A Passion in Itself
The room was dead.
No, perhaps, the room itself was not dead, but its occupants certainly were. Moving zombies now ruled the small, hazardous apartment room labeled B-412. Anybody who dared to enter room B-412 were sucked into a void of laziness, death, insecurities, and anxiety. Despite the many windows that adorned the walls of the room B-412, it was secluded from society. Curtains blocked the burning and horrid sunlight that only gave the inhabitants of the room a headache and a desperate desire for the 'social-life'.
Of course, such a thing did not exist for the people in room B-412; it was only a figment of their crushed hopes: their locked box of 'impossible' in their hearts. Forever they would be condemned to their insufferable, detestable, demanding job—a manga artist.
"I told you I'm not going to finish it by the end of this week." A man dressed in pajamas dropped his blue head against a smooth, grey table. His skin stood out from the rest of the moving zombies of the room: a dark, tanned tone that told the man could be a ganguro—despite his many protests. His cell phone laid lazily by his head, the words Annoying Editor flashing on the screen.
"B-but, Aomine-sensei!" his editor cried. "I already pushed the deadline as far as I can go! The publishers can't delay it any longer!"
"Well, tell them to fuck off," the supposed Aomine snapped. "I have eleven more pages to go, and I sure as hell am not going to finish them by the end of this week." Dark rings decorated underneath his blue, tired eyes, screaming 'lack of sleep' to anybody who saw them.
The line was cut. Aomine threw his cell phone to the wall, damaging it efficiently. He sighed with satisfaction and slid into his chair. "Peace, finally."
Room B-412 was set into a rather unique room, much different from regular work-spaces for its inhabitants' occupation. Seven, long tables connected to form a rectangular shape with wide and empty space in the middle (this served as the 'trash' area). Unlike many people who took on their occupation, these occupants did not have extra tables for their assistants. Certainly, however, room B-412 did not host 'regular artists'. It hosted a different kind of artists, prodigies one might say. Room B-412 or rather, the entire apartment building, accommodated the Generation of Artists—managa artists.
A blond man slithered his way back to his seat, practically collapsing on his table with a thud. He, too, was not dressed appropriately for work, and it looked as if he had not shaved in quite a while. Death reeked off his un-showered body. His phone rang. Without looking up, a pale, shaking hand barely managed to answer it.
"Mm?" he mumbled.
"Kise-sensei? Sensei, have you finished your story board?" the man's editor sounded frantic. "You said you would have it done by today?"
Kise shuffled through his papers with one hand. "No," he slumped into his chair. "I decided the story was no good, so I started over."
"What? But why? It—it was fine the way it is." His editor sounded like he was sobbing. Being an editor for one of the Generation of Artists was not an easy job.
"I'll turn it in when I'm," Kise yawned. ". . . done." He turned off his phone. "I should have pursued in modeling."
Shakily, he straightened in his chair. His usual, perfect blond hair was now a messy, flop of dirty blond strands. This was most upsetting to the ex-model, but there was nothing he could do about it. It was now the 'dead-zone' stage of the month, and everybody in the room would try to kill him if he were to go home and actually shower.
"A pen, where is my pen?" he half-heartedly patted around his stack of papers. His eyelids were slowly drooping now and then, and his vision was becoming slightly blurred. Gripping onto the table, he tried to steady himself, but it did nothing to keep the world from spinning. He, with effort, raised his head and blinked.
Are . . . There are two Aominecchi's.
Kise's body slipped out of its chair and slammed against the carpeted floor with a soft sound. His eyes were closed, but his skin was getting pale. Only a few of the room's occupants turned their heads at the scene.
Aomine kept his head on the table when he saw Kise's unmoving body. "Another one?" He groaned. "Mm, Satsuki. Call the medical service."
Ever since that incident last year nobody wanted to talk about, the apartment building was forced to have medical aid on the last floor to ensure the Generation of Artists were still very much alive. It was a handy service, since the artists would really just leave their collapsed colleague on the floor to die.
Momoi Satsuki, a big-chested, pink-haired woman, didn't look up from her intense work. Her eyes were bloodshot and tired, but her hand kept moving up and down on the project she was working on. A head of a shoujo girl began to develop on paper. "You do it. I'm busy. I have to get this done by midnight."
Aomine flicked his eyes back to Kise, scowled, blew a stream of air from his mouth. "Kise'll survive."
"I'll . . . do it," came a weak, half-hearted reply. Murasakibara Atsushi lied flat on his desk; his large body stretched over it so that part of his head and arms hung off the edge. Purple locks fell over, cascading across his shoulders and chin. An empty bag of chips sat next to his stack of papers, probably the reason why the 6'10" giant felt so defeated and tired. Tired as in not counting the fact he had just finished twenty-two pages in a day for his project, which was rare for the purplehead, but his editor promised a bucket of treats if he did.
He reached for his work phone, straightening reluctantly the push the emergency button. It rang once until someone picked up.
"Murasakibara-sensei. Do you have an emergency?"
"Mm." Murasakibara yawned widely and put a large hand against his head, feeling a headache. He laid down again in exhaustion, one arm supporting his head. The other one was barely holding onto the phone.
". . . Murasakibara-sensei?"
The purplehead shifted a bit. "Yeah?"
It was silent for a second. "What's your emergency, Murasakibara-sensei?"
"Ah. Kise-chin collapsed."
"Why didn't you tell us—agh! We'll be right there!" There was a click, and then a flat tone.
Murasakibara looked at the phone briefly before setting it back to its stand. His lumpish self gazed to a certain tealhead. He gave a loud sigh. There was no response. Furrowing his purple eyebrows, he gave another sigh. Still, there was no reply. Frustrated, he started to shift his body around, creating large noise, and did another, tremendous sigh, almost like a groan.
