"The World of the Ideas?" Yamada Kouji asked when the animation director was informing the staff about a possible new project.
"That's right, Yamada-kun. It's a hit in Jump and it would be good for our studio to animate it. We lost The History Agent, but we can grab this one, as soon as the author agrees." The old man answered. Kouji didn't comment anything on the matter.
Chapter 18: Magic Leaf and a special place
Yamada Zenjirou was able to open his own animation studio one year after marrying his childhood friend Hana Akane. She was a beautiful and popular seyuu who could have had her carrier ruined because of her engagement, but thanks to the love story of Azuki Miho and Mashiro Moritaka, she was able to continue her work. The press had treated the relationship between Zenjirou and Akane like a new fairy tale made of dreams and promises, easily relatable to Ashirogi's story. The attention given by the newspapers helped Zenjirou to get sponsors and open his studio. However, the situation of the young couple would change.
They soon became old news and had to struggle to survive. Akane got pregnant and became a workaholic in a desperate effort to sustain her family. Magic Leaf never managed to grow into a big studio, having few projects each year and making little money. Due to the stress, Akane lost her first child. Zenjirou told her that they could try again sometime later and dedicated himself entirely to work, like he always did. Akane tried not to be a bother to the man and his dream. Even though her heart was shattered and she cried every day, she did her best to support Zenjirou. A few months later, she got pregnant again. Kouji would be born healthily to grow up in an unhappy family. The few times his father had dinner with him and Akane were swallowed in a heavy silence. His mother would never smile when that man was around. Frequently the boy would hear his mother crying, locked in her bedroom. However, in front of her son, she would force a smile and tell him that everything was perfectly fine.
One day, Kouji visited his father in the Magic Leaf, on his way back from school, to talk to the man.
"Dad, why do you spend more time here than in home?" The boy asked, looking up to the man editing an episode of an anime.
"Because I'm pursuing my dream, Kouji. I'll give everything I have to turn Magic Leaf into a big and famous studio." Zenjirou replied proudly.
"Mom is always sad." Kouji said unhappily. The adult looked down at the small boy and sighed.
"Your mother is a woman. She can't understand a man's dream. The only happiness a woman can achieve is to give herself entirely to her family and support her husband. Your mother has to work because I still can't sustain our family. Once the studio grows and I make good money, Aka-chan will be able to leave her job and become a happy housewife."
"Mom likes her job. She's unhappy because you're never with us. If the studio grows, you'll spend even less time with us." Kouji said. Zenjirou slept the boy, furiously.
"Don't be so cocky, you brat! As if a child like you could understand an adult's feelings! You know nothing! You're a child!"
Kouji ran from the studio, crying. When he got home, his mother was still working. Desperate to evade his mind to a place where he wouldn't need to think about his problems, he looked for a videogame in a little room used by his parents as a deposit. He found a not-labeled DVD. Curious, he took it to his room and ran it in his computer. It was a video featured by a young couple: a man with dark hair and small eyes and a beautiful woman with long silver hair and big blue eyes. It was strange for Kouji to see his parents beaming and laughing in that distant past.
"Hello, children of the future, this is your Dad talking. Have you been good siblings to each other?"
"Honey, we just got married, you should at least wait until I'm pregnant to make this video."
"Come on, Aka-chan, let's enjoy the moment. Okay, sons and daughters, we're recording this moment to you so you can know how our life together began. I've been in love with Aka-chan since I was little and perhaps I would have never found the courage to express my feelings toward her if it weren't for Ashirogi Muto."
"It's a funny story that they inspired you to confess to me. Children, a seyuu called Azuki Miho, with whom I worked once, and a mangaka called Mashiro Moritaka, the artist of the Ashirogi Muto partnership, had promised to each other to get married when she dubbed the heroine of a manga created by the duo."
"Isn't it beautiful? The same day I read about their story in the newspaper I told your mother that I loved her and proposed to her. And she said yes! Do you imagine how happy I was?"
