© Original storyline 2004 AlseGold
Disclaimer When I'm not on PoT, I'm on crack. (jimmythesiger)
The lyrics are the English translation of several lines from Don't Look Back, sung by Aozu and by Echizen Ryoma. The translation was kindly lent for use by ri-chan, whom I am deeply indebted to. Thank goodness someone out there translates these songs!
Notes The backstory to this can be found in Beyond: When We Were Fools, of which the Oishi-Eiji part is up.
Dedication To my little sister. And to ri-chan.
Title Beyond: A Tribute
Don't let me down, don't look back
Let's throw away all of our fragmented feelings...
Goddamn it, they had all been stupid.
But what could one expect? They were barely fourteen then. Their first and only love was tennis, though for some, other things came a close second, such as watching people suffer, making people suffer, eating eleven hamburgers at one sitting, or brushing teeth with the latest brand of toothpaste. It'd be hard to find a tighter-knit group of friends anywhere else; hard to find a more closely-linked team in any other school. Fudomine came close, but you'd never find those goofy undercurrents that ran through Seigaku's Nationals-winning team. They were strangely normal and yet strangely abnormal. Where else would you find a team that would do anything not to take those special dietary concoctions their team-mate had brewed, and which were beneficial to the team's stamina and healthy well-being? After all, it wasn't every team that could boast a genius health expert like that. Where else would you find a team that promised all-you-can-eat sushi buffets to winners, and wasabi sushi as punishment for those who lost?
Most people rarely realise when they have been stupid. Most people won't admit they have been stupid even though they know it. Most people aren't fortunate enough to know when they've been stupid. Most people miss all those neon signs that have been blaring in their faces. How can you completely misread something when it's laid out there, in naked glory, for you and all the world to see? How can you be so stupid? But then again, as Inui Sadaharu will tell you if you will listen, different situations will have different outcomes, so it is 95% certain that in a particular context, 99% of people will misinterpret clues, whereas in another situation, there is a 99% chance that the same clues will be correctly read and the right conclusion reached. In this particular case, the former set of statistics prevailed – although Inui will be quick to tell you that he was the 1% that read the situation accurately and took precise steps following his deductions. Besides, he was involved in an extremely delicate version of the said situation, which required a great deal more care than the others.
However, Inui will add, glasses glinting, they all fell, like chess pieces, when the right conclusions hit them. Some fell first, and others fell later, but the end result was always the same. They had been stupid, dense, half-witted, simple-minded... call it what you will, they had been dummies one and all. Inui will also comment, with a dry little smile, that really, Kikumaru Eiji and Oishi Syuichiroh were quite the stupidest of the lot, since they were the first to recognise what was going on, and should have taken steps—which they didn't. But they were all mere schoolboys then, in ages ranging from twelve to fourteen, and though well-built in body, their emotional maturity and ability to understand themselves outside of tennis were still underdeveloped. Who could blame them?
... and talk about our dreams of a tomorrow that's greater than yesterday.
There were always eight regular spots, but that particular year had rich pickings for Seigaku, as it had nine unusually gifted players fighting for those spots. Echizen Ryoma, a tiny, ill-mannered freshman in a little white cap, had upset the equation when he joined as Talent No. 9, Tezuka No. 2, but instead of splitting the team asunder, his loner nature was somehow tamed by the general easygoing spirit and friendliness (and Momoshiro Takeshi's after-training burger invitations) that characterised the Seigaku regulars. The main thing was, they were the legendary Seigaku team once, all nine of them, and even today, years later, people speak the name of Seigaku in hushed, awed tones. If you go to the Kanto Regional Tennis Tournaments every year, you will hear the same thing over and over again, because people never stop talking about it. There will be someone, always, who tells the story of the Seigaku-Hyoutei and Seigaku-Rikkaidai matches that took place years ago. Yes, today's Seigaku, Rikkaidai and Hyoutei are still powerhouses on the junior high tennis circuits, that someone will say, but ah! you should have been there in the 90s, when Seigaku was not only the best team, but the greatest, the very greatest.
