Chapter 2: An All Out Marketing Push.
While the sleeping princess in Kanagawa dreamed of eating cake on her warm bed, the corporate slaves of Chiba, fueled only by caffeine tablets, tapped away their souls on the keyboard.
While the sleeping princess in Kanagawa finally woke up to the beautiful morning sun streaming into her room, the corporate slaves of Chiba slammed their curtains shut so they could do their stress relief exercises without the sun barreling down on their eyes.
While the princess opened her eyes and yawned to a bright new day full of adventure, the slaves cursed the start of a new corporate workday.
They were like marathon runners, running the business day and night. This time I was no different. Working tirelessly through the night, I somehow managed to formulate my strategy.
According to our ancestors of the past, “Those who will not work shall not eat. There is no surviving on bread alone.”
If you cannot work, then you certainly cannot eat. Despite that, our purpose for working was always more than just food. There was always some other reason for doing so… Perhaps it was to fulfill dreams and aspirations, perhaps it was from a sense of duty, or perhaps it was for expressing some gratitude.
It was said that the managers of the past often stated that people didn’t need food to survive as long as they kept their motivation and drive. As absurd as that may sound, it could hold true for very brief periods of time. After all, overworked workers would often forget to eat and sleep, and they still went on with their lives.
If I had to say it more accurately, it was that overworked workers lived off of just enough bland food to survive, all while having anxiety about work even as they slept. They would never have a good night’s sleep and often suffer from sudden panic attacks. Their constantly dried eyes would also desperately blink for moisture throughout the day, resulting in tears.
After seeing all of this first hand, it wouldn’t be strange to say that these workers were all living through motivation and drive alone…
Actually, I guess it would. Once my workday was finally over, once I collapsed onto my bed for a good six hours sleep, and once I had my light breakfast the next day, I would finally realize how strange that sounded. Strictly speaking, a good work environment equates to having good mental health. Without it, everything goes down the drain.
I guess that’s one more reason why work sucks.
It was well into the day, but I wasn’t in a hurry because I had taken the morning off. I even took the time to stretch out my stiff shoulders before heading out. On the way to work, I thought about yesterday’s events.
I wondered what happened to Asagao and Asuha after I left. I felt bad about ditching them right then and there, but there just wasn’t a whole lot I could do in that situation. Asagao was too worked up, and unfortunately I wasn’t good at dealing with things like that. I didn’t know if Asuha could have dealt with her as well, but she sure as hell was way better at it than I was.
Besides, the thing I should be doing wasn’t to stand there and be awkward as she cried. No, it should be making sure Asagao didn’t win the election.
It was a plan I came up with myself. Of course, that plan was highly dependent on Asagao’s next move, so my next course of action wasn’t completely set in stone yet.
The only thing that was set in stone was the future I had wanted for myself.
The office was the same as ever. The all too familiar sounds of the keyboard went right in hand with the expressionless faces of my coworkers.
Someone seemed to be in a particularly bad mood as he started slamming his fingers down with each key press. I guess he must have have annoyed someone else, because then that person started noisily moving his mouse around in an act of protest. Finally, someone else slammed the phone down to shut them both up.
It was fascinating to see them communicate without words— they were almost like dolphins talking to each other through ultrasonic waves. As passive aggressive as they may have been, it way better than the ghastly state they were all in yesterday.
Seems like we’re back to normal…
Renge was going around the office giving everyone the tea she had made.
“Good morning, Kasumi!” she said, walking up to my desk as I settled in.
“H-Hey, good morning.”
Renge put the tea on my desk, and I instantly got a taste of its aroma. Instead of yesterday’s minty herbal scent, today’s tea reminded me of some sweet flowers. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a high heat tolerance, so I had to blow on the tea before I could even take a sip.
It wasn’t long before the tea finally did cool down, and I could go on drinking it like usual. In a poetic sense, the tea was similar to how we, the manufacturing branch, were. Natsume’s harsh words acted like the coolant to all our energy from the fruit party, but thanks to that we seemed to have regained our composure.
I wondered if Asagao was also back to her normal self, since maybe that’s why everyone was acting the way they were. The thought made me curious enough to look around for her, and I caught her just in time walking in with Urushibara.
“Oh, Kasumi, you came,” she said after coming in.
“Good morning,” I replied.
It seemed she was completely back to normal— it was hard to imagine the mess she was in yesterday. Right now she was cool, calm, and collected, and even flashed out a cocky smile. Her eyelids were still slightly swollen even through her makeup, but her eyes themselves were certainly full of energy.
Asagao’s eyes weren’t the only one that were like that. There was one other person…
“Don’t ‘good morning’ me, Chigusa,” said Urushibara, shoving his hands into his pocket as he sized me up and got straight up in my face. “What time is it huh? Huh??”
I figured this was not the time to make a smart-ass comment, so instead I replied with, “Umm… I did send an email saying that I was taking the morning off…”
I was on the verge of saying that I sent it only to the people who mattered and that’s why he didn’t get my email, but I refrained from doing so and instead just opted to look away from him. It wasn’t long before he got up in my face a second time, though.
Man is this guy a wild animal or something? Why do people like him always want to size me up all the time?
Renge laughed nervously, but Asagao cleared her throat to get things back on track.
“Urushibara, more importantly, we need to get ready for the meeting.
“Yes ma’am!” replied Urushibara. “Wait, meeting? What meeting?”
“Yeah. I didn’t make my decision yesterday, right?” said Asagao. She blushed slightly upon saying that, since she was probably embarrassed just thinking about everything that happened yesterday. She cleared her throat one more time, took a deep breath, and said, “Today’s the day I’ll give my decision.”
Her words may have been brief, but they were more than satisfactory to everyone. Urushibara clenched his fist as if to say he was ready for anything. Renge, however, frowned nervously— she must have thought of something.
I just nodded silently.
Asagao took a look at all our reactions and smiled. “Alright everyone,” she said, clapping her hands once. “Hurry, let’s get ready.”
“On it right away!” shouted Urushibara. He dashed straight to his desk and started rummaging through his desk.
Renge quickly went to put away the teapot and cups she was currently holding in her hand.
