Necessary To Win
Chapter 1: A Return To Tankery
She had thought she had left tankery behind forever.
She had talent, like her sister and mother, even if hers was less celebrated. And while her mother pushed her hard to excel at tankery, much to her displeasure, she had to admit that there were times when she enjoyed it. In those times, she stopped seeing it as her responsibility or an area where she was duty-bound to succeed, but something that was fun, something she could do with her friends and her sister.
But after what had happened in the not too distant past, continuing seemed to be too painful, and she had stopped thinking of tankery as fun. Some believed that she had made a mistake, and others believed that her quitting was indicative of her possessing a weak will.
And yet, much to her surprise, her new school, Oarai Academy, had re-established tankery, with no shortage of hype, and with many attractive incentives. Her new friends jumped at the opportunity, but for her, the decision was more complicated.
It was clear that her school needed her tankery experience, but that alone was not enough to sway her. She had her own reasons, wishing to fight alongside her friends, helping them to achieve their own goals just as they would support her efforts to reach her own goal. She also had something to prove to certain members of her family, whom she loved, even if others believed their relationship was less than ideal, to put it mildly.
The year Oarai Academy revived its tankery program was also the year when Nishizumi Miho and Miyanaga Saki returned to tankery. The story of the tournament that year also became their story, the story of two girls who had once given up, but became willing to do whatever was necessary to win and accomplish what they set out to do.
Nishizumi Miho, a second-year in high school who was also in her first year at Oarai, stood in the Student Council's office with her friends and classmates, Isuzu Hana and Takebe Saori, having been called in for a meeting with the four third-years on the student council.
It was not difficult for Miho to guess why the student council had called her in during lunch. The previous day, the four of them had approached her during a class break, telling them that Oarai was restarting its tankery program, and they needed her to take it as her mandatory elective, in spite of Miho's saying that she had chosen the school specifically to avoid tankery. The Student Council, by using a propaganda filmstrip and generous incentives, had recruited a large number of students, including Miho's two new friends. But Miho remained unconvinced, and the idea of being pressured to succeed felt too familiar for comfort.
Earlier that morning, Miho had chosen incense, apologizing to her friends for her decision, only to find that they quickly changed their minds, wanting to share the same class with her. Greatly relieved, Miho turned in her form in homeroom that morning. Her relief turned to horror when the Student Council called her in for a meeting- clearly, they were more insistent on her doing tankery than she had initially thought- but her new friends accompanied her there to lend her their support.
"Why did you choose this as your elective?" the public relations representative, Kawashima Momo, a dark-haired girl with a monocle, said, holding up Miho's elective signup sheet, which had a mark on Incense. "We need you to do tankery; only a few other people besides Hisa here have any sort of experience." She then gestured to Takei Hisa, a redheaded girl with shoulder-length hair, who was the treasurer for Oarai Academy's Student Council.
"We're finished... our school's finished!" Koyama Yuzu, a girl with brown hair in a ponytail who was the vice president of the Student Council, said.
The rest of the Student Council glanced at Yuzu, surprised at her outburst, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary about it to Miho and her friends. If the Student Council was willing to call Miho in to force her to change her elective, it would not be surprising if they were also willing to bend the truth or outright lie to convince her to do tankery.
"Don't you get it?" Saori, a girl with orange hair who was sociable and popular, yet, much to her chagrin, had little luck finding a boyfriend, said. "Miho came to this school specifically so that she could avoid tankery! Didn't she tell you already?"
"Please give up on Nishizumi-san," Hana, a polite and elegant girl with long dark hair, said.
"If that's how you want it," Kadotani Anzu, president of the Student Council, said, "maybe all of you won't be staying at Oarai Academy for much longer." Her slight frown gave way to a devious smirk as she delivered her warning.
"This isn't what we discussed, President," Hisa whispered in Anzu's ear, as her friend and superior went off script. "I thought we were just going to talk to Nishizumi-san, not threaten her."
Anzu ignored Hisa, as Hana was in the process of interjecting.
"I cannot believe you are threatening us!" Hana said.
"You can't be serious!" Saori said, no more willing to believe Anzu's threat than she was willing to believe Yuzu's claim that the school's existence was on the line.
"The President always is, even if she doesn't look it," the public relations rep said flatly.
Yuzu glanced at Hisa, who faintly sighed.
"You and I both know why the president's doing this, Yuzu," Hisa thought. "But since she's not budging and we do need someone of Nishizumi-san's caliber with us, you should try talking with those three."
Yuzu, reaching the same conclusion as Hisa did, stepped forward toward Mhio and her friends.
"I...I think it might be best for you to apologize, right?" Yuzu said, desperately hoping to defuse the situation.
"No, you need to apologize!" Saori said, her temper flaring at what she believed was an implication that Yuzu considered Anzu's behavior acceptable.