"So we made our own promise that I would dub a character of an anime Zenjirou is going to make."
"And it must be based on a work of Ashirogi Muto. It will be perfect!" The man said, kissing passionately his wife.
"In the future I'll be the greatest seyuu and the Magic Leaf will be the greatest animation studio." Akane stated, smiling widely. Kouji stopped the video and turned off the computer. He couldn't watch it any longer. That night, his parents had a big fight.
"WHAT HAVE YOU TOLD KOUJI, YOU STUPID WOMAN?"
"What are you talking about?"
"HE DISTURBED ME IN THE STUDIO TO TELL ME THAT YOU'RE UNHAPPY BECAUSE I'M NEVER IN HOME!"
"He's intelligent. He must have noticed how I felt. But I never told him-"
"SO YOU'RE UNHAPPY? WE DEAL WITH SOME MISFORTUNE AND YOU DON'T WANT TO SUPPORT ME ANYMORE, IS THAT RIGHT?"
"I've supported you for ten years! I've almost killed myself working to bring food to this house while you were locked in that studio! I practically raised Kouji by myself to support you! I LOST MY FIRST CHILD TO SUPPORT YOU!"
Kouji, from his room, heard his mother crying. Two minutes later, Zenjirou spoke:
"I-I just need a hit anime to make the Magic Leaf grow. An anime based on a manga made by Ashirogi Muto. Then we can make our dream-"
"I no longer have dreams." Akane's voice was deeply sad. "Neither do I care about silly old promises. Never mention that promise again."
From that day on, Kouji would hear his parents argue many times. A certain day, he surprised his mother sitting on the living room's couch grabbing a flask of sleep pills. She stared at the medicine hopelessly, as if she wished to sleep and never wake up again, desperately trying to run away from everything. When she realized that Kouji was there, she quickly hid the flask in her purse and told him that she had to go to the Bank to talk to someone so they wouldn't lose their apartment. When she was at the door, the boy hugged her from behind and cried. Without turning around, she whispered:
"Never become like your father, Kouji."
Things seemed to get better after that day. Akane was cheerful and visited the bank regularly. Kouji thought that maybe his parents were solving their problems. But it didn't take too long for them to fight again.
"Zenjirou, we can't live like this anymore! We barely have the money to buy food!"
"Aka-chan, be a little more patient! There hasn't been any work lately!"
"That's because nobody wants to entrust an anime to your bankrupt studio!"
"Don't talk like that about Magic Leaf! We just need a hit anime. Something from Jump!"
"As if anyone in Jump would do business with you! You have to sell the studio, there's no other choice!"
"The studio is my life! Animation is my life! I rather die than selling Magic Leaf!"
"Your family is supposed to be the most important thing in your life, Zenjirou! You've always been a negligent husband and father! If you don't sell your studio and get a new job, I'm going to take Kouji and leave you!"
"You think I don't know the truth? You're having an affair with that banker! You're leaving me so you can run into that rich guy's arms!"
"Can you blame me? He cares for me! He loves me! Different from you who only thinks about yourself! I LOVE HIM MORE THAN YOU!"
"YOU'RE MY WIFE! YOU SHOULD BE WITH ME FOREVER! HOW CAN YOU FALL FOR SOMEONE ELSE?!"
The next day, Akane took Kouji and moved to Hasegawa Junpei's apartment. He was a good man, a banker, and was always kind to both mother and son. However, Kouji couldn't bring himself to like that man. One year later, he saw his father in front of Hasegawa's building. The animator had let his beard grow and smelled like vodka. Kouji approached Zenjirou hesitantly, shocked by the vision of his father in that state. The adult turned to the boy and smiled. His eyes twinkled madly.
"I wasn't able to talk to your Mom. How are the two of you doing?"
"What happened to you?" Kouji questioned. Zenjirou trembled and looked up at the building.
