Registered User英雄メンバー / Eiyuu Menbaa / Hero Member
- Oct 18, 2014
- Reaction score
Chapter 1 - End of a bud
This was it.
Blankly Teppei looked at the spot at the wall that was once reserved for his series first Jump Cover, his portrait so to say. It was taken down and replaced by a boy with white hair and red eyes looking a bit stupid into the audience, reaching for a silver key while purple monsters of all sorts stream forward from a door behind.
"So generic...", muttered Teppei under his breath. The how many Exorcist themed series does this make for Jump? The 5th, the 6th, the 7th? Are they so desperate for a new Kimetsu no Yaiba that they take any send-in with an exorcist or shaman or priest or spiritual detective or whatever that they don't care for courage and originality anymore? Teppei realized he had been gripping his fingers into tight fists and released them. Those thoughts were wasted now. He was finished, his series was over, he... got not prevail, he had been unpopular and unloved, hated even. His throbbing heart wrenched in his cold chest. Reality was cruel, far more cruel than fiction. A horrible feeling has nested in his stomach and Teppei wished there was a medicine to let him no longer feel anything in his life.
"Just where did I go wrong?", he asked himself when a big hand was put on his right shoulder.
"Still thinking in terms of right and wrong, hm? No matter how many time-skips you got you're still the same guy as you were in chapter 1."
The rough voice Teppei hear fit the rough appearance of the guy behind, acting so familiar and matter of factly. It was his first editor, the one who had failed his own original attempts and who was flabbergasted at the plagiarism he had made by accident.
"You don't remember my name either, right?", smiled the middle-aged man sadly, taking off his hand and reaching into his pocket for a smoke. Teppei wanted to tell him that no smoking was allowed in this building and that it was disrespectful to the portraits of the other series catching on the smoke and taking a stink, but after a moment that thought felt rather soothing to his mind and less of a problem. Teppei shook his head, he really couldn't remember the name of his first editor for four years despite all the dozens of series he had been supposedly handed over to him.
"Well, no wonder. Don't beat yourself up, kiddo, I was always meant as a hindrance, a goon of the evil editorship lacking in empathy and being too full of myself." The laugh of the editor sounded empty and hollow.
"What do you mean right and wrong, Sir?" Teppei tried to get away from the other topic as the thought of a character being forgotten even by his own peers, by the MC himself, by him, hurt him too much to dwell on too long. The editor gave Teppei an appraising look, the one he had always hated in the chapters untold before the first released one. He took a deep drag of his cigarette before releasing a large smoke cloud. Then he looked over Teppei's shoulder to the new series that had taken the place on the wall that was once his, theirs.
"You believe that mangas exist as art and as a way to tell a story and you are not wrong with that assumption but neither right. Mangas are much simpler beings: They are entertainment. They are meant to bring joy and tension to the boring and stressful lives of our readers. Mangas which cannot grip the attention and love of the readers end up like ours; discarded and forgotten. And mangas like this one,", he points with his glowing cig to the Phantom Seer poster, "might just have enough "entertainment" in them to continue long enough to tell most of their story. Or even get a chance to gather a large amount of fans to one day be elevated to an anime and more."
"Ours never got that chance.", the words jetted from Teppei's mouth before he could even think. The unwell feeling in his stomach rumbled once more.
"Not because we were bad per se, but because our theme was handled clumsily, confusing and annoying for the readers. They could not get into it, not many at least, they could not get into you and your thoughts, no matter how often you threw those at them at the earlier chapters because they were so alien and wrong to them. They could not see the overarching goal of this series and that, and some more, led us to our downfall."
Teppei felt anger rising in him. How dare this guy talked about his, their, series like that? Had he no shame? No compassion for the other characters left behind untold of their stories with this sudden, unfair end? Even he and Aino who had the most focus were hardly more than plot devices in the end to tell the story meant to be told, but they took those roles on like they were supposed to. Was this the way of a side character to think who was only there for one chapter? Then it was an ugly way Teppei wanted no part of, it was undeserving and disloyal to the series they represented.
