“We will now begin discussing the athletics festival.”
During the first half of June, in the classroom of Class 2-B in Yamaboshi High School, class representative Setouchi Kaoru spoke those words.
The class meeting in sixth period today, a Monday, was being used to discuss the athletics festival to be held in early July.
“Boys, gather around the male athletics leader, Watase-kun; girls, gather around the female athletic leader, Kurihara.”
Setouchi ordered neatly; she had gotten completely used to the class rep’s duties. Under her short black hair, a pair of shiny, very noticeable earrings displayed themselves on her earlobes; she gave a strong impression of a well-dressed honor student.
The students in the class chattered to one another as they stood up, and Yaegashi Taichi began to move as well.
“It’s athletics festival season again! It really makes you excited~, right Yaegashi-kun?” trilled a grinning Nakayama Mariko, who tied her hair into cute pigtails, as they walked. Nakayama was a cheerful girl who always smiled.
“Yeah." Taichi nodded and replied.
“Hey, tsk-tsk, that was too short of a reply, Yaegashi-kun! That's just one word, one word!”
Although Nakayama's pushy behavior made Taichi somewhat uncomfortable, she was on good terms with Nagase, and that caused her to often stick around Taichi.
“Ah, ahh, sorry.”
“Uu~, your response is so boring. You’re not like this when you’re using that tone of voice and whispering words of love to Inaba-san all the time~.”
Just then, a shadow suddenly lunged from behind Nakayama.
“Da-n! You guys are really chatting it up, Nakayama-chan and Taichi!”
The space around them was already sparkling with just Nakayama, and the latest addition made it scintillate. The person hugging Nakayama was the Cultural Research Club president, Nagase Iori, a pretty girl generally agreed to be the cutest in her grade. She was becoming more and more accustomed to letting her long hair down maturely, and her spirit and appearance complemented each other solidly.
“Yup~, because Yaegashi-kun and I have a very good relationship!”
“What? Well, there’s no way my relationship with Taichi will lose to yours! We’ve been through a lot together during club activities this past year!”
Been through a lot — What Taichi, Nagase, and the other members of the Cultural Research Club had gone through this year could not be expressed through such a simple phrase.
But now, the fact that everyone could happily laugh like this was real; the fact that Taichi and Nagase could view each other as friends was also real.
As long as these are real, it should be all right to describe everything else with the phrase “been through a lot”.
Even if danger ever approached again, all would be well as long as Taichi and the others worked together, stood, and fought.
“What are you thinking about all by yourself? Taichi, there is a pair of pretty girls hugging you left and right! Or is it because you’ve got your lovely wife Inaban that you’re ignoring all the other girls?”
“A wife, hm? Well, you’re right, she’s Yaegashi-kun’s most doted and beloved wife!”
“Hey! I think I just heard someone say ‘I really want to be hugged by pretty girls, and bask in a whirlpool of cuteness’! I want to bask in it too!”
“No one said that, okay?”
The person sprinting over just to make this strange declaration was Kiriyama Yui, another member of the Cultural Research Club with Taichi. Kiriyama had a petite frame, silky chestnut-colored hair, a self-declared cute-loving personality, and was a standard modern girl, but she was also a beast in the world of Women's Full Contact Karate, with a fighting side to her.
“That's weird, did I hear wrong? What a pity, I thought I had finally found a partner with whom I could freely talk about my dreams...”
“Geez, I really worry about Kiriyama sometimes.”
Taichi muttered. Although Kiriyama’s personality was relatively serious, she would turn weird whenever anything “cute” was mentioned.
Taichi concluded his blithe chitchat with the girls and walked toward the desk of the male athletics leader — Watase, a cool and relaxed sportsman in the soccer club.
“Geez, you can’t meet here without stopping by the girls first, can you?”
After Watase said this, the other boys all piped up with objections and negotiations like: “Enough is enough!” “Trade places with me! How much do you want?!”
“I want to confirm something first.”
Not long after the discussion began, Kurihara Yukina, the other athletics leader in the center of the girls' group, raised her hand to speak; she seemed to want the boys to notice as well.