"You must be doing great. Living in this luxurious place with that rich guy… a random guy who showed up from nowhere… and stole her from me… everybody abandoned me." He clenched his fists fiercely. "You know, Kouji? When I was young, people told me that I was one of the best animators in Japan. I had the dream of opening my own studio. I loved your mother, but I didn't have the courage to confess to her. It's stupid, but… when I heard about Mashiro Moritaka and Azuki Miho, I decided to give it a try. I pursued my dream and my love, but…"
Big tears fell from the man's eyes, Kouji wanted to cry too.
"Why couldn't we be as happy as them? Didn't we work hard? Didn't we love each other? What went wrong? Why instead of reaching our dreams… we were crashed by reality? You know, Kouji? Everything we learn in mangas and animes are lies. Life is nothing more than a road to despair… we're just lying to ourselves the whole time… trying to believe in things like dreams, love and happiness… we are so stupid."
Zenjirou walked away slowly. Frightened, Kouji asked:
"Dad, where are you going?"
The animator turned around and forced a smile in his wet face.
"I'm going to a special place, Kouji… a beautiful and perfect place. This is farewell. Don't let your life end up like mine."
The next morning, Kouji was awoken by his mother's sobs coming from the kitchen. Hasegawa was trying to comfort her.
"I have influence in the newspapers. They'll treat it like an accident. Nobody will know."
"H-he locked all the doors and windows of the studio… h-he threw gasoline everywhere… I can't believe he did this. It's my fault."
"Don't blame yourself! There was nothing you could do for him. If at least he had sold the studio-"
"The Magic Leaf was his life… that was the only way for him to put an end in his life… my poor Zenjirou…"
Kouji became an introspective person. He left that apartment at the age of 15 years old, refusing any money from Hasegawa and cutting relations with his mother. He didn't know what to do. There was a nasty feeling perpetually in his chest. A mix of emptiness, hatred, sadness, despair, confusion, fury, revolt… hidden behind a smiling face.
His world went upside down when he saw a paper falling from the notebook of a classmate. He picked it up and saw a drawing of himself. The drawing style was familiar to him. The classmate's name was Mashiro Yume.
For the first time, Yamada Kouji knew what to do.
"I'd like to make an anime based on your manga!"
"Yeah. Ichigo and I will write a great manga, then you can animate it and then... and then..."
"It's all in the past and the future is the only thing that matters, right?"
"Mashiro-san, it was the first time that anyone ever…"
"I'm looking forward the day when our dreams become true."
'Do you want to go to the Pizza Hut near our old school at ten o'clock tonight?'
'I would love to go.See you at the Pizza Hut at ten o'clock at night.Kisses!'
"Excuse me, are you Mashiro-san?"
"There's a young man outside, wearing a blazer; he described you and said that he needed to talk to you urgently."
"Sorry, Yamada-kun, I'll be right back,"
Who is that guy? Why did she go outside for him?
"It's rare to see you read manga, Yamada-kun."
"Mashiro-san emailed me about the debut of a friend of ours. I'm reading his piece out of curiosity."
"Is it good?"
"I guess so."
"This Mashiro-san is the mangaka girl you always talk about, right? What is your relationship with her exactly?"
"I'd say Mashiro-san is my bridge. I need her more than anything in the world."
"…y-you see, there's this wonderful girl who lives in the apartment in front of mine… I knew her before we were neighbors, actually… I-I mean… she's the source of my happiness and motivation… and she's going to assist me…"
"I'm Hiramaru Takuya, what's your name?"
"You can call me Zenjirou."
"Takuya-san, you're such a sweet and innocent person. I'm sorry to do this, but, as your friend, I must open your eyes. As a neutral bystander I can clearly see that neither Akira-san nor Yume-san care about you. Both of them just wanted to take advantage of your talent for their own purposes."
"Fate doesn't exist!"
"Yume-san and Yamada-san would be the couple based on dreams and promises. Do you know what that means?"