"I... I don't think so. The readers simply couldn't bother to look behind our curtain of plagiarism and condemned us from chapter 1, not giving us a chance to shine. Our creators tried so hard to make them sympathize with me and my plight yet all they did was mock me and the story we were meant to tell: That even if only one person gets you, that that is a stroke of luck any creator could cry about." Teppei felt uneasy and nervous saying those words looking his old editor straight into the eyes, those damn indifferent eyes of a veteran who according to his background story had seen too many series fail to even make the cut or die young long before they had a chance to bloom like the flowers they were meant to be.
"Then why do you lament that the masses didn't love you and your series, Teppei?"
Teppei's heart skipped a beat.
"Why is it so important that they didn't understood us? Should we have not made it easier to understand? Should we not have done some things differently to be more self-inserting for readers? Can we put all the blame on the readers and none of ourselves?"
"It-it wasn't just the readers."
Teppei couldn't take it anymore, this horrible feeling in his stomach tore his innards apart like a wild storm while his heart felt like a broken ice cube stinging his chest and his head just throbbed like a giant zit ready to burst.
"We got no support from our editor! He was too busy with the other series to give us much guidance! We got no Color Pages to show us support! We had no tries attempted to gather popularity for us! We were made a mockery on the internet! We were made a joke! We had no twitter account! No fan letters! No love! They dropped us dead from chapter 1, telling us to die from chapter 6 on, just 6 chapters in and we were supposed to be dead already! How is that not unfair!?"
Teppei's hands were clenched around his chest ready to tear down his shirt as he screamed his pain into the unchanging still expression of his former Editor. Yet as he ended and gasped for air, he saw a change in his eyes, a glimpse of sadness and pity. Feelings the mangaka had seen far too often around him the past weeks which is why he had been mostly enclosed in his room, desperately trying to inspire his creators to turn this mess around, to stop this train wreck of a fast told story, to give him and Aino and everyone the dignity they deserved as characters. Yet all he could feel from his own creator and artist were resignation and desperation. And anger, so much rage it had filled him to the brim in that room, all alone on his own, just him and the mocking images of the internet circling around him over and over like crying birds.
"Well", sighed the man in front of Teppei,"guess I was not wrong with my advise from chapter 1 then."
Instead of explaining himself the man let his cigarette drop to the floor and squashed it with his shoe leaving a black spot on the floor.
"I see you on the other side, Teppei." With that said the editor turned around and walked towards the front-gate leading to the streets where all the other magazine towers stood.
"W-wait, what's your name?" Teppei felt guilty to have made his former editor his target for his wrath, it is not like it was his fault they never took off with the audience. The man turned his head to look over the shoulder, his eyes now looking as indifferent as before.
"Does it matter?"
He left and Teppei was all alone again with his awful feelings tormenting him.
After a while Teppei was able to rip himself off staring at that damn portrait and leave the building. He walked down the streets past towers big and small to the center of the city of towers where there stood a giant gate with a white shining entrance of a vortex of alien energy - the gate all series which ended were meant to step through, no matter if they were a success of failure. Many series saw this gate as the great equalizer where all series would come together in a fabled world called Mangahalla, but Teppei just hated the sight of that giant door. Each step towards that golden gate got heavier and heavier the closer he got. Then as he arrived at the large white marble stairs shining spotless in the brilliant sun he stopped, unable to even take the first step on those holy stairs.
He remembered how it was a few weeks ago, when Act-Age had to suddenly end due one of its creators turning out to be a criminal, sick, unable to keep his perverted fantasies in check. Thus the WSJ Magazine refused to continue and fulfill the story Kei, Chiyoko and all the other amazing characters had wanted to tell their fans and everyone else reading their series. He remembered how everyone from the Jump Tower had been there to say good-bye to all those many many Act-Age Characters leaving them so suddenly. There had been many tears and hugs and heartfelt good-byes and so much regret, much more on the others staying in the city than on the ones leaving. They were not angry at their creator just disappointed and sad, especially for their young artist. And they all left with great applause, a red carpet was brought and rolled out, flowers handed to each of them, even to the side characters. Teppei had been there as well but he hadn't been really part of it. Sure he applauded and said his condolence but deep inside he was worried about when he had to leave, how the impending doom had already taking hold of his heart. He felt like a fake standing there while Aino cried rivers of tears when hugging Kei or joined Chiyoko in mocked anger at her creator when handing over a beautiful flower bouquet to the angelic actress. And when Kei as the MC and last character entered the gate with a wave of her hand, everyone packed up, cleaned up and hold a memory party in the Weekly Shounen Jump Tower, but he had not been there, already back at his room, staring at the table before him where his next chapter crystallize page by page, accompanied by the dark thoughts of his creators becoming his own with each passing day, so much that he dreaded the moment to see each new pages finished as it was just another step towards eternal slumber.
