Aren’t girls actually cuter if they wore more clothes? It’s now the season where I’d have thoughts of that nature.
When the Cultural Festival ended and the Sports Festival finished without any issues, the year was less than two months away from ending.
The plunge in temperatures gave way to cool—rather, chilly winds. They were further amplified with the school being erected on the coast.
To add to that, my surroundings were just as, if not more, bleak.
The area around my seat—situated at the heart of class like the eye of a typhoon—was a vacuum that no one would approach. I suppose it’s characteristic to Japanese people, but they all loved the edges and corners. Whether it’s on the train or on the bus, those were the typical spots everyone aimed for. I’m sure Edge-chan and Corner-chan would be quite mainstream if they were personified.
So that being said, there wasn’t a single person around me as I sat in the center of class.
Nothing out of the ordinary. Though, if there’s something different, then it’d be the qualities of everyone’s stares.
Instead of the usual unrecognizable stare they’d send me, this time they’d look at me intentionally, declaring that they weren’t even “aware” of me. They’d shoot a momentary glance my way with eyes that looked to be masking away their snickering.
In trying to pinpoint the origin of those stares, our eyes would meet.
It’s the way of the Hikigaya Style to not avert my eyes from them.
And the other party looking away would be the norm.
That’s how it’s always been up to the present.
But that wasn’t the case when the other party stood in a position of superiority. In fact, they’d sneer with their immediate neighbors after locking eyes with me for a full two seconds. “Isn’t he, like, looking our way (lol),” “The heck is up with him (lol),” “Gross (lol).” They’d go back and forth with their stylish jokes, partaking in their witty chatter.
I kind of feel like a panda. No, that’s an overstatement. I feel more like a wooper looper or like a sea monkey. Gosh, what’s with these lovable creatures? They’re disgustingly cute fellows, aren’t they?
——Well, I needed that encouragement or else my heart was going to break a little.
Heck, the miniscule chip at the edge of my heart was more than enough for me to cry late at night in my futon. Speaking of Superhuman hardness1, I’d say I had diamond hardness, but as it turns out, diamonds were really only resistant to scratches and were actually easily smashable with a hammer. “Diamonds are unbreakable,”2 you say? That’s a lie.
Fortunately for me, the entire student body had already transitioned from the anti-Hikigaya phase. Since I never really had that much of a presence, everyone’s interest in me veered away rather quickly. This was more or less the saying, “Gossip lasts only for seventy-five days.” It’s something similar to changing your “waifu” every anime cour. Before, I’d be treated less than a human, but the period in which everyone would focus their attention on me grew shorter and shorter to the point that they wouldn’t want a guest appearance from me for the “That Person is Now!?”3 show.
The world had absolutely no interest in me. After all, the world was full of things that were much more enjoyable.
My class was bustling with carefree and invigorating conversations today as well.
Coming from the seats at the back of class were loud voices going back and forth as though to exhibit their presence like the drumming act of a gorilla. By the way, we called those kinds of gorillas, drumming gorillas.
Their talking voices that sought to emphasize their own existences were quite audible even from their flavorful conversation. I glanced over and it was the Tobe, Ooka, and Yamato trio sitting on top of their desks. You guys have seats, so why aren’t you sitting in them?
“Crap man, what are you guys gonna do for the field trip?”
Tobe ignited the conversation and Ooka lifted his hand up in response.
“We’re going to Kyoto, yeah? We’re obviously hitting up the USJ4. The U. S. J! U. S. J!”
“Dude, ain’t that in Osaka?”
“Damn! A comeback straight from the source!”
Tobe frolicked when Yamato made his retort with an oddly composed voice. It’s honestly hard to listen to them. I’m sure if an actual person from Kansai was here, they’d chuck an ashtray at them.
It’s a special trait of people from Kansai to get angry from listening to a poor imitation of their dialect. That’s what Conan-kun5 said, ya kno’.
There’s nothing more subtle than the Kansai dialect of a person from Kanto. As for whether it’d be passable or not, I’d say they were just barely guilty.
Those three, unaware of what ran through my mind, continued with their pleasant chatter. The occasional glances they’d shoot at the girls as though saying, “Aren’t we talking about some hot stuff right now?” were both wretched and charming.
“Nah dude, going all the way to Osaka sounds like a pain.”
“You got that right.”
Ooka made an elated look to the talking Tobe who pulled excessively at the hair of his nape. But then came in the level and calm Yamato. Not taking the hint and only after contemplating did he open his mouth as if he was aiming for something.
