him changed, he was given a futon to sleep on at night and three meals a day. His brother would keep his head low and dirty his hands in order to ensure that Tooi got enough to eat. Imagining the whole ordeal was draining. That’s why he’d tried to forget. And he had, up until he came back to this city, got mixed up with a weird crowd and turned into a kappa. And every once in a while, he would see the blue miçanga that Enta had given Kazuki.
“We won’t be seein’ this place for a while,” came the sound of a carefree voice.
The familiar form of his brother wearing a dark suit appeared by the water bus stop.
“Today’s been rotten since early this morning.”
The way Chikai was speaking so casually and aloof made Tooi feel anxious.
“Are you okay? What’s going on?” said Tooi.
“Well, the thing is I’ve got a sneaking feeling that someone’s sniffed out what happened four years ago.” Suddenly, Chikai’s words had become a little less relaxed.
“What,” said Chikai. “You’re not still thinking it’s all your fault, are you?”
“You’ve gotta be honest with me.”
It could be said that his wish would never come true. Even now, Tooi knew that he could never be honest. He knew what would happen if he were to be honest with his brother.
“You’re doing good.”
Chikai stretched out his large palm. It was a little sweaty, and he used it to casually ruffle Chikai’s hair. Tooi lifted his head to complain, but was met with a stern expression.
“But don’t forget,” said Chikai. “I need you just like you need me.”
He didn’t take him seriously.
“Come with me, Tooi.”
But those words were deadly serious.
It would have been stupid of him not to take the offer, especially with how much he’d begged and pleaded with his brother about it. He knew that, but—
“Hm? What’s wrong?”
Tooi hadn’t meant to sour his big brother’s mood.
“…I just need a little more time.”
“Don’t get me wrong! I’m going with you! I already decided that. But there’s some people I have to make sure are okay….”
He couldn’t properly put it into words. How could he expect to convince his brother with an explanation like that? That’s what he was thinking.
“Bwaha! I haven’t seen you make that face in forever!”
Chikai laughed at the desperation in Tooi’s expression, and Tooi stood there feeling embarrassed… then he thought about how he hadn’t seen his brother laugh like this for a long time.
“I get it, I get it. I’ll wait, but only for one day.” By the final word, his brother’s smile was gone.
A short ways away from the five-way intersection of Asakusa’s Ward 6, in the direction of Hanayashiki, was a nostalgic-looking Smart Ball shop. Inside the shop was Enta, who was riled up. Although visiting this shop was actually his grandmother’s hobby, the retro shop was beloved by both tourists and local customers alike.
“Dammit! Kazuki, you bastard! Why am I the one getting blamed? Which of us is more important?!”
Enta was wearing a yellow cap and had a candy he’d won as a prize in his mouth as he furiously continued to pull the lever of the machine. It was the third day of summer vacation and the worst day by far. He didn’t want to remember the events of yesterday’s Leak, where all of his recent deeds had come to light. So now Kazuki and Enta were in the middle of a huge quarrel, and all Enta could feel was despair.
The blue balls in the machine flowed down and eventually would be pulled into the guarders. Whether you were skilled or unskilled at the game, eventually they would all be caught one way or another, but if you had the right timing with the lever you would last a long while.
The lever idled and Enta swore.
“What! I’m out of balls already? Why does everything suck?!”
A large hand holding a ball came into Enta’s view.
“If something sucks, then throw everything away.”
The man dropped a single blue ball into the injection port.
“Life is just a single round.”
“You don’t get any do-overs in life.”
He pulled the lever and shot the ball into the machine. It bounced around and landed into the jackpot. At that, a huge amount of prize balls filled the playing area.
A small sound escaped Enta when he got a good look at the large man.
“What? Is there something on my face?”
From beneath the brim of his hat, Enta could see that this was Tooi’s older brother. He looked the same as he did four years ago and the realization made the atmosphere heavy.
“No! Nothing! Oh, that’s right. As thanks,” said Enta. He changed the topic and presented the man with a lollipop… hoping that it wouldn’t make him angry.
“Oh, and I’d just run out. It pays to help people.”
Contrary to what Enta had expected, Tooi’s older brother was strong-looking and in good spirits. The two of them loitered in front of the storefront for a while eating their candy.
There were two people who were on alert, looking for Chikai – Reo and Mabu.
“He’s the leader of a fraud group that emerged in the Tama area, right? So why are we handling it?” said Reo. He appeared to be disgusted by the report that he held in his hand.
“They said this was an urgent alert. The suspect was born in this town, so it’s likely he’ll return to Asakusa,” said Mabu, facing Reo as he delivered only the most pertinent, accurate information.
“He is a suspect in a murder that occurred four years ago. If we capture him, he’s sure to make a good Kappa Zombie.”
“Hah! What a half-baked doll, so eager to curry favorite with them.”
This level of resentment was an everyday occurrence. Mabu fell silent as the atmosphere changed, and then raised his hand up to Reo’s eye-level to present him with a case. Inside were three adorable otter-shaped ningyouyaki treats.
“You think this is going to make me listen to what you have to say?” Even so, he figured it wouldn’t be a crime to eat one. Reo brought one to his mouth experimentally for a taste.
“Hngh………. This is half-baked.”
“L-Looks good to me!”
Enta and Chikai came out of the Smart Ball shop through a back door.
Sneak sneak sneak sneak sneak….
The two of them looked like two crabs scuttling along the walls in the alleyway. With it being the middle of the afternoon, the two of them looked suspicious like this. Once they got to the main street, they stopped so they didn’t look too unnatural.
“Hey, you saved me. Are you familiar with this area?” asked Chikai, although he was walking in front as if he were a local of Asakusa himself.
“Kazu—I mean, a friend and I played here when we were kids.”
“Before you know it, the city changes. So do the people.”
Speaking to Chikai’s back, Enta dared to ask the question. Enta listened closely, focusing on Chikai’s back as he spoke. “Um… what happened? Did you do something bad?”
“Does it look like it?”
“Bwaha. You’re right.”
Enta knew of the useless type of person who would readily be honest without much prompting; there was someone just like that at his house.This kind of upfront honesty was the useless type of thing people who lived alone would do without knowing why.
“How old are you, Specs?”
“Huh? I’m fourteen….”
“Fourteen? You’re kind of scrawny….”
“Leave me alone!!”
Chikai found it amusing how angry Enta got with him and he shortened the gap between them. “Haha. My bad, my bad. You know, I’ve got a brother that’s the same age as you.”
“I wasn’t around for a long time, so he somehow grew up. He’s not cute anymore.” Chikai gestured in front of him to about where Tooi’s eye level would be if he stood on tiptoe. “I’m leaving the city with my brother. I can’t afford to be caught right now.”
