The steps to a harem.

I, Kousaka Kyousuke, would ascend the female landscape like the Ottoman Sultans of old: absolute master of my domain with access to the greatest of earthly pleasures, those reserved only for an almighty lord above lords. Each day droves of females would compete for a small ounce of my affection; each night a different beauty would lay beneath my sheets, ready to call me her personal god.

But not quite yet.

You see, it was easy pickings to go after my frumpy childhood friend. Real cuties would be much harder to—eh, what was the word on the message board again? Ah, yeah. "Ge-mu". I would game them. Anyway, it isn't so much that I'm unskilled (which is true), but more so that I am very, very, ordinary. I teeter on the edge of a loser-ish plane of existence. My current status reminds me of certain conversation between me and my sister...

"Kirino, what gives? I've gotten the same ending five damn times in a row!"

"Hmph, you're such a newbie. Don't you know anything? You won't be able to see any of the new routes, or do any cool or exciting things with them, unless you raise your stats appropriately! Look at this, your 'Style' is at 2! Two? Unacceptable!"

"Even in a game... I have to do such real-life things in a game like this?"

"It's true, sometimes it's a hassle. Often I just want to get to the best scenes. That's natural for anyone. You should feel lucky! There used to be games with intense grind-leveling, hours and hours and hours just to obtain perfect 10s in every stat. But these games today feature light RPG elements, so it isn't hard at all. Shape up!"

That conversation... ugh. She's as dedicated and condescending as ever, even though she has that kind of habit. Still, the conversation about "leveling my style" got me thinking: I definitely need to do better than a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and a shoddy hoody. Easier said than done; in this respect, reality isn't at all like eroge. I couldn't "level up" my style. And, if anything, my gains would only be temporary. The reason being, you see, is this. Basically, if you don't keep up with the metropolitan world's changing fashions then it doesn't matter if you're Max Level in "2007 style", for example, because in 2013 that basically amounts to... being Level 2 all over again. However, I'm thoroughly ignorant about this stuff. All I know for sure is that it's quite an expensive habit.

I took out my cell phone and opened a bookmarked page. It was a sub-forum of one of the sites I had discovered that night, and it detailed the things that men usually don't take the effort to pay attention to: the correct shoes to wear with certain outfits; the way hair should combed and styled to match the shape of your face; accessories like watches and chains; brands of cologne; and so on. Reading these tips was helpful, and I did learn a lot. However, I was still green in this "PUA" world.

Thus, through that same message board I had arranged to "sarge" (that is, approach girls on the street and apply "game" to them) with a senior member of the site, as user known as "YamaDaPimp92". He'd boldly declared that he would help me "assemble the visage of a true playa."

This offline meeting was inspired in part by my efforts to help Kirino make some friends. I was nervous, but uncharacteristically determined.

Come to think of it, wasn't the ofukai thing originally Manami's idea? And speaking of which... I had a weird rumble in my stomach, somewhere between hunger and guilt. Going to and after school, I noticed Manami's distinct absence. I had probably really upset her. Maybe I had caused her mind to go haywire. At best she was swooning over the events of that early morning; at worst... well, let's just say I hope there isn't a train "delay" today... Geez, what am I saying? That's horrible. I made that plain girl's dreams come true, didn't I? Yeah. And I've done worse before. Plus, in a way this was good, as I could now meet with "YamaDaPimp92" without any unnecessary explanations.

Instead of my usual trip home I took the train to Shibuya. The ride was nothing to talk about, just a bit crowded with noisy schoolgirls.

After arriving, I left the station and checked my phone for the directions I saved. I checked my private message again, too:

I'll be wearing a black leather jacket with a reverse American flag patch, sitting underneath the big neon sign near the novelty watch store.

I wandering the busy streets for a bit, not so much lost as casually sightseeing. I reached the watch store, as described. There were a lot of signs—mostly high-resolution ads for tank-tops and blazers, things like that—but only one was glowing with the bright red tubing of Western characters: TICK-TACK.

Sure enough, there was a character sitting under there, as he'd described. I walked up to him, my mouth opening, but I stopped, realizing he was on the phone. Honestly, I felt kind of embarrassed. He only gave me a quick wave with his free hand.

"Yeah, yeah... okay, okay."

Five minutes passed.