Finally, the tealheaded man dropped his inking pen and stared back with emotionless eyes. "Do you need something, Murasakibara-kun?"
Kuroko Tetsuya or, at least, that's what his fans think his name is. Known for being the most mysterious manga artist for his books, his identity was pretty much obscure. His pen name was Kuro, and briefly there was a period of time where a majority of his fans thought him a woman, but it stopped when Kuroko stepped out from the shadows. He showed his face to the public few times, and most of those times the other artists made him invisible, but it was enough to have his face go viral on the Internet. Nevertheless, he never officially told anyone outside the business his name, and the fans only reached 'Kuroko Tetsuya' from the random hints the Generation of Artists gave.
Murasakibara frowned. "Arara, even Kuro-chin is mad?"
Not mad, per se, but he was certainly annoyed. He had been forced to stay up twenty-four hours and work late for the new installment of his most demanding series. Now, his deadline was in three hours, and his editor—who he unexpectedly wanted to hurt—kept pestering him about it, delaying him from his project. He could not waste anymore time.
"I am busy. Do you need anything?" Kuroko said this with unimaginable control. Dark shadows occupied underneath his weary eyes. "And, besides that, why is Murasakibara-kun still here? Didn't you finish work?"
The purplehead nodded. "My editor still has to do more edits, though . . . I have to fix those edits as soon as she faxes it back to me. Do you have snacks~?" Snacks were the only way to fuel Murasakibara up.
"You act as if you're still in high school, Murasakibara-kun." Kuroko fumbled around in his bag and threw Murasakibara a lollipop. "That is all I have. Please do not disturb me again." Almost immediately, the tealhead went back to work.
Medical personnel came through the door quickly. They were abruptly hit by the negative emotions emitting from the Generation of Artists. Shivering, the four rushed over to the fallen Kise and put him on a stretcher. Almost as quick as they came, they ran out to avoid being affected by the feelings. They would never get used to the atmosphere in there.
"I have told you, and I will not tell you again." An icy, murderous murmur rang through the air of room B-412. The tone was so intense and demanding, it made the other tired, distracted members flinch. Aomine sneaked an apprehensive glance towards the owner of the voice, but didn't dare make eye contact. His own inking pen was shaking in his hand. Satsuki swallowed, though she did not look up from her work. "I work at my pace. I am aware of the final deadline, and I know when the installment is to be published. Have I ever missed a deadline?"
A faint, female voice spoke through the other line, "N-no, you have never missed a deadline, Akashi-sensei. It's—it's just that there's a schedule to be followed, and your schedule i-is not working out for the company and—"
"You dare question my abilities?"
The Generation of Artists could feel the temperature drop. Who would be stupid enough to defy him?
"No, no, Akashi-sensei. I—What I'm trying to tell you is—"
"That is enough. I will turn in my final draft when I am done. I do not find it necessary to turn it in by the twenty-first, when the publishers can take it on the twenty-sixth and complete the process in time."
Akashi Seijuro hung up the phone with narrowed, heterochromatic eyes. How dare his editor assume their schedule was better than his? He was aware this editor was new, but his last editor could not have warned her? His books were always ranked first, therefore he was always right.
He picked up his inking pen and started on his tenth page again, ignoring the fear and anxiety oozing off the many people in the room. It was good they felt fear; fear was what drove them to obey him, even though they were individual manga artists by their own right. Because his books were always ranked first in sales, it was natural he would become the leader, just like in middle and high school.
Akashi contrasted with the zombies in the room. He was well-dressed, and his appearance did not show he was exhausted from the week's work (nobody knew for sure if he even got tired). His entire being screamed authority, while two pairs of gleaming scissors reflected off light from his jean pocket. It was simply a—reminder, of some sort.
Aomine deepened his scowl at the uncomfortable atmosphere. He lifted his head, which took a lot of effort, and swept around the room. Everything was in place, but—wasn't there someone missing? He quickly checked Kuroko's chair, making sure to heighten his senses so that he wouldn't miss the ridiculously invisible man, and confirmed Kuroko was still in the room. His eyes went over to the desk connected to Akashi's, finding it empty.
"Hey, does anyone know where Midorima is?" Aomine twisted his body to search for the impossible-to-miss greenhead.
Kuroko dropped his pen with an annoyed cluck of his tongue. "No, but now that Aomine-kun has mentioned it, Midorma-kun is nowhere to be found."
"He's in the far right corner," Momoi mumbled. Like always, she did not take her eyes off her work. Her sketching pen was going wild on paper.
Murasakibara, Aomine, and Kuroko swiveled their heads to the desired corner. There, an unconscious Midorima Shintarou laid flat on his stomach, his glasses scattered a few inches away from him. In his pale hand held a small plushie. His green eyes were rolled back, and he looked as if he was out for more than hour.
Aomine sweat-dropped. "How come we didn't notice him?"
"Leave him." Akashi finished his tenth and went to the eleventh, sketching out the panels for his next scene. "He can survive in that condition for a few more hours."
They looked at each other, shrugged, and returned to their work, although their bodies protested with fatigue.
An hour later, Aomine dropped dead. Thirty minutes after, Momoi went next. Then Kuroko, and then Murasakibara. In the end, Akashi stayed by his desk, paying no mind to the 'ruckus' of thuds the Generation of Artists made.
"Uwah." Kise stretched happily, pulling at the tense muscles of his arms. He winced when he heard his bones crack, but otherwise bounded into room B-412 happily. Contentment and bliss practically overflowed room B-412; it was almost blinding. Flowers decorated every window sill and corner. Bright lights flooded the sparkling room, highlighting the many handsome figures inside. People tended to stray from B-412 at this period, too. "I feel so refreshed!"
It was the beginning of their never-ending cycle; a period of time where everything went well, and editors were pleased with their progress. Positive emotions were consistently radiated at this time, so positive in fact, some wished it was the end of the cycle. The curtains were open; natural light actually poured into the room with Tokyo's beautiful, busy city to see. The Generation of Artists were revived, and ready to work.