Kurihara was a tall, slender girl who was Kiriyama's best friend. Her vibrantly dyed curls and mature makeup made her seem like a fun-loving girl at a glance, but she was a diligent student in the track and field club, and never failed to attend practice.
“Does everyone really want to win?”
At first a few people shouted, then the entire class yelled together, “We really want to win!”.
“Besides, if we win the athletics festival, it'll benefit us during the cultural festival~,” Nakayama said in a piercing voice.
Yamaboshi High School’s athletics festival was a battle during which one class from each of the three grades was selected, then combined into a team. The team that won would also earn the privilege of organizing activities, being able to freely organize whatever activities and choose whatever location it desired during the upcoming cultural festival.
“If we win the athletics festival, the Cultural Festival will be a lot more fun!”
“To stir things up in the class, we’ve got to win!”
“Even if we ignore all that, what's the point of a competition if you don't try to win!”
“OK, OK. I get how everyone feels.”
Kurihara quieted the group down. Noticing the situation, a surprised-looking Kiriyama murmured to Kurihara:
“By the way, Yukina, since you're the athletics leader this shady attitude of yours won’t do; you must take up the role of a good leader.”
“You don’t even need to mention it. Besides, I'm doing this for your own good.”
“For my own good? Doing what?”
Kiriyama tilted her head in confusion. Kurihara ignored her and continued nonchalantly:
“So, it’s been decided that in all of the girls’ events we'll be using the ‘Martial Goddess’, Kiriyama Yui.”
“Wait a second! Don’t just make decisions like that! And what do you mean, ‘Martial Goddess’?!”
Everyone glanced at Kiriyama and nodded in unison.
“And there’s a limit to events that one person can sign up for, so this is a ridiculous plan, isn’t it?!”
“Not a problem. We will use Masked Kiriyama One and Masked Kiriyama Two.”
“If you need them, I can lend you guys some masks from my collection. Like the one from that San Diego lightweight who actually won the world championship—”
“Of course I think there’s a problem! I’m not doing it! And Taichi, can you not collect masks like it’s normal and lecture everyone about it? It makes you unapproachable!”
Kiriyama’s merciless. I wanted to talk more about that, damn!
“Are we temporarily halting Operation Masked Kiriyama?”
“Please freeze that operation forever!”
After Kiriyama and Kurihara’s comical dialogue came to an end, everyone divided themselves back into separate genders and began discussing again.
“Hmm, for the boys… the girls seem to be having the same idea; in any case, the Sports Club guys will be coming out in full force, hopefully in high-scoring events, then, as for guys like Yaegashi who aren’t in the Sports Club but aren’t in bad shape, you all will attend some lesser events and we’ll leave the rest to everyone else. How’s that?” Watase suggested, and everyone nodded in assent, with the most vigorous ones coming from the Sports Club members.
“Then it’s decided!”
“I’ll do relays!”
“I’ll do botaoshi.”
Taichi agreed, too: “Put me in whatever competition you need me for.”
“Uh… Do you guys have any objections?”
Watase confirmed with the boys who weren’t accustomed to exercise.
“Great, then let’s start with the super-high-scoring staple of Yamaboshi High School — the mixed cavalry fight.”
After the events were distributed, everyone returned to their seats and Setouchi again stood at the front of the classroom.
“Now, we’ll end by selecting representatives for the cheer competition.”
Yamaboshi High School’s cheer competition could be called the central event of the athletics festival. It wasn’t just a simple performance; it was also an important way of earning points. A vast amount of effort was poured into this event every year, with practices starting a month before the athletics festival even began. During practice, each grade would select a number of boys and girls as representatives, in charge of the entire group’s practice.
“—and Yaegashi. That’s three guys. As for girls, Kiriyama, Nagase… and another spot, do we have any volunteers?”
The boys were picked very quickly, but the girls still lacked one more.
“How about you?”
“Um, I’m not good at leading and all of that...”
“Nuu~n… I’m not much of an athlete…”
“It would be better for me to do it, but the cheer rep can’t be the class president or sports rep...” Kurihara murmured.