"...Yeah. Yeah, okay. Okay, okay yeah, I'll see you then."

He closed his phone.

Then... he casually dialed another number!

"Hey babe..."

This went on for another five or so minutes. I heard him arguing.

"Don't Eiji me, I don't need this, okay?! ... what? What?! Of course I do!"

Yet another minute passed.

"Alright, baby... uh, huh. Love you too, bye."

Again the phone closed with a firm snap. At last, he looked up—genuinely surprised—and said with a smile:

"Hey, bro."



... so casual! What's with this cavalier attitude? I've been waiting almost fifteen minutes, just standing here like an idiot. Can't you wrap things up if you see I'm standing right in front of you?

He must have realized my frustration.

"Sorry bro, sorry bro, had to take care of my third." He sucked his cigarette. "I'm Yamada, nice to meet you."

Yamada... now that I think about it, that's obviously a fake name. Your name is Eiji, I heard you on the phone! Yamada? That's definitely just your online handle, but yet you introduced yourself so casually, as if it's real name, right? This guy is kind of suspicious...

"MPK-Sultan. Uh... I mean, Kyousuke. Nice to meet you."

We shook hands.

He had a very square face with a short, wavy mohawk. His nose was sharp and his eyes had dark circles beneath them. With his broad shoulders and long arms, he reminded me of baseball pitcher.

"Sorry if I'm being nosy, but that sounded kind of bad."

"Yeah, you're tellin' me," he said, staring at his closed phone. He exhaled and scratched his temple. "Number two is lot less of a headache, she's the main-stay. Number three, though, geez. She's always on my ass about dumb, dumb shit. 'Where are you?' 'What have you been doing?' 'How can I trust you when you're this way?' Ahhh. It's a pain in the ass, bro."

Ohhh, I see. I guess that's how many girlfriends this guy has.

"What about the other one?"

A hearty laugh erupted.

"Ha, ha. That's a good one, bro. One? Try three more... Come on."

He turned away and started off in a staggered kind swagger. He feet were fanned out in a highly exaggerated manner, thick leather boots hitting the ground at even intervals. His wavy mohawk bounced with each misplaced step. Then, it hit me: Six? Six girlfriends!? If that's true, I'm impressed. But you can't be serious.


I did a dorky kind of skip to catch up with him. He really was intimidating. He was a little taller then me but a lot wider, and he obviously worked out. A tattoo of a snake with two heads wrapped around his triceps, hid partially in his jacket, and emerged up to his neck. Geez, kind of yakuza-ish... but his face is so friendly looking! What the hell gives?

Looking at him, I saw eyebrows scrunched up. He was still in thought, counting on his hands as if even he wasn't sure of how many girls he was actually messing around with.

Then, I looked around at the busy, congested street we were navigating. Before I was too focused on the large department stores and malls, but now I had a very acute sense of the local population. It's very intimidating here... there's certainly a lot of well-dressed, beautiful people. Thinking this, I looked downwards at myself. These clothes aren't that, um, lame, are they? Ah, what am I saying. A girl on these streets wouldn't look twice at guy like me. Truly, I could do a lot better for myself.

"Say, bro," he mumbled through a cigarette. I saw his eye peeking through the side of his sunglasses. "I noticed you haven't really got your threads up to notch, huh?"

At the risk of sounding condescending: obviously.

"Yeah. As you can see, I'm pretty new to this 'PUA' business."

"Don't worry about it. You're new, but I think you catch on fast, bro. You told me about that neighborhood, girl, eh? Heh, you gots some balls my friend. I wish I had that kind of talent at your age, you know? And someone to shape me up."

What's this, "your age"? Aren't you barely a year older than me, "bro"?

"I'll show you the ropes, have you standing tall with your collar popped."

I scratched the back of my head. Could this guy teach me? Was this a genuine "PUA-sensei", as it were? I doubted him, I doubted him very much. And yet here I was, drafted by the Seducer's Battalion, caught in this pick-up artist's boot camp.

"That's... not too much of an inconvenience, is it?" I asked, half-way committed to this adventure and half-way reconsidering the whole endeavor. But, at that moment, I couldn't really seem to back myself out. "If it's all right with you...?"

"Haha, what's with this, uh, business man polite-guy language, bro? I already told you," he said as he ashed his cigarette on a nearby street pole. "We're freaking bros, bro. Ima help you out. For sure."