Aomine grunted, relieved by the fact last month was finally over. His project was being published, and it would hit the top ten sales for the action genre in another few days or so. He took off his jacket and hung it on the seven hooks that were provided. After, taking a seat to his desk where it read Aomine Daiki, he pulled out his computer.
Aomine Daiki: a well-known shounen manga artist, mostly popular for his fight scenes, character development, and heart-breaking action that had both boys and girls hold their breath. Three of his manga were well on their way to becoming an anime, and two of them placed first in action on the charts of Japan, published by Oricon. Many girls fell in love with the characters he made, as well as fall in love with him. His famous saying was: 'The only one who can win against me, is me'. Certainly, the ganguro received a few painful jabs from the Generation of Artists for his arrogance.
He was also known for his erotica, adult manga, but the artists didn't really enjoy talking about that.
Midorima raised his head, glaring angrily at Aomine. "I still have not forgiven you for last week," he hissed. The man experienced many neck and shoulder cramps from passing out last week. And when he was finally revived, he found his four-thousand yen in cash gone from his wallet. The culprit was Murasakibara, who needed more money for his snacks.
Midorima Shintarou drew and wrote outstanding mystery and psychological manga that had readers' minds spinning. Every book he published regularly made it to bestsellers. His publishing company went crazy because of the amount of reprints they needed for fans' demands, and they had to have two extra mail boxes to take in the fan mail he received each week. Midorima didn't bother answering any fan mail, however, especially to the girls who only loved his books for the looks of his characters.
"Aw, come on, Midorimacchi," Kise said easily. "We were all tired. Aominecchi just didn't have the energy to call medical."
"You were not left to die when you were unconscious," Midorima snapped. "And to think my penguin plushie was supposed to give me good luck that day."
Aomine rolled his eyes and loosened his tie, annoyed. "You gotta get over your lucky item obsession. You've had this obsession since like, what? Junior high?"
"Sixth year of elementary." He pushed up his glasses in disdain. "And it is not an obsession."
"It's an obsession, Midorima-kun."
Kuroko Tetsuya walked through the door, clean and light with subtle mischief in his eyes. He was wearing his usual white polo and jeans for work. Even after the many years, Kuroko only grew a couple of inches. He was the shortest of the group. Though the bland man was not to be underestimated because of his height, considering the fact he was part of the Generation of Artists.
The famous, inconspicuous drama artist had arrived. Kuroko Tetsuya's dramatic manga produced tears, jealousy, and anger. Relationships seemed to never be stable in his manga. Fans did not only find Kuroko's invisibility endearing, but also his twisted plotlines that had every fan's heart screaming in shock. Even the Generation of Artists reluctantly admitted his writings affected them a little too much. He was nominated for best drama artist in Japan, and was a runner-up nominee for his second genre, science-fiction.
"I only state the truth, Midorima-kun." Kuroko gave a small smile, bringing the straw of his vanilla shake to his lips. He was barely able to touch the straw before the cup was ripped out of his hands.
Akashi snatched the drink away, giving Kuroko a disapproving glance. With accuracy, he threw it in the air and had it land neatly in the trashcan. Kuroko watched with despair.
"Akashi-kun, that was my drink."
"Vanilla shakes are not healthy in the morning, Tetsuya."
"I am not a child."
Akashi hung his coat before seating himself to his desk. "No, but if you were to catch a cold because of your low immunity, all of your projects would be backed up." He grabbed out his own, luxurious laptop from his bag and turned it on. "How are the sales, Daiki? Shintarou? Ryouta?"
"The same," Aomine droned. "Ore wa Hoshi no Gozen has been doing well ever since I finished the last volume two months ago. Still at the top of the charts, but it's not a big surprise."
Kise gave a thumbs-up. "My boys' love manga is a hit for my fan girls!" At this, the members of the room winced and noticeably scooted away from Kise. Goosebumps appeared on Midorima's and Aomine's arms. Kise's . . . yaoi novels were not something to joke about. Most of them were hardcore, and some were filled with fluffy, tearing, male to male relationship problems that had most fans screaming when Kise went out to the public. They had no idea how a male could draw and write boys' love the way Kise did, and it scarred them when they read one of his works. "Wha—it's not that bad!"
Everybody ignored him.
"I prefer not to check the sales since Cancer is ranked tenth today."
Aomine leaned across his desk with a smirk. "Why? Afraid your psychological stories are going to stop selling?" He ignored the incoming tremor. Along with Murasakibara's horror manga, the two could mess with your mind from the very first page. Aomine had nightmares for a week or two.
"No. That is impossible."
The door opened widely again, and this time, Murasakibara entered. He ducked under to avoid bumping his head. "Sorry I'm late~" he announced. "Sa-chin needed my help with these." Holding up two, heavy bags, he gestured with his other hand to the panting Momoi Satsuki.
"They're new supplies," Momoi explained, taking off her heavy coat to hang. "I noticed everybody's tools were getting dull, so I bought new ones from our budget."
"Thank you, Satsuki," Akashi automatically replied, never straying his eyes from his laptop. He was typing furiously, probably emailing the sales manager. "How is your new romance project doing? And Atsushi, your new volume?"
"It's getting sold pretty fast in stores," Momoi answered easily. She relaxed at her desk with a deep breath. "I mean, according to my calculations, I'll need a three-hundred-thousand reprint in two days."
Momoi Satsuki: not really known as a Generation of Artist member, but was a successful romanticist herself. She has won several awards for her creative thinking in romance, along with her excellent artwork. Her sales also have never dropped, and because of her future calculations, the publishing company and sales department never had a problem.
Murasakibara started up his computer. "Last time I checked, it's the most recommended horror manga~" He grabbed a bag of chips from under his desk happily.