“Renge,” said Asagao, stopping her before she went back to the kitchen area. “I’d like some tea too… Yesterday’s tea is fine.”
“O-Oh okay!” said Renge. She didn’t expect Asagao to say such a thing, but she was happy she did. So, with a big smile, Renge headed off.
Asagao also smiled as she watched Renge dash away, leaving just the two of us left. She then glanced around restlessly to make sure no one was looking this way and tiptoed right beside me.
“Hey,” she whispered into my ear after tapping me on the shoulder, “Thanks…”
I noticed her tiny hands, her slender fingers, her citrus scented hair, her gentle breaths, her soft voice, and above all, I noticed her embarrassment as she awkwardly said those words.
Yes, I noticed a lot of things even before looking straight at her, but as I turned to do so, our eyes met. Her face had turned beet red.
Our faces were close enough that it hindered both our abilities to speak properly. I even wondered if our breaths were mixing together or something stupid like that. Thinking about such a thing got my face all hot, and I too started to blush from the ears.
Once I realized this, I figured it would be weird if I suddenly halted my breathing. Luckily, we both instinctively moved away from each other.
“I mean, tell Asuha I said thanks,” she added on quickly after turning away so that I could no longer see her face.
I took a few more steps back until my face no longer felt hot and scratched my head to hide the fact that my forehead was sweating.
“Isn’t better to just tell her yourself?” I asked. “It’s not like I did anything…”
Asagao folded her arms together. “I did, but she said the same thing you just said,” she replied, turning only her head towards me.
I was able to catch a glimpse of her pout, but it was true that Asuha would say something like that.
That’s Asuha for you…
Thinking about it made me smile instinctively. “Really?”
“Yeah. She kept saying she didn’t do anything…” sighed Asuha, but soon she too smiled as well. “Well, I mean, in a way, she was right.”
“Oh? Sorry for my sister, then… She’s not too good at, you know, talking to people and stuff.”
Asagao shook her head. “No, no… Somehow that felt really nostalgic. That’s why, I’m really grateful… So thanks,” she said, pausing. “Alright, time for the meeting. Let’s go.”
She briskly made her way to the meeting room, and I followed her soon after. I could see that although she was small physically, she felt more reliable than ever. Compared to yesterday, she had a much different air around her.
One thing that was in the back of my mind was her saying she felt nostalgic… It interested me more than it should have. During her time with Asuha, they were just snuggled up together, and not a word was exchanged between them.
Who was she thinking of? What made her feel nostalgic?
Asagao took one step in the meeting room and took in a big breath of air. There was some sort of invigorating scent that lingered inside it.
“I knew getting the tea hot was the right choice,” she said the moment she spotted the tea.
She seemed speaking to herself, but Renge did look her way. I got the impression that Asagao was apologizing for letting her tea get cold yesterday after ignoring it all day.
Renge’s face lit up. “Thank goodness! It’s a specially made herb tea!”
“Wow, nice. Teach me how to make it sometime, okay?”
“Do I have to? It’s a secret, though~”
The two smiled at each other. It was such a pleasant exchange of words that even I felt myself relax a bit.
“Alright then,” said Asagao after a brief pause. She took a look at all of us in the room. “I’m just going to say it now— I’m still going to participate in the election, and I’m going to become the city head. I will change the world.”
She spoke with such conviction that I didn’t sense one bit of hesitation from her.
“Nothing will change if we follow Natsume’s way of doing things,” she continued. “It’s been thirty years since the great calamity and the war had changed drastically, yet why hasn’t our system changed as well? I know many people outside the military share the same sentiment as me…”
She spoke softly, but fearlessly. She spoke like her statements were indisputable facts and she knew every single one of them. We had already resigned our fates to forever battle the [Unknowns], and so it became just another daily routine for us. Battles that were once a desperate fights of survival were now mere formalities.
But she was right. We were being judged by standards set a long time ago in desperate times. I’m sure all the people who weren’t in the military didn’t feel too hopeful about their future.
“That’s why I want to become the city head. For my sake… For everyone’s sake… Even for Natsume’s…”
Tears welled up in her eyes once again, and her voice became shaky. However, this was what she wanted to do— There was no denying it.
“For Natsume?” asked Renge.
Asagao chuckled. “She’s… an idiot, so she’s not really suited for it.”
Even though she said that jokingly, I’m sure there was some truth to that statement.
As it stands now, if the military continued on its path to have absolute control of the city, that would very likely spur rebellions against them. They would then have no choice but to use their forces to keep the peace. However, by doing so, their presence in the front lines against the [Unknowns] would inevitably dwindle, leaving them unable to compete with the other two cities.
The competition with the other cities gave us our identity. After all, we were the defense city in the South Kanto region and we were programmed to strive to be the best. If we started to lose our status and prestige, even more students would be dissatisfied at the current regime, and they would ultimately join the rebellious cause.
Once that happened, the military would have no choice but to suppress, or even purge the instigators from the other branches. This would lead to a breakdown in our overall system, leaving behind a weakened city. Soon, even more rebellions would spawn, and all hell would break loose.
All respect for Natsume would then be lost. Time and time again have shown that dictators do not have happy endings, and I’m sure this time would be no different.
Asagao’s proposal meant that she not only feared this city’s future, but Natsume’s as well. She did not want that to happen— She wanted to change it.
“That’s why…” she said, bowing her head. “For my sake, please lend me your help once again.”
Normally, as the head of the manufacturing branch and thus our superior, she could just order us to follow her. She didn’t though, instead opting to even bow her head. She did say she was doing this for everyone’s sake, but more likely than not she was doing this because it was for Natsume… her lifelong friend.
Yes, she shouldn’t be doing this just for Natsume’s sake, and I could even argue it was childish to do so, but there’s just not a whole lot I could do about that.
That being said, it was precisely because of those reasons that I was happy to oblige. Those were the very words I had wanted to hear. Because she hadn’t given up on becoming the city head, I could continue doing what I needed to do, and that was all I needed.
The others had made up their mind as well.
In one swift motion, Urushibara stood up. “Asagao, leave it to me,” he said loudly and clearly. His eyes sparkled behind his rimless lenses. “You were the one who picked me up after the military pushed me away. I’ll always be right behind you.”
