Chapter 4:

My Senpai are Way Too Harsh.

My Dad is an Otaku, My Mom is a Fujoshi, and I Wish I Was Dead


Karate team practice is already bad enough on its own, but it's much harder when the seniors are in a bad mood, and today, the captain, Shunsuke Takeno, is in the worst mood of all. It seems like these occurrences are more and more frequent lately. During orientation, the club showed us all the awesome things that they did in the past, all the competitions and trophies that they'd won, and how disciplined and respectful the entire team was, and I knew it was the club for me. It was only after a few weeks had passed that I realized they ran the place like a bunch of drill sergeants, but it was too late to back down now.

To be honest, my seniors' attitudes didn't really have much effect on my decision- I've done martial arts for a few years already. When I was a kid, I loved tokusatsu shows, and sometimes my dad would watch them with me. Back then, I was too young to realize how low-budget and cringy they were- I just thought they were the coolest thing ever, and I wanted to fight just like K**** Rider. My parents let me sign up for classes, and I fell in love.

I don't know when I fell out of love with karate. Maybe it was once I realized the truth about the tokusatsu programs I used to love so much, or the more unsavory side of my family. As a child, you don't care about anything but what's in front of you, or what anyone else thinks, but when you get into middle school you start to realize how others perceive you and those around you, and it starts to embarrass you. Some people, like Ayame, take it on the chin and just don't let it get to them. I'm not one of those people. In the middle school club, at about the same time I realized how weird my parents were and how awful I felt whenever anyone I knew saw me around them, I lost every single match I had my first year. Everyone else took the sport way more seriously than me, and I got beat up pretty bad. I was okay with the physical pain, but the mental pain was worse than any bruise. I didn't want people to think of me as a loser from a family of losers, so it was then that karate stopped being fun. Instead, it became work, like an obsession. I threw myself into it, working harder and harder, as a way for me to prove that I was unlike my parents, that I could make something of myself. In the end, it wasn't fun. But I started to win. Not a lot, but just enough. This is where I stand now. I can't quit, not when I've come this far. And if there has to be some pain, I'm fine with it. I'm sure my father would never survive in this environment, but I can, because I don't want to be the same as him.

In the end, I'm a pretty selfish person. But you'd do the same thing if you were in my situation, wouldn't you?

Speaking of people who are having fun, I have no idea how Tatsurou still looks so cheerful. We've already done more wind sprints and pushups than I can count today. My legs feel like jelly already, and the unusual heat for May is making the aroma of old sweat and body odor that permeates the outdoor dojo truly noxious. I'm struggling to keep my lunch down, but he looks as chipper as ever. I don't know how you can be so cheerful when the senpai are taking it out on us this much. We had already started the day warming up with every single type of body weight exercise so that we were exhausted before the training even began, and then when we did our kata, Takeno-senpai didn't like our forms, so all the first-years had to run until we dropped while the older students leered at us. Most of my fellow first-years are panting and about to pass out, but Tatsu isn't fazed. One part of me looks at him and gets pissed that he seems to be enjoying this torture session, but another part of me sees me as a child in my very first class. There's something to be said about how stupid people are happier.

Finally, the required number of wind sprints ends, and the first-years slump to our knees, exhausted. All around me, my classmates are panting and gasping for breath, while Takeno-senpai stalks up and down the dojo floor like an irritated guard dog. Behind him, the senpai slumped at the back of the room can barely hide their amusement.

I get a little twinge of displeasure watching them and their grins when they haven't ran nearly to death like we have, but I quickly put it aside- they definitely did the same thing when they were first-years. Their senpai probably laughed at them squatting until they puked. They've earned the right to do this, as crazy as it might seem.

"Get up, first-years!" Takeno-senpai roars, and we all apprehensively rise to our feet and make our way back to the center of the dojo. He stands up in the center of the floor while we surround him and the senpai watch from the back with eager expressions. "All of you, ippon kumite. You're defending. First up..." His eyes scan the crowd of exhausted freshmen and settles on me. "Kouga. NOW!" I look around for a split second and see Tatsu give me an approving nod out of the corner of my eye before I hesitantly step up. It's a fairly simple drill. He shoots his attack, I counter and hit with mine. All training, nothing I haven't seen before. But his expression definitely looks like he doesn't just want to train. He enters his stance and I do the same, nervously swallowing. He's definitely going to come with the backhand. He's bracing for it. "Backhand, head!" he calls. Yup, guessed it. I pull my hand up to guard and kick for the counter...

...and his knee slams into my gut. I'm down before I realize it. The pain feels like a bomb just exploded inside of me and for a few seconds, my vision goes black as I struggle to breathe.

As I start to come back to life, the first thing I see is Takeno-senpai standing over me with a furious expression on his face, his close-cropped black hair, his deepset eyes, and his tall stature seeming even more intimidating. "Your opponent isn't going to tell you what he's doing! Again!" I pull myself back to my feet, not looking at the senpai who I just know are sneering at me for my miserable excuse at defense.