"Hai. It's selling."
Of course it's selling, everybody thought, but didn't ask for more information. They trusted Kuroko had the best sales for his genre, even if his reports were always bland and nonspecific.
Akashi nodded in approval, finally stopped his fast typing to bring out a stack of papers. Already he was getting a head start on his next volume. "We were invited to yet another meet and greet party at the Yoshini Hotel. The party is not limited to our occupation, but also to editors, publishers, literature authors, and the sales department. It would look bad if we were to not go."
Aomine grumbled, "Another one? Those parties are really just for showing off. Small bastards start flaunting off their success."
"Don't lie, Aomine-kun. You like the parties because of the girls." Kuroko ducked under a wad of paper Aomine threw at him.
"This is strange," Akashi suddenly murmured. He was looking intently at his screen.
Midorima finished bandaging his fingers. He pushed up his glasses with interest. "What is it?"
"One of my best-sellers," he said. "It only has reprinted three times, and each of them only reprinted by four-hundred-thousand copies."
Everybody sweat-dropped. Only?
"That's good, right, Aka-chin?" Murasakibara asked lazily.
"Absolutely not. Most reprint sessions of mine take up to four-hundred-sixty thousand copies. And to only reprint three times? That is most absurd." Akashi picked up his work phone and dialed a number.
Momoi pulled out her old storyboard to look at, but was listening keenly to the conversation. "Which project, Akashi-kun?"
"Jingori," was Akashi's terse reply.
"Ah, the fantasy one." Kise searched through Momoi's bag of supplies, getting first-pick on his favorite colors. Aomine was shoving him to grab his new tools.
Akashi was acknowledged as a tri-genre manga artist, taking pride in hitting first for all his specialized genres: fantasy, history, and seinen. Every manga of his listed in the top ten for their specified category, and one of his many manga books always ranked first. For five years in a row, Akashi Seijuro held the title for best manga artist in Japan, with only Aomine close behind.
"H-hai, Akashi-sensei? Is there a p-problem?"
He leaned back into his chair with "Yes. There has been a mistake. The amount of reprints for the Jingori manga I have published two years ago is too lilliputian. You will have many angry demands in the next few days if you do not restock."
There was a pause. "Aka—Akashi-sensei, I understand your status, but if you don't mind me s-saying, I think you are getting a little ahead of yourself. F-Four-hundred thousand reprints three times is more than enough for an old book. A-as I see it, interest is dying down—"
"Before you say another word that could truly make me angry," the Generation of Artists flinched at Akashi's cold tone, "I suggest you talk to your manager right now." He was put on hold rapidly.
"Go easy on her, Akashi-kun," Kuroko advised. "She is your new editor, right?"
Aomine finally was able to push Kise to the ground. The blond man tumbled and fell on his bottom. "Your last editor held out pretty long. Two months, I think. That's a new record."
"That hurt, Aominecchi!" Kise grabbed a hold of Aomine's leg and pulled. The ganguro dropped down promptly.
Midorima pressed a hand to his face, predicting a fight to commence. Kuroko looked ready to intervene. Momoi only rolled her eyes, while Murasakibara looked closer with interest. The seven tables connected formed a large, empty rectangle in the middle. Trash was usually thrown in there if one was too lazy to walk to the garbage can, but most tumbles (mainly, Aomine and Kise) also happened there.
"You brat!" From his position on the floor, Aomine swung his leg and struck Kise in the shin.
The ex-model inhaled sharply. "You are so lucky that was not my face!" He tackled Aomine, and thus, their wrestling began.
Meanwhile, with Akashi, his editor came back on the line, "I—I am so very sorry, Akashi-sensei. You're right, the publishing department had a miscount and switched the orders with another artist's. They're fixing it as I speak."
"Of course I am right," Akashi said smoothly. Trying to block the background shouts from Aomine's fight, he continued with a tight tone, "That is all I wanted to address. The storyboard I faxed in this morning, I assume you received it."
"Hai," she said. "I did." There was a minute's silence. "Akashi-sensei, I was going to call you about it later, but since you called now . . ."
"Kodansha called earlier this morning."
Kodansha Ltd. was the largest Japanese publisher in Japan. It produced weekly manga magazines, and the manga books themselves. The Generation of Miracles had been offered a few times by the company, but refused because they wanted to work with smaller companies to earn their own big name.
With a raise of his eyebrows, he momentarily put a hand on the speaker to order the other members, "Everybody, pick up the line now."
Aomine and Kise stopped their fighting at the demand and sprung up, running over to their desks. They picked up the phones, controlling it to Akashi's line. Kuroko could hear the light breathing of Akashi's female editor. Wondering what this was about, Midorima sent a questioning glance to their leader.
Akashi took away his hand. "Why did Kodansha call?"
"They want you to do a joint project with them temporarily. It's a special project they've been planning on, and the director said Futabasha already agreed if you were willing."
Futabasha was most of the artists' publishing companies, with the exception of Kuroko, Kise, and Midorima.
"I have told them I am not interested in working for them," Akashi said.
Midorima, realizing his job, balanced the phone between his ear and shoulder and grabbed out a notepad and pen. He started to write several notes down on the conversation. Kodansha Ltd. was a familiar name to them. In fact, they quite disliked the owner. Momoi was using her research skills to search Kodansha Ltd. of any suspicious activity or ulterior motives. Aomine, with a spare phone, was calling Futabasha to confirm their deal. Kuroko and Murasakibara were looking at past sales of Kodansha while Kise recorded their call.
Yes, they lived a very suspicious career.
"T—They assured us we did not have to let go of you or sign any deal involving a transfer."
"Before I decide anything, what does Kodansha want?"
"A joint project. Original, creative shoujo manga have been slightly declining in their business, and they want it to rocket back into the charts. Only you are able to do this at a moment's notice."