People all over Japan know the name of Tezuka Kunimitsu. Whatever sport, whatever team, everyone knows that name. He is now amongst the crop of young Japanese tennis stars making their mark internationally, but a long time ago, a very long time ago, he was known for something far greater than that. The newspapers wrote of it then; the tennis magazines talked about it for months; by the time the other sports magazines were done with the story, it had been nearly a year since the legend was born. And year after year, when covering regional tournaments, tennis magazines have a special section that reminds its readers: remember the name of Tezuka Kunimitsu, of the schoolboy captain who calmly sacrificed his genius and future for the sake of his team-mates, and who played a fierce, unforgettable match against an equally brilliant opponent. A captain who had thought nothing of his own future, but fought on with a critically-injured arm, knowing that to retire from the match would be to forfeit it—and cripple the morale of his team-mates, and who stuck to his determination to play tennis his way, come what may.
That team brought home the Nationals title for Seishun Gakuen Junior High, and on its way, swept the district champion title, the prefectural title and the Kanto regional title, thrashing many better-favoured teams on its way to the top. Their names are forever enshrined in gold lettering on a plaque of appreciation the school presented to them, and which now sits in pride of place in the club room near the tennis courts. Year on year, everyone in Seigaku knows the names of that particular Seigaku team. In the halls of Seishun Gakuen Junior High, and on the tennis courts, they tell not only of the selfless courage of Seigaku's captain, but also of the tennis genius Fuji Syuusuke, second only to his captain, and who performed the strangest and most wonderful tennis movements seen at the tournament, collectively known as the Fuji Triple Counter during his Seigaku-Hyoutei match, and then slew Rikkaidai's Kirihara Akaya in seven games, even after being deliberately hit in his right shin several times by Kirihara's ball. And who could forget Kawamura Takashi, who refused to back down from a power battle of the fearsome Hadoukyuu, in a match that ended halfway as both Kawamura and his Hyoutei opponent bled from the excessive force they had to use for the stroke?
Then there is the crazy story of Momoshiro Takeshi and Kikimaru Eiji, the madcap doubles pairing who had never played together before, never, not even a single practice match as a doubles pair, but who during the course of a Kanto match displayed an astonishing rhythm so matching as to be able to perform the Australian Formation at first attempt, with unbelievable success. Their Kanto match was to be the first and last time they played together as a pair. Crazy, definitely. Lucky also, decidedly! And, of course, Inui Sadaharu and Kaidoh Kaoru, who first publicly showed the brilliance of Data Tennis in doubles, a strategy that worked only because of Inui's mathematical and scientific prowess, and Kaidoh's unshakeable trust in his doubles partner. Kaidoh Kaoru single-handedly defended the court against the opposing doubles pair for three straight games, during which Inui Sadaharu stood, observed, and processed the way their opponents played. It was a mad gamble, and only the Seigaku players from that year could have had the guts and the belief to have pulled it off. And Inui Sadaharu would later defeat Rikkadai's Yanagi Renji in a magnificent see-saw match that turned the tide for Seigaku in the Kanto regionals, proving in the process that Inui without Data Tennis was equally scintillating.
And all their movements would live on in Echizen Ryoma, once the tiny freshman from Seigaku who had made his mark first at Kanto, went on to defeat then top-ranking junior high player Sanada Genichirou during the Kantou finals, and today still holds the record for being the youngest ever chosen for the All-Japan Juniors.
Don't let me down, don't look back
We'll get there somehow.
We'll just follow this road that we believed in
But that is the stuff of legends, of old wives' tales from yesteryear, and snatches of forgotten songs from a golden era long past.