The argument devolved into a shouting match, with Momo and Anzu arguing against Saori and Hana.
Miho glanced downward at her hands, one of which held Saori's hand and the other of which held Hana's. She did not yet know why the student council wanted her to do tankery so badly. But she realized that Hana and Saori's interest in tankery, while genuine, was outweighed by their desire to not have her suffer while doing tankery.
Miho had only just met them, but they had the makings of good friends. And if people like them would become her teammates, then maybe, just maybe, tankery would be worth doing again.
Miho took a deep breath before speaking.
"I'll do tankery!" Miho said, more forcefully than she thought herself to be capable of, cutting off the argument.
Saori and Hana gasped in surprise.
"Wonderful!" Yuzu said. Hisa smiled, while the other two Student Council officials grinned triumphantly.
"And…" Hana said, "If it's not too late, now that Nishizumi-san has agreed to take tankery, I would like to do so as well."
"Me too!" Saori said. "Hana and I changed our choices because Miho didn't feel comfortable doing tankery, and while we wanted to do tankery, we wanted to do the same elective as her. But if she's willing to do it now, then so are we!"
"Excellent," Hisa said. "Nishizumi-san, if you have some time this afternoon, after school, I'd like to meet with you near the club buildings to discuss some things related to the tankery club and introduce you to some friends of mine who know some things about tankery. Do you know where those are?"
"I do," Miho said.
"Ok, then," Hisa said. "I'll see you there after school."
"In that case," Saori said, "Why don't we go out for ice cream once you're done, Miho?"
"That place you mentioned at lunch?" Miho said. "I'd like to have some, but for now, I'll head to where the treasurer told me to meet her."
"That's good- that about concludes the meeting," Hisa said. "I'll see you after class, Nishizumi-san."
"I'll see you then, Treasurer," Miho said.
Miho and her friends walked out of the student council office. As they passed by the waiting room outside the office, they saw four students- one with purple hair, one with a blonde ponytail and glasses, one with a darker ponytail, and one with short red hair.
As soon as they were out of earshot of anyone else, Saori resumed the conversation.
"You really surprised us there, Miho," Saori said. "Are you sure about your decision?"
"I am," Miho said. "This is the first time anyone has openly stood up for my decision like that. My family always did tankery, especially my mother and older sister. It was our tradition, and that was all there was to it. I couldn't do things their way, but now…I'm doing it for my own reasons, so I can be with both of you."
Hana listened and nodded. Not unlike Miho, she had made her own decision regarding her family's art.
"I'll head over to the club buildings after class," Miho said. "I'll see you later this afternoon, Isuzu-san, Takebe-san."
Saying goodbye to Hana and Saori, Miho pondered what she had just gotten herself into. In spite of her bad experiences with tankery in the past, and the various expectations placed on her, she had made her decision, for the simple reason of wanting to do it with her friends.
The girls who were outside the Student Council office, Oarai Academy' mahjong club, waited anxiously, except for their laid back president, Kanbara Satomi, the redhead and a third year. For the last two years, they had wavered on the edge of being disbanded, due to having barely enough members to qualify as a club. They did not expect to win tournaments as they were, but hoped to, at the very least, continue being able to play mahjong with each other with the stamp of legitimacy afforded to a school club, and become a gathering place for like-minded students.
"Come on in!" Hisa said, and they got up and walked in. "I'm sorry it's late; we had a meeting beforehand that was somewhat unexpected, and went on longer than we thought."
"That's alright, Hisa," Kajiki Yumi, the purple-haired third-year who was essentially considered the brains of the club despite not having any official position, said. "It took a little while to round up all five of us; we were running a little late."
"But there's only four people here," Anzu said. "You need at least five for a club at this school."
Part of the student council's reason for calling the entire club to their office was to determine whether any of the five members were "ghost members," members of the club who signed their names but rarely, if ever, made an appearance. The fact that only four people had heeded the summons seemed to be proof that the fifth was only committed to signing her name, and as such, the club did not have the necessary member commitment to continue to exist.
"Yes, I'm aware, but- oh, right," Yumi said. "Momo!" she called out.
"You have some nerve, calling me-" the public relations rep began, before stopping short. Before her eyes, to Yumi's right, a girl with shoulder-length dark hair seemingly appeared out of nowhere.
"Touyoko Momoko, first year and new member of the mahjong club~su!" Momo T. said.
"I…I didn't notice her," Momo K. said.
"Not many do," Yumi said. "For some reason, Momo lacks presence, and people don't notice her, even when looking directly at her. It took a great deal of effort to find her."
Yumi had to track Momo T.'s IP address to her classroom and call out, in front of everyone else, that she wanted her for the club. That action caused Yumi to become the subject of gossip among the school, and earned her a lecture from the head of the disciplinary committee.