“Um….” Enta was talking before he could even think about it.” “If you’ll let me, I can help you!”
Before Chikai’s eyes were Enta’s, full of determination.
“You need to act like an adult. Just apologize to Jinnai.”
“No way! Why should I be the one to apologize to Enta?!”
Kazuki really was stubborn, wasn’t he? No, Tooi already knew that about him. He sighed, realizing that his attempt to persuade Kazuki at the Kappa Plaza went exactly how he expected it to.
“Aren’t you angry, Tooi? We could have granted your wish by now!”
“Well, that’s… it…”
Kazuki slammed his fist into the ground in a genuine display of anger.
“Enta, that bastard! He’s the one who messed up! He lied! And he betrayed us!”
Although Tooi was troubled by the situation, he still had a sense of ease somewhere. Kazuki’s anger was directed at Enta. He wanted to say that this was like playing a punishment game and that they couldn’t help but fight. If they faced each other and struck each other with everything they had, things would probably play out better. It was no use worrying about what they’d learned from the Leak.
“I’m sure he had reasons for doing it. Why don’t you just talk to him properly?”
“Reasons? What reasons?!”
“Well… It’s not my place to say.”
The Leaks didn’t necessarilynecessary showcase a person’s love in the foreground, but sometimes that love could come out in the background.
“What are you saying? Do you two have a secret or something? Why are you being so supportive of Enta?!”
“No, I’m not really tying to…”
“Oh, whatever! I’ll look for the dishes myself!”
And with those words Kazuki stormed out of the Plaza. Once he said that, Kazuki left the plaza. Don’t get angry and just end the conversation of your own accord! But it was so typical of Kazuki that Toi was actually kind of amazed. In the end, it was Tooi’s words that had made him angry somehow. He was responsible.
“I’m not veryreally good at this kind of thingtalking like that….”
But… if there was even a slim chance that Tooi could do something to help, then he wanted to do it.
The weight of his backpack felt heavy.
Tooi visited Enta’s house, but he wasn’t there. He thought back to how, generally, he would find himself running into Kazuki and then before long, Enta would run into them, too. As he passed in front of the Kaminarimon Gate, he saw a face he knew better than anyone’s being projected on the monitor.
“Next up is the news, dish ☆ The police have issued an urgent report due to the fact that Kuji Chikai, the 25-years-old leader of the fraud ring Shikotama, may be hiding in Asakusa. So we’re reporting the urgent news, dish☆”
The expression of his brother in the photograph looked bored. Tooi ran and, behind where he’d been standing, someone let out a weird scream.
Chapter 9: Brothers
Around that time, an incident was also about to occur at Asakusa Otter police box.
‘Mabu… are you… the real Mabu?’
Reo began to ask at the unbelievable sight before his eyes. Without saying anything, Mabu was presenting a large amount of Ningoyaki. No matter how you looked at it, they were perfectly done. The spreading smell was sweet and gentle. His expectations to see small changes, had been betrayed before. So, it was too early to rejoice. Because there was no way that the subtle taste of Mabu’s had returned.
How much do you think Mabu devoted himself, how much effort had he put into creating the flavour that Reo loved so much?
—- Stop making a fool of me. Never bake Ningoyaki ever, ever again.
While Reo prepared the most abusive remarks he could think of, his heart was impatient to verify that taste. With his trembling hand, he carried a Ningyoyaki to his mouth. Mabu watched over him without the slightest movement.
Reo’s sharpened teeth cut up the soft material easily. Sensing the taste in his mouth, he chewed it over several times and gulped it down.
His closed lips opened a little. Then, the corners of his mouth slowly rose, in the shape of a smile.
‘This taste… You’re the real Mabu….!’
Like a hero that had attained victory, Reo looked up to heaven. Was it to thank the God that he didn’t believe in?
‘I did it—-! Finally, I…. I’ve finally got you back!’
Gobbling up all of the mountain of Ningyoyaki, Reo embraced Mabu.
—- I don’t need to hesitate to hold out my hand to him anymore.
Feeling the warmth of Mabu’s hands on his back, Reo was about to cry.
— Once again, we can embrace each other with the same strength!
As they remained in their tight embrace, behind them a dark shadow slithered around.
Ch 9 – Otter scene
An unusual figure was crossing the Azumabashi bridge.
‘The ・ two ・ of ・ us ・ are ・ a ・ couple♪ The ・ ultimate ・ couple-wuuu!♪’
Reo was holding wine in one hand and a cake box in the other, dancing while he sung. Different to the dance during the Desire extraction ceremony, Reo expressed his uncontrollable joy freely. Now that the day had turned to night, he returned to the police box triumphantly.
‘Hey, sorry I’m late. I brought home some of your favourite pancakes, so……?’
The police box’s interior fell silent. On the desk an absence notice was politely placed.
Had Mabu gone shopping somewhere? It would be good to leave the police box and search for him, but Reo had no idea where the current Mabu could have gone. Having no other choice, he decided to wait in the police box.
Suddenly, he saw the door to the break room open slightly.
He approached the darkness of the gradually opening the door as if he was being drawn in by it.
There was no response. Reo’s uneasy feelings wouldn’t subside, and he grabbed the wine bottle tightly. Before he realised, entrance number 8 to the Asakusa subway appeared in the room. The Otter boy depicted on the sign looked like it was mocking him. Descending down the stairs to the underground, he heard a voice that hurt his ears
‘You look like you’re in otter agony, Mabu.’
Of course the Otter was involved. Reo began to run down the stairs. At the bottom, a shutter with ‘Otter place’ written on it obstructed his path. From the other side of the shutter, Mabu’s desperate voice came out.
‘Ah… Please don’t go. Please watch me.’
‘Otter. As you wish.’
On the other side, concealed from Reo, what exactly was happening? Pushing up the shutter postbox, though the middle he peeked through. In the darkness a red flower was blooming. It was Mabu’s heart he knew so well. The hand pulling it out was certainly not Mabu’s own. The Otter’s shadow suddenly and forcefully pulled out Mabu’s heart, and protruding from faintly smiling lips a tongue licked it.
Mabu’s naked shoulders jumped up. In that moment, Reo’s hatred came to a boil. He forcefully threw the shutter open.
‘Get away from Mabu!
Mabu finally realised who it was. ‘Reo …?’ But, his voice was helpless like a lost child.
‘What the hell do you think you’re doing to Mabu?’’
In his rage, Reo lifted up the shutter in an attempt to expose Otter’s evil deeds.
What appeared in front of his eyes was—
For a second, he thought that was a mirror in front of him. If it really had been a mirror, he’d have had a ugly look on his face.
