Disclaimer: I don't own any Azumanga Daioh characters.
Note: Better late than never.
Azumanga Game Series Part One: Versus Mode
On the West side of the stadium in the 35th row, two boys sat facing each other with cards spread in their hands.
"I'll trade you three Osakas for your Kagura," one boy said.
The other boy fingered his Kagura card suspiciously. "Which Osakas are they?"
"Two first versions, and one third."
"What's the third version?"
The first boy held up a card that depicted Osaka in a one-piece bathing suit with a lifesaver around her waist. In her left hand she held a watermelon with a smiley face painted on it, and in her right hand she held a spiked mace over her shoulder.
The second boy smiled, but it faded when he looked down to his version-four Kagura card. On the card, Kagura was portrayed from behind in a summer blue uniform. With both hands she held a bloodied baseball bat across the back of her neck, and she was smirking over her shoulder. Across the bottom of the image, right above the box of her season stats, the words 'Wanna bite?' were written in bold italics. The quote had boosted Kagura's popularity several seasons earlier when she had used them to taunt Tomo in the third round. She had won the fight, and ever since then, the quote had been spoofed in everything from movies to commercials to random blurbs used by everyday people in everyday conversation. It had been printed on everything with Kagura's brand: t-shirts, mugs, dish sets, posters, and even one dark blue DB9 Aston Martin in which Kagura had ridden one time in a parade, and that would later sell in an online auction for $500,000 to an art collector who was open about his collection of Kagura-related items.
The boy shook his head and tucked the Kagura card back into his stack. "What else do you have?"
The other boy pursed his lips and sifted through his cards. He considered giving up his version-two Kaorin that showed the girl on the inner side of a battle cage and dressed in common PE outfit. She was gripping the cage and leaning into it, smiling in a manner that could have either been flirtatious or conniving. He shook his head and continued sifting. Kaorin was his favorite player. Instead he held up a version-three card of Chiyo leaning back against what looked like an old brick wall. She was dressed in a ragged black and white school uniform, and around her neck there was a collar with two rows of spikes. Her left hand was folded behind her, and her right hand held a common switch blade, the tip of which she pressed to the corner of her smile. Kitty ears and a tail had been added via photo manipulation, she had been airbrushed to look darker than she actually was.
"How about this one?"
The second boy studied the picture for a moment and then turned his attention to the stack in the other boy's hand. "What's that one?"
"Huh?" The first boy looked down and saw the shiny gold corner of his limited-edition Nyamo sticking out. Quickly he gathered the stack together and shook his head. "I'm not trading that one."
"Is that one of the limited edition ones? Which one do you have?" From the bottom of his own stack he pulled out a golden card of a shirtless Kimura sitting in an Egyptian-style throne with a dozen scantily clad women gathered around him. Down the right side of the image were the words 'First Place.'
The first boy paused and then pulled his Nyamo card from the stack. The holographic image showed Nyamo in a bikini, reclining against the hood of a Saleen S7. Like Kimura's card, there was a quote on the right side that said simply 'The New Pink.'
"Whoa," the other boy exclaimed softly and reached out his hand to touch it.
The card was quickly tucked back to the bottom of the stack. "I said I'm not trading it."
"What if I gave you my Kagura, Kimura, and my theme-version Yukari?" He searched for his Yukari card and held it up. The card portrayed Yukari from a low angle. She was dressed like Leatherface and wielding a chainsaw over her head.
Their conversation was drowned out suddenly by the roar of the surrounding crowd. Both turned their attention down to the arena where the first player of Match 1.4 had become visible. The first boy shoved his cards back into his pocket and tugged at the sleeve of his father who sat beside him.
"Let me see," he said, pointing to the binoculars around the man's neck. His father removed the binoculars and handed them over. The boy eagerly took them and lifted them to his eyes. After focusing the lenses, he smiled when he got a look at the player who now stood stretching out her calf muscles. "Hey, it's Kaorin's friend!"
Kamineko hit the 'enter' key on his laptop and relayed a new graphic profile onto the giant television.
