The past month had not been good to Akira Kurusu. One moment of trying to be a good samaritan had turned his life into a living hell. He was framed for assault, had everybody he know turn their backs on him, and was sent off to Tokyo, even though he’d never so much as set foot in a city before. The first day he was there, he was so overcome by sensory overload that he even hallucinated some kind of fiery demon thing standing in the middle of the street for a moment. To make things worse, pretty much every authority figure already hated his guts. The faculty at his new school made it abundantly clear that they considered him a piece of shit, and were more than willing to flush him away the second he started to stink. In addition to this, his new guardian was a mean-spirited curmudgeon who considered him so undesirable that Akira was being forced to live in the attic of a coffee shop like he was Cinderella or Harry Potter or something. At one point he joked to himself that maybe a fairy godmother or giant with a pink umbrella would show up to whisk him away to a greater destiny, but between that hallucination he’d had, strange dreams involving a creepy long-nosed man, and some creepy piece of Malware that kept downloading itself onto his phone, Akira thought that maybe it’d be best if whatever supernatural entity that had taken an interest in him just stayed away.
It was gonna be tough, but he could do this. That thing with the guy who had him framed for assault was really the first time Akira had ever been in any kind of trouble. For his entire life up until then, he had been a well-behaved kid who kept his head low and his nose clean. All he really had to do was be himself for a year, and his probation would be over and he wouldn’t go to jail. And yeah, having a record would probably make it harder to get into colleges, but it probably wasn’t the end of the world or anything. Who knows, maybe somebody would even be impressed by his “reform” and it may prove to be in his favor in the long run. And hey, in spite of everything crappy going on, it was a nice and sunny spring day in Tokyo when he arrived. The city itself, while totally overwhelming for a kid from the sticks, was pretty cool. Maybe it was a sign that things would get better. Maybe he should see all this as an opportunity.
The rain felt like an omen.
Akira was on his way to school. The skies had been grey when he stepped out of the cafe, and he just hoped it wouldn’t start raining soon. Sadly, by the time his train had arrived in Aoyama-Itchome, it was coming down pretty heavily. And he didn’t have an umbrella. Though he wasn’t alone in that. A bunch of students were running down the street with newspapers or some other odd item over their heads. Akira considered using his schoolbag as an erstwhile umbrella, but felt it wouldn’t be particularly effective. At best, his face and maybe part of his chest would stay dry that way. And he really didn’t want to be late to his first day of school, especially considering his circumstances, but he really didn’t want to get drenched either. He had a feeling that if he got a cold, his new “caretaker” Sakura-San would be less than sympathetic.
As he contemplated what to do, a girl appeared next to him, emerging from the subway station. Akira had never seen anything like her before, at least not in person. She was taller than most other girls, with very light skin, green eyes, and blonde hair tied into twin pigtails. She didn’t look like a total foreigner, the shape of her face still being pretty Japanese, but Akira was pretty sure she had some European or American blood in her. She was also wearing a pretty heavily modified version of the Shujin Academy uniform. She wore the black school blazer over a white hoodie that just barely had the official school skirt peeking out from under it, and bright-red leggings with brown boots. Every other girl he’d seen was wearing black leggings and black shoes. The girl looked at Akira and smiled. He stared back at her awkwardly, unsure of if he should say anything. He couldn’t even begin to imagine what kind of person this girl would be. She was the first to break the silence.
“I’ve never seen you around school before. Are you a transfer student?” The girl had an upbeat manner to her speech. She kind of reminded Akira of a cheerleader from one of those American TV shows.
“Uh… Yeah. I’m just… you know… starting today.” Akira got a nervous smile on his face.
“You don’t have to be scared of me, you know.” The girl crossed her arms.
“I know I look a little different from the other girls, but I’m not gonna bite your head off or anything.” She smirked at Akira. “Are you always this stiff, or is that first-day jitters?”
“Oh… Uh…” Akira rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. “First-day jitters… kinda… I guess.”
“You guess, huh? Not really sure about that?”
“Well, my circumstances are a little… uh… unique.” Akira eased up a bit. Maybe it was just the fact that she was literally the first person who hadn’t tried to kill him with a stare since arriving in Tokyo, but this girl was surprisingly easy to talk to. “I just moved to Tokyo from the countryside, so everything’s kind of intimidating and-“
“Oh wow!” The girl’s smirk broke and her eyes widened. “No wonder you’re acting so freaked!” She smiled at Akira again, this time warmly. “Well, you don’t have to be scared of me. My name’s Ann. Ann Takamaki.” Ann held out her hand. “Welcome to Tokyo!”