‘Otter. I am an Otter. But, I’m also you.’
‘What do you mean?’
Wearing Reo’s face, the Otter was tightly embracing a naked Mabu tightly from behind as he spoke in a peculiar manner: ‘We Otters exist in this world as concepts. I am a mirror of the desires inside of you.’
—–I don’t want to hear it. Not any of it.
‘You’re the one who wants to control Mabu… Reo. You’re the one who wanted to lock lips with this empty machine heart…’ As if making a display, in Reo form the Otter’s tongue crawled over the moist machine heart.
This desire he’d killed again and again, was once more being exposed—-
‘The two of you are merely being made to dance to your desires – by us Otters. Now, Mabu, who matters the most to you?
Having been left as is, Mabu blinked slowly.
‘Him? Or me?’ the Otter whispered, at a distance so close it felt like he was touching the nape of Mabu’s pale neck. ‘How do I look to you?’
—–I don’t want to hear it. Not any of it.
‘As I am now, I need you…’
His voice was like a bubble that had risen up from the depths of the ocean. As if to erase it, came the reverberations of the sound of glass being shattered. Red wine was covering the blank white wall.
‘Hahaha! I knew you were an imposter. I shouldn’t have believed you even for a second. I’m going to take the real Mabu back with my own strength…’
Clawing at his chest in pain, Reo left the scene. Not that his wish had been extinguished. ‘I just need one more dish of hope!’
Intermission – Dream
“I hate the rain.” Reo spat out.
Unconsciously clawing at his chest was a habit of Reo’s; one he’d had ever since they first met.
It had been raining since morning in the Kappa Kingdom.
The royal family had issued the long awaited “Proclamation of the Rainy Season”.
As a result, the castle town was teeming with festivities.
Kappa from all over the country celebrated by going outside and bathing in the rain of life, pouring
water into each other’s dishes.
“Why?” Mabu asked, curious.
He’d never heard of a Kappa who hated rain.
For once, thanks to the festival, there was so much delicious food and rare toys outside.
He wanted to show it all to Reo.
“If I get wet it’ll just make my heart sting even more.”
Reo had lost anyone he could have poured water on.
Everyone had died in the war.
Not welcome under anyone’s roof, Reo’s plate was overflowing with water.
The water, having nowhere else to go, spilled from it and could only be absorbed by the ground.
Mabu’s warm hand wrapped around Reo’s fist, held tightly grasped at his chest.
“Then, from now on, we should always spend rainy days together.” Mabu said matter-of-factly.
Reo didn’t have a clue what any of that meant.
“I’ll pour water on you, so you pour some on me.”
Reo made a weird face. He raised and lowered his eyebrows, blinked, opened and closed his
mouth. Finally, he let out a single sigh.
Mabu heard him say the words, solitary, like small droplets of rain.
Hearing that, Mabu squeezed his hand and said: “If you’re happy, I’m happy as well.”
Reo made a weird face again.
Mabu thought that he’d like to see that face more often.
Suddenly, Mabu regained consciousness.
In front of him stood Otter, peering into his face.
“Today’s maintenance is otterly finished, Mabu.”
His senses still fuzzy, Mabu got up and began grooming himself.
“You always seem so out of it. What do you think of during maintenance?”
“I was… dreaming of the past.” Mabu reply with a kind look in his eyes, as though Reo from their
childhood days was still right there in front of him.
“Otterly impossible… Or is it?” Otter sounded surprised for a change.
“Yes. I am aware that I have not been equipped with the ability to dream. But whenever I come
here, every time, I dream of Reo when he was young.”
Mabu’s impression was correct. Otter had given him a mechanical heart and brought him back to
life, but he hadn’t implemented any complicated and unnecessary functions like dreaming.
“That’s an otterly amazing development. It’s evidence that you’re getting closer to the real Mabu.
Going forward, we can’t neglect your maintenance. Understood?”
“Yes.” Mabu replied obediently.
When he stepped outside, it was raining on the streets of Asakusa.
Mabu loved the rain.
The sound of the it always calmed his heart.
It had also been raining the day he first met Reo.
His shining, golden hair repelled the rain drops, and to Mabu, he looked like God.
Reo had harshly pushed away the hand Mabu extended towards him, but even so.
Many years had passed since then.
Reo had come to apologize for what happened.
“At the time, somewhere deep inside, I think I was happy to see you bleed.”
Mabu didn’t understand the true meaning of his words, but when he replied with “If you’re happy,
then I’m happy as well” Reo had gotten angry at him for some reason.
Mabu loved to see Reo laugh.
Eyebrows lowered, mouth open wide; he looked like the sun.
Indeed, rain didn’t suit Reo at all.
Lost in thoughts of the past, Mabu’s gait had slowed.
He rushed to return to the police box.
“I must go back immediately…”
I don’t want to keep breaking my promise to you anymore──
Chapter 10: Doll
—-This world is overflowing with connections.
Connections are like sweet poison.
Go on, remember.
Why you had to swallow this bitter medicine called despair.
Unconnected desires are accumulating like mud. Just like you can’t stop a river from flowing, you can’t stop us from being born.
Between the two young men, one of them spoke in his dying moments. ‘Don’t let go of desire. Only those who can connect their desires can have a future.` The other tried to faithfully keep that promise.
This is a clinical experiment.
In order for us to prove ourselves.
Projected onto his eyelids, his partner was desperately shouting something. Was he angry? His face looked like they were about to cry at any moment.
When he woke up, Reo was nowhere to be found. Above the blank wall, there was a pattern of interlocking hexagons on the ceiling. In the corner of his field of vision, a black shadow came into view.
‘….Who are you?’
How long had he slept? His voice didn’t come out very well. It felt almost like he was using his throat to speak for the first time ever”
‘I’m an Otter. You’ve been reborn to be my doll.’
He vaguely remembered losing his own life.
‘I want to see Reo!’
Desperately extending out his arm, he wished to touch the partner who wasn’t there with him.
The black shadow took hold of his hand.
‘That’s fine. He wants to see you very much too. But there’s just one condition……’
Late at night, Kazuki and Kappa Enta were gathered in Kappa square. Keppi, with his humble expression, took final confirmation.
‘I can’t guarantee you’ll survive, kero. Are you still going to take back the dishes, kero?’
Kazuki did not hesitate.
‘I’ve made up my mind.’
Despite his state of emergency, Enta reflected upon that and was overjoyed.
While looking at Kazuki and Kappa Enta, Keppi was concerned about the pair from the enemy nation. He didn’t understand the full details, but he did know one thing: ‘The enemy is tough, kero. Those two are bound together by a connection so strong it can’t be snatched away by anyone.’
