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Kuchiki on Sunday
It was hot. This was the middle of the scorching desert. A flat expanse of sand, sand, sand.
In the distance was an oasis. It shimmered in a haze of hot air.
He'd try to make it that far. Surely there would be water he could drink.
He'd be able to wash there, too.
The camel must want to rest, too. Pleeeease, just a little farther.
Was this a dream? Sometimes in dreams you could never get to where you wanted to go, could you? Things faded into the distance just as you thought you would get there. But sometimes at the moment you gave up, you could suddenly get there, right?
See? We've arrived.
There was a girl washing in the water. Hello there! Don't be afraid, I'm not here to hurt you. I'm a traveler. I'm a merchant traveling the Silk Road.
Would you like this manga? It's my gift to you.
This place is the source of the visual culture of modern Japan.
"Modern culture" means things like manga, anime, and games. It seems this was once referred to as "fringe culture" and "subculture," but looking at this town now, you'd find that hard to believe. On this Sunday during spring break, Chuo Dori, Akihabara's main street, bustled briskly with shoppers and tourists from morning till night.
But in the middle of the night, almost all the shops on the street had their metal shutters down. The street suddenly changed from the noise of the day to the quiet of the night, with no sign of people anywhere. In spite of there still being some time before the last train of the night, even the izakayas and restaurants were closing down.
Night comes early in Akihabara. There is an extreme difference in population between day and night. This part of town clearly shows a completely different character from other popular areas.
The people who gathered in this area had mountains of so-called work to put in order in their own rooms at night. They went back to their various bases in the evening hours for that purpose.
It was late at night when Manabu Kuchiki walked down the Chuo Dori. In both hands he lugged a paper bag as he shuffled toward home, so slowly it seemed as though he were about to die. His lanky frame swayed heavily left and right. He walked like someone working hard to find his sense of balance. His clothes looked as though he had chosen them merely for comfort, but the fleece and jeans were actually what worked best to maneuver through Akihabara.
Kuchiki was a member of the Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture, called the Genshiken for short. In an effort to become closer to the other members, he had asked them to call him "Kuchii," but this pet name had not stuck, which he thought was unfortunate.
The fifteen-liter-capacity backpack on Kuchiki's back bulged with the day's spoils of war. This alone was a fair amount of weight, but there was also the paper bag he hoisted in both hands.
Naturally, it was filled to the bursting point with gathered treasures. Their weight far exceeded the limits of the paper. But then why didn't the paper rip to shreds in the hands that held it?
One of his favorite game characters was drawn on this bag. He wanted to keep using this bag for a long time. He had reinforced the parts where it was likely to break with packing tape so it wouldn't be damaged. Many girls reuse bags with the names of expensive brands on them, and this was not so different.
There is tremendous doubt as to whether love can save the world, but an otaku's love can improve the strength of paper. And cut down on deforestation as well.
Perhaps because the quantity of paper otakus use is so much greater compared to that of normal people, this might balance things out from an ecological standpoint.
On Sunday, Kuchiki had been very busy. First he had gone to the game shop to purchase a doujin fight game. Of course, Kuchiki had a prepaid reservation for this game, but if he didn't get the goods right when the store opened, it would be meaningless. It was important to be there at precisely the moment it was released, as soon as it could be sold. He treasured that first moment. This was a trait that was strongly reminiscent of the feelings of a true Tokyoite getting a taste of his first smoked bonito of the season.
At this point, there was a surprise. The character illustrator for the game made an unscheduled appearance. In this industry, illustrators were called painters. Naming them in this way was also in the spirit of a true Tokyoite.
Kuchiki took a position in the middle of the line in front of the open shop, about twenty people back from the head of the line.
A clerk appeared from inside the shop to open the metal shutter.
A bearlike man walked up from the rear of the line toward the clerk, meeting him halfway. Whoa, was someone going to break the Akihabara ban on cutting in line? People suddenly perked up. One customer said quietly under his breath, "It's Akanemaru@Nukenin-san, the painter."