Akashi was slightly disturbed. "I specialize in mostly fantasy. Momoi Satsuki is an expert in that field."
Momoi's chest filled with pride. Her manga was the reason why Futabasha's shoujo genre rose to the top in a year. Romance, after all, was everything. She sneaked a blushing glance toward a blank Kuroko.
His editor cleared her throat a bit. This was the hard part. "T—The thing is, Akashi-sensei . . ."
"What is it?"
"They're requesting for all of the Generation of Artists to work on this project. H-Hence, joint project."
Aomine spat out the Gatorade he was in the middle of drinking, coughing violently as he started to choke. He heaved, a fist pounding on his chest, while his mind tried to translate the words that were just spoken. Kise rushed over to give him a glass of water, but he was in a state of shock as well.
Work? Together? The Generation of Artists have not worked together since middle school. Yes, they still were close, shared advice, compared sales to each other, and even worked in the same apartment building roomtogether, but their working styles were very independent. They found they just could not work as one in middle school, so they decided to become their own, individual artist in high school. What was to say it would be any different in adulthood?
"Before you say no," the editor added quickly, "at least listen to the topic, please. It's supposed to be short, one volume, six chapters, maximum of forty-two pages each. The category of the manga will be shoujo, but Kodansha wants to incorporate many genres, including fantasy and comedy. It's to target a female audience between the ages of eleven to twenty-one. The benefits,"
she pressed to cut off Akashi's response, "are the compensation they will pay everyone for the project, and boosted medical benefits sponsored to Futabasha and Nihon Bungeisha. They'll also promote the joint manga on several popular magazines. Imagine the sales, Akashi-sensei! This is a huge opportunity!"
Aomine was already shaking his head 'no'. He formed his arms into a large 'X', his head about to fall off from the vigorous shaking. Kise was giving Akashi a thumbs-down, and Murasakibara showed his discontent with his frown. Midorima and Momoi simultaneously mouthed a negative answer. Kuroko gave a slight shake of his head, shuddering internally at the thought of working together again. If this were in high school, he would be up for it, but now he realized it really was the best to split. The disasters that could come from simply collaborating with each other were horrendous.
Akashi watched, amused at his former partners' answers. He tilted his head, cruelly gazing upon the members. "You have actually convinced me," he said, devious. Aomine bulged his eyes in alarm. "Yes, we will take up on the project. Just this once, we will create a manga together for Kodansha."
"W-wonderful! I'll fax Akashi-sensei all the details, including the deadlines and more on the topic!" His excited editor hung up, leaving the line dead.
Aomine furiously slapped his phone down. "What the hell, Akashi? Are you serious?"
"Aka-chin . . ."
"I have to agree with Aomine on this one, Akashi. This is too much."
"Surprisingly, Akashi-kun is impulsive."
"Akashicchi! Are you trying to kill us?"
"I may know how to make shoujo, but I don't see the potential in this one, Akashi-kun."
Room B-412's pleasant atmosphere popped. The Generation of Artists were in an uproar. On cue, the bright sun vanished from obnoxious clouds, leaving a shadowed room in its rest. Their shouts could be heard all the way down the hall, where the room service attendants looked each other nervously, debating on whether to intervene or just walk away. One attendant had '119' dialed, Japan's emergency call number, with her finger ready on the call button. The door to room B-412 was closed, but it did not stop the rumbles and protests.
Akashi pinched the bridge of his nose, listening to the others' loud complaints. Only Kuroko stayed out of it, having already voiced his opinion, and watched Akashi carefully to see if an appearance of his infamous scissors would happen. It didn't.
"Enough," Akashi demanded. In a few seconds, they quieted. "I understand the severe risk we are taking in accepting this job—"
"We didn't accept it. You did," Aomine muttered.
Akashi ignored him. "—but think of this as an experiment." This sparked some interest in their eyes, enough that Akashi knew he had captured them. "The Generation of Artists working together after years of their break-up from middle school? Imagine the interest and publicity we would receive. The manga would sell more than anything we have published."
Aomine shifted in his seat, taking in the words. "That's true," he begrudgingly admitted. "If we make it, it'll sell easily over six-hundred-thousand in a week."
"That's if we're able to create the shoujo manga," Midorima reminded them. "Have you forgotten we have no experience in romantic manga except for Momoi, here? And B.L. does not count!" Kise's face fell.
"Perhaps," Akashi conceded. "But are you questioning my abilities, Shintarou?"
"Forget about our capability for the manga," Momoi cried. "Are we even able to work with each other?"
Questionable silence took over the room. Murasakibara's chip-chewing was the only thing they could hear. Kise made a sound between a half-sigh and half-groan, sinking into his chair with his head in his arms.
"Ano," Kuroko spoke up. "We are all adults now. I think we can handle it in a mature manner, right?"
Akashi agreed. "Yes. You were all unable to cooperate and realize how powerful teamwork was as middle and high school students."
Aomine clucked his tongue and mumbled, "Notice how he says 'you' and not 'we' . . . and he was the one that ordered we split."
"Did you say something, Daiki?"
"Then it is decided," Akashi announced. "We will put aside all ongoing projects for the next two months to work on this manga."
Momoi bit her lip. "Well, I didn't track any suspicious activity from Kodansha."
"Futabasha confirmed their agreement with them," Aomine said.
Kuroko and Murasakibara nodded seriously. "And it is true their reputation in shoujo manga have declined. It doesn't seem Kodansha is after us, Akashi-kun."
Midorima squeezed his sparkled pencil unhappily. He was the one that continued to practice drawing during his middle school days, and he grew used to working alone. But success and sales were more important, so he nodded, troubled.
Kise ran a hand through his blond hair. Flicking his eyes nervously to Kuroko, he obliged. "Well, since Kurokocchi agrees with it."