‘Ha, don’t talk like you know what you’re going on about!’ came a voice from above, and a gun with the sign ‘Restrain’ shot at Keppi.
In a flash, Keppi was captured in a flexible circular restraint.
Reo kicked Keppi, now in tyre-form.
‘So this is where you were hiding. Well, too bad. The otter barrier won’t work on me. Because we’re Kappa, after all.’
‘They were my vassals, kero. Reo, what in the world-’
‘It doesn’t matter. All I want is the dishes of hope.
Reo, the former vassal who was now being rather disrespectful, kicked Keppi over to nearby Kazuki.
‘Where’s the last dish?’
Ofcourse, he knew this place’s secret. But, it seemed he didn’t know the hiding place of the dishes. As he stood in front of Kappa Enta to protect him, Kazuki replied to Reo.
‘We won’t give you the dish! Look at what you did to Enta! Give me back the other four!’
Despite Kappa Enta’s advanced state of emergency, he was overjoyed again. Suddenly, Kappa Enta’s body was lifted up. ‘Ehhh?’
Paying no notice to Kazuki’s attempt at intimidation, Reo took a quick look at Kappa Enta’s dish and said: Oh, so you’re the kid I shot. Four more hours. Sucks to be you, you won’t last till morning.’
‘Four more hours?!
Having less time left than he imagined, Kappa Enta couldn’t hide his panic. It was a race against time.
Kazuki interrupted. ‘We don’t have any time. Tell me where the dishes are!’
‘Hmmm. So we both need the dishes for someone precious to us.’
Kazuki and the rest were arrested and taken away to underground the Asakusa Otter police box.
‘Four more hours… Four more hours… Four more hours…’
On the descending elevator, Kazuki couldn’t stop saying this one phrase.
Despite Keppi’s attempt to explain, it didn’t look like the situation was changing for the better.
‘Reo, it’s not too late. For the Kappa kingdom, together we can-’
‘Sorry, but I don’t care what happens to Kappa or Otters. I’ll grant only my own wish.’
‘What is your wish, kero? Does Mabu want the same thing, kero?
‘………Stop the chit-chat.’
‘Four more hours four more hours four more hours four more hours…………
Hugging a surprised Enta, Kazuki said to calm him down: ‘I promise I’ll save you.’
Kappa Enta’s extreme state of emergency notwithstanding, for the third time he was overjoyed.
‘Ha, that’s hilarious!’ Reo said, unable to watch them in silence,. ‘Assumptions are dangerous, you know? Noone hesitates to give up their connections for the sake of their desires. Like you selfish prince, or like a certain doll without a heart!’
Keppi, understanding that the anger of his vassal was aimed at himself, kept silent. Indeed, it was his own weakness as a prince that got his vassals involved in all of this. Keppi had thought they’d lost their life in the collapse, and didn’t bother looking for them in the human world.
Before anyone noticed, Kazuki stood up, his gaze focused on Reo. ’It can’t be changed that I hurt people important to me in the past, and from now on I can still make mistakes…..’. Haruka, his parents, and Enta who was currently on the verge of death. And Toi who wasn’t there. ‘Still, I don’t want to give up this connection. For the sake of our future together.’
—– No matter how many times I fall down, I’ll keep running. For the sake of this connection—
‘How foolish can you be?’ Reo turned his gaze away. He felt terrible. He would give them a taste of despair.
Just like the time they saved Haruka, they came to a floor with a large cylindrical structure. Reo kept his gun trained on Kazuki and Kappa Enta, forcing them to walk in front of him. At the edge of the bridge that jutted out into the centre, stood Mabu, his back facing the group.
Still bound in restraints and carried by Kazuki, Keppi called out his name.
Turning around to see them, Mabu didn’t look particularly surprisedHowever, given that compared to Reo, Mabu had never been very emotive, Keppi didn’t find this odd.
If Reo was refusing to listen, there was no choice but to convince Mabu.
‘Mabu, you have to get through to Reo, kero. Let’s sing that song together like we did in the old days, kero!
‘That is not possible.’
Turning his back away from them, Mabu made the declaration in an emotionless voice.
‘I’m not the man you’re wishing for.’
Reo, who had been silent up to now, said in reply: ‘That’s right. You’re a half baked doll.
‘Reo, the Otter has found out about the dishes’
‘He’s been reading my memories.’
It had mostly likely happened during the maintenance, to which Reo broke into.
The scene he very much did not want to remember would haunt him in flashbacks at all times, instantly taking over his mind.
‘Come on…How many times do you have to disappoint me? I’m sick of it, you traitor!’
When Reo went over and grabbed hold of Mabu, he couldn’t see Kazuki and the others.
Kazuki and Kappa Enta kicked the Keppi tyre as far as they could. The tyre flew up into the air, and then bounced along the bridge. Kazuki and Kappa Enta ran off following it.
Mabu opened his mouth to say something to Reo, who watch the children draw further away with an annoyed look on his face.
‘I can’t take any more of this. I’m here, getting pissed off while you’re ignoring me, getting up close and personal with the Otter- does that make you happy!?!?’ Reo’s cry sounded like he was being strangled. He clawed at his chest.
Mabu reached out his hand, attempting to touch Reo’s.
‘Reo, without you I’d be-’
Reo pushed away the outstretched hand. ‘Don’t touch me!’
`I don’t give a shit if your heart stops. You aren’t my Mabu. You aren’t the Mabu who found me when I was alone…. You aren’t the Mabu who told me the words I wanted to hear!’
Reo left to follow Kazuki and the others who had escaped.
—- Even if I’m right here by your side, neither my hand nor my voice can get through to you.
Mabu put his hand to his chest.
Surely, it must have been a malfunction in the mechanical heart.
‘This is the deepest area, kero.’
Keppi stopped. In a short period of time he’d become quite good at using his tyre form to get around. It was what was underneath the cylindrical level. As far as the eye could see darkness spread, and it was impossible to guess how far it went on for. Above floated a giant structure with Saturn-like rings. At the centre, instead of a planet was what looked like a huge taiko drum. They saw that in the rings of the Japanese drum, 4 silver dishes of hope were inlaid.
‘There!’ Kazuki tried to get closer. Suddenly the drum began to vibrate. The Saturn-like rings let out light, and in the centre a mysterious lifeform began to roar.
The transparent drum was filling up with liquid, as something pitch-black glared at them with its red eyes, as if it were about to jump out at any moment.
‘I’ve finally found you. Dark Keppi!’