“Oh, uh… thanks.” Akira slowly grabbed Ann’s hand. He’d never actually done a handshake with anybody before. It felt a little awkward, but he figured that’d be par for the course for the entire day. “I’m Akira Kurusu. It’s nice to meet you, Takamaki-San.”
“Don’t be so uptight, Akira!” Ann shoved Akira’s shoulder lightly. “You keep on being so stiff and everyone’s gonna think you’re a dead body!”
“Well, if I don’t get to school soon, I probably will be dead. I really can’t afford to be late today.”
“Strict parents, huh?”
“Something like that.” Akira looked down at the ground, tiny white pins of water making contact with the hard asphalt and exploding into droplets, creating ripples from the impact. He sighed. “Guess I’m just going to have to get wet.” Akira began to take a step forward but Ann put her hand on his shoulder.
“Hey, there’s no need to get all soggy on your first day!” Ann grinned at Akira as he looked at her. “I’ve got backup!”
“Hey, Ann, over here!” a new voice yelled. Akira turned to the source of the noise to see a girl with a large white umbrella approaching them from down the street. She seemed to wear the standard school uniform, sans the blazer, leggings, and swapping out black shoes for white sneakers. She also had her hair done up in a ponytail with a pink hair tie.
“Shiho!” Ann called back. “There you are!” Shiho caught up to Ann and held out the umbrella.
“You ready to go?”
“Totally!” Ann stepped under the umbrella. It was certainly large enough for two people to share. She pointed to Akira. “By the way, this is Akira. He just transferred here. Do you mind if he squeezes in under here with us?”
“Of course not!” Shiho handed the umbrella to Ann and turned to Akira, bowing to him. “Hello, Akira-Kun. My name is Shiho Suzui.”
“Akira Kurusu” Akira said as he bowed back. He stepped under the umbrella and gently took it from Ann, trying to hold it in a way that would cover all three of them. He finally settled into a position where Ann and Shiho were completely covered, and a little bit of his back was poking out into the rain. Yeah, he’d have a wet butt when he sat down in a classroom seat, but it was preferable to the alternative. The group started to walk slowly towards the school.
“My, what a gentleman you are, Akira” Ann said teasingly. Akira started to blush.
“Don’t make fun of him!” Shiho said. She looked back at Akira and smiled. “So, Akira-Kun, is there anything you’d like to know about the school?”
“Oh, uh, sure!” Akira thought for a minute. He’d heard that Shujin was a really prestigious prep school in Tokyo, but he never really got any of the details as to why. “What kind of place is Shujin Academy?”
“‘What kind of place’?” Ann fiddled with one of her pigtails. “That’s kinda vague, isn’t it?”
“I mean, the school is supposed to be famous, isn’t it?” Akira asked. “We don’t really know a lot about Tokyo prep schools out in the country.”
“It is” Shiho said. “Shujin Academy takes pride in the many accomplishments of its students and faculty. A higher-than-average number of students test high and get into prestigious colleges once they graduate from here, and our sports programs produce some of the top high school athletic teams in the greater Tokyo metropolitan area.”
“The best athletes in the whole city?” Akira was awed. For as populous as a place that Tokyo and the surrounding area was, that was no small feat.
“That’s right!” Ann said cheerily. “In fact, Shiho here is the star of the girls’ volleyball team!”
“Really?” Akira stared at Shiho in amazement.
“Well, I don’t know about ‘star’…“ Shiho said, looking at her feet bashfully.
“She’s being modest” Ann said. “Shiho’s basically the best athlete in the whole school.”
“That’s amazing, Shiho-San” Akira said. “Sports here must be really fun. Or really tough. Maybe both?”
“Well, they are tough, yes” Shiho said. “But they’re a lot more fun than they used to be.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“She’s talking about Kamoshida” Ann said.
“What’s a ‘Kamoshida’?” Akira asked.
“Wow, you really DON’T know anything about the school!” Ann gawked at Akira. “You really don’t know Kamoshida!? It was a huge news story!”
“That big, huh?" Akira tugged at his collar with his free hand and laughed nervously. "No, I never heard about it. What happened?”