With that, we reached our destination. The automatic doors parted and we walked into one of the many large shopping malls that dominated the area. If we hadn't gotten a lot of stares on the street, then we definitely got them now. Pretty girls stopped and giggled; business men's eyebrows cocked upwards and their foreheads wrinkled; even some of the attendants handing out promotional fliers stopped their robotic greetings and stared. I felt myself shirk away from Eichi.

"Heh. It's a little bright in here, isn't it?"

"Say what, bro?"

He ignored my awkward nicety and surveyed the marbled landscape. Gold cut trim marked the black pillars of the mall's foundation, chandeliers hung beneath each floor, and fifty foot banners ("Free Exotic Dark German Coffee With Every Crystal Purchase! Please Come to Our Jewelers!") descended from the ceiling. It was a pretty tacky mall, I suppose, but, then again, that is probably exactly why this tattooed guy brought us here.

Then, he pointed forward.


"There," he said with a smirk, firmly confident in his directions.

We marched about 50 feet, then took the escalator. Girl's were still staring; I pulled my hood up. Yamato kept up his small talk, occasionally flashing a smile to groups of girls who appeared on the downward escalator mirroring ours. One of these girls really caught my eye. She was wearing a short-cut polka dot romper with a wide v-neck. She had light brown hair and her shoulders seemed to glow with the tacky gold trim around us. I found myself staring when...

Ahhh... The black steps dissolved in the second floor, and she floated out of sight. I almost wanted to turn around to see her again, but that felt a bit desperate.

Eiji's head jerked in all directions.

"Ah, right! No, wait—"

Then we took a sharp left, dodging some more giggling girls, and—could you believe, of all things—a life-sized Stardust Witch Meruru cutout.

"September Premiere! Don't miss out!" squeaked a cheap speaker hidden in the base of it, in an unbearably annoying way. Gah! Won't you stop haunting my life!?

We finally entered the store. So fast in fact that I didn't quite catch the name of it. "Exotic Fantasy"? "Fantastic Ways"? It doesn't matter, I suppose.

"Cool", Eiji said. "Now let's find someone. How about..."

Littered around the racks of clothes were customers. Pretty girls had their boyfriends in pack-mule mode, each bishounen slave shouldering more shopping bags than the next. At each corner of the store were the attendants, ready to service these spoiled females. Disregarding the mustached manager in the accessories corner, there were two chubby female attendants and a petite one wearing a black dress. Well, they were all wearing black dresses... but, is this really a choice? For as shallow guy like you?

He approached her, of course. I lagged a little behind.

"Welcome, sir!" She did a slight bow. "How may I be of service today? Are you looking for anything in particular?"

Eiji bowed cheekily.

"Hi, hi, hi! Not me, miss, but my bro here: he's new in town—as you can see—and unlike his older brother here he's not a very stylish person..."

She laughed.

"Ah, I see! That's true, I can see the resemblance! Face wise, I think."

What? Are you kidding? We couldn't look any further apart! Waayyyy too polite. In fact, it's almost kind of patronizing. Not to mention how casually I was insulted! I felt slighted but I didn't say anything.

As my anger lifted, however, I started to notice Eiji's natural abilities at work. As he chatted with the attendant, as she pulled items from the racks and brought me new outfits and suits and different accessories, I saw this pick-up artist at work. He spoke to her; his words didn't mean much, but within the course of a few moments I could see before me the change in body language that was taking place.

"...without much of way to go, you know?"

"Haha, that's true, isn't in?"

She touched her hair.

"...but his friends weren't too sure about that..."

"That does seem to happen, yes, I've seen it very frequently with groups like that."

She fixed her skirt.

"...there are, what is called? Places where that sort of thing's acceptable..."

"Ah, yes, yes, you're right, they're called... um... haha, this is embarassing..."

She stepped closer to him.

These things were subtle. And they were fast. You see, on the outside Eiji gave the impression of crudeness. Okay, he pretty much was crude, but he could charge past those impressions by the fire in his approach. The must important key to his art seemed to be inherent energy he brought to such a mindless conversation (if you could call it that). It was superficial, almost irritating to the core, but the ease of rapport and excitement of it all was beyond impressive. Eiji was no doubt an uncouth person to society at large. He was strange, out-of-place. He dressed outrageously, too. But he had a unique gimmick that radiated beyond social norms, straight into the hearts of his targets. Furthermore, he had a natural ability to create sexual tension without being creepy—effortlessly, in a way. I saw him gently touch her hair hair. It was only for a second, but I saw it.