Setouchi hugged her chest, muttering worriedly, “What do we do…?”
Just before they could select the final girl, the bell rang.
Almost at the same time, Class 2-B’s homeroom teacher — Gotou Ryuuzen, the one who had pushed all responsibility onto the class representative and taken a nap, finally awoke.
“Uhm? Ohh, it’s this late already. The discussion’s finished, right, Setouchi? Then let’s—”
“No, it’s not.”
“Ehhhhhhh!? Can’t we go home already?”
“What are you surprised about?! Please help us, too! We still need a girl as a cheer competition rep, we’re currently discussing who she should be!”
Gotou, who had been Taichi’s homeroom teacher since first year and was also the advisor for the Cultural Research Club, was a shockingly indolent teacher. His amount of duty-shirking was quickly approaching a problematic level.
“Hmm, I see… So Nagase and Kiriyama have been selected already… Hmm? I feel like there’s someone missing… Ah! Fujishima! Only Fujishima can do it!”
“... Huh? Me?”
Fujishima Maiko, once class president of Class 1-B but now demoted to a common student in Class 2-B, looked surprised.
“This kind of job… There should be others more capable than I am...”
Her once-dazzling leader figure was now a thing of the past; Fujishima, who had been central to class meetings in her first year, stayed more in the back and kept silent nowadays.
No one was exactly sure what to say to that, and the air stagnated. Then, Nagase broke the silence.
“I-I also agree! If it’s okay, I hope Fujishima-san can work together with us. As long as Fujishima-san is willing to give it all she’s got, victory will be right before us! And besides, we have so many Sports Club members in our class!”
“I-I agree as well. We can do it with Fujishima-san! Or rather, there’s no one better than Fujishima-san!” Watase seconded the motion.
Following his example, the students began to say, one after another: “...Victory.” “It does look very promising!” “Let’s shoot for victory!” “Yes!” “Uwooo!”
Class 2-B was already fired up with high morale for the athletics festival, but the class grew even more passionate when the word “victory” was set as their target. The fervor of the class slowly flowed into Fujishima’s heart.
“Uh… Um… Then… I’ll do it.”
The instant Fujishima nodded her head, the class broke into deafening applause.
If she really didn’t want to do it, then what would we do… Taichi thought, but upon seeing Fujishima’s slightly embarrassed expression, worrying seemed unnecessary.
“Whew... I think you all should understand that I didn’t suggest Fujishima, who was class president in first year and would appropriately take care of everything in my place, as the cheer rep just because I wanted to go home early. I was providing an opportunity for her, who lacks self-confidence, to pull herself together. As a teacher, after careful deliberation, I—”
“Please shut your mouth, because there are people who need to rush to their clubs.”
“Yes, I’ll shut my mouth. I’m sorry, Setouchi-san.”
Setouchi was once a bit of a delinquent girl; her stare pierced one to the bone.
“Then it’s decided — Good work, everyone!”
Setouchi concluded, and the class meeting was dismissed.
At the same time, as though she had realized something important, Fujishima widened her eyes.
“Ah! Come to think of it, was I just... invited by Nagase-san to do something? In other words... Nagase-san has finally accepted my love! Yahoo!”
Fujishima was instantly high-spirited.
“.... Huh? What kind of super-explanation is that? Th-that’s not what I meant, Fujishima-san! Wait, c-can you please not look at me like that while licking your lips?”
“You’re joking! Shino-chan and Chihhi’s class are going to be on the same team as Inaban’s class?”
Nagase yelled in surprise. She was sitting on a folding chair beside Taichi.
After school, the chairs in Room 401 on the fourth floor of the club building were occupied by five second year students, including Taichi, and two first year students — members of the Cultural Research Club — making a total of seven people.
“That’s cold! Can’t you have a more exciting reaction? ‘Ohhhhh, really?’ or something like that? You’re too cold!”
“But in terms of probability, this situation isn’t impossible, is it?”