“Thanks, Urushibara,” replied Asagao with a gentle smile.
“M-Me too!” shouted Renge, clenching both her fists forward. “I’ll help you as much I possibly can!”
“Thank you too, Renge.”
Asagao bowed her head once again. Her voice was as sincere as it could get, and she almost seemed relieved for a second.
“Let us do a proper meeting this time,” she continued, speaking with dignity and grace. She spoke like the boss we all knew her to be.. “I need your honest opinions on how I’m going to win against Natsume.”
Hearing this, Urushibara pushed his enormous stack of papers off to the side. Last time he had a large amount as well, but somehow it seemed like there were even more this time. Luckily, he understood from Asagao’s words that it was not the time to be using them.
But, Asagao saw that and smiled anyway. “Alright, how about we have our reports first… then we can go on from there.”
Urushibara smiled back, showing his pearly whites that contrasted against his tanned skin.
“Yes!” he shouted, taking his papers back. “We broke even for the fruits party and are currently redefining our perceptual map!”
Renge didn’t seem like she understood what Urushibara was saying. It was some business savvy stuff, so I didn’t blame her.
She confirmed my suspicions when she leaned into me and whispered, “… What’s that?”
“A map that emphasizes the color purple,” I replied promptly.
“Don’t feed her false info like that…” sighed Asagao.
Well, she wouldn’t understand it either way…
In any case, Urushibara kept going with his report.
“We did have excellent attendance for the party, but perhaps we needed to focus more on the clients. As such, we currently have a wealth of good ideas for some guerrilla marketing to help our future prospects.”
I felt like he could have explained that using simpler words… Honestly it sounded like he was just showing off his knowledge.
“Guerrilla marketing…” said Renge, seemingly oblivious to his words.
“It’s exactly like it sounds like,” I said, chiming in. “We market to gorillas to increase revenue.”
“Seriously, stop messing with her like that,” said Asagao. “And Urushibara, can’t you just say stuff in layman’s terms…?”
Urushibara didn’t seem to hear her as he kept on reading from his papers.
“To get a solid representation of our relationships to our clients, I have prepared not only survey reports from our clients, but also started to establish a close rapport with them.”
At this point Renge wasn’t even trying to understand what he was saying. Instead, she just mindlessly repeated some of his vocabulary.
“It’s a type of rap, usually done on a boat. Even I could do it.”
“Huh? I still don’t get it…” Renge replied with a blank look on her face.
I cleared my throat and continued on with my farce.
“It’s something that was popular in the past. Every businessman had to be familiar with such a thing. After getting a job, even before the first paycheck, the new hire would get taken away onto a boat and be forced to do a rapport. Even worse, they made you pay for all the fees associated with it… They called this ‘rap harassment’ and honestly it was quite the problem for society, not to mention…”
“Can you please, please stop messing with her,” said Asagao, glaring at me. She then turned to Renge. “Anyways, you might as well learn the word. It might be a good to know, especially since you’re going to deal with customers too.”
Before I had a chance to speak, Urushibahara kept on going with his report. I didn’t even think he was paying any attention to us at all, as nothing short of the room exploding would interrupt his report.
“As per the plan, we will now move on with our initiative with a side of strategic dynamism in mind,” continued Urushibara with some flamboyant hand gestures. “If I could get an agreeance on our forward movement, then we should be all on the same page.”
Urushibara pushed up his glasses the moment he finished.
“Uhh… what language was that?” said Renge.
“The business language? I think?” replied Asagao.
“I don’t understand him at all…”
“It’s okay. We just need to look over some of his paperwork, just as he had said.”
Renge’s face lit up. “Oh, I see!”
“I mean, that’s the only thing I understood from him…” said Asagao. She looked at the papers that Urushibara was holding.
“Regarding the paperwork…” said Urushibara. He then began to read the data from it bit by bit.
Uhh, Urushibara, you really don’t need to do that… It’s not like reading it out loud makes it more comprehensible…
But if he really wanted to read it, then we had no choice but to sit and listen. His whole report really was just a waste of time, and that time could be better spent on other things.
Well, I guess this is how all meetings go now, huh… It’s not even limited to just us.
Urushibara’s ramblings made Asagao completely tune him out. She just sat there reading the surveys Urushibara had gathered from the clients. Once she was done, she piled them all together once again and placed them back onto the table.
“No one else knows about my conversation with Natsume, right?” she asked softly.
“Yeah, that area was completely closed off.”
That area in particular was for VIPs only, but their conversation took place in a corner specifically reserved for Asagao.
Looking at the all the data Urushibara had gathered from clients and even just the public in general, there had been no mention of an open rebellion from the manufacturing branch. Perhaps Natsume thought her warning was enough, or perhaps she didn’t take us seriously at all… it was hard to know for sure.
However, if we really were going to go against her, it was inevitable that we had to confront her one day. We had to get all the votes we could to win the election, and to do that, we had to put ourselves out there.
“I guess our overall plan will stay the same,” said Asagao after a short pause. “We get the other branches on our side to get their votes.”
I nodded. Right now, there just wasn’t anything else we could do other than that. The whole thing was going to come down to an election anyway. It was natural to aim for the votes.
The real issue was how we were going to do it, and how we were going to deal with Natsume…
“However, the military certainly has got their eyes on us. I’m sure it can be safe to assume that they’ve already prepared a plan to deal with us, too.”
Looks like Asagao had a good understanding of the position she was in. She took the pen in front that was used to take notes and spun it around while taking the time to think.
“There is no doubt in my mind that they will send threats and attacks our way,” she said. “Not just us too, the other branches as well. The real problem is, we don’t have the means to defend against them. We need to figure out how we are going to deal with that.”
She bit the pen in thought and sighed. As she did, Renge bolted her arm up.
“Yes, Renge?” said Asagao, pointing the pen in her direction.
“We just have to do everything behind closed doors! Everything will be done in secrecy!”
“That’s exactly it, Renge,” nodded Urushibara. He was always soft on Renge like that.
“Y-Yeah…” said Asagao. The color drained out of her face as she kept fiddling with her pen. “I don’t think that’s the wrong approach, but…”
“They’re not dumb enough to not catch on,” I blurted out.