She giggled again.

I didn't expect this at all. I truly, truly did not want to admit it, but there was no doubting it: The woman was truly captivated.

Eiji got her number and directed her toward me. I won't bother to further describe the checkout process, as, frankly, I felt less like a customer and more like a prop around which these two carried out their despicable flirting. Ahhh.

After we had gotten my "threads" (basically: after my savings had evaporated), we headed back past the chandeliers, past the Meruru cutout, and back down the escalator, past the sliding doors. I bought a soda real quick and we sat down on a vacant bench. It was a little darker outside. I cracked the can open, and my tutor began to explain his methods in a furious diatribe:

"24hrs. That's what I'll give her. Would've been tonight if I wasn't coaching you, but it ain't a big deal to me, you know? I'm going to number 5's place tonight."

"To score?"

"Yeah, yeah. Anyway, anyway..."

Eiji pulled out a pack of cigarettes, gently pulling off the wrapper.

"Want one? he asked with his head tilted down and eyebrows raised.

"No, thanks."

He shrugged.

"You see, you see, you see that girl? Say I banged her. No 'I love yous'—or maybe a few—it don't matter what you say, really, in the heat of it. Anyway. After she gets home, after you've 'pumped and dumped' her, she'll claim to all her friends that you did this and that you did that." He poked his cigarette in the air at each you. "She'll rationalize every poor decision she's ever made with you, bro, right from the start. 'I would never go out with a guy like that,' she'll say to her ugly friends. 'Are you kidding me, he's so beneath you!' they'll parrot back. But it all talk. Cheap, yeah. And once she's alone with you, it's over, bro. You set the mood of it all. You control the flow of things."

I let this sink in for a moment.

"I see." My thoughts turned back to Manami. "But that's also kind of crummy, to leave her like that. Don't you ever feel like an asshole?"

"That," he said, "is the curse of this life. That is the dark side of a master pick up artist."

I took this comment with a grain of salt. I didn't doubt his technique, nor his insight in female psychology. But on this point, I truly wasn't convinced.

We continued talking for some time.

"And this Ayase girl, bro... Lemme guess. You're all over her. You're totally obsessed. You're gonzo. She's your love, your life, your wife-to-be, right? Heavenly above all else, the goddess of your dreams? Am I right?


"Y-yeah. How—"

"Look bro, we've all been there. I've had my crushes and I've had my rejections. Or no rejections at all. You know, just sitting across the playing field, waiting for things to happen. The right moment, the right chance. But thing you have to realize, is this: that 'heavenly' girl is basically no different from that neighbor girl of yours."

I was truly shocked. How could he say such a thing? How could my heavenl—umm... how could Ayase be on the same level as such a plain and thoroughly disinteresting girl? Impossible! Beyond ridiculous!

Reading my mind again, he said, "Its not that crazy. Right now, you think that girl's farts are perfume. But if you want to hit the heights of this grand mackdaddy here, then you gotta shape up." He rained his hands above his head.

Shape up. I seem to recall my sister using those words.


"What if I told you that if you could just hold all of that back—all the glorifying thoughts, all the bullshit—that if you could just hold that back, that you'd get far enough along with her to really seal the deal?"

Seal the deal, huh?

"You mean... sex?"

He roared up at the mention of the word, slapping his knee.

"Haha, Kyousuke, bro, man, you're a riot. You say that word like a grade-schooler reading it in a dictionary in something, haha."

Gah, this guy can't belittle me enough?

But his laughter faded away. He suddenly got serious. Then emerged a look of epiphany. He came closer to my face, inspecting me at a super-uncomfortable level.





"That's it bro! That's what it is! Your... your style!"


"Here's the thing, bro. This style of mine—that's what works for me. I'm cool. I'm all swagger. I'm kinda like a punk-thug-rocker-gangster-body-builder delinquent! It's weird and dangerous, so... chicks are kind of afraid, but they kind of dig it, too!"

"I see. But?"

