"This is a complete waste of time," Ota Reiko declared as the elevator rose swiftly through the Tokyo high-rise. The studio occupied the bulk of the forty-eighth and forty-ninth floors, necessitating the express elevator.

"It is nothing of the sort, Ota-san," her editor stated primly. "This is an excellent opportunity to encourage the efforts and morale of the voice actors and production staff in the series. Remember that the more well-received the production is, the greater the marketing potential. It's not only DVD sales of the anime itself, or the advertising value for your manga, but also the tie-in merchandizing rights. Those can be very valuable, too—even for you, as the creator."

"I can hardly contain myself."

Tsukimura Hoshi sighed bitterly.

"Ota-san, I do not think you realize how rare it is for an ongoing manga only on its second volume to be adapted for an anime series."

"So do you think this one will have a slapdash, hastily-thrown-together ending, or just stop when they run out of material with no ending at all?"

Tsukimura made a kind of strangled noise in his throat.

"Please, Ota-san, be civil!"

Reiko sighed.

"Very well."

God, this is pointless.

A soft chime announced their arrival and the elevator doors opened into a tiny foyer occupied only by a trash can and glass double doors bearing the name of the studio. They entered the well-appointed reception area to find three people waiting for them.

"Good morning, Reiko-sensei, Tsukimura-san. It's a pleasure to meet you," said a somewhat portly man in his fifties with balding hair and round-framed glasses. "I'm Goto Kintaro, the producer assigned by the studio to this project. I can't tell you what an honor it is to be working on My Bremen Love."

"You flatter me," Reiko demurred. "It's nothing impressive."

It was easily to politely downplay the idea because frankly My Bremen Love was crap, so far as Reiko was concerned. She'd come up with it three years ago, when she was still in her mid-teens, and that was pretty much the limit for who could possibly like it. It was mindless, romantic drivel about a village of magical animals that could turn into people (or possibly vice versa). And if she wanted a career in manga, she had better deliver thirty pages a month of it regardless of what she wanted.

Her parents had thought the whole idea was stupid, that she should go to college and find a decent job instead of living vaguely disreputable dreams. They hadn't spoken since Reiko had signed a contract for Bremen and moved to Tokyo. And she'd been right—she was a success. Only instead of living her creative dreams, she was working her fingers to the bone (couldn't the publisher find her a damn assistant?) grinding out junk she hated with every panel and no time or energy to even think about working on something she was actually interested in.

Every time she brought up the idea of ending Bremen, the answer was made very plain to her: no. And the subtext was very plain as well, that if she quit it on her own no company would take a chance on such an unreliable artist's work again. So if she wanted to stop Bremen, then that was it, she'd be done—all-the-way done. Unemployed, without training, in the city.

Or crawling back home to her parents.

Or stay, become a success in her chosen field, working on things that were nothing like she wanted to do, and worse yet being typecast. Her publisher had already gotten her to do a by-the-numbers one-shot for an anthology special, pure pap without even the grace of Bremen's ongoing plotline to dignify it.

"This is Okuda Rina," Goto continued the introductions with a gesture towards a tall woman in her late thirties with pale lavender hair pulled back in a French braid, wearing a dark blue skirt-suit and white blouse. "Okuda-san is the director for this project. We feel very lucky to have her; you may recall her work on last season's Valkyrie Dawn, or the theatrical release of Midnight Holy Dreamer?"

Reiko did not, since she never watched anime, but she had been made aware of the stature of the staff assigned to the project through her publisher, since after all it affected their bottom line as well as, by proxy, her own. She knew that Okuda was a solid professional, not an A-list star but only one step down from there.

"I am pleased to meet you, Okuda-san," she lied.

"And I you. It will be a pleasure turning your vision into a production on the screen."

"I'm sure that Reiko-sensei is as eager as everyone else to see the finished project," Tsukimura rushed into the breach before Reiko could make any ill-connected remarks about her "vision."

The boy seems to be able to learn,she thought, as she had in fact been about to say something biting and sarcastic. How curious.