"Kick, head!" he calls. This time I'm smart enough to know that he's definitely not going for a kick. Probably he'll do the backhand this time. I raise my hand to block and a spinning kick nails me in the other side of my head so hard I don't have time to react. Instantly, I'm down again, with my head ringing so much I can barely think. What the hell, this isn't training! This is an actual fight!

"Don't let me fool you!" I vaguely hear Takeno snap as I struggle to get up, still loopy. It's too much of an effort for me and I only manage to sit up. "Next! Kobayashi!" he calls. But as he walks away, I think I hear something under his breath.

"This is the best effort you can give? If you can't handle this much, you need to quit karate."

The rest of the practice passes without much incident. All the freshmen try to take on the captain, and most of them get taken down in rather humiliating ways. None of them are as pathetic as my attempt, though. They all knew what was coming now that they watched me, and at least none of them let their guard down- Takeno-senpai was just too good.

By the time the practice ends an hour or so later, the dizzy sensation has mostly faded, although I still have a splitting headache, and a pretty nasty-looking bruise has formed around my left eye where the captain kicked me.

"Yeesh, Senpai got you pretty good," Tatsurou chimes in as I look at the black eye in the mirror in the locker room. All the first-years are changing extremely slowly. I'm not surprised- every muscle in my body is screaming out with soreness. That's just what happens every practice, and you have to get used to it.

"He dropped you with the palm strike, too," I reply. Tatsu had gotten hit too, but beneath that shaggy mop of bleach blond his happy-go-lucky smile was still as big as ever.

"That's different, though," he muses as he scratches his chin. "I saw it coming, but he still got it around my guard. But you...that wasn't fair to you. You didn't know he was gonna do that."

"It's all right," I sigh. "If I had been better, I'd have seen it."

"But still...he's the ace and the captain, and it's his job to teach us, right? Not to beat up on us?"

I don't have an answer, and the room falls silent once again. I'm still thinking about what he said the second time. Surely I heard wrong, right? If you can't handle this much, you need to quit karate. Takeno-senpai is a pretty stern and demanding guy, but he's never gone as far as telling someone to quit before. I hope I'm wrong and it was just something cooked up by my loopy brain. But still, it's my own fault for being so weak I let this happen to me in the first place. If I train even harder...this won't happen again.

The door to the locker room slams open, and all the first-years stop and turn. It's the two senpai who were doing most of the laughing as we got manhandled. "Great work out there, newbies!" the one with the long hair sneers. I think his name is Nakamura- I don't really know. The second-years in the club all look like a bunch of delinquents.

I see a few of my other freshmen bite their lips and huff. The constant smile Tatsurou always wears has even disappeared. I just look down. However, the one with the earrings has already seen me, and comes right over for me.

"Hey, Kouga. Since you volunteered to put yourself out there against Captain, you don't mind to get your seniors some drinks, too, don't you? Since you're a go-getter and all-" he chuckles, shoving a 2000-yen bill in my hand. As you might have guessed, this isn't a request.

"I'll do it." Tatsu speaking up is a shock to everyone in the room, including the senpai. For a second, they're speechless. "Kouga needs to rest for a few minutes."

"Well, no, Aikawa..." the one with the earrings-Tanaka, was it?- grins. "No can do. You've got the special task of cleaning the dojo today. It's something you can handle, right?"

Tatsu lets out a huff as he leaves, following the second-years to scrub the dojo floors. I finish putting my uniform back on, and leave with the money for the nearest vending machine. I know to someone on the outside it may look like the senpai are kicking me around, but I really don't mind. I promise. They had to do this too when they were first-years, I'm sure of it, and I was already planning to go for a walk and clear my head anyways if they hadn't forced my hand.

Even though it's still abnormally hot for May, it feels a lot better outside than in the muggy dojo. The martial arts clubs- kendo, judo, and karate- all practice in dojos in the very back of the high school grounds, next to the Gardening Club's flowers and vegetables. Even though Shinchoushi has more than enough money to build new facilities if they'd like, they still keep the old dojos that were built back in the 70s because they're still in good shape except for the lack of air conditioning, which is honestly the worst thing about them. Even then, it's not completely terrible in times that aren't summer.

It's not yet cicada season, but it's too late to be cherry blossom season, so it feels like today, the world has decided that it's an early test run for the humid summer that will follow. A slight breeze comes through as I walk, gently tousling my hair and rustling the Gardening Club's daffodils next to me. That's right...I need a haircut. I ought to get one soon.

I pass by the track and baseball stadiums, where both practices are just wrapping up. The baseball team is loading up their equipment, their white uniforms stained with dirt and sweat from a day's hard work. It looks like the boys are using the track today, which means Ayame must have gone to the Manga Research Club. It's kind of incredible how she manages to do both clubs and still- well, she doesn't do well in school, but she does just enough. If she devoted the same amount of energy to studying as she did to her club activities, she'd probably be a genius.