"Chihiro," he said, "is probably the player with the least recognition. She's never gotten past the first round, and while that's pretty pathetic, you'll never read a negative review about her performance." He chuckled softly, tapping his pen against the table. "I used to blame this on bad reporting, but now I'm convinced that newspapers and magazines just don't care enough about her to spend the space for an article. I've met Chihiro myself and I gotta say that she's a pretty nice girl, but not much else. I ran into her at an award ceremony last year when she was there for Kaorin who was nominated for a Peltzer, or something about community service. Anyways, I asked her what she thought of the award and she smiled and said, and I quote, 'It's nice.' I then asked her about Kaorin and she said 'She's really nice.' I then asked her about the games and she said 'They're good.'"
He paused again, his nose wrinkling in a manner that insinuated thoughtfulness. "Was it me? I don't know. But so what if there's not a lot of substance there? She has it a lot better than some of the other players who can't make a mistake without having it become a headline. But there's always room for that to change. Hell, for all I know, this will be the series that she ends up winning. This one will be Chihiro's big breakthrough into the spotlight that the others obtain so easily. Maybe by this time next week, we'll all be reading about Chihiro's latest buys, or looking at paparazzi pictures of her taken at the beach. "
At that moment, the second player appeared on the arena. Kamineko looked at the player, and then sighed and rested his cheek to his fist. "Or not."
The crowd continued to boil over with screams, louder this time as more banners rose and multicolored streamers began to fly. On the stadium's south side, certain sections rose from their seats and waved foam hand covers in the shapes of crabs and sake bottles. A chant started small in the back rows, and then gradually spread throughout the stadium until it drowned out the sound of the other cheers. The rhythmic call of 'Fight! Fight! Fight!' could have been used for any of the players, but it was reserved for only one. The call to fight did not refer to the games, but rather an instance in which the player herself had used the word at an inappropriate time. The excitement, however, was not shared by all. Groups of Tomo fans in particular took the opportunity to boo the upcoming competition.
Kamineko smirked at the mixed responses. "Up next is the parasite who has been happily making her home in the bowels of the series for the past some-odd years. She's about as friendly as a rattlesnake, and her temper is about as calm as a Fat Man in Nagasaki (1). Cheer all you want, but you can bet that she doesn't care about your support, your fandom, or even your life. At 25 years old she hasn't aged a day past seven. Fortunately for us all, there's only one Yukari Tanizaki walking the earth today, and she's right here."
Yukari emerged on the arena dressed in a pair of boxers, a loose fitting tank top, and a pair of slippers. Her hair was a mess and she looked for all the world as though she were asleep standing up. She didn't step down from the platform when it halted.
Fans of the 'rattlesnake' cheered for her nonetheless. Those who had watched her long enough didn't necessarily love her for all that she was, but also for all that she had failed to be. She was the water that had spilled and left the glass half empty, the cone that had cracked and let the ice cream fall, the firework that had failed to ignite. She was the anticlimax of youth, a manifestation of innocence and childish tantrums that had dragged its feet for 25 years and never ultimately bloomed. The result was a twisted confusion of girl versus woman, an ever constant struggle to define the obligations of one matured.
Chihiro had been waving pleasantly to the crowd when she heard the dull 'clank' of the second platform behind her. She turned, and all at once her cheerful demeanor dissipated. Her face went white and she backed away as far as the edges of the arena would allow. The motion was noted by Yukari fans that began to jeer and taunt her for her fear, though they knew that she had every right to be afraid.
"Yukari is the second most feared fighter in the games," Kamineko supplied to his listeners. "It's never enough for her to simply finish an opponent. She derives a sadistic pleasure from the discomfort of others, especially the younger players like Chiyo. She'll do anything to get ahead, but unlike Tomo she doesn't seem to care about the recognition she receives for her stunts. It's probably for the better because most of the attention is negative. People are still debating last year's scandal when she aired photos of the more popular Minamo Kurosawa in bed with another woman. However, Yukari's attempts at soiling Minamo's name fell through when photo analysts confirmed the other woman in the photo to be her."
From a drawer in his desk he pulled out a glossy image of the famous photo that had long since had its run through the internet and into nearly every household in which the games were regularly followed. The image had obviously been taken by a hidden camera and showed Nyamo in the center of a king-sized bed. She was curled up on her side under the covers, and resting against her was another form of which only the top half of the head could be seen. The image he held had been cleaned and sharpened, and though it wasn't obvious in the original, the cleaned image showed that it was indeed Yukari sharing the bed.
