Let's Take This Great Step Forward
Aimlessly, that "thing" was wandering the streets.
One more step to go.
In order to take that small step required to start changing itself.
In order to will itself to cross the thin, gray line stemming from the depths of its own consciousness.
Or rather, to crush that line under its foot.
12 a.m., somewhere in Tokyo
"Hmm? Hey, look at that, look!"
It was night in the 23 municipalities of Tokyo.
Even though these were the central areas of the capital, the darker places were nonetheless dark.
An adult couple, while taking a stroll along the narrow path leading to a park, accidentally ran into that "thing" when it was walking down the side of the road.
"Huh...? The heck is that?"
"Hey, it's that, um, that thing. The thing that was in some zombie movie or something."
"Oh, oh, oh! That thing in Ikebukuro?"
They saw a figure completely wrapped in a costume pajama standing in the street, where not another person was in sight.
The overall design resembled an owl, and the head was concealed snugly under a special hood.
In fact, it was impossible to see the expression on his – or her – face through the eye holes, because the head was concealed under the hood.
"It's that, uh, that Dark something character. The bad guy. The bad zombie."
"So like a cosplay?"
The two simply kept walking past the figure dressed like a movie character as they kept chatting.
In Ikebukuro, figures dressed like fictional characters or in bunny and cat costumes would sometimes walk the streets. Even when there weren't any special events going on, you would still see them around Sunshine 60 Street.
The couple had assumed that it was someone returning from a friend's party, or filming an entry for a video sharing site – something like that.
That assumption was overturned in a second.
The man was the first to feel the impact.
The woman was the first to notice that something was not quite right.
As for why – it was because as soon as the man felt the impact on his head, he lost his consciousness before he could sense that anything was out of order.
The woman witnessed the man collapsing forward at the dull sound of impact.
Then she saw the figure in the costume pajama, which had moved to the man's back without them noticing.
The figure in the costume pajama was holding a hammer wrapped in thick bandage.
Without a word, the figure in costume raised the hammer.
She cried and tried to run away, but ended up tripping over her boyfriend's body and falling.
As she struggled to get back on her feet, she turned back to try to discern the figure of her attacker.
I remember now.
Her body was in the grip of a numb sensation. Time seemed to slow down.
In the midst of it all, the woman could at last recall clearly –
where the costume pajama in front of her was from.
Yes, I remember now.
It was not a movie. It was an anime or manga series.
She worked at a nightclub in Ikebukuro.
Several new young hostesses at the club were fans of the series. She herself had often brought anime merchandise or volumes of manga into the waiting room.
A couple of years ago, a movie version was released and became moderately popular. In order to be able to chat with her customers about it, she had asked others to tell her the basic storyline.
She had reasons to think that it could come up in a conversation with customers. The original anime's story was based in Ikebukuro, where her nightclub was. The movie itself was shot mostly in Ikebukuro.
If I'm not mistaken, the name was...
As her body struggled to make an escape, her head was struggling to recall such irrelevant information.
She had a baseless delusion that if she managed to recall the name, it would somehow help her.
Perhaps she was just hoping to lessen her fear towards the unknown opponent by getting to know its name.
But no one actually knew what was going on inside her confused mind, herself included.
Yes! I remember now! I remember now!
Almost as soon as she uttered the name without thinking, the hammer descended upon her head.
The next day
[Next up, follow-up on the assaults on passers-by that took place in Tokyo.
[According to the female victim, who regained consciousness, the perpetrator was dressed in the costume of an anime character. The police department had proceeded to gather information from witnesses – ]
10 days later
[Next up, another assault on passers-by in Tokyo. A male walking down a street in Toshima District was attacked with a blunt object from behind by another male, resulting in injuries that will take 2 months to heal –
[Based on the similarities in the modus operandi and witness reports, the police are investigating the possibility that this was the work of the same suspect in the assaults on passers-by that took place in Tokyo in the middle of this month –
[According to witness reports, the perpetrator was dressed in the costume of a movie character – ]
15 days later
[Following up on the serial assaults on passers-by, we had yet another incident take place.
[The perpetrator was seen in the costume of a character from a popular anime series that had just been adapted into a movie this February –
[This puts the victim count at 7 in total –
[Maou Publishing, the publisher of the original manga of the anime series in question, has released a statement saying "We pray for the speedy recovery of the victims. We deeply regret the recent incidents that had occured, and wish nothing but their swift resolution by the police."
[The statement about an "original manga" in the previous news segment was incorrect. The manga series was not the original, but a comicalized version. We regret the error and sincerely apologize for any offenses that we may have caused.
20 days later
[Here we have the series that is becoming a problem, Owl of the Peeping Dead, or OPD in short. This was a project created by a group called "Walking with Wizards", or "WWW" in short. What began as an online project and branched into various forms of media ended up becoming a franchise, with the anime being particularly popular.
[We are honored today to have anime critic Ushidaira Jackson-san join us for the discussion.
[Nice to meet you.
[Ushidaira-san, here we have this character merchandise, the pajama based on the character "Dark Owl" that witnesses said was worn by the assailant. Is it correct to say that this costume was inspired by the character?
[Not exactly "inspired", I'm afraid. In fact, the character himself wears a costume exactly like this one, complete with the hood and overall design. His face had never been revealed in the series, so you can say that the costume pajama has come to represent the character.
[Thank you. The movie adaptation was also a hit, and earned the series recognition overseas. The depiction of violence in the anime series, the manga and the movie adaptation, however, has long been perceived as problematic even before the recent incidents – ]
Ikebukuro West Gate, Karaoke Pasela, a private room
"OPD is not to blame! It's really not!"
Waving his arms wildly about, the young man with slanted eyes insisted.
"It's true that its depiction of violence stands out even among Maou Publishing's seinen manga series, but that violence is directed exclusively at zombies. Not only that, but the theme of the story is this murdered man, who became a zombie but kept his sanity, actually practicing non-violence towards people who are trying to kill him! Anyone who goes around attacking people with a hammer just shows that they don't get the story at all!"
As he said this, the woman sitting next to him started talking with a calm expression.
"Could be that they got the idea from the villain. Didn't the perp wear a Dark Owl costume or something?"
"Darn...it's true that Dark Owl is a villain using a zombie's body to attempt domination of Ikebukuro...but he's a complete villain! Anyone who goes down the dark path wanting to emulate that sort of villainry is themselves wicked beyond rescue or cure, not influenced by some manga series! So, all that I'm getting at is...OPD is a fun series!"
As the man with slanted eyes heatedly defended the series, the person sitting opposite him reacted rather unenthusiastically in contrast.
Mizuchi Yahiro, the teenager in Raira Academy uniform, gave this dry reply.
He was not trying to be insulting or condescending. Rather, his reply was a way of expressing "I really don't know what to say to that, but I know I need to give some kind of reaction, so."
As the man with the slanted eyes continued his heated defense of this manga series, Yahiro remained unmoved by the speech, yet didn't stop paying attention; he simply kept listening in earnest.
It was Yahiro's first time meeting this man.
Most people would have deemed it okay to stop paying attention to what the man was saying at this point, but Yahiro kept listening to him as intently as he would a school lecture.
How come a high school student like him was in a karaoke box listening to the complaints of a man he had just met in the first place?
It was as simple as that.
All because just a few minutes ago, he himself had decided to take on a part-time job, and this was a part of it.