‘He’s the despair I felt when I was captured by the Otters, kero’, Keppi explained in a serious tone of voice. ‘During the chaos of war, when I was about to be overtaken by despair from having lost so many precious people, I broke my own shirikodama in two, kero.’
‘He’s my other half. I came to this world to reunite with my other half and defeat the Otters, kero.’
Keppi’s previously unknown goal was revealed. But for Kazuki and Enta who’d been his partners in fighting the Kappa zombies, that wasn’t the priority right now.
‘What is this Otter?’
At that moment – a spotlight shone down and cut through the darkness.
‘Otter. We are your very desires.’
At the focal point of the light, the black shadow of an Otter appeared.
‘That’s an Otter?!’
‘You don’t know!?’
No matter how hard you tried to look, the outline was fuzzy and couldn’t be made out well. You could see it, but it was like you couldn’t see it. If they were to try to draw it on paper right then, they wouldn’t be able to finish a line.
‘We are your very desires. We have the ability to manifest in this world in the form you most desire.’
The next spotlight appeared above Keppi. Addressing the Otter on top of his head, Keppi questioned: ‘What have you done to Reo and Mabu, kero!?’
‘Otter. Stop the false accusations. I rescued those pitiful Kappa.’ the Otter loudly insisted.
‘Rescued them? You seduced them when they were vulnerable, kero.
‘Otter. It was no hard feat, he was already broken. Just like this…’
Upon saying that, the Otter changed form with a wriggle. Becoming like liquid, the Otter rushed over in Enta’s direction.
In a flash, the dark shadow entered Kappa Enta’s nose. He fell to his knees into a silent state.
Slowly standing up, Kappa Enta eyes were stained red.
‘We will obtain the dishes of hope. With the despair of never beginning, never ending, and connectionless despair, we will take over the world……!’
The Otter’s voice was projected from inside his head.
‘Where am I?’
Enta woke up. He was in their secret practise ground.
Before he knew it, he was back to being human and was wearing his football uniform. No one was there by the riverbank. He couldn’t hear the flow of the Sumida river.
A ball rolled into view. Following its’ path with his vision, he saw a familiar person standing there.
It was Kazuki, wearing the same uniform as he was. It had been so long since he’d seen Kazuki like this, and Enta’s heart throbbed
Kappa Enta stood dazed, shaking as Kazuki continued calling out to him.
‘Enta! What happened?!’
Looking at Enta’s figure, Keppi said in a low voice, ‘It’s an Otter trap, kero!’
‘Damn, what should I do …Enta!’
With a jump, Kappa Enta’s body trembled. He seemed to be responding to Kazuki’s words, but he wouldn’t meet his gaze and was acting oddly.
Kappa Enta groaned restlessly, almost as if he was embarrassed.
‘Ka-Kazuki!? What are you doing?’
Enta had no idea what was happening. Kazuki in his uniform embraced him from behind. Enta definitely wasn’t in Kappa form right now. He felt Kazuki’s breath near his ear.
As though gently stroking him, Kazuki’s arms locked him in an embrace. This should have been the best possible turn of events…! But it was too much for Enta and he was on the verge of tears.
At that moment, Kazuki laughed.
‘Hey Enta, can I have the dish of Hope?’
Without thinking he turned around and looked at Kazuki. A horrifyingly beautiful face was smiling before him.
‘Do you love me, Enta?’
‘Ah, of course I do! We’re the Golden duo!’ Enta said, turning his face away, unable to stand such closeness.
Something soft touched his earlobe. It was Kazuki’s lips.
‘If you give me the dish, I’ll let you do whatever you want to me, okay?’ Kazuki’s voice breathed directly into his ear. Enta’s brain was all stirred up, as if he had just been punched.. It was like his entire body had turned into his heart, he didn’t get it at all. Kazuki gently cupped his cheeks as he gazed into his wide open eyes. He couldn’t look away anymore.
‘So, go, for me….
Kappa Enta let go of Kazuki’s hand, and unsteadily walked forward.
He was heading to the floating Saturn-like rings. Appearing from nowhere, the Otter underlings lifted Enta up by both arms.
‘This is bad, kero!’
Softly, as if he was guided by angels, Kappa Enta landed on the rings.
Suddenly, Enta opened the shell on his back and retrieved a silver dish. Kazuki had put it there just in case.
At the practice ground frozen in time, Enta was drowning in a deep elation. This love he thought would never come true, the wish that should have eventually faded, had materialized in front of him alongside the warmth of Kazuki’s body.
Receiving the dish, Kazuki smiled in satisfaction. The tip of his slim finger stroked Enta’s cheek before tracing around his lips.Enta silently closed his eyes. His whole body was fulfilled by the embrace.
‘Thankyou, Enta. We can have a relationship even more special than the Golden duo.’
…..’What are you saying!’
Instantly, Enta woke up. There was nothing in the world more special than the Golden Duo.
—–Kazuki giving me what I want can’t be the real Kazuki!
Stealing the plate back, Enta yelled: ‘I want to connect with Kazuki the same way we always have!’
Enta threw the dish and it broke into countless pieces. Breathing painfully, Kappa Enta lurched over. His body fell head first, and Kazuki caught him.
‘Enta! Are you okay?!’
Though he was struggling to breathe, Kappa Enta said: ‘I’m sorry, I broke the dish.’
Kappa Enta hadn’t noticed, but the life countdown timer was almost depleted. The silver dishes of hope couldn’t be used unless they had 5. Suddenly, he remembered Keppi’s words.
‘Transplant your Shirikodama, Kero. Yasaka Haruka will be brought back to life, kero.’
That’s right, there was another way. ‘You’ll have never existed in this world to begin with, Kero’.
Still. ‘Keppi! Use my Shirikodama!-’, before he finished speaking a small fist came flying at him.
Kappa Enta’s fist hit Kazuki. Still gasping for air, Kappa Enta told him off with a serious tone to his voice.
‘Don’t try to be cool by sacrificing yourself, idiot.’
‘I’m not giving up on our future together, either. I’m going to haunt you into your next life if you do.’
‘You aren’t going to forget about me?’
Mischievously, the Kappa gave his guarantee with a thumbs up.
‘Don’t look down on the Golden Duo, fool…..Whaaa-!’
The Otter slipped out from Kappa Enta’s nose.
‘Such fools. Alas, these 4 dishes will be ours.’
A bullet shot through the Otter’s head, distorting its outline.
‘That’s not happening!’
Unnoticed, Reo was sitting atop the Saturn-like rings, 4 dishes in hand. The gun in his hand displayed the sign “Shoot”. The Otter replied to Reo, ‘Are you sure? Do you not care what happens to Mabu?’