Kamineko studied the image for what had to be the thousandth time. "I was there at the press conference when Yukari said simply 'It wasn't me' before running out of the room. It was the quickest conference to date that I've ever been to, and I only wish that more could be like it."
The bell sounded for the blitz round and the crowd rose in an uproar. Chihiro stood her ground, as did Yukari. Kamineko leaned back in his seat and folded his paws over his stomach. Matsuyama rolled his seat towards the front window and crossed his arms on Kamineko's desk.
"This should be interesting," the boy said.
Kamineko shook his head slowly. "I'm not so sure."
Chihiro tentatively raised her fists up. She had been fortunate in that she hadn't had to face Yukari until now, but she had heard and seen the consequences of Yukari's temper in the other players. At least Yukari didn't seem very angry right now. She didn't seem very much of anything. She hadn't even opened her eyes. Chihiro took a small step forward and then several side steps, sometimes flinching when she thought she saw Yukari move.
The seconds ticked away from the Blitz round and the audience began to stir.
"Come on!" a large man in a Tomo shirt shouted through cupped hands. His friends, also in Tomo shirts, stood up and began throwing their garbage towards the arena.
"What're ya waiting for?"
Similar cries came from all around the stadium and gradually became more insistent. Excitement turned to anger, anticipation to boredom, and hateful words, along with shoes, hats, bags, and random souvenirs, began to fly in Chihiro's direction.
Chihiro hunched her shoulders and looked between Yukari and the crowd, quickly wiping at her eyes. If only they knew what it was like to be standing so close to death. She wondered if any of them had ever been scared to the point of tears, or forced into doing something that they absolutely didn't want to do. She didn't know what was wrong with Yukari, but she knew already that she didn't stand a chance. Yukari lost more rounds than she won, but she never went down easy or painlessly. Yomi had lost an ear one year, and Chiyo both of her eyes. Tomo had faced her in the first round several years ago, though she had won and spent the rest of the tournament with first degree burns all over her body. Yukari's mutilation of Kimura had by far been the worst of all, so awful that Chihiro blocked the memory before it had a chance to form.
The buzzer signaled the end of the Blitz round. At the ends of the stadium there rose two separate platforms, each carrying a weapon to be used for the rest of the match.
Chihiro wiped her eyes again and glanced behind her to the closest platform. Keeping her attention on Yukari, she shuffled back to the platform and carefully crouched to pick up the presented item.
The item was what looked to be a wooden bo staff with the word 'meta' carved into the side of it. Chihiro held the staff in both hands and gave it a twirl to test its weight distribution. The crowd cheered as she did this and gradually their ill words changed into ones of encouragement.
Even with such a long weapon, Chihiro didn't feel confident in her abilities to face Yukari. She held the staff in a ready position but didn't make any move to approach her opponent. Her knuckles went white and her shoulders trembled gently.
Yukari's lips parted and she swayed lightly with a breeze that blew through the stadium.
Kamineko watched the unfolding scenario with a confused look.
"Well," he sighed at last, "this is a little different. I don't really know what to say. Yukari is normally the most violent player in the games and…hm…I guess we're gonna go ahead to commercial, but stay tuned. We'll be right back with more Death Match action." He cut the receiver and pulled his headset down around his neck. He folded his arms and looked at Matsuyama. Matsuyama looked back and shrugged.
Two hours later, Chihiro sat cross legged near the edge of the stadium, ignoring the yells and curses that were once again being directed at her. Most of the people in the audience had long since lost interest in whatever was taking place on the arena and had directed their attention to other things. Some slept, others played cards, and some had even gotten up and left.
Kamineko had his head buried in his arms on his desk. Matsuyama sat beside him, enthralled with a game of Spider Solitaire on his computer.
"So what about Eiko?" the boy asked.
Kamineko, drowsy, lifted his head. "Huh?"
"What about her?"
"Do you think she likes me?"
Kamineko looked at him as one might look at a pathetic attempt at humor. "I don't even think she knows you."
"But you were there that one time at dinner, right? She sat next to me."
"And didn't look at you the entire time. Besides, she's too old for you. You're nothing but jailbait."
"Only if we got caught."
Kamineko flattened his ears back, but then sighed and looked down at the arena where he could see Eiko sitting on the sidelines with the penguin. "Trust me when I say that'll never happen. You're not her type."