Kuchiki took a good look at the man and remembered seeing his face in a gaming magazine, although the portrait had been a mosaic, not made public.
Why could Kuchiki tell that the customer's face was the same as the protected image of the painter?
Mosaic processing meant making points unclear to lower the resolution and make the image vague. With things like adult films, this method of processing was generally irreversible: it was physically impossible to regenerate the unmodified images after filter processing even once, because the original information was lost.
Nevertheless, that they would know Akanemaru@Nukenin-san's face without using any special tools meant that they were different from ordinary people, in that they could ascertain what the image looked like before it was modified.
But it wasn't that they had any special ability; it was only after attending many sales events, the doujins had all figured out the relationship between the pen name and the actual person by listening to how the doujins addressed one another. At any rate, seeing his face, Kuchiki's brain made the connection between the sound "painter" and what it meant.
This was a charismatic painter, thought to be one of the coolest developers in the world of doujin games, and the character designer for the game being sold today. Countless beautiful young girls sprang from the tips of those clumsy-looking fingers on those large, loutish hands attached to those burly, hair-covered arms.
As that thought occurred to him, Kuchiki somehow felt a little proud.
The painter himself had put his own turbulent feelings into the pen name "Akanemaru@Nukenin." He was really a civil servant at a municipal office in the small town where he lived. His doujin buddies told him he was good enough to go pro, and it wasn't as if he didn't get invites to do so from developers.
He thought if he did turn pro, he could use all his time to work at painting and this would improve his ability as a painter, but still he had doubts. The pros and cons of working in a government office away from a major city versus being a game developer were so extreme that there was no way he could compare the two.
As a result, he worked each day from nine to five at a city government office. When not in the office, he wore his game developer face, which is how he had gotten to where he was now.
One of his co-workers regarded his life choices in a positive light.
This friend judged that performing his steady job for most of the day was somehow connected to his expression of sensitivity because of the delusions that were accumulated, and that this was training.
Akanemaru@Nukenin thought so himself.
This was because he had realized he did a better job when he transferred the demon that was never satisfied to his brush. He was also feeling his way for how to live his life from this point on, making him more sensitive to the voices of his fans than other charismatic painters.
Then a minievent began, a service for extreme fans in which Akanemaru@Nukenin drew the lead characters in his own hand on the outside of the box of the brand-new games that had been sold.
Customers were beside themselves with excitement. Voices that were hardly voices at all slipped out.
"Wow . . ."
"Umph . . ."
Akanemaru@Nukenin merely drew silently on the outside of the boxes, not performing any extra services like shaking hands or schmoozing with fans. He and they might be on opposite sides of the situation, but all involved were extremely shy. Still, a fair amount of communication took place.
This event occurred spontaneously, unforeseen by any of the people present, including the painter. Perhaps the painter wanted to share the overwhelming joy of the moment when the software he crafted was put on sale to the fans who loved it, or maybe he wanted to have direct contact and share his feelings of gratitude with the customers who had taken the time and trouble to line up to purchase the software.
Finally, it was Kuchiki's turn. "Th-thank you very much. I'm so moved. Heee-!" said Kuchiki in a furor of excitement.
"Oh, th-thanks. Which character would you like?"
"The hero's rival, Momiji, please. And the date, and 'To Kuchii' written in katakana with a heart mark, please. 'Kuchii' is me, Manabu Kuchiki. Oh, thank you. I'm so excited." Kuchiki's behavior and gestures themselves were strange, but he managed to convey to the painter everything that was important.
The fans gyrated wildly, the shop was filled with enthusiasm, and the scene was enveloped in a festive mood. The enthusiasm spread to customers who had come to the shop for other reasons, and people vied with one another to buy copies of the software. This resulted in the game's selling in unprecedented numbers, selling out on its first day, even though it was unusual for a doujin game to do so.
