Authors: Koushun Takami
- Government Memo
- Start Game
I dedicate this to everyone I love.
Even though it might not be appreciated.
"A student is not a tangerine."
Third Year Class B, Kinpachi Sensei
"But tramps like us, baby we were born to run"
———Bruce Springsteen, "Born to Run"
"It's so hard to love"
———Motoharu Sano, "It's So Hard to Love
"During all those last weeks I spent there, there was a peculiar evil feeling in the air———an atmosphere of suspicion, fear, uncertainty, and veiled hatred. You seemed to spend all your time holding whispered conversations in corners of cafes and wondering whether that person at the next table was a police spy.
"I do not know if I can bring home to you how deeply that action touched me. It sounds a small thing, but it was not. You have got to realize what was the feeling of the time———the horrible atmosphere of suspicion and hatred."
Homage to Catalonia
Third Year Class B, Shiroiwa Junior High School Student List:
1 Yoshio Akamatsu
2 Keita Iijima
3 Tatsumichi Oki
4 Toshinori Oda
5 Shogo Kawada
7 Yoshitoki Kuninobu
8 Yoji Kuramoto
9 Hiroshi Kuronaga
10 Ryuhei Sasagawa
11 Hiroki Sugimura
12 Yutaka Seto
13 Yuichiro Takiguchi
14 Sho Tsukioka
15- Shuya Nanahara
17 Mitsuru Numai
18 Tadakatsu Hatagami
19 Shinji Mimura
20 Kyoichi Motobuchi
21 Kazuhiko Yamamoto
1 Mizuho Inada
2 Yukie Utsumi
3 Megumi Eto
4 Sakura Ogawa
7 Yumiko Kusaka
8 Kayoko Kotohiki
9 Yuko Sakaki
10 Hirono Shimizu
11 Mitsuko Souma
12 Haruka Tanizawa
13 Takako Chigusa
14 Mayumi Tendo
15- Noriko Nakagawa
16 Yuka Nakagawa
17 Satomi Noda
18 Fumiyo Fujiyoshi
19 Chisato Matsui
20 Kaori Minami
21 Yoshimi Yahagi
What? Battle Royale? "What's Battle Royale?" Come on, don't tell me you don't know that!? Why bother coming to a pro wrestling match, huh? The name of a move? The name of a tournament? No, Battle Royale's a pro wrestling match. What? "Today?" Today, here, you mean? No, it's not today's program. It's only held in large arenas for big events. Look, there's Takako Inoue. O-oh, sorry. That's right Battle Royale. It's still held in the All Japan Pro Wrestling League. In a nutshell, let's see Battle Royale is—you know how your usual pro wrestling match is one on one or between paired up partners, well with Battle Royale, ten or twenty wrestlers all jump into the ring. And then you're free to attack anyone, one on one, or ten against one, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter how many wrestlers pin someone down—what, you don't even know what a pin is? Once your back's on the mat, the count goes, one, two, three, you lose. It's no different from a normal match. Players can also forfeit, and occasionally someone'll get knocked out. Oh yeah, and there's the count out. You can also be disqualified by breaking the rules. Most wrestlers lose by falls in Battle Royale. Hey, go Takako, go! Go, go! O-oh, sorry sorry. In any case, the ones who fall lose, they have to leave the ring. Fewer and fewer players remain in the game. There're only two left in the end. One on one, a very serious match. One out of those two will eventually take a fall. Then there's only one player left in the ring, and he's the winner.
He wins. He's given a huge trophy and prize money. Get it? Huh? What about players who've been friends? Well, at first, of course they help each other out. But in the end they have to fight each other.
You have to follow the rules. Which also means you get to watch some rare matches. Like way back when the tag-team partners of Dynamite Kid and Davey Boy Smith were the remaining players. Same thing happened with tag-team partners Animal Warrior and Hawk Warrior. In that match though I don't remember which one, but the guy intentionally went for a count out letting his partner win, a display of camaraderie which was kind of a letdown. Oh, you can also team up with players who used to be your enemies.
But the moment you think you're teaming up to get rid of someone else, this sneaky
can suddenly betray and beat you. Let's see, a Battle Royale I'd like to see now? Well given how many federations there are, I'd like to see a Battle Royale between the leaders of each federation. Keiji Mutoh, Shinya Hashimoto, Mitsuharu Misawa, Toshiaki Kawada, Nobuhiko Takada, Masakatsu Funaki, Akira Maeda, Great Sasuke, Hayabusa, Kenji Takano, also Genichiro Tenryu, Riki Choshu, Tatsumi Fujinami, and Kengo Kimura could still be in the running. It'd be fun to add Yoji Anjoh and Super Delfin. They might actually end up being the last two remaining players. For women's first of all, Takako, then Aja Kong, Manami Toyota, Kyoko Inoue, Yumiko Hotta, Akira Hokuto, Bull Nakano, of course Dynamite Kansai, and Cutey Suzuki and Hikari Fukuoka, Mayumi Ozaki, Shinobu Kandori, and Chigusa Nagayo and…what? How could you not know any of them? Did you really come here to watch pro wrestling?