It was only to be expected. The more secretive we become, the more they would start suspecting us. It would only be a matter of time before they realized what was going on.
“Then we just have think outside the box,” I suggested.
Asagao turned to me. “What? What do you mean?”
“Instead of doing everything in secret, we do it out in the open,” I said, flashing a smile.
Both Renge and Asagao were dumbfounded. Urushibara had his usual fit upon hearing what I had to say.
“Huh?” he shouted. “What are you even talking about!?!”
“Once we hide our every move, they won’t be able to notice anything that’s going on,” I explained, saying the first thing that came to my mind. “That may seem okay, but if they don’t see anything, it’s only natural they start snooping around, right? On the other hand, if we give them something to chew on, they won’t look as hard. It’s like, you know in school, everyone’s trying to figure out who likes who, but if you say it outright in the beginning, no one will bother you anymore about it.”
Renge and Asagao still had blank expressions on their face, but there was one person nodding in agreement.
“I see… I can relate to that. I recall talking about that stuff quite a bit… after school, in summer camp, in the park at night, in alleyways…
Wow, Urushibara, aren’t you quite the romantic… And with those locations, you sound like a student from long ago…
“Unfortunately, I don’t think its that simple,” sighed Asagao. “That example would be more accurate if the students actually bargained or made deals with each other.”
Wow, Asagao, aren’t you quite the realist…
Renge nodded to her in agreement. I guess most girls were realists, huh… In any case, it was good to know.
That being said, I did expect her to say something along those lines. I did have a sister who acted like the two of them, and it’s not like I hadn’t learned anything from talking with her all my life.
“Well, humans are doubtful creatures in general,” I replied. “We can show them everything they want and they’ll still think its a bluff, a front, a lie, or something like that.”
Asagao puffed her cheeks. “Exactly.”
“But that’s fine. This is ultimately an election, not an counterintelligence battle. The party who gets more votes will win. That’s why, above everything else, we need to stand out.”
“I-I guess so,” said Asagao with a deep sigh. “But even in a battle of popularity, there’s no way we can win. I mean, we’re in constant battles against the [Unknowns], so it’s only natural that the military will always be on everyone’s minds… This is true for Natsume too, of course. Everyone knows the importance of the military, and I just don’t think there’s anyone who can go against her with that in mind…”
Asagao was, once again, completely correct. There was no doubt that everyone in the city shared her sentiments.
“Man, Asagao, your thoughts are always right on point,” I said. “That’s why we need to throw them a curveball.”
Urushibara’s eyes lit up. “Oh wow, a curveball. You like baseball, Chigusa?”
I don’t know.
Urushibara’s question was surprisingly straightforward. Since he said it like that, I thought I’d turn the situation around and ask him a straightforward question of my own. It seemed that’s how we got the conversation moving, anyway.
“Urushibara, do you like Natsume?”
Urushibara’s eyes widened the moment he heard me. “Huh? What the hell are you saying?” he shouted, his face turning red and his arms trembling. “T-There’s no way I like a girl like that! Don’t get the wrong idea!”
“That’s not what your reaction is saying…” giggled Renge.
“I really don’t like her!” Urushibara frantically added on. “Really, I’m not lying! I swear to god I’m not lying, Asagao!”
“Don’t turn to me all of a sudden…”
“I don’t want you to think I’m not trustworthy or something, especially with what’s to come…”
Urushibara leaned in on Asagao when he said that, but Asagao briefly drew away in disgust. Depressed, Urushibara quickly cleared his throat and turned back to me.
“For real though, I don’t like her at all. I was kicked out before she even came to be, so how could I have anything for her?” he said. “She, and the rest of the military are all troublesome… especially Leo, Mars, and Pietro… they’re all troublesome, and—”
Urushibara got surprisingly bitter at the end once he started speaking from the heart. He almost seemed spiteful to those three people he mentioned, yet I could tell he tried hard to hide it. I’m sure the non-military students in the city didn’t feel too much different from what he was feeling right now.
“They don’t have the best reputation, do they…”
“Yeah…” Asagao and Renge simply nodded in agreement. They both probably had their own thoughts on the matter that gave them the same conclusion.
Urushibara was empowered after seeing the two agree with him. “I know, right?” he said more enthusiastically. “The engineering and the trade branch, they all hate them… Especially Leo, Mars, and Pietro, those three are especially hated.”
As I thought, Urushibara did harbor some sort of grudge against them. It could have even been jealously, but honestly I didn’t blame him for having such feelings. The boys in the military were the city’s top elites, so they were quite popular with the girls. It was natural for the others to be jealous.
Above all, they looked down on everyone who wasn’t in the military. I recently had the pleasure of experiencing this when I went to meet them the other day. They truly believed they were the rulers and everyone else were their servants.
It was true in a way as they were at the top of the hierarchy. It had been that way from the past all the way to the present.
However, this only came to be because of the war. As the fights against the [Unknowns] began to get more routine, and even as the world began to get more peaceful, the military became less respected than it used to be. This led to a sense of hopelessness among the students, hopeless that the military would always rule over their lives with an iron fist.
“That’s why, I think there’s another way of dealing with Natsume,” I said.
Asagao heard that and looked straight at me in anticipation.
“Well,” I said with a slight smile, “What the world needs right now is an instigator.”
“Insti—gator?” Renge said absentmindedly. She looked even more puzzled.
“Ah!” said Urushibara. A light bulb seemed to go off inside his head. “It’s that, isn’t it? Someone that can really force out the intelligence we need from the other students.”
No. I’m pretty sure you’re thinking of an interrogator. This isn’t some crime drama, you know…
Asagao gently touched her lip as she nodded. “Someone to get the ball rolling…”
I snapped my fingers at her. “Exactly. War nowadays is just a mere shell of what it once was. This city has been continuously under the rule of the military branch, and might I say that it has been stagnating for quite some time. We need someone to bring change to this city.”
The world has long gotten tired of war and the military branch along with it, but it was still difficult to enact change. The military had such a tight grip on the people that it was hard for them to even speak up.
That’s why we just need a spark to kick everything off. Of course, it was much easier said than done, and Asagao was well aware of the challenges. After all, she was the one who had spent countless times igniting this spark.