But it was also the first time someone had actively searched for Momo T., an act that deeply moved her. Taking Yumi's hand, Momo T. appeared before Yumi and officially accepted her invitation.
"And besides, Momo," Hisa said, looking directly at Momo K., "It's quite a coincidence that Touyoko-san has the same first name as you do, even if hers is abbreviated."
"I'm also a new member this year," Senoo Kaori, the blonde and a second-year, said. "Satomi-chan, who is the club president and my childhood friend, invited me around the time we recruited Momoko-san."
Anzu nodded, but then cleared her throat.
"Let's get down to business," Anzu said, before glancing at Yuzu.
"Kajiki-san, you have succeeded in getting together the requisite number of members for a school club," Yuzu said. "Unfortunately, that is only one requirement to keep a club going; the school must be willing and able to support it. The unfortunate truth is that the school is no longer able to keep the mahjong club around. We have made some difficult decisions lately, and your club is by no means the only one to get cut- the volleyball club suffered a similar fate. I'm sorry that we can't do much more than offer our condolences."
Yumi let off a sigh of disappointment. Momo T. looked to Yumi, with a worried expression on her face. Mutsuki muttered "I knew it…". The smile slipped off of Satomi's face for a moment. Kaori looked around, confused- did this mean that Satomi no longer needed her?
"So is that it?" Yumi said. "You only called us down here to deliver the news of our club being shut down?"
"Not quite," Anzu said. "Actually, what Koyama said wasn't quite accurate. We can offer you more than our condolences, we can offer the five of you a position in the tankery team."
"Ah yes, that," Yumi said. "We went to the tankery orientation, and we certainly know all about it. But apart from what the filmstrip said and the offered incentives, what reason would we have for wanting to join?"
"If you do well enough, then we might be able to get the mahjong club going again next year," Anzu said.
Yumi frowned for a moment as she realized that there was an obvious flaw in this- two of the club members were third-years, meaning that they would not be around. Even if they succeeded.
"I'd like some time to think about it and talk with the others," Yumi said. "But in any case, Hisa, I'd like to speak with you after class today regarding this."
"Certainly, Yumi," Hisa said. "But I do have a prior engagement with Nishizumi-san regarding the tankery team. I'll see you when it's done, though."
"Ok," Yumi said. "I'll see you then, Hisa."
As Hisa walked to her meeting with Saki and the rest of the student council went to work on some things related to tankery, Yumi met with the members of the now defunct mahjong club.
"So, now what?" Mutsuki said.
"What else?" Satomi said. "We do tankery. It's interesting and it seems like our best chance of getting the club up and running again. Are you in, Kaori?"
"I…I guess," Kaori said. Satomi knew at this moment, as she had when inviting Kaori, that Kaori would do whatever she wanted.
"Sounds good," Satomi said.
"Then I suppose I'll do it as well," Mutsuki said.
Momo T. pondered what had happened as Yumi remained quiet. While she had only recently met her, she could tell that something was deeply troubling her.
"Senpai?" Momo T. said, turning to Yumi. "Is something wrong?"
"Something seems off about this entire setup," Yumi said. "I'll need to talk to Hisa."
"Ok~su," Momo T. said. "Do you mind if I come with you?"
"You may," Yumi said. "I suppose you're still undecided about tankery, so perhaps my questions might help you find your answer."
Miho stood near the tankery garage, looking at the rusted Panzer IV inside. She saw it as symbolic of what she had heard about the tankery program itself; it had once been vibrant long ago, but over time, it had fallen into disuse. But it was possible to restore the tank and the team.
Hisa walked up to Miho.
"Here I am, Nishizumi-san," Hisa said, "I'm sorry for making you wait."
"That's all right, Treasurer," Miho said. "I was just looking at the Panzer IV we have."
"That should give you some idea about the kind of resources we have at our disposal," Hisa said. "I apologize for the president and Momo putting pressure on you like this, but we're especially desperate for talent, because… well, few of us have any real experience. I did tankery in the past, but I haven't even been inside a tank since I started high school."
"I see," Miho said. "But looking at this tank, it's not in good condition now, but it can be repaired and serviced. We will, however, need to find some people to crew these, as well as several additional tanks."
"Let me see…" Hisa said. "First, there's you, Isuzu-san, and Takebe-san. The student council, myself included, will be contributing our talents. A few friends of mine are joining- two are second-years, and three are first-years. The mahjong and volleyball clubs, having been disbanded, are considering joining as well, so that's probably nine more people there. The rest are harder to organize- there's four history-obsessed second-years, and six first-years. All in all, I'd say there are over 30 people to start with."