Oh, no no no no no, Takako, fight back ! Takako! All—right.
Government Internal Memo 1997, No. 00387461 (
) Dispatched by Central Authority Secretariat Special Task Force Defense Supervisor and Battle Experiment Advisor of the Special Defense Army
To: Supervisor in Charge of No. 12 1997 Battle Experiment No. 68 Program (May 20, 18:15) We have confirmed evidence of an intrusion into the central government operations system. The intrusion was undetected on the date of its occurrence, March 12. We are currently investigating any additional evidence of re-entry.
The suspect's possible identity, purpose and any possible information leaks are also being investigated, but because the suspect's computer skills were highly advanced, we anticipate a significant delay in producing the suspect's profile.
The Central Authority Secretariat
Special Task Force Defense Supervisor and the Battle Experiment Division of the Special Defense Army were informed that data from Program No. 68 may have been corrupted, and as a result we immediately considered the postponement of Program No. 12 for 1997.
However, because preparations for No. 12 are complete, and because there is no indication that the above data has been leaked into the civilian population, we have concluded the program should proceed as scheduled. However, we will be considering rescheduling future programs following No. 12, as well as implementing design changes in "Guadalcanal."
As the supervisor in charge of executing the experiment, you, supervisor of Program No. 12 are to proceed with extreme caution.
Furthermore, this infiltration incident is classified top secret information and is to be treated as such.
42 students remaining
As the bus entered the prefectural capital of Takamatsu, garden suburbs transformed into city streets of multicolored neon, headlights of oncoming cars, and checkered lights of office buildings. A group of well dressed men and women stood talking to each other in front of a streetside restaurant while they waited for a taxi. Tired, squatting youths smoked in the clean parking lot of a convenience store. A worker on his bicycle waited for the lights to change at the crossing. It was chilly for a May evening, so the man had put on his worn out jacket. Along with these other drifting impressions, the worker disappeared behind the bus window, swallowed by the low engine rumble. The digital display above the bus driver's head changed to 8:57.
Shuya Nanahara (Male Student No. 15, Third Year Class B, Shiroiwa Junior High School, Shiroiwa Town, Kagawa Prefecture) had been staring outside, leaning over Yoshitoki Kuninobu (Male Student No. 7), who had the window seat. As Yoshitoki dug through his bag, Shuya stared at his own right foot, which was sticking out in the aisle, and stretched out his Keds sneakers with his toes. It used to be that Keds weren't hard to find, but now they were extremely rare. The canvas of Shuya's shoes were torn on the right heel, and the stray threads stuck out like cat's whiskers. The shoe company was American, but the shoes themselves were made in Colombia. At present, 1997, the Republic of Greater East Asia hardly suffered from a shortage of goods. In fact it was rich with commodities, but imports were hard to come by lately. Well, it was only to be expected in a country with an official policy of isolationism.
Besides, America—both the government and the textbooks called them "the American Imperialists"—was an enemy state.
From the back of the bus, Shuya watched his forty-one classmates, who were illuminated by dull fluorescent lights fixed in dingy ceiling panels. They were all in the same class from last year. They were all still excited and chatting away, since hardly an hour had passed since their departure from their hometown of Shiroiwa. Spending the first night of a study trip on a bus seemed a little cheap. Worse yet, it felt like they were going on a forced march. But everyone would calm down once the bus crossed the Seto Bridge and got on the Sanyo Highway and headed towards their destination, the island of Kyushu.
The loud students at the front who were sitting around their teacher Mr. Hayashida were girls: Yukie Utsumi (Female Student No. 2), the class representative who looked good with braided hair; Haruka Tanizawa (Female Student No. 12), her volleyball teammate who was exceptionally tall; Izumi Kanai (Female Student No. 5), the preppy whose father was a town representative; Satomi Noda (Female Student No. 17), the model student who wore wire-rimmed glasses which suited her calm, intelligent face; and Chisato Matsui (Female Student No. 19), who was always quiet and withdrawn. They were the mainstream girls. You could call them "the neutrals." Girls tended to form cliques, but there weren't any particular groups that stuck out in Shiroiwa Junior High School's Third Year Class B, so categorizing them didn't seem right. If there was a group, it was the rebel or—to put it more bluntly—the
group led by Mitsuko Souma (Female Student No. 11). Hirono Shimizu (Female Student No. 10) and Yoshimi Yahagi (Female Student No. 21) rounded out that bunch. Shuya couldn't see them from where he was sitting.