Unerring guidance from the shop staff meant that this surprise event went smoothly. The fans dying to buy the software, the painter, and the clerks all wore big smiles.
It was true some places in the world were being torn apart by war. Bombs might fall from the sky, suicide bombers might strike, but this place overflowed with love and peace.
Kuchiki gazed at the illustrator as if he could lick him all over. The acrid smell of the oil-based pen in his nasal cavity knocked around in the back of his head, making him feel slightly drunk. He was unable to repress the great joy welling up inside him. Then he heard the sound of drips coming from his melting brain. He lost it.
"Kuchii, you've been so happy since morning that it's suddenly going to drive you into reckless mode!" The otaku who lost it suddenly took the form of a shopping monster. Nothing was too extravagant, regardless of how much it cost.
He would own all that his heart so madly desired. Cash was compensation, merely a means to buy what he wanted. If he had no more of it, it was of no concern to him.
Anything else was short-minded money management, the act of a coarse miser with nothing to call his own.
He would buy two, maybe three, little models of bishoujo at a set price if he wanted to, even if the price was a bit steep. This was an elegant purchase. Now that he was high, he had a sense of how to use money. Nothing could stop him.
After he had purchased three of the same charming bishoujo figures with movable joints and wearing semitransparent clothes-one to admire, one to archive, and one to play with-Kuchiki's Akihabara excursion began.
Kuchiki cruised quickly through the used-game stores and anime DVD shops and took a short break at his favorite maid café.
As he passed, he saw that one of his favorite cosplay restaurants was having a sexy costume special "Our Girls Can Do It If They Try" day. He stood at the counter slurping several cups of coffee. The waitresses, who usually dressed all cute, served customers while dressed in real bondage outfits.
This got Kuchiki's libido going, which prompted him to hunt for a shop that sold doujinshi.
This accounted for his bag's being full to the point of bursting.
Around two p.m., he ate an Akihabara specialty, canned oden and canned ramen, from vending machines while sitting on a park bench.
The noodles in the vending machine ramen were made from konnyaku. This was because regular ramen noodles would get soggy inside the can. This was a brilliant concept. This was reverse engineering. They had formulated ramen by faking the noodles, the main ingredient. A little postmodernism from the food industry.
But did you really need to go so far as to hermetically seal it inside a can? This criticism came up from time to time. If consummate Akihabara residents were asked this question, most would answer "yes" with pride.
They wanted to possess everything beloved that existed in the world, not just with food but even the microcosm of the can. Because they had that maddening desire.
But Kuchiki ate up the canned ramen and canned oden with such gusto it was clear he had no time for thoughts such as these.
After that, Kuchiki went to an import PC game store to check up on the latest Western games and then to a CD shop to buy a voice talent's CD in order to get a ticket to a handshake event. For buying two CDs, you could get a photo taken with the voice talent, but Kuchiki still did not know that particular voice talent very well, so for now he settled on buying just the one CD to qualify for the handshake event.
In the plaza in front of the station, he listened attentively to the singing of an idol who had some moe. Rather taken with her, he took a photo of her with his compact digital camera.
Taking a leisurely look around, he discovered a girl dressed as a maid passing out flyers. She definitely had moe. He pointed his single-lens reflex camera. "Photo, please."
She turned as if dancing classical Japanese dance, placing the palms of her hands over her eyes to conceal them.
This was a sign that if he didn't take a picture of her face, he was welcome to photograph her. This pose was an exact copy of the one in flyers liberally pasted on the phone booths of yore, advertising sex establishments both legal and illegal. That this pose was the same was probably just chance. But if the pose was an exact copy, could it really be considered "chance" or "just"?
Kuchiki pondered these things absentmindedly but cast his thoughts aside as he gathered sensitivity in his pointer finger to press the shutter. It was not as if he were a theoretical otaku.
Akihabara on Sunday. Kuchiki worked hard and bought hard. As he was very tired, he went to a spot off the beaten path to a beef bowl restaurant, where he ordered a beef bowl with extra sauce.