"But you're this like... guy-next-door, super friendly, polite, destined-to-be-a-salaryman type dude. Very... innocuous. Girls have a vibe for that, make tons of suppo-sitions about a guy based on a few, few, few, but ex-treme-ly critical details."

Heh. This guy's vocabulary is really out of place. Just what kind of person did you used to be before you converted to this insane religion of lust?

"You know, bro?"

"I think I'm following, but... it also feels like I'm kind of being insulted?"

"Haha, nahhh. Bro. Bro, come closer for a sec... Listen, man, between bros, it's never about style. You don't style to get a bro to be your bro, broski. Bros are accepting, man. They don't care if you wear a rice sack, long as you don't cockblock when a bitch be present. Instead, it's about the bond that ties all us playas together, you know? Man and his fellow man bonding together in the pursuit of that one supreme smash!"

His hands fanned out triumphantly. Somehow the distance between us was closing considerably with every sweeping gesture he made. This went on for a few cigarettes more (although not as nearly as long as the time I had spent waiting, earlier...), and while I was always this close to stepping away, I never did. Why? Well, it was something about the push and pull of the conversation, about the way he seemed to both complement me and insult me simultaneously. The way he, the way he...

Wait a second. Aren't I be roped in, just like that girl in the store!?

That's when he placed an arm on my shoulder. My hands shuffled in my pockets.

"You should of seen the look on her face, bro, haha."

I laughed a bit sheepishly. Then I looked at that animated face of his again; his laughter faded and his smile winded down to a small grin. In that moment the steps of passerby seemed somehow muted, with the steady flow of cars floating on the street without a sound. The boastful tales had stopped now, and it was inexplicably quiet. But Eiji continued to smile, quite concentrated on my quiet, and no doubt confused, face. Was the sun setting...? I felt a cool breeze pass us. Then, Eiji's eyelids lowered.

Ehhhhhhhhhhh... ? What homoge is this!?

Okay, okay. I honestly don't think he was doing it in a seductive sort of way (I think?), but, damnit—this guy! This how he keeps up interest, huh? Pretty amazing!

Y-yeah, pretty... amazing.

I pulled my sweaty hands out of my pockets, and glanced at my phone with an air of not-quite-feigned anxiousness. I politely rebuked his further invitations ("You sure you don't wanna toss back some brews, bro?") with an excuse about dinner, and casually waved goodbye. Then I walked calmly to the corner, turned it, and starting sprinting to the train station.

I arrived home at about 7:15 p.m. Shit, I thought. Even though it was an excuse, I really had to make it home before then! Dad's military-like staunchness meant I'd be having potato chips for dinner instead of juicy pork cutlets.

Ah, well.

I could hear my mom cleaning up in the kitchen, and some mumbling from my dad. It wasn't bad mumbling. It was just his normal, everyday annoyed rumbling.

I went upstairs to my room, turning the bags to my side and sliding upwards in side-step in order to hide them as best as I could. Before hitting the last step, my ears raised like antennae; the floorboards creaked slightly from the weight of my purchases, but other than that there was silence. Kirino was not home either, it seemed, and I was thankful for this. A lucky break when I needed one most? Crazy! No inconvenient or embarrassing encounter? Must be a miracle. I guess the gods had taken pity on my hours of embarrassment earlier.

I entered my room quickly and tossed the bags on my bed. At random, I took out some clothes; it was a suit. I changed, then stood up with my head held high. I looked into my mirror.

So that's gonna be your shtick, 'kay, bro? Nice-guy Mr. Kousaka, dashing gentleman and charmer.

Eh. Gentleman and charmer!? I'm in no way as sophisticated as that pep talk made me seem! Plus, isn't that just your fantasy?

Before me was, well, me. The supposed PUA master-to-be, the future lady-killer Kousaka Kyousuke. Charming businessman by day; pummeler of labia by night.

Sigh. Not really.

Truth be told, the suit I wore was very sharp, indeed. It was subtly stripped, a charcoal color which seemed to mold my body into a pleasing V-shape. The red silk dress shirt (one of five similar "passion" colors I had bought at Eiji's suggestion) seemed to pop, with the chest portion grounded by a thin, solid black tie. My form appeared bold and daring.

"Excuse me... No, um... Excuse me. Hello, miss. My name is Kousaka Kyousuke. It's a pleasure to meet you."