"It means that, no matter what happens or who appears, they will end up together. The heroine always chooses the hero and someone like you, who appeared from nowhere in the middle of the story, can never stay with the heroine at the end of it. If you believe in fate, then you should see what fate states for her. You should give up on Yume-san."
"… Y-Yamabaka is the hero of the story?"
"Your love battle is lost. Minor characters never are chosen by the heroines. You must find your own path and your own story."
It is all over now.
"If you go back to them, you'll only find misery!"
"I've been living the happiest time of my life since I met them."
"Zenjirou was my father's name. He owned an animation studio called Magic Leaf. He was once called one of the best animators in Japan. But the business weren't going well and my cursed mother abandoned him to live with a guy who showed up from nowhere. She had married my father, she had promised to be by his side forever and never stop loving him, but that man appeared and destroyed everything."
"I'll take everything my father lost and I won't let anyone be in my way."
Yamada Kouji asked permission to leave the reunion because he wasn't feeling well. He walked slowly, taking his phone out from his pocket, and sending a text message. Everything had led to that point. His mind was clear. He knew what to do.
'Yamada-kun? It has been a long time.'
'Yes it has. I'm texting because of the news.'
'What? You already know about Ichigo and Akira going out officially? They just left for a dinner! I suspect our assistant is gossiping about us in the internet.'
'Good to know about that. I'm happy for them. Actually I wanted to talk about the anime.'
'Didn't your editor tell you? Toei wants to animate your manga. If you accept it, our dreams will become true!'
'OMG! REALLY? O:'
'I'm so happy, Yamada-kun! I barely can type now! 8D'
'I want to talk to you, if possible. Not through the phone, but face to face.'
'I understand. I need to talk to you too.'
'What I have to say is very important.'
'The same goes for me.'
'Could you meet me at that Pizza Hut? From there I want to take you to a special place?'
'A special place, Yume.'
'You just said my name.'
'Well, I typed it.'
'Even so… is everything okay?'
'Everything is perfectly fine. :)'
'I never expected you would like emoticons. ^^'
'We can't see each other's face with these messages; neither can we hear each other's voices. You have no idea what I'm feeling right now, but if I put a :) in the message you'll imagine me smiling.'
'Are you really smiling, Yamada-kun?'
'You can call me just Kouji. ;)'
'Are you smiling, Kouji-kun?'
'Kouji-kun, are you alright?'
'Didn't I tell you already that everything is perfectly fine? ^_^'
'Yes, I'm sorry.'
'Are you smiling now, Yume? :)'
'Are you smiling like you used to smile to me when we were in the same class? Are you smiling like when we made our promise? Are you smiling like in our graduation ceremony? :)'
'Why are you asking me this?'
'Why are you smiling now? :)'
'Why are you happy, Yume? :)'
'I'm happy for my friends and because of our anime. I'm happy that our dreams became true. :'D'
'Is there something else that makes you happy, Yume? :)'
'Well, I like my job and'
'Is there someone else who makes you happy, Yume? :)'
'Are you smiling for someone else, Yume? :)'
'I don't understand what you mean.'
'Never mind, I must be writing something weird because I can't hold this feeling in my chest. _'
'I'll be leaving soon. I'll wait for you in front of the Pizza Hut. :)'
'For what kind of place are we going?'
'Why do you ask? It's a surprise. _'
'But I want to know what I should wear.'
'Don't worry about that. You're always beautiful, Yume. :)'
'Oh, thank you.'
'You're welcome. :)'
'Seriously, where are we going? I need to leave a message to Ichigo.'
'Are you going to disturb your friend's date? XD'
'It's not that, but I need to tell someone where I'm going. It's late, it's a safety matter.'
'Does that mean that you don't trust me, Yume? XD'
'I didn't say that.'
'I'll take good care of you, don't worry. :)'
'I want to call you. I want to hear your voice.'
'I have to turn off my phone now, Yume. See you in front of Pizza Hut in half an hour. Bye. :)'