Beyond the sports fields are the rows of homes and businesses of this part of Funabashi, spread out to the horizon. It's about seven and the lights are starting to come on, making the neighborhood look like a starry sky. There's nothing special about the part of the city this neighborhood is located in. It's just a typical suburban community- in all those houses, fathers and mothers and bachelors are just getting home from a long commute from Tokyo, elementary school kids are just sitting down at the table to eat, and businesses are closing up shop for the day. It's a normal, peaceful, idyllic, sleepy town, filled with the types of normal suburban families living normal suburban lives I've never truly experienced. I think of the high school students just like me who are just now getting home at the same time as their dads wearing suits get off the train from Tokyo, knowing absolutely nothing about Aimyon or Yuzu-pyon or any of the other anime idols that my dad loves so much.

Why couldn't that have been my life? A dad who works hard in the office five days a week, a mom who greets me at home with dinner and a smile, a little sister who looks up to me, all of that?

My mind wanders right back to what the captain said, or at least what I thought he said. If you can't handle this much, you need to quit karate. I hope that was just my mind hallucinating after being kicked halfway to heaven, because I don't understand why he would say that. I'm putting in as much work as anyone, and he says that...I don't understand. I just don't.

Finally, I reach the courtyard in front of the school, and with it the vending machines that stand outside. 2000 should be enough money for about one...two...yeah, there's definitely only enough Pocaris for the senpai.

"Oh, ho! Look who it is!" I hear a very satisfied voice behind me and turn around to see Ayame, her chest puffed out in her blazer so much I'm afraid it might bust, her eyes sparkling with pride. I've seen this expression far too much, and it never means anything good. "You remember that bet we made, Haru-kun?"

Bet? What bet? Oh, right, that. Her and the manga author she loves so much. Damn you, brain, at least have the decency to make me forget unimportant things whenever you get kicked like a football.

I was so focused on Ayame's smug expression I didn't realize that there's another student with her. She's not that much shorter than Ayame, but is staring so far down at the ground that Ayame looks at least a full meter taller. She's got mousy, short hair, glasses, and...Holy crap, those are big. What are they, G-cup? And she's got the red first-year tie on- how did I not realize someone like that was in our class- Focus, damn it. If Ayame sees this, she'll call me a perv for the next six months.

"Come on! Tell my good friend-" she intentionally draws that out with the smuggest grin I have ever seen- "Haruto what your name is."

"F-Fuuka...Suzuran." It sounds painful for her to even speak, and the name is unusual enough to be pretty familiar to me, but I just can't put my finger on it.

"And who's your favorite mangaka?" Ayame's grin grows even wider.

"M-Mikono-sensei. Miko Mikono-sensei."

Ayame can barely contain her glee. "I told you people knew Mikono-sensei!" She breaks into a stone-faced impression. "Nobody cares about that Mikono. Nobody outside of you and those weirdos in the MRC knows who she is," she says in a dour deadpan.

That's clearly another unflattering impression of me, and I did not call the MRC people weirdos. They are, but I didn't say it out loud. Any other time, I'd be super pissed, but right now I have more important thoughts running through my head.

"And guess what? Suzuran-san here knows exactly who Mikono-sensei is! Color, and she's read all the one-shots too!" She breaks out into a peal of birdlike laughter. "Yay! I win! Baka-Haru! Baka-Haru! Baka-Haru!" She's so giddy she's almost dancing.

She looks at me, clearly expecting to break out in another bout of laughter from seeing the expression on my face. "But seriously, you almost got me...I had to go looking around the school for a couple hours and asking everyone, and nobody knew who Mikono-sensei was until I found Suzuran in the library and, you wouldn't believe it, she was reading Color! Nice try, Haru, I'll give it to ya, but there's at least 2500 students here if you count the middle school, so obviously there's someone else besides me and everyone in the MRC who likes Mikono-sensei. I don't ever take a bet I can't win-huh?" She's finally looked up at me, and stops when she realizes I'm barely even listening.

She's right- normally, I would be mad, especially when she got her way over something as stupid as pure chance, but my mind is still on the captain and what he said. I just don't get it.

"Hey, Haru, is everything okay?" The smug smile drops, and she looks into my eyes with an expression that is approaching genuine worry.

"Yeah, I'm fine. I promise."

"Um, okay." She drops her gaze. "I would have made you give me money and I would have bought Color for you, but I'll lend you my copy. You can look through it whenever. No rush. Just let me know." Suddenly embarrassed, she quickly adds, "I'm gonna go help Suzuran clean up the library. See ya, Haru-kun!"

She dashes off, grabbing her new “friend” by the arm, who clearly isn't ready for Ayame's speed and is flailing around trying to keep up. Poor girl. She's about to find out how hard it is to deal with such a hyperactive chatterbox.

As I watch them go, the voice of the captain pops into my head again. Just quit. I've heard it too many times, but I just don't understand.

As the voice fades out, I realize I haven't even gotten the Pocari yet. Crap, the senpai are going to be pissed and wonder what's taking so long. I finally insert the bill into the vending machine and watch the drinks pile up in the door.

I've decided. Once I get home, I'm going to do some more training.

Pope Evaristus
Steward McOy