Matsuyama frowned to say something, but at that moment the door opened and a white cat entered followed by what looked like a large duffle bag with two little legs.
"Sorry I'm late," the cat said and hung up his hat and coat by the door. "Traffic was a bitch."
Kamineko swiveled in his seat. "Probably because of all the people leaving," he replied, scooting his chair over to make room for the other feline.
The duffle bag that had been following the white cat lifted up to reveal a smaller white cat. The little cat tossed the bag down and then sat on top of it, grinning pleasantly.
The larger white cat climbed up into the chair beside Kamineko. "Yeah, we've been hearing about it on the radio. She still hasn't moved?"
"Not a damn bit. I'm tempted to just go down there and fight her myself."
"It would send ratings through the roof if you did."
"No," Kamineko said darkly.
"Aw, come on. It would be the comeback of a lifetime."
"Easy to say for someone who's never even been on the arena."
The white cat winced. "Ouch."
"Anyways, I haven't even-"
A sudden surge of cheers from the crowd severed his remark. Both cats perked their ears and looked down onto the school roof.
Chihiro had shot to her feet and was once again holding her staff ready. She was shifting back and forth as though she had stepped in an ant pile. Out in the audience, people rushed back to their seats and scrambled for their banners and foam hand covers. Card games were abandoned and conversations were forgotten. Kamineko could almost see the seats filling back up, and he could feel the excitement and anticipation beginning to mount once more.
Yukari had yawned and stretched her arms above her head. When her arms dropped, she opened her eyes and gazed around the stadium as casually as she would have viewed her reflection in a bathroom mirror.
Kamineko slammed his paw against the control panel to cut whatever commercial had been airing and struggled to bring his headset back up to his ears.
"And we're back!" he said, scrambling for his notes that had since been scattered. "We're back and we're here and we're fighting! Chihiro's up and ready and Yukari has finally decided to join the land of the living and soon-to-be-dying. I'm your host Kamineko, and I'm here now with my associate, Koneko."
Koneko fixed his own headset and adjusted the volume as he replied. "It's exciting to be here as always, Kami. You know, the energy we've seen here at the games this evening has been absolutely crazy."
"And it's about to get even crazier as this match finally gets under way. It looks like Yukari's finally ready, and I can't wait to see what she has in store."
"Isn't that right. With Yukari around, I don't think the games will ever lose peoples' interest."
"Especially if people are as thirsty for blood as we are."
They both laughed, though the laughter was obviously a forced cover-up of tension as they watched the unfolding scene, hoping with every ounce of their energy that Yukari would follow through with something more.
Yukari stepped down from her platform and scratched her hip. Her gaze settled on Chihiro who looked as though she might have passed out any minute.
Chihiro had stopped shifting. Her hands gripped the staff so hard that her knuckles ached and turned purple. Sweat formed along her hairline and the back of her neck, and she suddenly felt cold and empty. With any of the other players there would have been a glimmer of hope, no matter how small, that she might have stood a chance at winning. With Yukari, there was no hope. Chihiro was not only looking at death, but a slow and tortuous demise crafted by the hands of a woman who had felt a great deal of pain in her life and knew exactly what hurt the worst.
When Yukari made no further motions, the sounds of the surrounding spectators gradually dwindled down. Those who had binoculars held them fast against their eyes, and those who didn't divided their attention between the actual event and the close-up being televised on the giant screen.
Kamineko, staring through his own binoculars, was silent. Koneko leaned forward on his elbows and whispered into his headset. "Yukari's up. She's looking around."
Yukari looked at Chihiro, and Chihiro stared right back. It wasn't long before the entire stadium had fallen into silence. Hands stilled within popcorn bags, food and drink paused halfway to mouths, and inquisitive children forgot their questions. The blunt 'thunk, thunk' of the ticking clock became audible to those in the sections closest to it. High above the bleachers, a moth flew too close to one of the halogen lights and burned to a bean-sized crisp. The brittle bit descended into the bleachers where it landed in a man's cup. The man, sitting with a mouth full of unchewed hotdog, hadn't noticed. His attention, like all others in the stadium, was on Yukari and Chihiro.