“I understand your reasoning,” she said, casually stroking her chin. “But there’s no way we could manage it. There’s bound to be a lot of people who don’t want any change, right? I mean, even with consumer products, people are against any sort of change…”
“That may be true,” I said, “but Asagao, you have changed after all that you’ve done.”
Asagao gave me another one of her blank looks, and I just shrugged my shoulders.
“Just think of the people like our vegetables. My mother did use to say that the two were really similar, and I believe her. We won’t be doing anything different than what we’ve been doing so far. We’ve created so many different products so far… and we will continue creating them.”
“Oh!” said Asagao. A sparkle lit up in her eye.
She must have noticed who I was talking about, or maybe she thought of it herself.
Up until now, Asagao had been doing work as an instigator and as a leader. The brand fruits and vegetables she had created had long become a staple of everyday life. In order to accomplish that, she had to further elevate her products with advertisements, trade routes, and a steady supply that never ran out.
By doing so, Asagao could create new demands that had never existed before. She even had control over the people’s lifestyles to a certain extent. That’s why we weren’t going to do anything different this time. We were going to take full advantage of the influence she had built up over time.
“So instead of trying to appeal to the higher ups of the other branches, we should go for our consumers…” said Asagao after thinking about it for a little bit. “If that’s the case, then we shouldn’t be focused on each branch, but rather each person…”
“Is that okay, though? We spent so much time building our relationship with the other branches…” said Renge.
Renge did try her hardest to serve the VIP guests, the branch heads, at the party, so to say that was all for naught was understandably depressing.
Asagao, sensing this, smiled at her. “We won’t let that go to waste. We just need a different approach… kind of like when you buy things. As the head, I decide what we buy for the manufacturing branch, but that has nothing to do with what you all buy for yourselves, right? Sometimes the heads do give recommendations or whatnot, but that’s beside the point.”
I didn’t doubt her one bit. There were certainly people in this world who made those “recommendations” to subtly force others to do their bidding. Back in the day, there was one bike company who “recommended” its employees to buy its bikes… and I’m sure it wasn’t alone in doing so.
“So in other words,” interrupted Urushibara. “We will cease a B to B model and move directly to a B to C.”
“The way you describe it is really irritating, but yea, exactly,” nodded Asagao.
Urushibara frowned in response.
B to B was short for Business to Business, where as the name implied, the business was an enterprise based company. There really wasn’t any point for him to shorten the phrase like that, but I guess he wanted to look intelligent despite making everything sound confusing. Men in general loved putting out sophisticated acronyms to sound cool. FBI, CIA, NATO… acronyms like those always had a certain appeal to them.
On the other hand, B to C was Business to Consumer, where businesses would sell direct to the consumer. This could be a simple retail shop selling goods or maybe even a corporation providing services to consumers.
Up until now, the manufacturing branch had always dealt mainly with other businesses or organizations. We would be in direct contact with the people in charge, find out what they wanted, and use that to our advantage.
However, there was always the possibility that the military would start asserting the control they had over us. In that case, the people in charge would scramble to save themselves and would have no problem ditching us for the military to maintain their positions.
With this in mind, it was clear why a new strategy was needed.
“I think that the voting is done in individual booths to ensure anonymity for the voters,” continued Asagao. “Of course, there’s always the possibility of being influenced by the higher ups or just going with the flow, but in general we can consider voting to be a strictly individual course of action.”
“Yeah, we need something to appeal to those individuals,” I said. “Something powerful and impactful.”
Asagao nodded. “The ideal thing would be something that attracts a lot of attention,” she said, tapping her lips. “But at the same time, it has to contain a message that anyone could understand. One that is clear and concise to get people talking…”
I suddenly thought of all those documents I was looking over yesterday night.
In historical terms, the era long ago was actually known as the modern era. During that time, there was a year when world-changing events kept happening one after another. Once in a century wouldn’t even come close to describing what a year that was, as even historians thirty years later had a hard time analyzing why things happened the way they did. One thing was sure, though: The events that happened in that year had shook the very foundation of the world.
There was once a powerful country that was known as “the empire on which the sun never sets.” In the age of a globalized world, that country chose to isolate themselves in the name of national pride and honor. Despite being cut off from the other powerful nations in the world, they remained quite formidable as they revolted against the global establishment.
No one predicted such a thing to occur in the country, not even the political scientists, economists, or media at the time. Everyday there would be reports of its good approval rating and increased military prowess, and everything seemed to just go smoothly without change.
So why the sudden change? Why did the citizens just suddenly decide to change its society just like that?
For one, the citizens were all influenced by someone to the point where all of their inner feelings came rushing out. Once that happened, they vowed to tear down their stagnated, overdone society for better or for worse to make space for a new one.
So, just who was that person? Well, it was none other than the one who had the most radical ideals.
Asagao took time to gather her thoughts before she arrived at a conclusion not far from what I had anticipated. Her eyes grew wide, and she sighed.
“This time, I am the consumer product, huh…” she said. “My success will depend on how much branding I can get, like all the other products.”
She then slowly stood up and wrote her name on the white board. “I’m not exactly jumping at the chance to do this… but let’s think of some plans to get me out there. Any ideas?”
She said that and wrote her name on the board.
“Umm…” said Renge. “What do you mean exactly?”
“We need to think of ways to increase Asagao’s popularity,” I said.
“Ohhhh, I see! Then we just have to think of Asagao’s good points!”
Renge clapped and smiled at Asagao. Her smile was so bright and cheerful that even Asagao was taken aback.
“When you say it like that, it’s embarrassing…” Asagao said timidly, turning her reddened face away. “But yeah… that’s what I need. Unfortunately, I’m going to need your objective opinions only.”
The moment she said that, Renge enthusiastically raised her hand, while Urushibara adjusted his glasses once again.
The two said simultaneously.
Hearing the two say that with such speed and conviction prompted me to do the same. “Yeah, your cuteness,” I said.
I could never just say it spontaneously like they did, since I was too shy to do such a thing.
Looks like I wasn’t the only shy person here, though…
“W-What are you saying!” shouted Asagao. She averted her eyes and then whispered, “idiots…”
This time even her ears were bright red. “You guys got nothing other than that?” she added on.