"We will start tomorrow." Akashi gave a satisfied smirk.
Once again, room B-412 caused a noise storm that had every worker in the building on edge. Undeterred by the open curtains, the atmosphere was strained and filled with animosity. This was only the second day of the cycle, so the artists still had a good night's sleep, was clean, and energetic. Be that as it may, it did not stop them from directing their energy into arguments.
"This is a shoujo manga, Murasakibara-kun!" Kuroko said fiercely. His usually blank face was distorted into a glare. "We cannot have the girl killed cruelly and add any type of blood! This is targeted toward teenagers!" He paused. "No, we can't have the girl die at all!"
"Killing the girl would be a good twist for the plot line, Kuro-chin," Murasakibara countered, angry. "Why does Kuro-chin keep going against my ideas?"
Kuroko's eyes turned determined. "Because your ideas are impractical for this kind of manga."
Aomine growled, slamming his hand against his desk. "Forget how she dies or die at all! What I don't get is why she can't have big boobs and fight against an evil organization. That's what's most popular these days!"
"I already told you, Dai-chan! Shoujo manga usually don't have the main character have large b—boobs," Momoi blushed. "They're usually just pretty, but not that pretty, mostly bland. It's to give room for character development and have a modest character!"
Midorima looked over the faxed papers, disgusted. The genres were fantasy, drama, comedy, and romance. So far, he was not getting this 'shoujo' concept. "I understand how Murasakibara's and Aomine's ideas are stupid," he said, ignoring the shouts of protests, "but why can she not have a loved one missing and have the story show how she finds him?"
"The genres don't include mystery, Midorimacchi," Kise tried to explain for last time. "It would change the entire concept."
"The genres may not include mystery, but it certainly includes fantasy," Akashi said. "My idea may be the best option."
"No, it's—Akashi-kun—shoujo is—a-ah!" Momoi pressed her hands to her head in distress. "Listen, everybody! Shoujo manga focuses mainly on romantic and human relationships, something that all of you need to work on!"
Aomine grimaced. "That was uncalled for, Satsuki."
Momoi kept talking, "Yes, the genre is drama and fantasy, something Tetsu-kun and Akashi-kun are knowledgeable about. Yes, we can create a whole new world, like Akashi-kun wants, but we can't focus on that aspect alone. It doesn't matter where she is, her relationship with the male protagonist is everything. We can't have her fight dragons, have powers that could dominate the world, have her murdered, create two boys gay for each other, or kill off the male to create tears," she looked pointedly at Kuroko for the last part.
"Then what do you suggest, Sa-chin?"
"This manga is supposed to be really short. One volume, six chapters, forty-two pages each if we want. I think creating a new world for the fantasy part would be too big of an idea for a short manga. To imply fantasy, I am thinking more of having the male different from the humans."
Akashi mulled over the thought. "No, that is too predictable. The girl should have the inhuman traits."
"That's a good idea, Akashi-kun," Kuroko supported. "Drama could be supported throughout the story: her acceptance of herself and the world's acceptance."
"It still sounds too unoriginal and plain." The greenhead leaned back in thought, twirling his sketching pencil in his left hand. "This manga has to be the manga that rockets Kodansha back into the shoujo competition."
"I think these will help." Momoi pulled out two plastic bags full of books with colorful covers. "I bought the top seven best-selling shoujo manga in stores today. Some of them are mine, but I thought actually reading another person's work would help you all grasp the concept better."
She passed the books around, having them read the summary in order to capture their interests. When she got to Aomine, he rejected them.
"You have to read one to make one, Mine-chin," Murasakibara said. He set down his book. "Mine is actually interesting~"
"Mine isn't," Midorima belittled. "A girl that hates boys working in a cafe? A blond male takes interest in her? That hardly sounds like it would sell."
"It's better than it sounds," Momoi insisted. "Just give it a try and read it."
"We will read it later." Akashi set his book aside and grabbed a few pieces of special paper for their storyboard. "We have to establish the characters, plot, and timing. Our storyboard is due in two weeks."
Our storyboard. That hit home for everyone. The Generation of Artists looked at each other with a knowing gleam in their eyes. Our. They hadn't heard that word in a long time, not since middle school. To be honest, every one of them had missed that small part of working together. Because of their completely different styles and their growing ambitions, the six of them plus Momoi grew apart. Soon, 'our' was no longer in their agenda, until now.
Kise smiled. "Well, I think Akashicchi's and Kurokocchi's ideas are pretty great, but I think we should also incorporate . . ."
Like so, the seven started to seriously plan. Using every ounce of their skills, they showed the true power of the Generation of Artists. Kuroko sketched his many ideas, passing it onto Midorima for review before actually voicing it. Aomine and Kise helped with the comedy, pointing out traits characters needed to have comedy relief, and appropriate times for comedy use. Murasakibara added many of his ideas of moving along the story, knowing best when to twist the plot unexpectedly. Akashi was in charge of the actual drawing of the storyboard. Before actually starting it, however, he discussed the main characters. He drew many variations for the characters, with Momoi's help for the girl, and Kise's help with the boy. Romance manga had an entirely different style for characters.
In the end, attendants outside were relieved, but awed, listening outside their door discreetly. The Generation of Artists were definitely in a whole, different world than theirs.
"This—I—This is amazing, Akashi-sensei." Akashi's editor had just finished reviewing over their finished storyboard. "And you actually turned it on time! I-I mean, not that Akashi-sensei misses a deadline, I'm implying to the lot of you."
"Yes, well," Akashi gazed at his half-dead team, amused. "It took some effort."
"Y-yes, of course. I'll send you the edits by night!"
Akashi hung up without another word. Eyebrow raised at the gloomy aura, he turned his attention to the calendar on the wall. It was now mid-way into the cycle, the stage where everybody was in the middle of turning into zombies. This was where everybody gradually stopped showering and ceased coming in well-groomed. To think nobody would get a rest until another month, Akashi shook his head.