"That would be somewhat large for an ordinary club," Miho said, "But for a tankery team, we wouldn't be able to fully crew ten tanks- the minimum upper limit on a competition. We're not required to be able to field that many, but doing so would be practical. In order for this team to work, every member must be performing well, perhaps even better than those who are regulars at the strong schools.
"I'm aware," Hisa said. "My middle school's tankery team was relatively small, but it was larger than this. As for those with talent, while the vast majority of us have not done tankery before, there are a handful of people who have some experience."
"So those are the 'few other' people the public relations person mentioned," Miho said. "But why would they go so far to recruit me if they had people with experience?"
"The first reason is because, as we discussed just now, we are quite short-handed," Hisa said. "And second, we've heard about your history of experience in tankery, Nishizumi-san, both while you were at Black Forest and prior to that."
Miho's eyes widened in surprise. Her family's name was well known in tankery, but Hisa had implied there was more to her being recruited than just her name.
"Anyway, I'd like to introduce you to my friends, the ones with tankery experience," Hisa said. "They should be waiting near here."
Hisa led Miho to four girls who were milling about. One of the first-years was a girl with short brown hair. Her fellow first-year, a girl with pink hair in pigtails and large breasts, stood nearby. A short and somewhat feisty girl who was munching on a taco was the third first-year. The sole second-year was a green-haired girl with glasses.
"Hello, Treasurer," the brunette said. "You said you wanted to introduce us to someone?"
"Yes; everyone, I have someone I'd like you to meet," Hisa said. "This is Nishizumi Miho-san, a transfer student who is a second-year, and she, like you, has experience in tankery."
Hisa gestured to the brunette who had just spoken.
"Nishizumi-san, this is Miyanaga Saki, a first-year."
Hisa gestured to the pink-haired girl, then to the girl eating the taco.
"This is Haramura Nodoka, also a first-year, who has experience in tankery in the middle school level, and Kataoka Yuuki, also a first-year, who was with Nodoka in the middle school tournament."
Hisa finally gestured to the girl in glasses.
"Lastly, Someya Mako, a second-year; her grandmother was once a skilled tanker."
"Pleased to meet you," they said to each other, bowing.
"The fifth person I know, Akiyama Yukari, couldn't make it," Hisa said. "But I'm sure you'll meet her soon- she certainly wants to meet you."
"I'm glad to be working with all of you," Miho said. "I hope we'll be able to help the others get used to doing tankery."
"We will," Hisa said, "but first we'll see how far they can get on their own, and whether any of them need more help than others. We can't carry the team by ourselves, after all, and everyone has to be committed if we're going to succeed."
"That's good," Miho said. "I didn't want to have too much responsibility thrust on me right away."
"I understand the feeling, Nishizumi-san," Hisa said. "That's why I'm glad to have the girls right here around."
Saki, having pondered what she had heard for a while, decided to ask a question that she had ever since Miho had been introduced to her.
"Nishizumi-senpai?" Saki said. "Your name sounds familiar, like that of the commander at Black Forest."
"Yes, she's my older sister, and until last year, I went to school there," Miho said, her face turning slightly downcast. Virtually everyone knew of Black Forest and the Nishizumi school, and many of those people, whether knowingly or subconsciously, judged Miho by how she compared to them, rather than on her own merits.
But once she stopped being upset over being thought of in relation to her family, something clicked in Miho's mind as she thought about Saki's surname. Perhaps Saki was not merely another tankery enthusiast who knew all the big names in high school tankery. Perhaps, if Miho's theory was correct, her interest in Black Forest was of a more personal nature.
"The same goes for you, Miyanaga-san," Miho said, as Saki was digesting the information she had just learned. "Your name sounds like that of one of the vice-captains in the Black Forest tankery team, Miyanaga Teru-san. Are you, by any chance, related to her?"
Saki froze up, taken off guard by how quickly Miho had realized what she was thinking, and how directly she had brought it up.
"Onee-chan…" Saki said.
"Saki?" Hisa said. "Does that mean you're Miyanaga Teru's younger sister?"
"It does…" Saki said.
The girls gasped in shock. It was surprising to, in the course of a single day, find the younger sisters of Black Forest's tankery team's commander and one of its two vice-captains.
Miho, however, realized that the concept was nothing especially surprising, especially since she was the younger sister of Nishizumi Maho, the renowned commander of Black Forest's tankery team, and heiress of the Nishizumi school.
But then, Miho remembered something else Teru had once said- she had not thought much about it at the time, and had taken it at face value. But now that she had heard Saki say that she was Teru's sister, she had to rethink whether that statement was, in fact, true. In fact, she had assumed that Saki was Teru's cousin, a distant relative, or someone who simply had the same last name. The latter case was common; while Saki had never met either of them, there were two Suzukis at Oarai- one a second-year who enjoyed dressing as Julius Caesar, and another a third-year in the auto club- but who were not related.