Up until now, he’d always been bound by those words. Even so, that ended now. ‘I don’t need that doll! I’ll get the real Mabu back using these dishes!’
‘Otter. Let’s show this fool the truth’ Distortion ran through the Otter’s figure.
On the floor with circular columns, a long thin bridge jutted out of one side. At its edge, Mabu and the Otter were facing each other.
‘Now, Mabu, the time has come to grant your wish.’
At that sign, Mabu slowly shifted his centre of gravity backwards. There was nothing behind him. He awaited the darkness below to open its mouth gaping wide. The drum-like engines positioned around Mabu produced dark black flames. It was like everything was in slow motion. Even at a time like this, the heart in his chest continued to beat at its regular pace. But still, even if he would never feel the throb in his chest ever again.
—-I thought being by your side would be enough.
If I can’t take back your heart, atleast-
I’ll satisfy this selfish desire.
The brief moments before Mabu’s body fell into Dark Keppi’s giant taiko drum:
Reo, standing closest to the scene, stared at Mabu. His mind went blank and he forgot to breathe. Mabu’s body looked so light, but nevertheless it obeyed gravity and kept on falling. Slowly, Mabu turned to face him. Their gazes met.
I don’t want to look.
I can’t believe it.
Mabu caught Reo’s gaze head on and then-
A single moment.
Finally, he smiled.
Reo’s depairing shouts echoed, like they had once before.
Mabu’s metamorphosed form, the Mabu-zombie was released onto Azumabashi bridge. Reo was confused to the extreme. ‘I don’t get it. Seriously, what the hell is he thinking?’
—-Why did he do it?
This is absurd.
Is it my fault?
‘You need to find out, kero. If you’re prepared for Mabu’s desire, that is.’ Keppi said calmly.
—Is he talking about doing that. Me? Alone?
‘Damn it!’ Reo shot at Keppi’s restraint, and assumed a stance with his butt pointed out.
Keppi yelled, ‘Sing that song!’
A forgotten nostalgic pain rammed into Reo’s butt.
Kappa Reo descended onto Azumabashi bridge’s field of desires. On the bridge, large scale versions of Mabu’s Ningoyaki were gathered. In the middle, with his back turned to Reo, was Mabu-zombie, drinking tea. He used the cup Reo loved, with the letters for ‘Desire’ written on it.
—- I have something I need to get back
—-I can’t let the person I love find out
——————About this secret
A long time ago, when Reo and Mabu were working as Keppi’s vassals. When the three of them invoked Sarazanmai – they never imagined this kind of future awaited them.
Responding to Keppi’s yell of encouragement, Kappa Reo began to run towards Mabu-zombie.
—-You and I-
————–Ought to be able to connect
—- Desire, to ascertain the meaning of life
—-Swim through life and grab the success, you can believe
————– it’s love
—-Soul on a dish, stack your plates, catch the ball
————– Yank it out!
—- Grant my wish, Sarazanmai!
With resolute determination, Kappa Reo aimed for the hole of Mabu’s butt and dived deeply into it.
‘I got it!!’
Kappa Reo yelled, holding Mabu’s Shirikodama up high. It felt nice and cold, and Reo fixed his gaze on it as if not to lose any information. ‘This is … his desire….’
Reo’s consciousness jumped to an Otter empire hospital room.
‘There’s just one condition.’ The Otter was holding Mabu’s hand, who had only just woken up. ‘Give up your connection to Reo.’ These shocking words shook Mabu’s eardrum. Pressing for an answer, the Otter kept on talking. ‘Connections are poison. If you say words of love to Reo, your heart will explode, leaving not a trace behind. Then you’ll never be together with Reo again….’
Mabu put his hand to his heart, and felt a regular rhythm. And yet, at the tip of his fingers he couldn’t feel any warmth.
‘Now, say you hate Reo.’
Hate. He hadn’t used that word in such a very long time. Memories of his childhood came back to him. Those savage eyes the time they first met. That innocent expression the first time he laughed. His helpless look when he got injured. That spirited voice that would call his name. Countless expressions, each one precious and each that had been engraved on his heart.
—- I want to connect to him…..
I want to live my life with him….
I want to connect….
I want to be with him….
I want to connect….
It’s fine, it’s fine. There’s nothing to worry about.
‘I … hate Reo.’
A surprisingly cold voice came out.
—-It’s right to kill off my emotions.
Because otherwise they’ll overflow.
‘Good boy, Mabu. Now, make Ningoyaki again for me…..’
—– Somehow, ever since then, I feel like I’ve been dreaming. Right now, I don’t care if I’m awake or dreaming anymore.
For the sake of my future together with Reo, I won’t let go of my desire—
In response to receiving Mabu’s massive emotional flood, it looked like Kappa Reo was about to drown. ‘Mabu threw away his connection so he could be together with me …?’
‘I finally told Reo—-!’ With a satisfied shout, Mabu-zombie burst open.
In the stream of water, a green lump fell beside Reo, as he stood dumbfounded with the shirikodama in his hands.
Landing softly, it was Kappa Mabu.
‘Mabu! You, why did—-?’
‘Let’s go. We must deliver the Shirikodama to the Prince.’
Mabu quickly stood up and dashed off.
Still not understanding anything, Kappa Reo followed after him. He chased after the familiar sight in front.
—- Who are you? A doll who keeps betraying me, whose emotions have fallen out of him? A fake? You’re…. You’re….
Kappa Reo cried out loudly, and Kappa Mabu responded in kind.
Sara! Zan! Mai!
‘Now leaking.’ Reo’s secret began to leak.
Reo walked down a blank white corridor wearing a kimono. Several months had passed since he woke up in the Otter kingdom. He hadn’t been informed how long it had been since he had agreed to the Otter’s terms. He had no choice but to wait.
Reo picked up a faint voice. In front of him, the door to a hospital room was slightly open. Without making a noise he peeked inside. Sitting on the bed was Mabu.
— He’s alive. Mabu is alive.
‘My wish really did come true.’
Reo’s previously gloomy mood cleared up in an instant
— I don’t mind whether we become the empire’s slaves or whatever else. If it’s together with Mabu then—-
‘I hate Reo.’
Reo thought his heart might stop.
Hate. It was the second time he had heard that word come from Mabu’s mouth.
‘Good boy, Mabu. Now, make Ningoyaki again for me….’
Reo ran away from the scene before he could see the Otter pin Mabu down. No matter how much he ran, Mabu’s words followed him.
I hate Reo.
‘A Mabu that would throw away his connection with me, isn’t Mabu at all!’
—- That’s right, he isn’t Mabu. Not my Mabu.
Before my official meeting with Mabu, I’d already come to terms with it. Or so I thought.