That sounds totally unconvincing! Completely, utterly! It sounds like a lame school introduction! Ugh, ugh, ugh. I'm starting to feel real pathetic.

I suppose the problem was not the aesthetic pull of my presence, but the personality that carried it. I was still "Kyousuke", you see. No matter how girls might dig my style, they'd see me for a sham within minutes of my introduction, probably seconds. In fact, the coolness of my clothes only served to magnify my undesirable traits. It's like when you see a famous actor who usually plays huge, tough guys in action movies suddenly take a serious drama role. They might give the guy glasses to try to make him appear sophisticated, but you can't shake that ingrained image of him screaming at the top of his lungs, casually blasting through waves of enemies with an AK-47. Not that I'm either of those kinds of cool, but, you know. That's exactly how stuck I am.

"Ahhhh... geez. I spent all that money, didn't I..."


What's this? I unlocked my phone.

1 message from 080-7715-6425.

"What's this?"

Hey brolisten. I know how guys like u are. U

might think that that ur outta place but trust

me bro ive been there. U gotta shake it. All

I gotta say is TAKE THE LEAP! DONT BE A



Even in writing, his boisterous personality comes straight through. Frankly, it's eerie how well he seems to know me after only a few hours meeting. Although he's kind of goofball, he was helpful. So I can't so easily dismiss him. After all he's told me? He definitely spent a good deal of his day trying to teach me his ways. I can't wimp out now. As a matter of principle, I have to go through with this.

I picked my head up and again stood tall, gazing into the mirror. I tried my "shtick" again:

"Hi, sorry to bother you. My name's Kyousuke. I'm new in town and..."

Hmmm... where'd this come from? It sounds... better? Kind of rolls off the tongue. Still, this kind of technique is designed for "street pickup", isn't it? The girls I knew—the girls who I really wanted to "score" with—already had an idea of who I was, a solid image of my character. How could I break that impression? Could I even build on such a lousy foundation? Could I—

"Could I?", "Should I?" No, this roundabout thinking needs to stop.

I can't "wimp out."

I need to do this!

The phone still in my hand, I made a very daring move. I exhaled briefly, then scrolled through my contacts. I quickly passed "A" and moved to the "KU" section.

Here goes.

ri~n ri~n ri~~n

Almost as quickly as I had dialed it—


My chest... ahhh. The phone was slippery in my hand and it felt like my head weighed about 10 pounds more.


"Yes?" she repeated.

Here I was, about to stutter my way through a hell of an awkward conversation, when I felt a familiar, frightening presence seize me.


My head dropped to the floor. My arms zigzagged around my body, my flailing legs kicked the hangers and boxes around me. My tongue was sputtering out of my mouth. Am I having a seizure?


Then, like a zombie, I rose from the floor, poised and complete.

My voice transformed from a trembly, scattered squeak of adolescent tension into...

"Kuroneko, I understand if this may be somewhat inconvenient, but... alas, I need your help."

A smooth baritone timbre exited my mouth. Whoa! I felt the hair raise up on my neck.

Then I cracked a smile.

I don't know why, but I could feel her cheeks turning red—even through that impersonal barrier that was our phonecall.

Still, I was confused. What the hell? These outbursts are weird. Are they seizures? Does our family have a history of that? Maybe I should see a doctor. Heh, maybe that Eiji slipped something in my soda (I shouldn't have walked away to take a piss then!) before? Or this could be an autistic savant type thing, like you see on those science specials. Or maybe... maybe I've finally cracked. Maybe I'm out of my mind.

Either way... if it came to being crazy, who wouldn't want to be crazy like this?

Besides, would you just listen to this girl! I could tell her anything, anything! "The air is pleasant tonight" — Even something mundane like that! The change in her personality is amazing. Why, even through that stoned-faced anime-rehash delivery of hers, I can practically hear her giggling.

This is it Kyousuke! MPK! M-P-K! M-P-K!





I was in the middle of admiring my personal victory—mindlessly boasting in the mirror as I set a weekend date with my little sister's otaku friend—when I saw it.

In the mirror I saw something that shocked me beyond comprehension.

I slowly turned around.

Sitting there, in the corner of my room by the trashcan, was Sister-Caught Trouble, shining pristine in its pink and gold box.