"But…" Miho began, unsure of how to proceed. "Now that I think about it, Teru-san never talked much about her family. But the one time I asked her if she had any siblings, she said no."
Saki's face twisted in shock for a moment as she looked as though she was on the brink of tears.
"Um… I… I… Excuse me…" she said, before darting off as quickly as her legs could take her.
The remaining girls stared for a minute, taken off guard by Saki's reaction and sudden departure.
"Miyanaga-san!" Nodoka cried out, concerned, before rushing off to follow Saki. Nodoka was far from fleet of foot, especially in comparison to her energetic and athletic old friend, Takakamo Shizuno, and found it difficult to chase after Saki.
"Did I… say something wrong?" Miho said, as Nodoka ran out of sight.
"It's hard to say; you know about as much about Saki as I do, Nishizumi-san," Hisa said. "Saki never talked much about her family, so I had no idea something had happened between her and her sister in the past- or even that she had a sister."
"Still, I feel as though I should apologize," Miho said. "Miyanaga-san seemed quite upset."
"Go right ahead; I'd hoped to get started on discussing planning for the team, but that can wait until tomorrow," Hisa said. "You'll have to excuse me, though, I'm planning on meeting with a friend, and I'll see if I can meet up with Saki once I'm done. We'll bring the entire team together tomorrow, and search for some more tanks; tonight I'll brainstorm some possible places where we might find one."
"I'll see you then, Treasurer," Miho said, before dashing off.
Miho ran off in the same direction as Saki had ran, and quickly overtook the not very athletic Nodoka. Nodoka, while hunched over and panting, weakly pointed in the direction she saw Saki go. Miho headed in that direction, as did Nodoka when she caught her breath.
Eventually, the two came to Saki, leaning against the wall of the school; she had run until she was exhausted.
"Miyanaga-san!" they said together.
"Haramura-san… Nishizumi-senpai…" Saki said.
"Miyanaga-san?" Miho said. "I'm sorry I upset you by telling you all that."
"No…" Saki said. "I'm actually not surprised that you reported what you did, Nishizumi-senpai. The truth is, my sister and I aren't on the best of terms at the moment, because… because of something that happened in the past."
Miho could tell that there was something that Saki was reluctant to mention, because she was used to such omissions when talking about herself. And for that same reason, she knew better than to press Saki on it.
"You might wonder why my sister and I are at different schools; it's in part because our parents are currently separated, and I live with my father while my sister lives with our mother," Saki continued. "They haven't divorced, but they aren't talking, and my sister refused to speak with me at all the last time I saw her. Nothing will change if we don't talk things over, and I couldn't accept things the way we are, so I believed I had to find another way to reach out. I decided to re-enter tankery after all this time and… everything that happened back then, but now that I heard this, I have to wonder… will things necessarily go back to the way they were before?"
Miho and Nodoka remained silent. They knew that Saki was too well aware of how grim her family's situation to blindly accept their saying "yes," but that saying "no" would send her deeper into despair. More than anything, since all they knew about that subject was what Saki told them, they did not feel qualified to answer either way.
"But…" Nodoka began, catching Saki and Miho's attention as she broke the silence, "Even if you can't get what you want out of tankery, isn't the simple act of doing it worthwhile in and of itself?"
"What other reason would you have for doing tankery, Haramura-san?" Saki said.
Nodoka sighed before she began. Ordinarily, she would have said, "It's fun," and left it at that, but she believed Saki should hear the entire story. Perhaps if Saki knew that her doing tankery despite being discouraged from doing so, she would understand how much it meant to her. Perhaps the story would also be relevant and educational to Miho.
"My father does not like my doing tankery or this school," Nodoka said. "Yuuki and I have been friends since middle school, where we did tankery together and competed in the middle school-level national tournament. Yuuki's grades did not exactly meet the standards of schools like Black Forest, so she decided to come here, and I followed her there. But my father wanted me to go to Kitaniji Preparatory School instead- my mother's alma mater- believing that tankery is a waste of time and that the friends I make here are no good if I'm 'getting a second rate education' at a 'hick school' like this. My only chance of convincing him otherwise is by winning the tournament."
Miho immediately recognized Kitaniji Prep's name. She had considered applying there merely for the fact that it did not have tankery, but realized that it was far more oppressive and strict than even Black Forest was. Not only did it not have tankery, but it had no extracurricular activities without relevance for future careers, and an extremely high workload compared to other Japanese schools.
Miho also considered that Nodoka's problem was in some ways similar, but in some ways starkly different from her own. Both their parents disapproved of the way they lived, but while Miho's mother expected her to do tankery her family's way, Nodoka's father did not approve of doing it at all, seeing it as a mere distraction from her studies. Miho remembered that while her mother's attitude toward tankery had driven her away from it, there was a time when she felt free to do tankery as she liked so long as her mother remained pleased, and had considered herself relatively fortunate.