Fuji Syuusuke's tennis genius is now lost to the world at large, for his career lies not as a player on the international tennis circuit, but as part of the management team that oversees all the younger Japanese tennis players on the international scene, and handles every aspect of their affairs, from coaching to public relations. He is not the only former Seigaku member on the management team; Inui Sadaharu carelessly tossed aside the offer of a lucrative research position at a renowned American university to join the management team, purportedly because he could not refuse such a request from his old friends, but some suspect that the lure of an available pool of hapless subjects to experiment freely upon anytime, anywhere, was possibly too much for the precise, scientific Inui to resist.
Kawamura Takashi has given up tennis pursuant to the promise he made his father all those years ago, and has successfully inherited his father's mantel, running Kawamura Sushi. Two years ago, he took a risk and put wasabi sushi on his menu, and found unlooked-for fame when a nationally-televised food programme on the lookout for unusual dishes all over Japan came knocking on their doors. Yet Kawamura, true to his shy, unassuming and retiring nature, has resisted all temptations, advice, threats and offers to start a Kawamura Sushi franchise or to sell his wasabi sushi recipes, for he has no dreams of global domination through sushi, preferring instead to retain his little sushi place as a friendly family establishment that always keeps its doors open for Seigaku tennis teams on celebratory occasions.
In his later years in high school, Momoshiro Takeshi discovered a hitherto latent gift for snappy, expressive writing during a forced assignment for the school paper, and his passion for life and his newfound talent has translated into his becoming a young, freelance sports journalist and accidental photographer, courtesy of a birthday present from Echizen Ryoma, who from all reports is bitterly rueing the day he bought his Momo-senpai the camera. Momoshiro is in great demand by sports magazines and newspapers around the world, for his domain lies in tennis, where he has gained fame for his exclusive and brilliant, if unorthodox interviews with his old team-mates and rivals who are now taking the international tennis world by storm. He is especially famous for that candid shot of Echizen Ryoma stuffing his face with burgers.
Kikumaru Eiji, on the other hand, doesn't play on the international circuit. For a time, Kikumaru and his old doubles partner, Oishi Syuichirou, coached Seigaku Junior High's tennis team, for Ryuzaki-sensei has finally retired, having discovered that she cannot shout as loudly as she used to. Now Yamato Yuudai is coaching Seigaku instead, and Kikumaru co-hosts a popular weekly entertainment talkshow which specialises in capturing hidden glimpses into the lives of Japanese sports stars, particularly those playing on the international tennis circuit, whilst Oishi is quietly working his way up in the orthopaedic department of a hospital. The old myth about the Golden Pair staying together until Kikumaru can beat Oishi, has long been exploded, because it doesn't matter any longer, whether Kikumaru can beat Oishi or not. The Golden Pair are now together in more ways than one—and perhaps they have always been so from the beginning.
Of the Seishun Gakuen team of old, only three of them have chosen tennis as their career, consigning their entire future to the odds of how well they can hit a little yellow ball. In the 90s, the tennis world was swept by the Russians; in the early twenty-first century, Tezuka Kunimitsu, Echizen Ryoma and Kaidoh Kaoru were part of the invasion of Japan when they were but teenagers, beginning by first leading the sweep of the international youth circuit tennis titles within a year of their debut, and riding on the crest of that brilliance to burst on to the men's circuit in the following year. Tezuka Kunimitsu and Kaidoh Kaoru each play their own brand of tennis, and the Tezuka Zone still traps Tezuka's opponents in every match, however wily they may be, whereas Kaidoh's Boomerang Snake tends to strike terror into the hearts of both his opponent and the umpire refereeing their match.
But it is in Echizen Ryoma that the rest of Seigaku still lives, for sometimes he employs the Fuji Triple Counters, and occasionally, when Momoshiro Takeshi is watching, Echizen executes a Super Momoshiro Special Dunk Smash, just to needle the other man. Echizen once won a match through doing nothing but acrobatic play, a la Kikumaru; another time, he completely psyched his opponent out, murmuring percentages and all-too-accurate predictions under his breath, in a peerless copy of Inui Sadaharu's Data Tennis. And Echizen's opponents are known to skip hastily out of the way when he finishes a set off with a Dash Hadoukyuu, or to freeze when he lobs a ball so high that it spirals upwards, out of sight and unreachable, before falling to earth in a manner so precise that it lands squarely on the baseline of the singles court.