“It’s very unpleasant” Shiho said. “I’m not certain you want to hear it. It’d be bad for you to be thinking of such things on your first day of school.”
“Hey!” Akira raised his voice for the first time in the entire conversation. “You can’t just NOT tell me after building it up like that!”
“He’s right, Shiho.” Ann poked Shiho on the cheek. “Besides, if we don’t tell him, he’s gonna go nuts wondering about it all day. It’ll just keep nagging at him like…” Ann poked Shiho a few more times to drive the point home.
“Fine, I’ll tell him!” Shiho slapped Ann’s hand away. “Just stop doing that!” Shiho sighed and stared at Akira sadly. “Kamoshida was the old gym teacher and volleyball coach. He was an Olympic Gold Medalist, so the school was really thrilled to have him. But he was a very cruel and selfish man. He acted like he was in charge of the school… And in a way, he was.”
“What do you mean?” Akira asked.
“Kobayakawa turned a blind eye to his many misdoings.”
“Kobayakawa?” Akira scratched his head, then remembered the very strict and very fat man he met yesterday. Impossibly fat, even. He didn’t even look like an actual human. “Oh! You mean Principal Dumpling.”
Shiho giggled a bit. Ann burst out into a fuller laughter.
“‘Principal Dumpling’!” Ann slapped Akira on the back. “That’s rich, Akira! I mean, it’s kind of mean, but that’s exactly what he looks like! And here I was thinking you didn’t have a sense of humor!”
“Getting back to the subject…” Shiho cleared her throat and returned to her previous dour mood. “Kamoshida was a truly horrid man. He would overtrain the students on his athletic teams, exhausting them beyond reason and trying to break them. He had some kind of ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality where he only wanted the hardest students who could take the most punishment playing for him.”
“That sounds like a nightmare” Akira said.
“That wasn’t even the worst of it” Ann said, her cheery attitude notably fading away. “Kamoshida would outright abuse students he didn’t like. He’d call somebody to his office and use them as his personal punching bag. And if a girl caught his eye, he’d hound her and force her to… well…” Ann started to slump over a bit. All of the life seemed to leave her.
“You don’t have to finish that” Akira said. He kept a very calm outer facade, but in the pit of his stomach, there was a raging storm. He was also starting to see red a little, but managed to remind himself that everything he was being told happened in the past and kept his anger in check. “Whatever he did to you, I don’t want to force you to revisit-“
“Oh, no!” Ann said, some of her energy returning. “He didn’t do anything to us!” She then looked at Shiho with a look of horror on her face. “Wait, that’s not right either! I mean-“
“He overworked me on the volleyball team, but that’s as far as it went” Shiho said. “There were a few times that he made some movements towards Ann, but he was stopped before any of his plans for her came to fruition.”
“What happened?” Akira asked.
“Well,” Shiho said, “the official story is that Principal Kobayakawa, who had no idea what was going on, discovered Kamoshida’s discrepancies and turned him in to the police.”
“Of course, everyone at school knows that’s a big fat lie” Ann said. “Principal Kobayakawa would’ve let it go on forever so long as he could say that Shujin Academy had a famous athlete coaching its students. The only reason he did anything is because Makoto Niijima made him.”
“‘Niijima’?” Akira was trying to remember where he’d heard that name. “The prosecutor?”
“No, that’s Sae Niijima” Shiho said.
“Wait…” Ann put her hands on her hips. “You never heard about Kamoshida, but you know who Sae Niijima is? How does that work?”
“I heard her name on the news this morning” Akira said.
“Makoto Niijima is Sae Niijima’s younger sister” Shiho said. “Last year, she was vice-president of the student council. This year, she’s president. She has quite a bit of influence over Kobayakawa.”
“How does a student council member force a principal to do anything?”
“Nobody knows for sure,” Ann said, “but most people think it’s blackmail.”
“She sounds scary” Akira said.
“She is” Ann said.
“She’s not all bad” Shiho replied. “Niijima-Senpai is a very smart and determined person who wants what’s best for the school and its students. Just don’t get on her bad side and you should have no problems with her.”
“Seriously, Akira…” Ann stared straight into Akira’s eyes with a serious glare. “Niijima-Senpai hates troublemakers. You seem like a good person, so you should be fine, but you really don’t want to make her mad. Other students have taken to calling her the ‘Queen of Shujin Academy’, and upsetting the Queen is a really bad idea. Got it?”