"Finally," Goto said, "I'd like to introduce the star of our production." He stepped aside and beckoned forward a girl around Reiko's age with a pixie face and long brown hair done up in twintails. She looked completely wrong next to the corporate-looking pair, dressed as she was in a T-shirt, skirt, leg warmers, and high-tops. "Corona is one of our affiliated recording studio's successful idols. She's been cast to play the part of Jenny, and in addition one of the songs from her upcoming album, 'Love/Love/Live,' has been chosen to be the ending theme, as we believe it reflects the spirit of your creation."

Reiko could not argue, she decided, with that sentiment. Using a preexisting song as a theme instead of specially creating one did accurately reflect the total lack of originality and commercialized cynicism that was the spirit of My Bremen Love. She wouldn't have wasted the effort on it, either, if the choice had been up to her. Slap on some B-side fodder and use the cross-promotional aspect to prop up sales, that sounded about right.

"I approve of your decision, Goto-san, Okuda-san. I am sure that Corona-san's efforts will suit the work well."

There was a sudden narrowing of the idol's eyes, a flash of something in them. She, apparently, had been able to pick up that Reiko, while being entirely truthful that time, had not meant what she said as a compliment towards Corona (or Bremen, for that matter).

From the introductions, they proceeded to Goto's well-appointed office where the next hour and a half passed in a haze of terminal boredom, the polite compliments flowing like the sickly-sweet smell of decay and the discussion of possible marketing events where Reiko would be dragged out and displayed for her idiotic fans to yap at and drool over breaking up the boredom with moments of utter disgust. Corona didn't seem particularly impressed by it all, either, except for her planned live appearances and details of her disc releases. Reiko felt at least a little in sympathy with the idol for their shared boredom.

When her sentence was served and Goto chose to release them from their prison, Reiko took advantage of the opportunity to depart as soon as the acceptable limits of courtesy allowed, all but dragging her editor in her wake. She soon realized, though, that she'd been too hasty to make her escape.

"Damn, I forgot my sketchbook."

"Your—"

"My sketchbook," she repeated. "I'd brought it with me in case there was anything to discuss about the actual content of the show at today's meeting." Or if I became even more terminally bored than I could believe. She'd been about one cliché away from sketching everyone as Bremen-animals to pass the time: Goto as a slug, for example, Corona as a magpie, and so on.

Tsukimura glanced at his watch.

"We're running late as it is. Can't we just ask them to send it to you?"

"Certainly, if you don't mind giving me an extra two days to get this month's chapter to you. That sketchbook has my designs for the two new characters in it."

The editor sighed, defeated.

"Fine. I'll get the car while you're going to fetch it."

The elevator stopped at the building lobby; Tsukimura got out and Reiko hit the button to return to the studio. She hadn't been completely telling the truth: she could easily recreate the work from memory as it wasn't like the Bremen characters were somehow original enough to require references. Or thought. Heck, name a character's age, gender, animal, and a couple of personality tags and any reader ought to know exactly what he or she would look like down to clothing and hair color. But she wanted her sketchbook back; it had a couple of other drawings in it of things other than Bremen and she really didn't want to risk losing those.

The studio receptionist stopped her as she walked through their waiting room.

"I'm Ota Reiko; I was just in a meeting with Goto-san and I forgot my sketchbook in his office, so I thought I'd just slip back and get it without bothering anybody."

"Oh, of course, Reiko-sensei," the chirpy young woman said at once. "Go right ahead! And may I say, I'm really happy that we're going to be doing My Bremen Love. I'm such a huge fan!"

Spare me, Reiko thought.

"Thank you," she said, as much as she wanted to tell the young woman precisely how pathetic that made her and pop her bubblegum-perky day. As usual, however, Reiko said nothing, and went down the hall.

Goto's office door was cracked open slightly, and Reiko was about to walk right in when she heard a sound from the other side, a deep, masculine groan.

"Ah, yeah, like that. Damn, that's good."

Reiko peeked through the gap between door and jamb. Goto was behind his desk in his big leather chair, turned to one side with his head thrown back and his eyes half-closed to slits. Reiko didn't quite understand at first, not until she saw a pair of black high-tops and yellow leg-warmers poking out from around the side of the desk.

The director, Okuda, was sitting on the desk's corner. Her skirt was pulled halfway up her thighs and the top two buttons of her shirt undone to reveal the upper slopes of her breasts above the lace edging of her bra. Her eyes, directed at what was happening behind the desk, were hot and avid and her smile wolfish.