Don't let me down, don't look back
In this wide world,
let's search for the place the brilliant light shines upon
The hands of time are swifter than we know, and changes run by us quicker than the simple bubbling of a stream. Today you're a young schoolboy, late for school, and your favourite part of the day is when the school bell rings for the end of lessons, and you throw everything into your bag in a slap-dash fashion and race to the green courts that have been beckoning for you every minute of every lesson. But then the pale pink petals that are so easily crushed beneath your sports shoes give way to the darker green leaves of summer, and before you know it, your beloved green courts are dotted with dying leaves of gold, red and brown. And as you dart round the bend of the road in the impatience of youth, the trees around you are suddenly bare, denuded of their beauty, and soft white flakes begin to fall from above, melting at a single touch. You are a schoolboy no longer.
Success never comes easily, and the paths that lay before you in the past were many, and you did what you thought was best for you, but it was not always the right choice. "I'll do this," you said, but you buried your youth, even though you thought you would hold it forever, and you screwed up when you thought you had everything perfectly figured out. But you know, you cannot simply cast aside the strings fate has tied for you and go on your own merry way.
Everyone you meet has an effect on your destiny, or else you have affected theirs in some palpable way, from the postman who delivers your letters to the stranger in the blue flowered dress who had a stand-up fight with you over the last available autographed copy of a Kaidoh Kaoru photograph. And destiny has a way of picking up those threads when you least expect; your future sister-in-law could be the postman's ex-wife, and your new neighbour is the stranger in the blue flowered dress whose hair you tore out the last time you met. For those who had once been the boys from Seishun Gakuen, the strings were not merely tugged at. Rather, it was with almighty force that destiny reeled those threads in all at once, and the resultant crashing of heads and flailing limbs would have been beautiful to behold under other circumstances.
Don't let me down, don't look back
Without standing still any more,
we'll just follow this road that we believed in
My name is Osakada Tomoka and I was there, right at the beginning of things, when Ryoma-sama came to Seishun Gakuen Junior High. He was in my class, and I knew he was special from the moment I saw him, not just because my best friend, Sakuno-chan, had the mother of all crushes on him, but because he was, well, Ryoma-sama. I'd never played tennis in my life then, but I can recognise a genius when I see one, and I knew it was a sign that we'd win the National title that year. A team with Tezuka-buchou, Oishi-senpai, Kikumaru-senpai, Fuji-senpai, Kawamura-senpai, Momo-chan-senpai, Kaidoh-senpai and Ryoma-sama—we couldn't lose, even when Tezuka-buchou had to leave to get his shoulder properly treated. The other teams thought we had been weakened, but they underestimated us. A team is not built on the shoulders of one person alone, and Seigaku always bore its burdens on fourteen shoulders and one Pillar, except that we had two Pillars that year. We had the greatest team ever—but also the stupidest. Stupid boys grow up into stupid men, you know? I'm pretty sure Inui-senpai will have some statistics on that, and I can tell you he was the 12.5% part of the team who wasn't quite so dumb.
—Well, to be fair, they are no longer quite so stupid as they once were, but it has taken years of silence, years of careful waltzing around the truth, years of denial, years of waiting and waiting and waiting—and a brief, short period of a few months, when destiny hauled in those strings, and everything blazed into terrifying life, as time, fate and all forces seemed dead set against them.
It's only a matter of time before the truth gets out, and gets distorted by those totally disgusting, perverted, scum-of-the-earth entertainment magazines and tabloids, but until then—and until Fuji-senpai sues the clothes off their back—someone's going to have to record what really happened and why—and as the President of the International Seishun Gakuen Tennis Fanclub, it is my duty and indeed my honour to do so.