"So why are you so interested in tankery, Haramura-san?" Saki said, with Miho turning to her, her expression indicating that Saki had taken the words out of her mouth. "Why would you do it even in the face of such opposition from your family?"
"Because it's fun," Nodoka said, "Because it's a path to becoming a better woman. Because I'm good at it. And because many of the friends I've made over the years did it as well, which is why I'm glad that you decided to do it, too."
For Miho and Saki, it had been some time since they had met someone who was passionate about tankery without being obsessed with it or seeing it as a means to an end. For both of them, meeting Nodoka reminded them of a time when tankery was fun
"Haramura-san," Saki said. "I want to keep on doing tankery with you- so that you don't have to leave."
"Thank you, Miyanaga-san," Nodoka said. "And Nishizumi-senpai, I hope you come to enjoy tankery as much as I do."
"I hope so, too, Haramura-san," Miho said.
Saori and Hana approached, looking for Miho.
"Ah, there you are, Miho!" Saori said, walking up to her, with Hana walking by her side. "Hana and I were getting ready to go out for ice cream, and we wanted to find you before we did."
"I'll be along in a moment, Takebe-san, but first, I'd like to introduce you two," Miho said. "Haramura-san, Miyanaga-san, these are Takebe Saori-san and Isuzu Hana-san, two of my new friends at school and members of the tankery team. Takebe-san, Isuzu-san, these are Miyanaga Saki-san and Haramura Nodoka-san, two first-years I'm working with on the tankery team."
"Pleased to meet you," they said.
"I'll see you later, Miyanaga-san, Haramura-san," Miho said, as she walked off with Saori and Hana.
"Take care, senpais," Saki and Nodoka said.
Miho and her friends walked toward the ice cream shop.
"Are you still certain of your decision, Nishizumi-san?" Hana said.
"Yes, I still am," Miho said.
"Even considering all your… bad experiences with it?" Saori said, unsure of what Miho had been referring to, but knowing that she had, until midday, been reluctant to do tankery because of them.
"Miyanaga-san was in a similar situation, so to speak," Miho said. "But she, too, has her own reasons for getting involved in tankery, one of which seems to be Haramura-san's participation in spite of her father's opposition. The treasurer and her friends seem to be serious about tankery without being obsessed to the point at which they would stop enjoying it. Perhaps if I do it with them, with you and with the others, it will be different from the past, when I was pressured to win."
As Miho's new friends simply smiled and nodded, she decided to leave it at that. When they returned to school the next day, they would have work to do in getting the club going- obtaining tanks, helping the new members learn how to operate them and working together as a team- before they could stand a chance in the tournament. But for the moment, Miho simply decided to enjoy her new friends' company and leave those concerns for another time.
"I appreciate your coming to speak with me, Hisa," Yumi said, meeting with Hisa in the halls near the student council office. The two had been friends since around the time they arrived at Oarai as first-years. Yumi was Hisa's first friend at Oarai, and each considered the other one of their closest friends outside of their respective organizations.
"Not a problem, Yumi," Hisa said.
"Thanks, but first…" Yumi said, then turned to what, to Hisa, seemed like empty air before gesturing to her. "Momo, I'd like you to meet Takei Hisa, the Student Council treasurer and a friend of mine since my first year at Oarai; I mentioned her to you earlier. Hisa, you met Touyoko Momoko at the meeting."
"It's a pleasure to meet you~su," Momo said, appearing before Hisa as she and Hisa exchanged bows.
"Likewise," Hisa said, before turning to Yumi. "So, Yumi, is this about the mahjong club? It wasn't an easy decision; a lot of clubs were up for cutting, so we decided to choose some of the ones with… fewer members."
"Decisions like that never are easy," Yumi said. "I saw getting Momo and Senoo on board as the minimum I would need to do to keep it going, not necessarily a guarantee. But why establish tankery now?"
"Sometimes we have to try new things, you know, and while old clubs get cut, new ones are established, especially in regard to new trends," Hisa said. "Like we said after showing the film strip said, there's the upcoming tournament."
Yumi frowned, not completely buying Hisa's argument. Hisa then continued.
"Granted, I do have my biases; you know that I've been lobbying for a tankery club since my first year here," Hisa said. "But I just manage the funds as treasurer, I don't actually decide what to spend on them; I have to work with the president and the others on the council before doing anything."
"I know the limitations of your position, or otherwise, you'd have established tankery in our first year," Yumi said. "But why now? Unless I'm mistaken, the school is hardly in a position to support a club like tankery."