The seats right behind the driver were slightly raised, and popping up above them were the two heads of Kazuhiko Yamamoto (Male Student No. 21) and Sakura Ogawa (Female Student No. 4), the most intimate couple in the class. Maybe they were laughing, because their heads shook slightly. They were so insular, the most trivial thing could have been entertaining them.
Closer to Shuya, lying in the aisle, was a large school uniform. It belonged to Yoshio Akamatsu (Male Student No. 1). He was the biggest kid in the class, but he was the timid type, the kind of kid who'd always end up the target of pranks and insults. His big body was crouched over, and he was busy playing a handheld video game.
Also in the aisle were the jocks Tatsumichi Oki (Male Student No. 3, handball team), Kazushi Nüda (Male Student No. 16, soccer team), and Tadakatsu Hatagami (Male Student No. 18). They were all sitting together. Shuya himself had played Little League baseball in elementary school and was known as a star shortstop. Actually he'd been friends with Tadakatsu, but they'd stopped hanging out. Partly this was because Shuya had stopped playing baseball, but it also had to do with the fact that Shuya had started playing electric guitar, which was considered an "unpatriotic" activity. Tadakatsu's mother was uptight about that sort of thing.
Yes, rock was outlawed in this country. (Of course there were loopholes. Shuya's electric guitar came with a government-approved sticker which read, "Decadent Music Is Strictly Prohibited." Decadent music was rock.)
Come to think of it, Shuya thought, I've changed my friends too.
He heard someone laugh quietly behind big Yoshio Akamatsu. It was one of Shuya's new friends, Shinji Mimura. Shinji had short hair and wore an intricately designed ring on his left ear. By the time Shuya and Shinji became classmates in their second year, Shuya had already heard of him. Shinji was known as
"The Third Man"—the team's first-string shooting guard. His athletic skill was equal to Shuya's, though Shinji would have said, "I'm better, bro." Together on the basketball court for the first time in their second-year class competition, they made for a deadly combo, so it was only natural they'd hit it off.
There was a lot more to Shinji than sports, though. His grades in subjects other than math and English weren't great, but his breadth of real world knowledge was incredible, and his views were mature, way beyond his peers. He somehow had an answer for any question about overseas information that couldn't be obtained in this country. And he always knew the best thing to say when you were down, like, "You know it, I'm the man." But he was never arrogant. Instead he'd smile and crack a joke. He was never full of himself. Basically Shinji Mimura was a good guy.
Shinji appeared to be sitting next to his buddy from grade school, Yutaka Seto (Male Student No. 12), the class clown. Yutaka must have cracked another joke, because Shinji was laughing.
Hiroki Sugimura (Male Student No. 11) sat behind them. His tall, lanky body barely fit into the narrow seat. He was reading a paperback book. Hiroki was reserved and studied martial arts, so he projected toughness. He didn't hang out with the other guys much, but once you got to know him a little he turned out to be nice. He was just shy. Shuya got along with him. Was he reading that book of Chinese poetry he liked so much? (Chinese books in translation were fairly easy to obtain, not surprising considering the Republic claimed China as "part of our homeland.")
Shuya once came across a line in an American paperback novel he'd dug out from a used bookstore (he managed to get through it with a dictionary):
friends come and then they go
. Maybe that's how things were. Just as he and Tadakatsu were no longer friends, there might come a time when he wasn't friends with Shinji and Hiroki anymore.
Well, maybe not.
Shuya glanced at Yoshitoki Kuninobu, who was still digging through his bag. Shuya had made it this far with Yoshitoki Kuninobu. And that would never change. After all they were friends ever since they wet their beds at that Catholic institution with the bombastic name, "the Charity House"—where orphans or other children who, due to "circumstances," were no longer able to be with their parents. You could say they were almost cursed to be friends.
Maybe we should cover religion while we're at it. In fact this country, under a unique system of national socialism ruled over by an executive authority called "the Dictator" (Shinji Mimura once said with a grimace, "This is what they call 'successful fascism.' Where else in the world could you find something so sinister?"), had no national religion. The closest thing to religion was faith in the political system— but this wasn't paired up with any established religion. Religious practice therefore was permitted as long as it remained moderate and at the same time wasn't guaranteed. So it was only practiced in private by dedicated followers. Shuya himself never really had any religious inclinations, but it was thanks to this particular religion's institution that he managed to grow up relatively unscathed and normal. He thought he should appreciate that much. There were state orphanages, but apparently their accommodations and programs were poorly run, and from what he heard they served as training schools for Special Defense Forces soldiers.