Aomine yawned, even though it was still mid-day. "What'd she say about the storyboard?"
"Nothing out of the ordinary," was Akashi's short reply.
"That was so tiring," Momoi moaned, resting her forehead on the cool surface of her desk.
Murasakibara held out a cracker stick. He was on his sixteenth one. "Have a snack, Sa-chin."
"It was tiring, but we did it," Kuroko said with a small smile. "We have passed the hardest part. Checking Akashi-kun's editor's edits and the literature editor's edits for our script is the only thing we do now. After, drawing the actual pages will be easy."
Midorima leaned back, exhaling slowly. His fingers were cramping from the days of drawing and writing. He flexed and wiggled them. "Yes. The planning of the actual story was the only real challenge."
"We still have to confirm all the physical traits of the characters," Kise reminded them. "The storyboard was only a rough sketch."
Akashi grabbed out a sharp pencil. He started to sketch the female protagonist quickly, drawing many of the traits that made their character stand out. "I believe Satsuki has told me in shoujo manga, the outfits change many times for the characters, so drawing complicated outfits would not be something we should go with."
Kuroko joined in, sketching on his own paper. "We have already agreed with long, silver hair, yes?"
"I think her bangs should be swept aside," Kise suggested. "It makes her look more open."
Midorima slid his pencil up and down his paper rapidly. "I really despise artists that make their girls' eyes too big."
"Her height is supposed to be 170 centimeters." Momoi whipped out a ruler to measure out the proportions. "We wanted a sort-of tall girl, right?"
"She's only three centimeters shorter than Tetsu," Aomine snickered, then yelped at Kuroko's sharp elbow jab.
"Ahn~Her ears are furry," Murasakibara rubbed one of his tired eyes, but continued to draw his idea of the character.
Room B-412's occupants drew in a comfortable silence for several minutes. An occasional cluck of the tongue would sound, but only the scratching of pencils swarmed the air. Finally, Akashi dropped his pencil, looking very pleased with his work. Midorima finished next, and the rest followed.
At the same time, they raised their sketching for all to see. Everybody blinked at the different drawings of girls they saw. Kise busted out laughing.
"How can everyone's be so different when we all agreed on the same traits?" he exclaimed.
Akashi's sketch depicted a strong leader with fearless eyes and a confident, yet cold smile. One hand was on her hip, and she had her head tilted in a taunting way. Kuroko showed a shy, but determined girl, the tiniest of smile on her round face. Midorima added glasses as an accessory for his character. She looked intelligent and had her arms crossed in a straight, clean uniform that represented her perfectionism.
Murasakibara's displayed an energetic but suspicious character with her eyebrow raised in a questioning way. A pile of snacks sat beside her feet. Aomine's demonstrated a fierce, athletic girl, while Kise and Momoi showed an innocent, non-friendly school-girl.
Momoi put a finger to her chin. "We have to take into account her personality. In the story, we have her as a cold person."
"She has a façade of a mean, but self-assured girl because of the bullying she endured from what she is," Kuroko supplied.
"Because of that, I think Akashi-kun's depiction of her is best. With a few changes," Momoi added quickly, thinking Akashi's character mirrored his personality a bit too much.
A half an hour later, they had the female protagonist's main outfit and her permanent character makeup. Kise took over for the boy because he was the most skilled in personalizing males. Aomine shuddered when he saw Kise pull out one of his boy's love manga for references. They worked on a rough coloring on them afterwards.
The room was dead.
Kuroko bobbed his head up and down, on the verge of passing out from the strenuous days of work. Ever since the editor of Kodansha returned their second-time edited version of their storyboard and script, they'd been able to finally start the process of making the actual pages. They finished one chapter, which they faxed immediately, in two weeks. The first chapter was always the longest. Having another month ahead of them, the chapters were miles long.
The cycle hadn't been able to repeat at all, because there was no time for rest or celebration. Deadlines were coming in closer and closer, and the final date was approaching. Everybody was beginning to feel grumpy and anxious.
"That's it!" Kise launched his tool bitterly at the wall. "I can't do this! It's driving me crazy!"
"Calm down, Kise-chin," Murasakibara mumbled.
"No! After this chapter, we still have four more to go? That's impossible! I can't do it, Murasakicchi!"
Kuroko paid no heed to Kise's breakdown. "Kise-kun, it's very late right now. Can you be a bit more quiet?"
"Kurokocchi! Why aren't you going crazy? Aren't you all tired of this?"
The half-asleep ganguro sent his extra phone sailing through the air to hit Kise's head. "Obviously, idiot! But we already accepted it, so there's no point in whining and going back."
Hurting because of the cell phone, Kise pouted. He rubbed his head, but continued his work reluctantly. He was drawing pages twenty-three to thirty-one. Kodansha wanted the manga to have all the artists' drawing styles. The transition between artists within the pages were not very noticeable, or at least they tried not to make it noticeable, but you could certainly tell if you studied the little details.
Some sort of thud happened in the room. Only Kuroko turned his head to see what was the cause, and saw Momoi's body on the ground. "Momoi-san," he sighed, picking up his work phone to dial the medical services.
"There goes Satsuki," Aomine muttered.
"Completed." Midorima slapped down his inking tool and dropped his head to his table. Left hand twitching, he had never felt more exhausted in his life. Only four more chapters to go . . . only.
Aomine's jaw went slack. "How can you be finished when I still have three pages to go?"
"I don't waste my time talking or groaning."
"Yeah, but you finished before Akashi?"
"No, he did not," Akashi answered for him. "I have finished an hour ago. I am working on the third chapter."
Monster . . . The Generation of Artists thought simultaneously.