Uwa Chihiro responded flatly to Nagase’s excitement. He sported an uneven, relaxed hairstyle, and was a properly defined, cool-tempered guy. Although he appeared to be neutral, he attended the same karate dojo as Kiriyama, and trained his body like a manly man. By way of Kiriyama’s introduction, he developed an interest in the Cultural Research Club and, after a series of various twists and turns, he joined the Cultural Research Club as a first year new club member.
“Chihhi is no fun, right, Shino-chan?”
“Yup, Chihiro-kun is quite boring all right. But, something like ‘needing to say something interesting to fit the atmosphere, instead coldly giving a bored response to deliberately create an awkward silence’ could possibly be Chihiro-kun’s own unique way of joking around. It’s still quite boring, though.”
“What’s the matter with you? Shino-chan! How come you’re so vicious?”
“Huh? Ah? Did I mess it up? People have been telling me, ‘You’re too honest’ or ‘You say surprisingly harsh stuff’, so I wanted to say some things to Chihiro-kun too…”
“Yeah, I now clearly understand that Shino-chan’s a genius at insulting people.”
The girl speaking slightly illogically with Nagase was Enjouji Shino, who, like Chihiro, was a new member of the Cultural Research Club. She was like a small animal; whether it was her appearance or her movements, one would liken this girl to a miniature dachshund, and her fluffy bob haircut was extremely adorable. Enjouji would frequently be in a helter-skelter state, but she was still capable of articulating herself resolutely and decisively.
Although Taichi had started off perplexed by their new companions, in the full month that had passed since their joining, he had already become quite familiar with them. The two new members probably felt the same way.
“But it’s getting really exciting now!” Aoki exclaimed cheerfully. His lightly-permed hair swayed gently along with his tall physique.
“If Inaba-chan, Chihiro, Shino-chan, and I are the Green Team, while Taichi, Yui, and Iori-chan are the Red Team, and we can make it a team battle, that’ll be a lot more fun than just the normal athletics festival!”
“But there are a ton of other teams too, and all three grades are attending, so we really can’t do it by ourselves.” Taichi murmured. In response, Nagase suddenly began to emit Uuun noises while sizing up Taichi and Chihiro.
“What?” asked Taichi.
“Nah, I’m just wondering... Taichi and Chihhi are different types, but their calm and quiet personalities.... Their character traits seem to be overlapping?”
“Th-They’re not overlapping!”
Taichi felt that his own individuality was in great danger.
“There’s nothing of the sort… Right, Kiriyama?”
Taichi threw the subject of conversation at Kiriyama, who was sitting across from him.
“Uh, um... Ta-Taichi has his own strengths, and Chihiro-kun has his own strengths… Right?”
“Don’t look away! That kind of attitude tells me you want to say something good but can’t, it hurts a lot!”
“Are we really that similar? At least I’m not a natural-born gigolo.”
“Are you saying that I’m a natural-born gigolo? I’m not!”
“Nice burn, Taichi, that’s the stuff. As long as you keep up this kind of intense roasting, you’ll be able to guarantee your own unique traits~!”
“Does this mean that as long as I become emotional, other people will think I’m paying attention to our overlapping character traits and want to use that to differentiate myself?”
Whenever he thought of how others saw him, Taichi would lose willpower; if he didn’t do that, they’d think that their character traits were overlapping… He was between a rock and a hard place.
“That’s it Taichi and Chihiro, you guys should get hyped, yeah!” Aoki shouted to join the fun as Kiriyama heaved a sigh from beside him.
“Ah, at least these two aren’t like Aoki. Just one is enough, but add in another one and that’d be unbearable. Right, Shino-chan?”
“Yup, Aoki-senpai really is very annoying.”
“Shino-chan, you don’t have any intention of saying anything good about me at all! You at least showed signs of wanting to help Chihiro when we were talking about him, didn’t you?”
“Say, Inaban, Taichi’s been accused of not being special at all, why aren’t you reacting?” Nagase extended the conversation towards Inaba Himeko. Since a while ago, Inaba’s face had been melancholy, and she was brooding quietly by herself.
Concealed behind her jet black, silky hair, Inaba’s dour expression was heart-poundingly charming. Compared to her fellow classmates, it was better to say that the slightly mature Inaba was more beautiful than cute. This Inaba was Taichi’s cherished girlfriend.