“There’s plenty more,” I replied. “You are the head of the manufacturing branch, you’re intelligent, you have what it takes to be a leader, your forehead… I could go on and on.”
“My forehead has nothing to with this!”
“No, it really does, since it gives you a certain charm, you see. In fact, I’d say that’s the thing that makes you really cute.”
“Exactly!” blurted Renge. “Asagao is really cute!”
“Stop saying that!”
“Cute, but…” Renge’s voice trailed off depressingly.
Urushibara was appreciating their conversation from the sidelines, and I was too to a certain extent.
“You say that Asagao,” I interrupted, “but Natsume doesn’t have that advantage. That’s why we should go all out on that.”
“I think Natsume is also cute, though…” said Renge.
“Hmm… well, I guess her face is cute,” I murmured.
Renge looked puzzled, but Urushibara just nodded in agreement. I think he knew exactly what I was talking about.
“Ah, but she’s really beautiful, right?” said Renge. “Cute might not be the word to describe her… she’s just so cool…”
I guess Renge got what I meant as well. Good, that just makes my point easier to explain.
“I’m not talking about looks. You can just feel Asagao’s cuteness, but you can’t do the same for Natsume.”
“Ah, I see!” said Renge. “Natsume’s strong, so it’s hard for boys to find her cute…”
Urushibara continued to nod. It was true that Natsume seemed more liked by the girls than the boys, mainly because she seemed like the athletic upperclassman everyone looked up to.
Asagao understood our points, but she did not look happy. “Hmmph!” she said, pouting. “Yes, I know I am weak.”
“Even the way you say that is so cute!” shouted Renge. She leaped toward Asagao and hugged her tightly. “You’re just soo cute!”
In a way, Renge seemed to be cheering her up, but Asagao just kind of looked stunned.
Your cuteness really is your forte, Asagao.
“In any case, being cute is really important,” I said. “My father always used to tell me that looks were everything.”
“Wow, your father seems like a real tool,” Asagao snapped back at me. Renge was now patting her on the head, but she kept ignoring her.
Yup, I don’t disagree with you there… I could say the same for my mom, too.
Well, whatever. What my parents said didn’t really matter.
“But a cat or something is cute, right?” I said, trying to get on track. “They’re really popular, and everyone, including me, loves them. I mean, there’s no one who can just walk away from a kitten in need, is there?”
Asagao eyed me grumpily. “I guess so…” she said. She actually seemed like the kitten here with Renge still cuddling all over her. Perhaps She would be scratching the floor by now if she suddenly grew a tail.
“Sorry, that was a bad example, huh… It’s like, you know, if a cold, stern girl suddenly started to cry, then everyone’s heart would drop from the cuteness… or something like that…”
“K-Kasumi!” interrupted Asagao, flustered. “Not another word!”
“Say what?” asked Renge.
“I’m just speaking for the people,” I replied. There’s no way I could tell her about Asagao’s breakdown last night.
It was also not the time to say that I made my decision because of that incident. That’s why I said I was just speaking for the people. Or perhaps I should have said I was speaking from history, or maybe from some anecdotes.
According to some crazy-haired prime minister back in the day, a girl’s tears were her weapons. This prime minister gained unprecedented popularity through his speeches, boasting a 90% approval rating over his five plus years in office. His citizens were satisfied not only with his policies and promises, but with him as well. Even after his term ended, his political party continued to enjoy the support he had garnered.
As time went on however, the party became complacent, and its support began to waver. Governmental and financial problems began to be overlooked, and the citizens began to grow upset. It was hard for things to change especially in politics, but the citizens were so disgusted with the party that they went on to support an opposing one.
It was unknown whether or not the other party managed to turn things around. I didn’t have much on that in terms of historical information and political knowledge, so I didn’t know. In this case, that wasn’t really important.
What was important was the one takeaway point from all this: Emotions, not logical reasoning, was the true driving force behind changes to government administrations. Pathos trumps logos as a way to motivate citizens.
“We don’t have to bring logic into this,” I said with confidence. “We just have to light a fire within them. As the people of the past used to say, cute is justice!”
Emotions alone could push logical reasoning completely out of the picture. There were certainly risks involved in taking this approach, but that wasn’t going to stop me.
I stood up and made my way to the whiteboard. Using a red pen, I wrote the following onto it:
Asagao Tsurube = Cute | Cute = Justice | Justice = Victory
And then, to sum it all up, I wrote some more:
Operation: Idolize Asagao Tsurube! A Spontaneous idol!
“Well, something like this,” I said, putting the cap back on the pen. I spun the pen around and softly placed it back onto the table. Usually just placing it on the table wouldn’t make much noise, but I guess the room was so quiet I couldn’t help but notice it.
“Ummm…” Asagao said with a shaky voice. She trembled as she pointed at the whiteboard. “Kasumi… can you explain this?”
“Huh? Explain? You know what an idol is, right?”
“Yes, but…” muttered Asagao.
Although confused, Renge and Urushibara nodded as well, which is nice since I didn’t have to explain everything from the start.
“Okay,” I said. I took a deep breath and forcibly tapped on the whiteboard to emphasize my point. “The point is, as long as we make speeches, or even the whole election enjoyable, then it’s all good. The speeches will be on the stage, there will be events for the elections, and we’ll go all out in flashiness to attract as much attention as possible. Not to mention the nice side effect of gaining some fans on the way. Now, of course we will continue urging the other branches to join our cause behind the scenes, but it is through our careful PR management that will get us the victory.”
Urushibara snapped his fingers once I finished my explanation. “Oh my god, that can work! I can see it working!” He burst out laughing.
“Can it really work…?” asked Renge.
“Of course not…” replied Asagao, still shocked at the current turn of events.
You’re absolutely right, Asagao. But I can’t have you getting cold feet now…
“Yes, it really can,” I said. “Just go with the flow and make it flashy.”
Besides, it wasn’t like there were any strict campaign laws or anything like that. Unlike the olden days, our election process consisted only of anonymous voting from the students.
“U-Umm…” Renge raised her hand.
I nodded her way. “Yes, Producer Renge?”