Shuya turned around and looked back. The group of delinquents that included Ryuhei Sasagawa (Male Student No. 10) and Mitsuru Numai (Male Student No. 17) was sitting on the wide seat at the back of the bus. There was…Shuya couldn't see his face, but he could see between the seats the head with the oddly styled, slicked-back, long hair poking out by the right window. Though on its left side (well, it seemed Ryuhei Sasagawa had left two seats open in between) the others were talking and laughing over something dirty, the head remained absolutely still. Perhaps he'd fallen asleep. Or maybe like Shuya he was watching the city lights.
Shuya was completely baffled by the fact that this boy— Kazuo Kiriyama (Male Student No. 6)—would actually participate in a childish activity like a study trip.
Kiriyama was the leader of the thugs in their district, a group that included Ryuhei and Mitsuru. Kiriyama was by no means big. At best he was the same height as Shuya, but he could easily pin down high school students and even take on local yakuza. His reputation was legendary throughout the entire prefecture.
And his father being the president of a leading corporation didn't hurt. (There were rumors though that he was an illegitimate child. Shuya wasn't interested, so he never bothered to find out more.) Of course that wouldn't have been enough. He had a handsome, intelligent face, and his voice wasn't particularly low, but there was something intimidating about it. He was the top student in Class B, and the only one who barely kept up with him was Kyoichi Motobuchi (Male Student No. 20), who studied so hard he didn't get much sleep. In sports Kazuo was better and more graceful than almost anyone else in the class. The only ones at Shiroiwa Junior High who could compete with him seriously were, yes, the former star shortstop, Shuya, and the current star shooting guard, Shinji Mimura. So in every respect Kazuo Kiriyama was perfect.
But then how could someone this perfect end up a leader of thugs? That was really none of Shuya's business. But if there was one thing Shuya could tell, it was a sense, almost tactile, that Kazuo was different. Shuya couldn't say exactly how. Kazuo never did anything bad in school. He'd never bully around someone like Yoshio Akamatsu the way Ryuhei Sasagawa did. But there was something so…remote about him. Was that it? At least that's how it felt.
He was absent a lot. The idea of Kazuo "studying" was completely absurd. In every class Kiriyama remained quietly seated at his desk as if he were thinking of something that had nothing to do with class.
Shuya thought, if the government didn't have the power to enforce compulsory education on us, he probably wouldn't come to school at all. On the other hand he might just show up on a whim. I don't know. In any case, Shuya thought, I expected Kazuo to skip something as trivial as a study trip, but then he promptly shows up. Was this on a whim too?
"Shuya." Shuya was staring at the ceiling panel lights wondering about Kiriyama when a perky voice interrupted his thoughts. From the seat across the aisle, Noriko Nakagawa (Female Student No. 15) offered something wrapped in crisp cellophane. The bag sparkled like water under the white light, and it was filled with light-brown discs—cookies, probably. On top was a bow tied with a gold ribbon.
Noriko Nakagawa was another girl who was neutral like Yukie Utsumi's group. Other than her kind eyes, which were noticeably dark, she had a round, girlish face and shoulder-length hair. She was petite and playful. In short, she was an average girl. If there was something particular about her, it was probably the fact that she wrote the best compositions in literature class. (This was how Shuya got to know Noriko. Shuya would spend break periods writing lyrics for his songs in the margins of his notebooks, and Noriko would insist on reading them.) She usually hung with Yukie's group, but because she'd showed up late today, she had no other choice but to take an open seat.
Shuya half-extended his hand and raised his brow. For some reason Noriko became flustered and said,
"They're leftovers from the ones my brother begged me to bake. They're best fresh, so I brought them for you and Mr. Nobu."
"Mr. Nobu" was Yoshitoki Kuninobu's nickname. Although he had bulging, friendly eyes, the nickname seemed appropriate for someone who could be, oddly enough, mature and wise. None of the girls called him by that name, but Noriko had no problem calling the boys by their nicknames, and the fact that this hardly offended any of them indicated how uniquely disarming she was. (Shuya had a sports-related nickname, the same name as a famous cigarette brand, but in the same way that Shinji was referred to as
"The Third Man" no one called him by this to his face.) He'd already noticed this before, Shuya observed, but she's the only girl who calls me by my first name.
Yoshitoki, who'd been listening in on them, interrupted. "Really? For us? Thanks so much! If you made them, I bet they're delicious."
Yoshitoki snatched the bag from Shuya's hand, quickly untied the ribbon, and took out a cookie.
"Wow, these are awesome."
As Yoshitoki praised Noriko, Shuya grinned. Could he be more obvious? The moment Noriko sat next to Shuya he'd been repeatedly glancing over at her, sitting upright, completely nervous.
It was a month and a half ago during spring vacation. Shuya and Yoshitoki had gone fishing for black bass at the dam reservoir that provided the city its water supply. Yoshitoki confessed to Shuya, "Hey Shuya, I got a crush on someone."