“Got it.” Akira gulped. He was already entering this school with a pretty bad label attached to him. Whoever this Makoto Niijima was, she sounded like she could be very bad news for him. He’d just have to stick to his plan of keeping off anybody’s radar and being on his best behavior. He was really glad that Shiho and Ann had told him about this. He considered telling the girls about his full situation right there, but figured he’d wait until they got to know him a little better first. That way they’d know that his polite nature wasn’t an act, and maybe even believe him when he told them that he was framed.
The group kept talking as they approached the school. Akira learned that Ann was a part-time model. He wasn’t expecting that, but it didn’t really come as a shock either. He also learned that she had a voracious sweet tooth, and her diet seemed to largely consist of cake, parfaits, and crepes, yet she somehow did not gain weight. Or rather, she didn't gain any weight in unflattering places, as Shiho pointed out. Ann pinched Shiho on the arm for that comment. Akira made sure to remain tight-lipped over it. Soon enough, they reached the school. There was a fat male teacher standing in the doorway glaring at them as they headed inside.
“Does that guy have something against you?” Akira asked. The trio stepped into the school and he folded up the umbrella and gave it back to Shiho.
“That’s just Mr. Ushimaru” Ann said. “He’s a total grump who hates everybody. He basically thinks all teens are troublemakers and are guilty until proven innocent.”
Well, that was the last thing Akira wanted to hear. Because according to the courts, Akira WAS guilty. He had a feeling that Mr. Ushimaru was going to be especially hard on him. Add in the rest of the faculty and what would happen if that Queen of Shujin learned about his record, and he was really grateful to have Ann and Shiho on his side.
“Don’t worry about him” Shiho said. “He’s all bark and no bite.”
“Well…” Ann said, “there's SOME bite.”
“Right.” Shiho looked at Akira with a grave expression. “Don’t let him catch you drifting off in his class, or he’ll throw chalk at you. He coaches the baseball team, so he throws really hard and has really good aim.”
"Noted" Akira said. "'Do not look away from Ushimaru'."
“We’ve got a few minutes before classes start” Ann said. “Want a quick tour of the school?”
“Maybe later” Akira said. “I’m supposed to meet my homeroom teacher Ms. Kawakami in the teacher’s lounge. I think she wants to introduce me to my class or something.”
“I’m in Ms. Kawakami’s class!” Ann said excitedly. “I’ll take you to her!”
“That’d be great” Akira said.
“Well then, I’ll let you two get to it” Shiho said. She bowed to Akira again. “It was very nice meeting you, Akira. We should meet again for lunch and you can tell me how your first day is going.”
“I’d like that” Akira said, returning the bow.
“Let’s meet up in the courtyard!” Ann said.
“What if it’s still raining?” Akira asked.
“There’s a table with a ceiling over it” Ann said. She started to head down the hall and gestured for Akira to follow her. “C’mon, let’s get you to Miss Kawakami. Later, Shiho!”
“Bye, Shiho-San.” Akira waved, following Ann.
“Until later, Akira-Kun.” Shiho waved back.
Ann led Akira to some stairs at the end of the hall and up a flight. As they walked along, Akira noticed a lot of people staring at the two of them. Both boys and girls looked at them, mostly with looks of anger, suspicion, or wariness. Two boys in particular seemed particularly focused on solely Akira, and not Akira and Ann as a pair. One was a shorter, more timid boy with bluish hair. His uniform was kind of like a male counterpart to Shiho’s, forgoing the school blazer and just wearing the white shirt and black pants, although he had suspender loops dangling from his waist for some reason. He was staring at Akira out of the corner of his eye, his head turned away from him, and he seemed really freaked out. The other boy was dressed in the proper Shujin uniform with no modifications, jacket buttoned and all, and had naturally spiky black hair and a thuggish face. He looked directly at Akira with a sneer that could kill. Nobody had looked at Akira so harshly since the judge glared at him in the courtroom. Akira really hoped he never had to talk to that guy.
“Here’s the teacher’s lounge” Ann said, stopping outside a room on the second floor.
“Huh?” Akira stared at Ann, then remembered what they were doing. “Oh! Right! Thanks, Ann-San.”
“‘San’? You’re still so uptight, Akira.” Ann looked at Akira and noticed all of his nervousness had returned. “Hey, are you ok?”