‘No! You aren’t the Mabu I know! Mabu would never look at me like that!’
‘With that cool face of his, today he’s still betraying me. He’s a doll whose emotions have fallen out of him….’
‘You would never understand’
—– My heart turned upside down everytime I found a discrepancy from the real Mabu. And yet, at other times, inadvertently I felt that he really was Mabu, and I began doubting myself.
He couldn’t live long without help, so his life was in my hands. That was a more tempting hell than I could have imagined. I don’t know how many times I wanted to let that heart stop beating. I even considered separating myself from him. I began thinking maybe it would have been better if I’d died instead.
Even so. Each time, I remembered the warmth of the hand that grasped mine.
‘Don’t let go, desire is your life.’
The two of us were always repeating this one wish—-
‘Was I the one who didn’t understand?’
‘I have something I want to tell you. Reo….’
Sliding down the water column, Mabu appeared in front of Reo. Just by the affectionate glisten in his eyes, Reo came to realise everything.
—–You were already the one who always told me the words I wanted to hear.
‘Wait, don’t say it! If you say it, then you…’
——— I want to hear it from you.
————————I want to convey to you what’s in my heart.
~~~This is my most utterly selfish pure desire—–
‘My one and only partner, Reo….. Always up until now, and hereonafter forevermore………’
Like wrapping Reo up in forgiveness of all his sins, Mabu spread his arms wide. Two heartbeats became one. [TL Note 1]
‘I love you…………..!’
A huge explosion occurred in the middle of Azumabashi bridge. After swallowing Mabu’s shirikodama, a tear appeared from Keppi’s eye. ‘Mabu… Your desire will certainly connect to the future, kero…..’
The debris from the explosion fell down over the Sumida river like rain. On Azumabashi Bridge Reo, back in his police uniform, stood still with his back facing the others.. His shoulders were quivering.
Keppi anxiously called his name.
‘Hahahaha, hah, HAHAHAHAHA!’ This is another of the Otter’s tricks, isn’t it?’ He’s not fooling me!’
His face concealed, Reo’s cries were a pitiful sight.
‘The leaks are the truth, kero. You should know that!’
Reo turned around and sent off a shot at maximum power. Just by a hair’s breadth, Keppi had protected Kazuki and Kappa Enta.
However, he quickly fell back into his original form. Pop.
While Reo was haphazardly destroying everything in sight with his gun, he kept on spitting out his charges against Mabu.
‘Mabu, you bastard, you broke your promise twice now!’
The signs on Reo’s gun kept changing hectically. The city freeway behind Kazuki and the others was blown up and collapsed.
‘What am I going to do now? You’re the one who said not let go of your desires!’
Komagata bridge near Azumabashi bridge was destroyed. Kazuki, who had previously been protected by Keppi, was now at Reo’s gun point.
‘Give me that dish….’
Kazuki held the silver dish of hope to his chest.
‘Reo, that’s enough, kero.’
‘I’m getting him back. I won’t let anyone get in my way—!’
Reo, consumed with rage, kicked Kazuki aside.
Having fallen back to the ground, Kazuki showed no intentions of letting go of the dish..
‘I’m not giving you the dish! I… I’m not giving up on what’s important to me!’
‘Every single one of you piss me off.’
—- I haven’t given up either, not even once.
The sign on the gun changed to ‘kill’, and Reo put his finger on the trigger.
Kappa Enta’s cry echoed around Azumabashi bridge. Kazuki opened his eyes slightly. He hadn’t been shot yet.
He cautiously looked up. Reo stood there, his face an image of despair.
Only Mabu was disappearing from the photo they had taken together.
‘Who was I pissed off at? This burning feeling, who was it for?’
He looked just like a child who forgot his way home.
‘Who!? Who have I forgotten!?’
He couldn’t help clawing at his chest. He felt something strange under his hand. Checking his left shirt pocket, he pulled out a silver ring. It didn’t belong to Reo. Inside the ring were letters spelling ‘MABU’. He didn’t know what these letters meant. He didn’t understand, but he couldn’t stop his tears from overflowing.
The anger and hatred he had felt till now, disappeared.
He’d lost something, and he only had the sense that whatever this thing was couldn’t be replaced.
He couldn’t find any other feeling.
Bam. With that dry sound, Reo looked down and saw a hole had opened up in his chest. Unable to stay upright, he fell to his knees.
‘Hahahaha…. My chest, it hurts…..’
Reo collapsed. The person stood behind him with a gun was Toi.
In front of Reo’s dead body, Keppi winked quickly.
Reo’s body let off light and disappeared, leaving behind 4 silver dishes and 2 rings. The silver rings, with two names carved into them, were connected, so that they would never be separated again.
‘Reo, Mabu. Get some sleep for now.’
Haruka was at Kappa square in his wheelchair, and by his side Nyantaro was grooming himself.
‘I had that dream again. The one where I’m on a giant Nyantaro, and I meet the Little prince. The prince tells me to choose between desire and love. But I was scared. That if I choose, then the big circle might break.’
Looking up at the sky uneasily, by Haruka’s side was Azuma Sara.
‘This world is facing another trial… Is it connected, or is not?’
The sky grew gradually darker. Right then, the plate headdress fell from Haruka’s lap.
The circle had broken in half.
The 5 silver dishes of hope joined together and a sparkling gold dish of hope appeared. Taking hold of it, Kazuki said to Toi in relief, ‘You came back, Toi.’
Kappa Enta, unsteady on his feet, also tried to convey his thanks to Toi.
‘Thankyou for saving Kazuki——-uwa-……’ but he collapsed where he stood.
Enta’s life timer was running out. ‘Enta’s death will occur in 40 seconds.’ The emotionless announcement echoed.
‘Hurry up and make your wish, kero!’
Nodding, Kazuki raised the dish up.
‘Hand over the dish of hope.’
When he turned around, Toi was pointing his gun at him,
‘My brother is dead. I’m going to bring him back.’
Raindrops began falling from the dark overcast sky.
‘Enta’s death will occur in 10 seconds.’
Rain poured quietly in the space between Kazuki and Toi. There was nothing to say. At the same time, the countdown continued. ‘Ten…..Nine….Eight….Seven….Six…Five…Four…’ Kazuki hugged the dish firmly. ‘Three….two…one…’
Upon granting the wish, the dish of hope scattered into pieces. Struck by the intensifying rain, Enta woke up.
‘Nhhh… I… You, you saved me…?’
His hand wasn’t a green, webbed one like before, but a human’s. Keppi was right next to him.
‘Kazuki’s wish was granted by the dish of hope, kero.’
—- I see, for me, Kazuki….