"You're not mistaken, Yumi," Hisa said. "But while we have not allocated much for tankery in the budget, we intend to re-establish our team with the resources and people at hand."
"…I see…" Yumi said, unconvinced. A pause followed as she considered what to say next. "Is it too late to sign up for tankery? Some of my club members might be interested."
"No, it isn't too late," Hisa said, rummaging through her bag and producing five registration forms. "There are registration forms here. You can fill them out and turn them in first thing tomorrow if you're interested."
"Thank you; I'll see you later, Hisa," Yumi said.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Yumi, Touyoko-san," Hisa said.
"See you then~su," Momo T. said.
As Yumi and Momo walked away, Momo T. turned to Yumi, seeing the look of discontent on her face.
"Senpai? Is something the matter?" Momo T. said.
"Momo, do you think what I've said is wrong?" Yumi said. "That if the school is in a difficult time budget-wise and cutting back clubs, it shouldn't be establishing tankery?"
"Not at all~su," Momo T. said. "But it didn't seem like the treasurer was telling us the entire story~su."
"My thoughts exactly," Yumi said. "I'm trying not to take it personally; Hisa and I reached an understanding long ago. I know that she can't let her friendship with me, or any other factors apart from what she can do and what is best for this school influence her decisions. I've also known that she's wanted tankery back at this school for a long time. But something seems odd about this, and I'm a bit upset that she's not confiding in me."
"If she did, what would you do, senpai?" Momo T. said.
Yumi shrugged, not knowing how to answer the question.
"That's a good question, Momo; my response would depend on what I heard," Yumi said. "But for now, it seems joining tankery will be the best way for us to re-establish our club, if we can give them the tankery victory they- I suspect mainly Kadotani and Kawashima more than Hisa or Koyama- want so badly. The others said earlier they'd also be willing to join. So are you interested in joining tankery with us, Momo?"
Momo T. did not even have to consider her answer. While mahjong was always an interest for her, she had only now found a friend who broke through the veil separating her from the rest of the world.
"Kaori-senpai joined the club as a favor to her childhood friend, the club president," Momo T. thought. "Doing tankery is the least I can do for Kajiki-senpai."
"Certainly, senpai!" Momo T. said.
"That's good," Yumi said, smiling for the first time since the encounter with Hisa began.
For some reason, even though her mahjong club had been disbanded for seemingly no good reason and its future was in doubt, hearing Momo accept her offer brightened Yumi's mood enough to make her forget everything else that happened on that day for the moment.
"How are you doing, Saki?" Hisa said as she returned to Saki and Nodoka, who had since rejoined Yuuki and Mako S. "Are you feeling somewhat better now?"
"I am," Saki said. "And I'm still willing to go as far as it takes in the tournament. Everyone else has their own reasons for getting involved- Haramura-san, Nishizumi-senpai, probably the others. And while my sister might be refusing to acknowledge my existence, I still will try to reach out to her. If it takes defeating everyone else until we reach the finals, then that is what I will do. It might sound unrealistic, but that's as far as I'm willing to go if necessary."
"Miyanaga-san…" Nodoka said, excited to hear Saki's resolve.
"It's not unrealistic to everyone," Hisa said. "I'd even say it sounds like a good goal."
Hisa looked off into the distance, out at the open sea, thinking about all the other schools that like Oarai, were on ships, and were also doing tankery. Oarai had a great deal of work to do before it could re-establish its tankery club, much less hope to challenge the schools with the strongest teams. But Hisa knew as long as there were those who were committed and ready to learn, there was hope for Oarai, and a chance for them to succeed.
Far away, across the sea, on the Black Forest Academy school ship, the Black Forest tankery club was making preparations of its own. They, the national champions for nine consecutive years, were redoubling their efforts to win this year after their unexpected loss the previous year.
Itsumi Erika, a silver-haired girl who was new to her vice-captain position, walked into the commander's office, where her co-vice-captain and the commander were discussing strategies and issues related to managing the team. She knew that her superior and colleague would want to hear this news, even if she barely considered it worth reporting.
"Commander, Teru, there's apparently a new school entering the tankery tournament this year- Oarai Academy."
Nishizumi Maho's brown eyes, the same color as her hair, briefly widened in surprise- was the school her younger sister chose to avoid tankery really going back into it the same year she arrived? Miyanaga Teru, a redhead, remained impassive, ignorant of how the sister she refused to acknowledge as such was going to school there.
"A newcomer?" Maho said. "We should be wary of them in that case. Our school has experience going against all the others, but we can't be sure how Oarai will fight."
"More like a bunch of newbies," Erika said. "I have to wonder what kind of tanks they dredged up, or even if they have enough tanks or people to field a full crew."
"Whoever the opponent is, we will have to win," Teru said. "After what happened last year, it would not even be funny if we lost to a school like that. Quite a few people would be upset with us, especially Coach Kubo."
