Chapter 28:

"Crash Site"

Vibrancy x Vibrancy

The crowd quiets down, pop culture references and all. As Ayako, Kentaro, and I look up at Daisuke on the balcony, a police officer settles in next to us. Compared to the middle-aged Yamazaki back in Tsukamoto, this guy looks barely out of high school - he bears a youthful face and a fresh buzz cut. He looks up at Daisuke in awe as the governor begins his speech.

“Thank you all for coming on this auspicious occasion,” Daisuke speaks into the microphone, his voice perfectly calm. Noticeably, Mayor Takeuchi isn’t up there with him. “I know we have been through some tough times this past year, but we’ve made it through them all together, hand-in-hand, stride-in-stride, whether it be the tough spring monsoon or the infamous Raccoon Incident of March.”

The cop next to me sheds a single tear at that last one.

“So come, let us all enjoy the festivities!” Daisuke proclaims. The crowd nods at his smooth tone. “At sunset tomorrow, the Soga Obon Festival will officially begin! And this won’t just be any festival - it’ll be one featuring the greatest, largest, most spectacular LED screen in the entire country!”

The cop whistles and claps, as do most of the crowd. Kentaro rolls his eyes while Ayako keeps one of hers behind the camera.

“Soga, this one’s for you!” Daisuke proclaims as he points to the other side of the plaza. Before I can turn my gaze, a bright light appears in the corner of my vision. The crowd ooh’s and aah’s as the screen on the skyscraper turns on. Delightful images of Obon festivals in previous years play in high-quality across the screen, as does images of Daisuke’s victory in the past election night. He’s smiling, shaking hands, and then it goes kaput, kerplunk, kerplooey.

The crowd gasps as Daisuke’s face glitches in and out, and then one half of the screen completely goes dark. The other half displays a blue screen, white letters flickering in and out, and then half of a spinning beach ball of death appears.

Back on the balcony, Daisuke tugs nervously on his collar. “It’s okay everyone, just some minor technical issues-”

“It’s Nobuhide!” the officer cries out next to me. That cursed name quickly gathers steam and spreads across the crowd. I can’t tell if people actually believe it or not, but all those awed faces have been replaced by crestfallen ones.

I see the high school girl with the Seiko-chan haircut in front of me let out a long sigh and look at her shoes. 

“I…used to believe.” 

And then she departs, the first ripple in what becomes a massive wave.

Daisuke’s doing damage control up on the balcony. “Everyone, everyone, I assure you, we’ll have this up and running in a few minutes.” Thirty seconds later- “Up and running by the start of festivities tomorrow.”

The crowd isn’t having it. They shake their heads and wander off - the somber mood is palpable. Next to me, the cop holds his cap in a subdued manner. “That’s as bad of an omen as I ever saw. After Nobuhide burned Soga down and we rebuilt it, he decreed that the ruler of Yoshiaki will always open festivities here. And if the ruler can’t run a good festival, then he ain’t a good ruler.”

His voice drops to a whisper. “Between you and me, I don’t know about tomorrow’s chances. The guy Daisuke put in charge of this is one of his cousins.”

That’s the second Daisuke family member on the prefecture payroll. “Does Daisuke employ a lot of his cousins?”

The cop chuckles. “Ah hell, that’s how I got my job.” His radio then crackles; he places it against his ear. “The chief needs me to empty the trash? I’m on it.”

He peels out, leaving the two Kenji students and I in the plaza. They don't look too upset about Daisuke's failure. Nearby, the two pop culture references weep gently behind their guitars. Upon seeing that, Ayako fixes her beret and puffs her chest out in pride. Dead screen or not, hearing that Kentaro would go to the festival with her must've lifted her spirits, and she evidently wants to spread that good feeling.

“I’m gonna go talk to them,” she declares loudly. But then she gets quieter. “If I was feeling troubled, then maybe they are too. Maybe they just need somebody to talk to.”

She heads out, and I say farewell to Kentaro as he follows her. I’m still waiting on Shizuko, but then I get a message.

Shizuko: yuka is real upset by the screen thing

Shizuko: gonna have some girl time with her lol

Shizuko: don’t get jealous ahaha

Shunsuke: Maybe just a little. Hope she feels better.

Well, I’m a free man, so I decide to take up Takeuchi’s offer to see him at the park. I wonder how he’s doing - based on his earlier behavior, I suspect he’s feeling mighty fine about Daisuke making a fool of himself. Many in the crowd head in the same direction as me, down long avenues and intersections. While waiting at the light for one, I stumble upon another familiar face.


She gets jolted out of her headphone headspace and nearly jumps out of her skin. Now that she’s back to reality and sees it’s me, she lowers them around her neck. “Shunsuke?”

“I thought you were stuck in Hoshinomori," I say.

The look of surprise gets replaced by the usual cynical expression, but the corners of her mouth can’t help but smile. “Well…I thought about what Shizuko and you told me. About meeting new people and doing new things. I told my mom about it and she suggested I spend a night or two here for the festival.”

The crosswalk light changes to green and we continue on.

“Nice. Hopefully it goes better than the screen.”

Ume just shakes her head. “Nothing in life seems to go right. But it’s kind of nice to have things go wrong somewhere else for a change.” She gives her urban surroundings a dark view. “I told myself I’ve never go back to Soga after finishing high school. But now that’s it been over a year…I’m starting to remember some nice stuff.”

We pass by an otherwise nondescript vending machine, but Ume’s gaze lingers on it. “One time Shizuko and I stopped here during a run. I complained about my dad and she just listens like she always does. When you get her talking, she’s a talker, but on that day, all she did was listen. Maybe I needed it.”

She keeps quiet for the rest of the avenue. At the end, we come across a large lawn dotted by trees swaying in the wind. A large crowd’s already gathered here - at the back is a stage and podium set up for a speaker. Ume’s eyes aren’t on them though - she’s looking at her shoes.

“Smoking wasn’t for me,” is all she says, as if she’s trying to break the silence. Or delay talking about something else on her mind. “I, uh…look, Shunsuke, can you help me? Can you tell Shizuko I’m sorry for what I did during high school?”

We take up a spot in the crowd with a good view of the podium. I think about relaying the message, and I have a feeling Shizuko would accept it, but it leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.

“That’s something you gotta do yourself,” I explain. “But I can help set up a meeting.”

She grimaces for a moment, but then anxiety overtakes her face. She runs a hand through her long brown hair. “Maybe.”

Our conversation gets cut short by the sudden cheers in the crowd. The largest man I have ever seen, muscles bulging through a brown suit, dark shades across his grizzled face, ushers none other than Takeuchi onto the podium. The Mayor enjoys the attention, waving to the crowd, flashing his best smile (which is kind of mediocre, and still doesn’t reach his eyes). When the roar finally quiets down, he speaks slowly, carefully, deliberately.

“Who here thinks things are going wrong?”

The crowd converses in quiet conversation. “I do,” a truck driver says.

Takeuchi nods in encouragement. “And who here thinks it’s time for a change?”

Whispers rustle through the crowd. “I like change,” an office worker pipes up.

“And who here misses the Eighties?”

“I do!” Seiko-chan answers with a raised hand.

Takeuchi nods and smiles. From hidden speakers, the hit Eighties city pop single Entrance Ceremony starts playing, a symbol of yesteryear and bygone times, and he raises both of his hands to give the symbol of V for Victory.

A giant banner unfurls behind him on the stage, proclaiming none other than-



Steward McOy