Amidst his suffering, he remembered the conversation he’d heard.
—-Right, his wish was…
‘Toi!’ Kazuki suddenly exclaimed. Kazuki and Toi stood the same distance apart as before.
‘I get it. If I were you, I’d have saved Jinnai too.
His voice was so faint it seemed like it would disappear into the rain.
Toi looked up towards the sky and said as if he was sighing, ‘But, I’m just so tired.’
Kazuki was about to rush over to him, but then – thunder roared.
‘Otter….! Now, sever every connection in this world!’
Freed from the prison of the clear Taiko drum, dark Keppi roared and descended onto Azumabashi bridge.
From the ominous black flames of the gathered desires, countless tentacles spat out of its wide open mouth.
Toi immediately attempted to flee but tragically was caught
Kazuki grabbed hold of his hand, and looked into Toi’s shocked eyes. Right then, Chikai whispered into Toi’s ear.
‘Let’s go outside the circle together. And cut off these pointless connections of yours.’
It was this painful because he was connected.
Then, the tentacles binding him obediently let go. With his now free hand, Toi shook off Kazuki’s. He heard the sound of Kazuki catching his breath. Without turning back, Toi walked off to inside Dark Keppi where his brother was waiting.
Kazuki’s cry was absorbed by the despair and erased.
TL note 1: The word Mabu used for ‘I love you’ here is not the more common Japanese word for love, “Suki”, but rather “Aishiteiru”、a very rare and intimate word usually reserved in Japanese culture for special occasions between committed romantic couples]
Connected hands, and the end of a cold loneliness.
I must do whatever it takes to stay alive. If I do nothing I’ll go hungry. Since those people have so much it won’t hurt them even if I steal something. I don’t have anything anymore. And I have nothing that can be stolen.
At a food stall in a castle town, a brown-skinned child stretched out their hand. Reo snatched some fresh cucumber, and ran away. From behind him he drew jeers from the shopkeeper. In his heart Reo stuck out his tongue.
‘People who get pilfered by street urchins are idiots.’
He ran off to a river bed without any people around. He caught his breath. He felt relieved looking at the spoils in his arms.
Drops of rain appeared on the cucumber. Looking up, rain fell from the overcast sky.
It ruined his good mood.
‘Why did you steal that?’
A voice came from behind him.
He turned around in surprise, and there stood a boy the same age as Reo. The difference was, the way he was dressed he looked extremely rich.
—- Did he see me?
‘So what? Do you have a problem?’ Reo barked, showing his sharp teeth.
The other kid didn’t recoil much from this.
‘I don’t have a problem. Are you always stealing things?’
‘That’s right. I don’t have any money. A good kid like you wouldn’t understand!’
As he kept rattling on, beneath his glasses the other boy’s eyes widened. They had the same colour as Reo’s eyes. The same, but completely different.
Both the rain and the other kid irritated Reo. He quickly started walking away. But, something suddenly, forcefully grabbed onto the ends of Reo’s ragged clothes, and he fell forward. ‘Ow….’. The moment he got up, the sight of the cucumber that had been crushed and was now covered in mud jumped up at him.
‘You’re fucking kidding me…’
Presented before him was a small hand, trembling all over. Looking up, his gaze collided with green eyes fixed directly on him.
‘I’m Mabu. If you’re alone, let’s go together.’
—–Are you shitting me?
Reo reflexively spurned the hand.
Letting out a small cry, Mabu retracted his hand.
—– It serves you right. You ruined my dinner.
There were visible red marks from Reo’s nails on that pure white hand.
Staring fixedly at those red marks, Mabu licked them with his little tongue. Then, once again, he presented his other hand.
‘It’s fine, it’s fine. There’s nothing to worry about.’
‘What are you saying! Do you think you’ve become God or something?’
It was inevitable that Reo looked like he was about to cry, because he was so angry.
‘….But you’re God, aren’t you?’
‘All right, let’s go.’
Reo’s hand was suddenly clutched tightly. Feeling someone’s body heat for the first time in a long time, it was surprising just how warm it felt.
—– It’s definitely the fault of the rain.
It’s definitely the fault of my empty stomach.
Why I want to cry this much.
Mabu, who had been charging forward rapidly, turned around on a dime.
‘Wh-what are you doing?’
‘What should I call you? My name is Mabu.’
‘I heard that earlier… Reo.’
‘That’s a beautiful name.’
A weird kid. A pretentious kid. That was Reo hates rich people.
‘Hey, you, pay me back for that cucumber!’
‘Ah, leave it to me. Do you have anything else you want to eat?’
It was almost like picking a fight, but Reo didn’t expect to be asked what he’d like. He really was a dyed-in-the-wool rich kid.
‘Broccoli and Ningyoyaki.
‘What a weird combination. Are they tasty?’
‘You don’t eat them together!’
—- So, he’s a blockhead.
Incidentally, Reo happened to catch sight of their connected hands. The mud on Reo’s hand was dirtying Mabu’s pure white hand.
It felt like his hunger has subsided a little bit.
‘I love them too.’
At these abrupt words from Mabu, Reo’s heart jumped. 「TL note 1]
Mabu looked at him blankly.
‘Ningyoyaki, I love them too.’
`I-I wouldn’t particularly say I love them.’
‘“I love, I want” – I stopped saying things like that.’
Reo was shaken by Mabu’s sudden exclamation. Mabu stopped walking, turned around and made a serious face.
‘Don’t let go, desire is your life!’
‘They’re the words of someone I respect. What I mean is, if we give up on what we love and want, then we can’t keep on living.’
Wondering if he had communicated it properly, Mabu gripped Reo’s hand even tighter and declared with all his might, ‘Because I wanted to do it just now, I took your hand, Reo.’
—– What the hell is this. I don’t understand what he’s saying.
To me, who’s dirty, ugly, ridiculous, deceitful, beyond any help – to me, who’s hated even by myself – is he saying that he can accept all of my desires?
‘You said that, right? You’re responsible for what you said, Mabu.’
—— If that’s how it’s going to be, I’ll make sure to annoy you.
‘That’s my intention. I’m going to properly look after who I’ve picked up right to the very end.’
‘Huhhh, fuck off already!’
‘I’m not going to ‘fuck off.’’
‘I’ll break your dish!’
The children’s busy banter continued right up to their audience with the first heir to the Kappa kingdom’s throne.
—My hand that connected to his will never, ever let go—-
TL: In Japanese, Mabu said the words ‘Ore mo Suki da’, which in another context (Japanese can often be vague about the object of a sentence) could mean, for example, ‘I love you too’. I tried to convey this in English by having a word that Reo didn’t hear properly.