“Ahh, I don’t care, I don’t care what anyone else thinks; to me, Taichi is my only one. No matter how much a number 1 is loved by everyone else, compared to my only one, they mean nothing at all.”
As her boyfriend, Taichi felt a little strange to be evaluated like that but, judging by those around him, Inaba was probably slightly lovesick. Nagase called this “Dereban syndrome”.
“Inaban’s situation is no longer a matter of character uniqueness; she’s become a completely different person! Love conquers all! Nah, in this kind of situation, shouldn’t Taichi conquer all?”
“N-No way, really? Hahaha.”
Taichi became embarrassed, so Chihiro said to Nagase: “Nagase-senpai, please take back what you said. I don’t think I’m as dumb as Taichi-senpai.”
“Wha... Did you just call me dumb? What a dumb thing to say!”
Don’t look at Taichi now; his grades actually ranked among the best.
“There aren’t any other special reasons, but I think what Taichi-senpai just said was pretty dumb.”
“Your words are ruthless, Enjouji!”
But her carefree air only made one realize that she was just being a bit more candid, so you wouldn’t feel angry at all; what an inconceivable character.
Now, it was Taichi’s turn to talk to Inaba:
“Hey, I’ve noticed it too, you don’t seem to be very spirited. Is something wrong?”
Inaba stammered and stared awkwardly at the floor, avoiding Taichi’s eyes.
“Tell me if there’s something. If you can’t say it aloud now, you can let me know anytime.”
Inaba smiled gently and nodded. Even if she kept silent, it could be felt that she had the utmost trust in Taichi.
“Itchy… Itchy… My back’s really itchy!”
Nagase massaged her entire body, twisting around in agony.
Finally, Inaba, originally too embarrassed to speak, finally said:
“Then I’ll say it... I was thinking, during the athletics festival, Taichi and I will become opponents.”
“Is that a problem?”
“‘Is that a problem’?! Taichi... Can you handle being at odds with me?”
“Um, but it’s the athletics festival.”
“Can the relationship between Taichi and me be passed over just with ‘Um, but it’s the athletics festival’?”
It made Taichi very happy that Inaba valued their relationship so highly, but since she was a natural worrywart, it was a little high-maintenance at times. But she was really cute this way too!
“Taichi-kun, don’t smile wickedly like that, think of something to help Inaban.” Nagase piped up.
“Hey, I wasn’t smiling very wickedly.”
“So you were smiling very pervertedly?”
“I wasn’t smiling pervertedly either! We’re very pure!”
“You sure crack me up~.”
Dodging Nagase’s teases, Taichi told Inaba: “You can go out all during the athletics festival, it’s okay.”
“Is it okay?… Even if I break out the big guns? If I were to break out the big guns… one or two main force members of the the opposing class might turn up absent for blank blank reasons.”
“It’s a mere high school athletics festival, what kind of stunt are you trying to pull?! Compete properly, okay!”
What did she mean by blank blank, anyway?
“G-Got it, I’ll promise you… Then, I’ll break out the big guns! Basically, I really hate losing! I’ll annihilate all of my enemies! It’s first prize or nothing!”
“Huh? Weren’t you just saying that only your only one means anything?”
Taichi cocked his head confusedly. It seemed Inaba’s personality was split into “Normal Inaba” and “Dereban”.
“Inaba-chan’s declaration of victory! It looks like victory is already within my grasp!”
Aoki shouted, seemingly igniting Nagase’s competitiveness as well, and she took up the challenge: “Don’t get cocky, Aoki! Don’t forget that our class still has the ‘Martial Goddess’, Kiriyama Yui!”
“Right! As long as I’m there for that day… Hey, Iori, don’t call me a ‘Martial Goddess’ or whatever, that name’s not cute at all.”
“Y-Yui-senpai is very cute!”
“Ahh~, thank you~ Shino-chan! I can’t fight against Shino-chan’s Green Team now~”
“Heh heh heh, just leave it to Shino, and in the blink of an eye this little girl loses all fighting ability!”