"Yes," Maho said. "This year, many of our rivals have surely been emboldened; perhaps that is why a new challenger is arising. But all of us have our own reasons for wanting to win, so the only thing left is to do everything we can to ensure that we triumph again this year."
This crossover between Saki and Girls Und Panzer was inspired by a few characters with some similarities and contrasting elements (for example, while Maho and Teru, the respective main characters' older sisters and main rivals, have some similarities, at a closer glance, they have a very different relationship with their sisters).
The fic will be written with the assumption that the readers don't know the events of the canon, partly out of personal preference (I find it better to foreshadow later twists, than assume the readers know them already), and partly out of a hope that this fic will appeal to people outside of those who have seen both Girls und Panzer and Saki.
Despite that, I decided to skip most of the first episode, save for the student council meeting (which seemed to be a good place to begin the story, after some exposition) to avoid retreading canon too much. When I encounter an event that happened in canon, I will try to put my own twist on it, especially if the Saki characters get involved (as a bit of a teaser, Teru will show up along with Maho and Erika in the scene in the tank cafe later on).
To keep characters with the same first name distinct from each other, they will have their last initial after their name. For example, Momoko "Stealth Momo" Touyoko is Momo T., while Momo Kawashima is Momo K. I chose this system over last names because there are many characters who share last names, and it might get confusing if I referred to them as such (for example, one Saki: Achiga-Hen episode summary for Episode 5 on Crunchyroll called Kuro "Matsumi" when her sister's on the same team- characters typically call Kuro by her first name or full name). However, Saki, Maho, and Hiroko (the latter of whom will appear later as a supporting character), will not have their initials after their names, since their roles are significantly greater than Saki Maruyama, Maho Yumeno and Hiroko Murohashi.
You may see relatively few Saki characters in Oarai's team (only about 10- the crew of two new tanks, to keep the team relatively small), but they will be somewhat more present among Oarai's rivals, where a team might have one to three named Girls und Panzer characters, and possibly five to ten named Saki characters (one or two tank crews). This is in part because I've found that some of Saki's rivals seem better developed and have more extensive backstories than most of the rivals in Girls und Panzer.
The reason why Hisa comes off as somewhat friendlier compared to Anzu and Momo K. is to reflect her approach to recruiting Saki in the Saki manga, where she uses more of a carrot than a stick to recruit Saki. I also suspect Yuzu was less than happy with Anzu and Momo K. trying to pressgang Miho, given her facial expressions throughout those scenes, which indicated displeasure.
I hope Nodoka didn't come off as too whiny about having to move; I mainly decided to make her more openly express her displeasure about being forced to leave the schools that she liked; she thinks about it quite often in Saki canon, but has, so far, not talked to anyone about it. She will eventually get some character development and gain some perspective on what she can do for herself.
I've also noticed that Girls Und Panzer characters have more latitude in school choice, so here's some food for thought. In canon, Miho, who is less confident than Nodoka is, and whose mother is much stricter than Nodoka's father (although both seem stern and emotionally distant to varying degrees), transfers to Oarai over her parents' objections. Only time will tell whether Nodoka will end up being forced to go this far, though.
Quite a few Saki viewers seem to believe that Saki's efforts to reach out to Teru are in vain, and she shouldn't even bother. They also tend to portray Teru as far more openly cruel to Saki than she seems. I've also noticed a wider trend of people feeling similarly when animes show a friend of the main character turning evil and the main character trying to redeem that friend, often going so far as to suggest that the main characters and their evil former friends were never truly friends even in the best of times.
How will Saki's quest to reconcile with Teru turn out? You'll have to read to the end to find out, but my goal is to portray Teru as something other than a girl who'd forget about her sister out of sheer pettiness and spite, even if she's not completely justified in how she treats Saki. You might see Teru as generally nicer than Erika, even if, unlike Maho, her aloof behavior toward her sister is not a facade that she is forced to adopt in her efforts for her sister's sake.
As the story goes on, there will be certain "Interlude" chapters, in which characters talk to others about their pasts, alternating between them telling the story in the present and flashbacks. Some of what is said in the present storytelling sections should be taken with a grain of salt, though, as characters' opinions might cloud the telling of their stories, or they might be talking about things that they didn't see first-hand or don't know all about.
I'm going to try something a little different as far as updating goes. While I know where I want to go with this story, how it will end, and have something over two thirds of it written into rough drafts, I've noticed that many fanfic writers here publish their stories while in the process of writing them, not on a chapter-by-chapter basis after they're complete. I was curious as to how updating as I complete each chapter might work for me. The updates may be somewhat more irregular and spaced further apart than those of my previous works, but I still intend to see this fic through to the end.
Edited to remove a few minor typos.