“…How about you go by yourself, Tobe?”
“No way man! Don’t leave me hanging! Do that to Somethingtani-kun!”
Then, a burst of laughter.
On closer inspection, Oda and Tahara, sitting nearby showing each other their smartphones, were holding in their laughter while their shoulders shook.
Yeah, yeah, real funny. Great story.
More or less, that’s the kind of treatment I’ve been subjected to lately. They’d add joke after joke while groping around for the boundary of what they were allowed to say and how far they could take it.
By the way, all of their jokes were simply just them playing around—bullying didn’t exist at our school. It’s the usual practice of “Oh, we’re not bullying him, we’re just teasing him, see!” No matter how cruel their words or conduct were, a simple “it was a joke” was enough to put a lid on the issue; super convenient. When you’re told something like that, any person would have to laugh just like how “Vegeta should laugh.”6
However, as for why they partook in this kind of behavior, it’s nothing more than for their practice of “accepting.”
In accepting something that’s hard to accept, there had to be compromises. And the one compromise they settle for would be to make it into a laughable matter. It’s a necessary procedure for cliques that would pardon the existence of an irregularity amongst their ranks.
For a period of time, there was fervent lobbying of Sagami sympathizers in class 2-F. They’d send me unpleasant gazes and flock around with beautiful camaraderie in consideration of Sagami, but our time as high school students was all but fleeting. Around the end of the Sports Festival, the “pitiful Sagami” boom was replaced with the “let’s make fun of Hikitani-kun” boom. I’m the beloved child of the century, seriously.
With Sagami, the cause of everything, already forgotten, the vestiges of the incident simply survived as a precedent of how to treat Hikigaya Hachiman, turning it into a pastime.
It’s easier to understand if you think about how ceremonies that were a shell of their former selves would be converted to something religious. Celebrations that used to have a history and reason had long lost their original meaning. For example, people enjoyed the Bon Festival and Christmas despite not being very informed of how they came to be. It mirrored the concept of accepting.
Eventually, the ceremonies would assimilate into the identity and culture of a group. That group would then perform those ceremonies for the sake of validating and realizing their unity.
I’m sure they’ll get sick of it eventually though.
But with the entire class swelling up in excitement over the upcoming field trip, the joking was at its peak.
Everyone would flock to their own cliques and discuss where to go for the field trip; it’s the very moment when everyone needed to exhibit their “group power,” a necessary rite.
Tobe and company would repeat “Somethingtani-kun, Somethingtani-kun” over and over while gradually shifting to another topic. You know, my name isn’t even Hikitani in the first place…
“Damn man, the field trip? Sounds bad man,” Ooka said, rubbing his shaven head.
“Yeah, sounds bad.” Yamato expressed his agreement.
You shouldn’t ask something like, “What’s bad?” Bad things were bad. What’s bad? It’s bad. You also shouldn’t point out that the conversation was entering a loop. That’s bad.
“Oh yeah, Tobe. What are you gonna do about that one thing?”
Ooka seemed restless, as though he couldn’t help but ask, when he started the topic with Tobe. Somehow looking embarrassed, Tobe acted bashful.
“Oh man, you gonna ask that? You really gonna ask that? You should know already, man. It’s gonna happen.” Tobe coughed lightly and paused. “…Nah, I’ll make it happen.”
The other two raised a voice of admiration to Tobe who was acting pointlessly standoffish. Huh, I wonder if they’re talking about some dangerous drug or something. It feels like they’re already under the effects of something judging by their speaking, though.
Then suddenly, their voices became secretive compared to earlier. It looks like they were going to discuss something they didn’t want other people to hear.
Due to everyone concentrating on their own conversations including the trio, I was liberated from all their gazes. After seeing that, I looked up at the ceiling in a daze.
I sat on the edge of my chair, resting my entire body against the backrest with my back curved, feeling comfortable. I breathed out and slowly shut my eyes.
With the field trip nearing, the classroom was engulfed in the excitement of conversations that everyone was engaged in. But that also freed me from their uncomfortable gazes and snickering.
My sight then suddenly darkened. What is this? I thought and opened my eyes. What I saw was a familiar chest—I mean, a familiar face.
Looking down on me from above was Yuigahama.
“Yeah…” I almost tumbled over from my chair, but I retained my composure and answered.
“You’re going to club today, right?”
“Oh, okay. I’ll see you later in the clubroom,” she said with a quiet voice. Her consideration was something else. It looked like she chose the moment when everyone had stopped focusing their gazes on me.