Koneko felt his fur begin to prickle. He leaned further forward, almost enough to press his nose against glass of the box. Kamineko's tail twitched, and Matsuyama forgot that he had ever been playing solitaire in the first place.
Beyond the stadium, life came to a stop. On every street and sidewalk, people halted in their tracks and turned their attention to the nearest television or radio. Traffic ceased, and so did crime. In no bar was a single drink poured during this time, nor a single word spoken. In no house did a person dare move and disrupt the delicate ramification that the people themselves had built by having waited so desperately for this one moment, the moment in which Yukari made her move.
Kamineko didn't realize that he had embedded his claws into his binoculars. Koneko felt a tightness in his throat that caused his voice to crack when he attempted to iterate the scene below.
"Chihiro's…still…" he tried, but then fell silent.
Yukari took another look around the stadium before returning her gaze Chihiro. The corners of her lips turned up in a wicked little grin and she took one step forward.
Chihiro, who had since started crying again, couldn't force herself to move. She had never been frozen with fear before and she didn't know what to do to break herself out of it.
"Think, Chihiro! Do something!" Her brain screamed for a response from her body. She couldn't just stand there and let Yukari do this. She knew what the audience expected, what they wanted. They wanted to hear her scream and watch her suffer. They wanted her blood all over that arena. That's what they were waiting for. Each and every single one of them was anticipating something terrible. If for a moment they thought that Yukari would do nothing more than push her around, they wouldn't have become nearly so silent. They were as afraid as she was in a way, but they were so far away from her that they couldn't possibly understand. If only they could feel what she felt.
On the sidelines, Eiko clenched her microphone against her chest. The penguin stood beside her, one flipper across her eyes and the other on Eiko's arm.
Eiko averted her gaze. Working at the games meant seeing a lot of blood and meat, but there were some things that not even she could learn to tolerate. Whatever Yukari had planned was definitely one of those things.
Suddenly Chihiro shook her head. She straightened, and with a determined yell, she stepped forward and hurled the bo at Yukari as though it were a spear. The bo landed short of Yukari by several feet, and the sound of wood against concrete was loud enough to echo up through the stadium.
Koneko shot up from his seat. "First attempt by Chihiro as she throws her weapon at Yukari! I don't know what she's thinking. Now she doesn't have anything but her hands to work with."
Yukari looked at the bo and then looked at Chihiro. She smirked.
Koneko tightened his paws against the table and Matsuyama too stood from his seat.
Chihiro was breathing hard, her arm still in post-throw position. She saw Yukari's smirk and it was more than enough to send her mind into a desperate panic. She turned and scrambled over the edge of the stadium, her body disappearing into the darkness below.
The silence in the stadium turned cold. Kamineko lowered his binoculars. He stared at the arena as though what he had just seen had been nothing but a figment of his imagination. Surely he and the rest of the world had not waited two hours for that.
Koneko blinked at the spot from which Chihiro had jumped.
"And Chihiro's gone," he whispered, still not sure if she was really gone or if there was something that he had missed.
Yukari paused and then turned and shuffled back onto her platform. She eyed the audience carefully, paying particular attention to the number of foam crabs and sake bottles, and posters baring her name. She then threw her arms up in a victorious gesture.
At once the crowd exploded into a riot of angry shouts mixed with a few cheers. The sound was deafening and the waves caused the foundation of the stadium to vibrate slightly.
Kamineko threw his headset down and crossed his arms. "I hate that bitch," he muttered.
Koneko only shook his head. "Well, ah…I wish that I could say more, but the match is over. Chihiro jumped, and Yukari won without even lifting a finger. It was amazing, but…"
"Amazing?" Kamineko spoke up, slamming his paw to the control panel again and sending them to commercial. "It was a waste is what it was!" He hopped down from his chair and went to the door to grab his coat. "I'm going out for a drink. Be back in a few."
Yukari sat down on her platform and tucked her knees to her chest. She wrapped her arms around her legs and buried her face against them so that the crowd wouldn't be able to see her satisfied little grin. She despised them, for they had broken her more times than they would ever know. They had made her feel things that no human should ever have to feel, and that she had affected them enough to make them angry was hardly bandage enough to cover her wounds, but it was a start.
(1). Bad joke. I'm going to Hell.
Note: Sorry. I can't promise that I'm not a psycho.