“Everyone was looking at us…”
“Oh. Yeah. That’s…” Ann crossed her arms and sighed, a tired look on her face. “That was because you’re with me. Look, people think some bad stuff about me, and… I promise I’ll explain it to you later. It doesn’t have anything to do with you, I promise.”
“Yikes. Are YOU ok, Ann-S- I mean, Ann.” Akira smiled at his new friend. “Just Ann.”
“You got it!” Ann grin and flexed her arms. “I’ll be fine. I’m used to this kind of thing. I’m pretty much immune to it. You go talk to Ms. Kawakami, and I’ll see you in class, ok?”
“Sure thing. Thanks for everything, Ann.” Akira headed into the teacher’s lounge. Ann headed towards her classroom.
The Student Council Meeting Room of Shujin Academy was much like any other. There was a table large enough to seat all of the council’s members, and a bunch of folding chairs lined up along it. But there was also a separate large, luxurious desk a few feet past the head of the table, much like one that would be found in a corporate office, and sitting there in a plush office chair was Makoto Niijima. She wore the proper Shujin Academy girls’ uniform, with white shirt, a little black bowtie at the neck, a buttoned-up black blazer with red buttons, pleated skirt, and black leggings and black shoes. She wore a red braided headband on her head that stood out from her natural brown hair. She was going through paperwork of club budgets, looking for one item in particular. Finally, she found the drama club’s budget, taking her pen and slashing it in half with a satisfied smirk on her face. She was sure that the drama club president, Daisuke-Kun, would be unhappy about it, but she had warned him about choosing more appropriate material to perform. The incestuous themes of Oedipus Rex were simply too unsavory for a school of Shujin’s stature. And if Daisuke-Kun had any complaints, she had ways of dealing with it.
Four loud bangs came from the other side of the door, shaking it. Most people would be startled by such a violent happening. This had long stopped being disruptive to Makoto.
“Come in” she said, calmly looking up from the club budgets. She had a serene smile on her face as the door opened.
Ryuji Sakamoto entered the room, moving past the meeting table and standing between it and Makoto’s desk. He stood up straight, arms at his side like he was in a military line-up.
“I’m here to report, Miss Prez.”
“Of course. Please have a seat, Ryuji-Kun.” Makoto gestured to the chairs at the meeting table.
Ryuji grabbed a folding chair and plopped it down in front of Makoto’s desk, the back of the chair facing her. He sat on the chair backwards with his legs spread out, one on each side of the chair, his elbows leaning forward on the chair’s back. Makoto kept smiling, but shook her head.
“I know that you know that’s not the proper way to use a chair, Ryuji-Kun.”
“Right.” Ryuji got up and turned the chair around, sitting in it the correct way. His posture was completely upright and his hands were firmly planted on his knees. “Sorry. I’m just a little pi- Uh… upset.”
“Why is that, Ryuji-Kun?” Makoto gave a sympathetic frown.
“I got eyes on that new transfer student like you wanted, but I didn’t really get a chance to talk to him. He was with Ann Takamaki, and just as I was about to approach him, they stopped outside the freakin’ teacher’s lounge.”
“Takamaki-Chan, hm?” Makoto spun her pen in her hand. “It seems our school’s new delinquent is keeping interesting company already.”
“I’ll pin him down, I swear.” Ryuji looked at Makoto with worry, speaking frantically. “I’ll grab him at lunch today and let him know what the score is around here, just like you asked me to. I won’t screw up again, I promise!”
“Calm down, Ryuji-Kun.” Makoto got up from her desk and walked over to Ryuji. She smiled softly and patted his head like a dog, her fingers pushing down his spiky black locks, only for them to pop up again when she removed her hand. “I should have realized that Kurusu-Kun’s teacher would wish to meet with him. All things considered, it’s my fault for asking you to handle this so early in the day.”
“You’re just tryin’ to make me feel better” Ryuji said, pouting.
“I am,” Makoto said, looking down at her cohort, “but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.” She crouched down to be eye level with Ryuji. “You have the entire day to meet with Kurusu-Kun. I’m confident you’ll come through before he returns home today. You’ve never let me down before, after all.”
“You know it!” Ryuji stood up, a big grin on his face. “I’ll let that criminal chump know what happens if he tries anything funny at Shujin Academy!”
“I’m certain you will.” Makoto looked at her watch. “Oh my. We should hurry to our classrooms. It would be very unseemly if we were late. We must serve as role models to the rest of the student body, after all.”