“Inaba, can you not sit there and voice act for Enjouji?”
Taichi roasted. Everyone was really in high spirits.
Nagase, ever indomitable, spoke again: “Chihhi, you should also go tell Yui ‘You’re really really cute’! With your handsome face, you’ll be able to sink Yui no problem, since she belongs to the good-looks club!”
“I don’t belong to the good~ looks~ club~! Don’t~ make~ things~ up!”
“By the way Nagase, why are you teasing Yui? Aren’t we on a team together?”
Originally dumbstruck, Chihiro seemed to be infected by the recklessly heckling atmosphere from everyone around him, and finally said in passing:
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll say it, okay... You’re very cute, Yui-senpai.”
“Huh? Wait, Chihiro-kun! It sounded like you were really serious just now? S-Stop messing around~ My face is so hot! Stop it~, Chihiro-kun is very handsome too~! Yaa!”
Seeing Kiriyama squirm around in embarrassment, Aoki spoke as though there was no time to lose:
“Yui! You’re the cutest today, too!”
“Ah, yeah, I know.”
“Why is there such a different reaction?!”
“Because it happens a lot, so when you tell me I’m cute, I don’t feel anything at all.”
Hearing Kiriyama say that, Chihiro glanced at her from the corner of his eye, then muttered with a sigh: “... It’s just an athletics festival…”
At this, Aoki responded: “You lack motivation Chihiro! Aren’t you the cheer contest rep for your class?”
“Didn’t I say it before, that it’s only because I lost a match of jankenpon… Ahh, my luck doesn’t seem too good… Eh, Taichi-senpai?”
“I see, Chihiro. I’m actually bad at jankenpon too, looks like we’re similar after all.”
“Please don’t resonate with me in weird places, and could you not put your hand on my shoulder?”
Chihiro was a cold guy.
“No matter what, you should pull yourself together, Chihiro! We’re in this together… Ah, right, to make everybody compete more seriously, how about we make a Cultural Research Club bet?”
Following Aoki’s suggestion, Nagase seconded the motion: “Not bad, and it’s three against four! Well, the team ahead in the line… can order the losing team to do whatever they want! They can make anyone on the team do it, but they can only give one order!”
“No problem!” Kiriyama replied immediately.
“I-Is the order absolute, Iori-senpai…?” Enjouji asked fearfully, a worried look floating onto her face.
“R-Really.... Then if I lose... . I’ll be sold to a faraway foreign country… Never coming back to Japan again…”
“Don’t you think you’re overthinking it, Enjouji?” Taichi teased.
What would they do if an order of great concern was given based on victory or defeat in the athletics festival? Enjouji’s negative thoughts really were a bit beyond reasonable limits.
Aoki said to Shino: “Shino-chan! You just need to win! If you win, you can order your opponents, Taichi, Iori, and Yui to do whatever you want!”
“Huh….? Th-Then, I can ask Taichi-senpai to murmur this or that into my ear…. Yeaahh! I’m starting to feel the heat!”
“Hey, Enjouji, your character ruined itself way too early, didn’t it?”
However, they still had not known each other for a long time, and Enjouji should not have expressed all of herself yet. In any case, her dedication to voices (especially Taichi’s voice) was sometimes quite astonishing.
Enjouji’s passion seemed to mysteriously infect Inaba as well.
“Then I finally… finally… finally can go with Taichi to that place… and we’ll… Yaah! The rest is too embarrassing, I can’t say it!”
Her smile was extremely bashful.
“Inaban is actually quite lewd, looks like the day to start calling her ‘Pervert-ban’ isn’t far on the horizon.”
“Hey, Nagase, don’t call my girlfriend weird names like that, okay?”
Just like that, they did nothing special today either, and the time slipped by.
But times like these made one feel quite comfortable.
During their discussion, Chihiro temporarily fell silent, looking a bit out of it. Taichi was slightly worried as to whether Chihiro disliked this or not, so he confirmed his expression, only to see Chihiro trying desperately to hold back his laughter, looking very happy as well.
The instant Taichi exhaled, Chihiro, with his head slightly bowed, lifted the corners of his mouth.