“Yeah, umm so… wait, what? Huh?” Hearing her called with a title she wasn’t familiar with made her all confused.
Asagao sighed. “Don’t just start making people producers…” she said, annoyed.
It’s only natural for an idol to have a producer. Maybe they weren’t too familiar with how idols worked in the past, so I thought I give them some more information on how they operated.
However, before I could speak, Renge loudly cleared her throat to get everyone’s attention.
The odd thing was that she didn’t seem to be her usual air-headed self. No, she had on a different expression… one so striking to her usual one that I instinctively tensed up.
“You know, Kasumi,” she said sternly. “Just now you told her to wing it basically… But is that really the way to go here? Will the military branch really just let us do our thing?”
She brought up some very important points about the whole operation. In fact, when I said earlier that it wouldn’t go well, I was referring to these concerns.
“True…” I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“Hey, Chigusa,” snapped Urushibara. “Aren’t you underestimating the military way too much here? You know they are all idiots, so they’re just going to hit you head on and beat us to the ground.”
Urushibara was certainly knowledgeable about the military. It was one of the reasons why he sounded so persuasive.
Just as how we were able to pull off this idol thing in this election, without strict rules and regulations, the military was free to do as they pleased. Our election system remained unchanged all these years, but right now it was pretty much just a formality since the head was always from the military. That being said, as meaningless as the election may have seemed, it was incredibly hard to break the tradition. People expected the election to happen, and they also expected someone from the military to become the head.
I was positive that there were purists in the military who solely believed that the head should not come from anywhere else. That being said, those were the people we could handle easy. They were radicals, but their movements were easy to predict.
“If we make some flashy moves, they won’t just sit still and watch it all unfold…” Renge said softly.
I knew she wasn’t wrong… but I couldn’t budge from my proposal.
“I’ll handle them somehow…” I said softly. “Besides, we have an idea of what they’re up to, so it should be fine…”
Despite not speaking with much confidence, I did have a plan in mind. However, it was neither the time nor the place to say it. It was a shameful, disgusting plan, and I’d rather not say it right now.
“Should be fine, you say… you sure?” asked Asagao. Unlike Renge who was half covering her face, Asagao looked straight at me. She had her usual wits upon her, and I could tell she was indirectly telling me this plan would not work.
It was a bit passive aggressive, so I decide to respond in the same way.
“Well, yea, I’m sure,” I said with my usual smile. I didn’t lie, but I didn’t really tell the complete truth either. “I do have an idea. But enough about me, Asagao, your part in this is much tougher.”
Asagao made sure to let me know that she wasn’t entirely convinced. She gave me a look that indicated she wasn’t ready to change the topic just yet.
I mean, I wasn’t lying when I said her part in this was tough. Though I could say it was just the truth in bad taste.
I had no other choice but to push for this to happen. Guiding Asagao this way was a way to achieve what I really wanted to achieve. In fact, if I had to be completely honest, it was the only way I could think of. As powerless as I was, I could at least pull off this extremely indirect and tedious plan.
After a few moments in thought, Asagao finally sighed and relaxed her shoulders. It seemed she had made up her mind and she suddenly straightened up. Her bangs seemed to come alive as it swayed with her, revealing her forehead for an instant.
“Alright, alright,” she said. “I’ll do it! I’ll sing, dance, do some signing events like a real idol, be an icon or a kitten or whatever! I’ll do it!”
“Uhh… you’re surprisingly hyped about it…” I said.
“I’m just saying what you said earlier!” snapped Asagao.
Urushibara was just as hyped. “That’s what I’m talking about!” he shouted, clapping repeatedly. “Let’s do it! You’ll become an idol, and save our academy! Let’s make our dreams come true!”
Damn, Urushibara… He certainly knows how to create hype. He backed up Asagao’s resolve without an ounce of hesitation, all to let her know he was right behind her.
With both Asagao and Urushibara all pumped up, the pressure was on Renge to approve as well. With a concerned look on her face, she nodded. “If Asagao’s on board, then I guess I am too.”
“Hey, you guys forced me to be on board!” snapped Asagao once again, smacking the table in front of her in protest.
Renge forced out a smile in response. She was still worried, but she knew that it was something Asagao wanted to do, no matter how many times Asagao denied it. Renge’s gaze said it all— it was a passionate gaze, one that seemed to pierce right into Asagao.
Asagao groaned. Tears started to swell up in her eyes, but she quickly turned her face away so we couldn’t get a good look at it. However, as dejected as she may have gotten, there was no way she could have backed off now. Knowing this, she sighed, and with a cold smile, said, “I’m going to work you guys to the bone.”
A cold smile didn’t really describe her smile properly. It was more cruel, more brutal.
Well, it was quite fitting for the boss, the king, and the tyrant of the manufacturing branch. With her words, our comeback was about to begin.
This might just be completely useless information, but we did still needed railway transportation even to this day. We didn’t have a booming network of railroads though, as they only existed as direct paths between cities and were only used to transport stuff in bulk. Railways nowadays were nothing like the previous eras where they were an essential part in everyday life.
However, just like how ancient civilizations made their homes near rivers, people naturally gathered around highly trafficked areas. As a result, the area around the Chiba terminal station was bustling and full of activity. Unlike the ruins that surrounded it, the area had numerous modern buildings lined up within it.
In the early hours of the morning, that area was turned into a pedestrian only zone where cars and trains were banned from coming inside. Instead, various stalls, carts, and other shops were lined up along the streets, just like the Asian night markets of the past.
Interestingly enough, the area was bustling more than usual today. Perhaps the mysterious stage set up right in the center of the busiest area had something to do with it. The surrounding pedestrians were all mesmerized by the sudden appearance of this stage that was literally set up overnight.
On a second thought, that couldn’t have been it. It wasn’t uncommon for the manufacturing branch to set up little things like this, so the stage alone should not have generated this much interest. It was definitely Asagao that got people interested.
She was wearing a brightly colored one piece outfit, with frills and glittery decorative accessories that ran all the way down to her skirt. It was kind of off putting to be honest, since it felt really weird to see her in such an attire. The large gold buttons in front were also weird… The collar ran too low, exposing her collarbone, and the base cloth in general had this metallic finish to it that really turned her into a completely new person.