She did a small, surreptitious wave in front of her chest and went back to Miura. Miura, in particular, gave me a suspicious look, but quickly dropped her eyes back to her cellphone.
As the Firecell Queen who treaded her own path, she hadn’t the slightest interest in the lives of the masses. She was neither enemy nor ally, that’s not to say she was neutral either, but that indifference was something I appreciated.
Her gaze just now was likely her concern for Yuigahama and not me.
It’s considerably risky to start up a conversation with me in this atmosphere, but Yuigahama’s skill to read the mood—the consideration to not cause people discomfort—was quite remarkable.
While it looks like she’s looking to protect her own image, she’s likely far more concerned about keeping me from becoming anyone’s target.
For disliked people who still needed to belong to a group, they had to eliminate any factors that could be used to criticize them as much as possible. Don’t make mistakes, don’t show your blunders, and don’t expose your weaknesses; these three were important. They’re all the same thing, aren’t they?
That being said, taking pride in your own perfection could be used against you as well. That’s why it’s crucial not to do anything. You wouldn’t make any mistakes that way.
Lastly, don’t mingle with anyone.
Getting involved with others always breeds conflict. Conflict didn’t exist just between the involved parties, but also with the views of others. You had to be especially careful when interacting with people who easily attracted the public eye.
I should probably be a little more careful. I don’t want to drag anyone else into my problems.
It’s because Yuigahama belonged to a high caste and was very considerate with her timing that she spoke to me at an inconspicuous moment, but I feel that wasn’t something I should take advantage of.
Just erasing my presence was fine up until now, but I might have to start using more physical means to detract attention from this point on. I could try toying with my cellphone while leaving the classroom. Or I could also pretend as if someone called m—that’d get exposed fast. They’d realize instantly that no one would actually call someone like me.
Ultimately unable to think of anything, I assumed a sleeping position once again.
The break was nearing its end and the traffic going in and out of the classroom became busy. People who went to other classes to hang out, people who went to the bathroom, and people who went to buy drinks; they all made their gradual return to the class.
I peeked my eyelids open and I saw a fluttering blue ponytail out of the corner of my eye.
Her bluish-black hair was tied together with a scrunchie and after a grin, she put away her cellphone and then made an apathetic face.
Don’t tell me that brocon is mailing her little brother again? I should be careful too when I send mails to Komachi. I’d get called a siscon. They might even say Sister Princess7. No, they wouldn’t.
Kawasomething Saki, in short Kawasaki, suspiciously darted her gaze around her. It looks like she was worried about whether someone had caught her earlier grin red-handed.
That gaze then clashed with mine.
“Eek!” Kawasaki let out a strange whimper and jumped. As I stared at her, her face turned red and she briskly headed for her seat with her head hanging.
Ever since the Cultural Festival, Kawasaki had been acting like that. She’d never approach me and she’d blatantly look away just from our eyes meeting.
Good, good, that’s how it should be. In order for the both of us to continue our comfortable lifestyle, it’d be best to maintain a mutual sense of distance.
There were groups of people who were impertinent enough to claim that the only species that kills each other is humans, but that’s a little inaccurate. Wild animals, too, slaughtered each other for territory. So it’s only natural for there to be in-fighting at a place like school since territories overlapped.
And above all else, for us high school students, every group—rather, each caste—as well as every single one of us was a different species.
All of us were individually, different existences.
As proof of that, there’s an individual that was walking towards me; you really couldn’t think of this person as part of the same species.
His voice was a tune from the heavens, his gait was as though he was treading above the clouds, and his holy appearance was exactly that of an angel.
Totsuka was seriously an angel.
He’s just so much of an angel that he came to talk to me regardless of the mood created by those scummy humans.
“It sounds like we’ll be making groups for the field trip in long homeroom later.”
Totsuka informed me of information he had acquired from somewhere. The upcoming field trip in about a week was for three days and four nights. For the first day, we’d move around as an entire class; for the second day, we’d move around in our class group; and for the third day, it’d be free activity. The plans on the first day were decided from the start, but for the following two days, it was up to everyone’s discretion. So, the conversations in class were exclusively focused on those two days.
In other words, the group forming in the upcoming long homeroom—it was akin to a skirmish—was when about two-thirds of the field trip would be decided.
But, well, it didn’t concern me that much since I would just be placed in whatever group that’s open and follow them from behind.
“…Really? Well, I’m sure everyone’s already made groups though.”