"Hurry up, Kintaro. I can't wait to see if 'Miss 69' lives up to her name." She rubbed her palms along her own stocking-clad thighs.

"Damn—ugh!—right she does. Gives head like—ah!—a pro! Best suggestion you—unhh!—ever had, Rina-chan, asking for her."

Okuda nibbled on the tip of her little finger.

"I knew she'd be grateful for a real break, a second-class idol like her, and..."

Reiko had already turned away and headed back down the hall before she saw, or heard, any more.

"Did you get your sketchbook all right?" the perky receptionist said as Reiko returned to the waiting room.

"Goto-san was...in a meeting," she said. "If you could just have someone deliver it to Tsukimura-san at my publisher's, that will be fine. I'm sorry to be a bother—"

"No, no, it's fine! We're all so glad to be working on this project for you! We're more than happy to do whatever it takes to succeed!"

Reiko did not glance back down the hall, but the thought was inescapable.

~X X X~

Four Months Later

"We'll be asking you to make some public appearances, of course," Tsukimura blathered on over the phone. Why the man thought Reiko cared about the success of the Bremen anime at all, let alone the tiresome business details that were the affairs of marketers and accountants, was beyond her.

"Is it absolutely necessary?" Reiko sighed.

"Of course it is! Cross-promotion is everything. And between you and me, the studio is so happy with the performance that they're ready to green-light a second season! We figured that this coming October, when Volume 4 is released in stores, we'll make the official announcement, then have the series start for the winter season in January. Getting back to the topic at hand, though, we should have Corona appear with you at some of the events. After all, it's thanks to that theme song that she's about to have her biggest hit ever."

"I thought the single only released this week?" Reiko said.

"Well, yeah, but I know a guy, and projecting the numbers so far it looks like she'll have her best finish on the Oricon charts...not that that's necessarily all that, since her highest hit was eighty-third before."

Reiko snorted. No, that wasn't very good—and Corona was a bit old for an idol singer; she'd be entering the part of her career where she'd either have to establish herself based on talent instead of looks and marketing campaigns or else make a lateral move to acting, VA work, or so on. No wonder she was so interested in getting the 'Jenny' role. A rapidly fading star who'd barely had the chance to shine.

She didn't even know why she asked the next question.

"So where's she going to finish this time?"

"Sixty-nine," Tsukimura said. "I'd have liked better, but Bremen isn't exactly otaku-bait, so the merchandising patterns are a little different."

Reiko was silent for a moment.

"Ota-san?"

"Tsukimura-san, can the company buy, say, a hundred copies of the single?"

"Why?"

"I thought we could give them away as promotional items—say, to the first hundred fans who come in cosplay to the signing next week?"

"Now, say, that's...that's a good idea!"

She'd thought he'd react that way. If it made her want to vomit, her editor was sure to love it.

"And," she added, "if we buy retail, it might bump sales of the single up a notch or two, which in turn makes your marketing look better." Just because she thought it was stupid didn't mean that she wasn't paying attention.

"Excellent idea, Ota-san! I'll tell marketing right away!"

"Good. Now can I get back to work, already?" She hung up on him without waiting for an answer.

Why had she done that, she wondered? All right, it wasn't her money, but the idea of handing out CDs to autograph-seekers dressed in Bremen costumes made her guts churn. It definitely wasn't like her to feel sorry for someone.

She supposed it just felt like, in some ways, she and Corona were kindred spirits.

~X X X~

A/N: The title of Corona's hit and the fact that it was the Bremen ED was taken from the booklet that came with the LE of Geneon's original release of vol. 3 of the anime. Other details, such as what Bremen is about, that vol. 4 was the one which Himeko wanted to buy in ep. 8 of the anime, that Corona played Jenny, and so on, were taken from the Drama CD. Reiko having some sympathy towards/with Corona is pretty much a manga thing. And while the anime shows that Corona had "casting couch" experiences on the way to becoming an idol, just why it bothers her so damn much to be low-rated by one spot (and a spot that, as even Nekoko is able to point out, really doesn't make much of a difference) is my own creation. Hey, I had to have at least one original idea for the fic, right?