Kuroko woke himself long enough to give an encouraging smile to every one of them. "It may be tiring now, but in the end, I might say this is fun. We are actually working together for the first time in years." With the innocent face Kuroko kept with him all through the years of middle school had the remaining members look away with an honest blush.
Midorima coughed. "I suppose your words have some truth."
"Kuro-chin is so encouraging~"
"You're so cute, Kurokocchi!"
"Stop making that face, Tetsu! Damn it!"
"What face, Aomine-kun? And please don't call me cute, Kise-kun."
Akashi continued his work, but what seemed like a smile played on his lips.
"And there they are!" An announcing, male voice greeted the Generation of Artists at the grand door. Midorima squinted at the bright, white lights. It was a massive room, the supposed ballroom of Tokyo's grandest hotel. Champagne and wine bottles were passed around the room. An attendant rushed over to them, offering them glasses of wine, to which Akashi, Aomine, and Momoi accepted. The others declined.
"Noma-san," Akashi said politely. He took a delicate sip of his wine.
Noma Yoshinobu, the president of Kodansha Ltd., walked over to them with a wide grin. "We meet again! And under pleasant circumstances, I must say."
Aomine downed his wine in one gulp. "Pleasant under your terms, old man."
Kuroko elbowed him, bowing to the Kodansha owner. "It's an honor to meet you again, Noma-san."
"The infamous Kuro-san," Noma tightened his smile. "Aomine-san. Everybody else, as well! We, Kodansha, are very glad our guest of honors could make it today. Now that you're here, we can finally make our toast. Come, come!"
He ushered the artists through the large, waiting publicity crowds. Reporters for manga magazines pushed their way through to reach any one of the members. Akashi answered random questions as best he could. Kise, camera-ready, smiled and posed for the cameras. Kuroko, now taller, was noticed by some of the reporters, and he got to answer some of the questions bluntly. Also, owners from other publishing companies shoved their business cards to their faces, desperate to get their name out there. Midorima shook his head, but did comply to a few questions. Momoi only waved and smiled.
"Ah!" Noma panted, stumbling out of the crowd. The team followed through after. "I've been to many public events, but this one is the most suffocating. "Come, we're going on the stage." He led them to some mini stairs.
Once the Generation of Artists stepped on stage, the manga and anime industry cheered loudly. They stood side by side, staring into the large crowd that had accumulated over time. Noma stepped out to the stand, where a microphone was waiting.
"Hello, everybody," he spoke. "As you now all know, the Generation of Artists have arrived!" Roaring encouragement broke out. "Two and a half months ago, we, Kodansha, requested a joint project that involved the Generation of Artists join together to create one, best-selling shoujo manga. We decided this last minute, and, despite their busy schedules and backed projects, the seven of them accepted the challenge. They had very little time with only two months to spare, yet they did it, and they sent it in to us a day earlier than their deadline. And now, that very manga that was released yesterday, has sold over one million copies overnight!" Again, the crowd applauded and shouted, some even holding the copy of the manga itself. Murasakibara plugged his ears at the noise.
"Their work is truly incredible," Noma continued fiercely. "They started off as mere doujinshi artists in middle school, and now they are the group responsible for breaking the record of sales in a day. This is the genuine power of the Generation of Artists!" He paused for a moment, waiting out the crazy crowd and spoke again when it quieted, "A toast to the Generation of Artists!"
"To the Generation of Artists!" they echoed, and the clinking of wine glasses filled the room.
"Is there anything you want to share with us today?" Noma whirled around to face the uncomfortable seven. Honestly, they detested such events like this one. They knew that, behind the scenes, Kodansha was really the one taking the credit and bathing in all their glory and worth.
Kuroko surprised them by speaking up, "Hai. If you don't mind, Noma-san?"
"Not at all." He stepped back, letting Kuroko take the stand.
The short, tealhead looked out into the crowd with emotionless eyes. He tried not to look at the flashing cameras. Then, for the first time since the Generation of Artists were known, he spoke his name in public, "My name is Kuroko Tetsuya." Murmurs broke out among the people. "I cannot say I am enjoying myself right now, but I at least can say this to the public while I can." Noma's smile vanished. "My colleagues may not agree with me out loud with what I am about to say since they are all stubborn and thick-headed."
Aomine grunted. "And you're not? Hypocrite."
Kuroko ignored him. "But we are all glad we received this opportunity to join together for the first time in years. The reason behind splitting up in middle school, we may only understand it as students, because as an adult, I don't understand it now." The Generation of Artists murmured their agreement. "We attended different high schools and became an individual artist. Somehow, we ended up attending the same college. Even then, we did not try once to form the group everybody knew. Saving our own style and focusing on sales were the only thing that mattered to us."
He took a moment to look back at the guilty artists, smiling when he saw Akashi's nod. "Now that we got to work together, I am very happy. For once, we did not care about the sales, nor the publicity, nor the numbers, despite what my colleagues might say. We had fun together, and I am positive they are pleased to have been given a chance to reunite. It was only until now we realized each other's skills personally, so thank you. Thank you for the offer, and I am sure we will create a project together again, soon."
The crowd erupted into roars. Cameras went wild, and the cheering could make a man go deaf. Akashi stepped up first, resting a hand on his teal locks and affectionately ruffling it with an exasperated, small smile. Aomine and Momoi went next: Aomine swung an arm around Kuroko's neck; Momoi hugged him tightly and kissed him lightly on the cheek. Midorima walked up with a wary expression but patted firmly on Kuroko's shoulder. Murasakibara gave him a package of pocky, and Kise whole-heartedly forced him into a bear hug.
The hidden scar that had always lingered between their relationships completely healed that day, and the Generation of Artists were reunited officially later on.
A one-shot I finished awhile ago, for a Kuroko no Basuke Prompt Contest. This prompt was given to me, and I was encouraged to publish it. Oh gosh, the shame I feel.
Please tell me of mistakes, and I would be happy for a review :)