“You think so…? I don’t have one yet.” Totsuka looked down and murmured with a quiet voice. Everyone else should’ve made groups with people they were affiliated with, so perhaps Totsuka was embarrassed for not being in one yet.
A strange silence came about. Noticing that, Totsuka lifted his face and smiled to play it off.
——I want to protect this smile.
I’m normally not one to invite people, but this was a field trip, after all. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to put in a little effort this time around. Though, there’s something seriously wrong with me if I was putting in the effort for another guy.
“…Let’s group up then.”
Looking at his smile that was so lively I could taste his happiness began filling me. If I was a wandering ghost, I’d be going straight to Nirvana, and I’d immediately enlist into the JSDF8 if they recruited me this instant.
“That means two left. What should we do?”
“Four people, huh…? I guess we’ll have to dock with another group that has only two people.”
This was a vivid operation9 to combine with what was available.
“That sounds good! Now we’ll have to think of where to go…”
“Well, we can figure that out later.”
Class was just about to start. I gently nudged Totsuka to return to his seat since it looked like he was going to stand there and think. While I was at it, I made sure not to forget to lightly touch his shoulder before his departure.
After a nod, Totsuka waved his hand and went back to his seat.
The gazes around me were directed at him for a moment, but I didn’t perceive any hostility from them which might’ve been due to his androgynous features. I’m sure Totsuka occupied a social position slightly different from the others as well.
But in consideration of the future, there really wasn’t any need for me to attract any more attention.
As always, I wouldn’t make any effort to talk with anyone, but that also meant no one would proactively try to approach me, either.
As long I appropriately and properly maintained my distance, that should be enough. In that regard, I was the one who needed to stay alert.
I would spend my time in the same way I’ve been doing up until now.
Today, like every other day, I feigned the act of sleeping. It’s at time likes these where I needed to be composed, and it’s essential that I constantly did this.
I fell forward onto my desk using my left arm as a pillow and I spotted an unusual pair from the right side of my sight.
It was just right before the start of class.
Hayama and Ebina-san had just returned to the classroom. Although I’d see the both of them often in their groups, it’s very rare that I’d see only the two of them together talking about something.
Oh right, I was wondering why I didn’t see them around for a while.
They exchanged a few words with each other as though having a secret chat and then went their separate ways.
Ebina-san headed to where Miura and Yuigahama were while greeting them with a “hallo, hallo” in an incredibly, carefree manner. Her cheerfulness was just like the usual and the other two responded back in the same way as they always would.
However, unlike the girls, Hayama’s expression was leery.
He was making a stiff smile that was very unusual for someone like him. I might even be inclined to say that he was giving off a self-deprecating or lonely impression.
It’s something that even I could notice despite not being very familiar with him. There’s no doubt the others could see it.
The first one of the trio to call out to Hayama was Tobe.
“Yo, Hayato-kun, where’d you go? Why are you sneakin’ around like that? You Somethingtani-kun, dude?”
“It’s nothing. At least let me go to the bathroom on my own. Also, you really like that joke, don’t you? It’s getting old.” Hayama poked Tobe’s head, still smiling.
“Crap, man.” Tobe breathed and blurted out abruptly. As though to follow up with Hayama, Yamato and Ooka continued after him.
“Yeah. Saying it too much makes it lame.”
“More like, Tobelly lame.”
“Now I’m the joker!? Give me a break, dudes!”
Their laughed compounded and filled the room.
In that time, Tobe became the butt of jokes such as to Tobe, Tobe’ing, and so forth and the trend of class 2-F became Tobe.
That’s Hayama’s group for you, the class’s leader in opinions. The Hikitani joke had become a relic of the past.
Thanks to them, I was able to obtain my days of peace once more.
The splendid isolation10 unchanged from before.
As a matter of fact, I felt even far more distant from everyone else than before. My existence was consigned to the darkness.
I was now feeling like a ninja. Hello there, I am Ninja Hikigaya.11
I can’t wait to visit Kinkaku Temple in Kyoto…
- Kinnikuman ↩
- JOJO’s BIZARRE ADVENTURE ↩
- A Japanese variety program that goes around to old people and checking on what they are doing presently. ↩
- Universal Studios Japan ↩
- Detective Conan ↩
- Dragonball Z – Cell tells Vegeta to stop frowning ↩
- Sister Princess a series about a guy living with twelve little sisters. ↩
- Japanese Special Defense Force ↩
- Vivid Operation ↩
- Great Britian’s foreign policy ↩
- Ninja Slayer ↩