However, the two next to me were completely mesmerized. Unlike me, they didn’t think her outfit was weird at all.
“Wow, awesome!” shouted Urushibara, giving her a thumbs up.
Likewise, Renge excitedly clapped her hands. “That’s so cute!”
Despite their compliments, Asagao did not look happy. “I knew I was an idiot for trusting Urushibara to handle the designs…” she murmured with a big sigh.
Her breath was so heavy it seemed to turn anything it touched to stone like a Basilisk. And also like a Basilisk, she stood out like a sore thumb.
She stood as the epitome of flashiness. Her outfit really was vibrant beyond belief, so vibrant that she could catch the eyes from spectators standing far away. I guess this was why the idols of the past always wore these types of things.
This kind of outfit was expected. Asagao was supposed to be the spontaneous idol, after all. If it wasn’t spontaneous, the whole thing might not have worked. With the sudden appearance of an idol, Asagao could have a bigger impact and thus cement herself as an idol for the people.
“It’s time, Asagao,” I said to her after checking my watch one last time.
“O-O-Okay…” said Asagao. Her eyes were welling up, but she fought hard to stop herself from crying. “Are we seriously doing this?”
“It’ll be okay. Just go up and say a few words or something. Don’t worry about it.”
“Just saying a few words? You know I still have to sing and dance and stuff, right?!!?”
She did have a lot of practice these few days, but it was understandable that she was still nervous. I was sure I wouldn’t even be able to get on stage if I was in her shoes.
That being said, she was neither a singer nor a dancer— she was an idol. It was okay if her tone was a bit off, or even if she was clumsy with her feet. In fact, it was probably easier to root for her with her imperfections.
Being an idol really meant working hard alongside both the producer and fans to ultimately achieve your goal. Everyone did love a good underdog story.
Don’t worry Asagao… I will make you the best idol!
“Everything’s going to be alright,” I passionately reassured her again. “You can leave everything to me.”
“O-Okay…” she whispered.
It seemed this time my words did do the trick, since some color returned to her face. She was no longer completely pale in the face, but was surprisingly blushing a bit as she quickly turned her gaze away to the audience.
In front of the stage were some curious boys sitting down in the chairs I hastily laid down earlier. To be honest, I was a little proud of myself for remembering to put those down, even though it was a producer’s job for these kind of things.
As I was still busy giving myself a pat on the back for being such a great producer, Asagao whispered some words into my ear.
“I’m just gonna do whatever, then,” she said, biting her lip. “Since my victory against Natsume has already been secured, right?”
She was a clever girl— I was sure she was well aware of what was to come. But even so, she continued to play along with my antics, all for the sake of achieving her goal.
Since that was the case, I had to continue playing along. “Alright, good luck. Make it flashy,” I said.
“Roger that, producer. My fails will be real flashy.”
She smiled awkwardly.
On top of the stage, the words Asagao Tsurube’s Debut Performance were brightly lit up by a large sign. However, that sign soon went out along with all the other stage lights around it.
A single cute sounding voice blasted through the speakers.
1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4!
Rhythm beats quickly followed, which signaled the bass and cymbals to let loose. The stage lights turned on along with the music, accompanied by colorful lasers that bounced around the stage. On top of that, theatrical smoke burst out from under the stage, reflecting the lasers twice over and giving the audience a once in a lifetime light show.
From underneath center stage, Asagao slowly started to rise up among all the chaos on stage, and started dancing to the beat.
“♪ The flower of love ♪” she began to sing with the mic in her hand. Her dance was slightly off beat, but no one noticed. “♪ Will eventually ♩ bear the sweetest fruit~ ♩ The summer heat ♩ is washed away by the elixir of happiness ♩ Joy all around the word ♩ Tales from the 20th century~ ♪”
Asagao’s idol outfit did kind of remind me of a flower, actually… Even more so with her dance choreography. Still, what a song… I believed Urushibara did the composition and Renge wrote the lyrics.
Despite Asago’s nervous trembles, everything was going smoothly. Off to the side of the stage, Urushibara was snapping with his arms crossed. I couldn’t help but notice the fashionable scarf he had around his neck.
“Sick, Asagao!” he shouted. “This is what winning feels like, huh!”
He burst out laughing once again.
What are you saying? We haven’t won yet…
Asagao’s singing and dancing was not pleasant to say the least. Her performance was not one that people would pay money to see. I was sure she knew that herself, seeing that every so often she would bite her lip in frustration.
Every time her tone was off, or perhaps when she messed up her footwork, the boys from the audience would snicker a bit, but that didn’t stop her at all. Instead, her smile only grew more brilliant the more they snickered.
In time, the snickers, along with the whispers from the audience, came to a standstill.
“♪ A thousand leaves ♪ makes the Mille-feuille ♪ A sudden La France rose ♪ Peanuts scattered all around ♪”
The song was reaching it’s climax, yet Asagao still couldn’t get a good grasp of the tone. Because of that, the people walking by all walked with their hands over their mouths, trying to hide their laughter. Some were even blatantly pointing at her with a sneer.
Despite the flak she got from people all around, the audience was a completely different story. Even when she was dangerously close to tripping over herself, even when she hummed parts of the song she forgot the lyrics to, not once did the audience ridicule her. They were instead clapping to the beat.
The audience only consisted of a few people, so Asagao probably couldn’t hear their claps over the loudspeakers surrounding the stage, but she started shaking her hips and skipping her feet with the claps. On top of that, she even made a cute gesture with her hands and gave them the wink of a lifetime.
“The fruits from summer ♩ are the forbidden fruits ♩! C * H * I * B * A! ♪ Chiba ♪!”
A loud bang suddenly followed her explosive end, and with it a tremendous sprinkle of gold glitter shot out. Asagao managed to finish the song, albiet completely out of breath. Still, she took a bow, and the audience clapped in return.
And with that, Asagao’s first live was over. Her subpar performance clearly indicated a lack of practice, resulting in a meager audience size. Even worse, she suffered the ridicule of the passerbys as they continued to make fun of her.
I didn’t need to say how the live went. What Asagao earned from all this was just the smiles and applause from a small group of people.