Cold sweat dripped down his face and Teppei whisked it away. Nobody was here but him. The few characters his story owned had already left this morning, most were relived they had no witnesses as there is no joy in getting good-byes and apologies from the older, more successful series or worse the young growing ones who still had the future before them or who already knew they would not follow them for quite some time. The other new series who looked at them in fear of soon finding themselves in the same position was no better. Thus even a part of Teppei was glad that no one saw him like this and yet somehow he wished anyone was here to applaud him and the series he has starred in. Was his series really so horrible that he deserved this treatment?
"Sensei! There you are!"
It was like the sun had gained a human face and beamed happiness over both ears by how cute it was. Aino Itsuki came rushing and out of breath towards the stairs. Her expression filled with joy and excitement felt so estranged to his own feelings, even the sweat running down her cheeks felt different to his. As she stood before him Teppei could understand once more why so many readers had loved her character for being so hopeful and bright even in the darkest times. Who else but her could smile so honestly happy on the day she is supposed to enter Mangahalla?
"Haaah...haaah...I....puh, so hot today, I was looking all over the place for you, Sensei. You weren't with the others when we left this morning so I checked on you and asked everyone in the tower if they had seen you. Luckily one of the boys, I forgot who, had the power to locate people and he told me you were here so I came as quickly as possible. After all, I can't leave after you, the MC, can I?" Aino laughed her little Odyssey off but Teppei felt his heart crushed. It must have been so terrible, knocking at the doors of all the others on-going series and asking for their help as heroine of a failed series to find the failure of a main character.
"I am so sorry you had to endure this, Aino-san...", Teppei said, meaning for the series to end long before Aino had been able to show off everything her character had to offer for the audience.
"Hm? Whatever do you mean?"
"W-well, looking for me and stuff..."
"Oh, that? That was not so bad at all! I got so many hugs and good wishes from the others, especially the girls were so nice to me. Nami-chan, Noelle-chan, Ochako-chan and all the others had all a kind word for me while offering their help to look for you." Aino's wide smile could have burned Teppei's face off with its radiance. He knew he should felt relief upon the knowledge of her positive experience yet all he felt was the sting of jealousy. This series has been supposed to be about him, being a tragic hero saving the heroine at the cost of his own morals yet everyone loved the heroine and disdained him. She was only briefly shown at the end of chapter 1 yet she took the attention of the readers in storm with her surprisingly Genki character type revealed in chapter 3. She was more talented than him, even overcoming her own future self by coming up with Anima as a teenager and destroying him in the rankings for countless weeks. No matter how hard he fought he needed a Deus ex Machina to "win" against her and even then it was just a "this is a manga all of humanity can enjoy" yet it was never shown nor explained why that's case and he himself was forced to say that there ain't a manga every human could enjoy. The ending had left Teppei so unsatisfied because he felt his solution to be so inadequate, his explanation so obvious and cliche he could have died on the spot there. But she took this last chapter so seriously and gave it all her energy that he could not break down there yet. He did it later in his own room after the chapter had been complete and left to be read in the real world.
Teppei did a little jump as he noticed how close Aino had come up to him. He had been so deep in his brooding thoughts that he had forgotten about where and with who he was. But still, he couldn't believe that this shine in her eyes and the mouth corners dancing over her rosy cheeks like Latino dancers were all for real. Surely, she must feel similar how he does!
"Aino-san, a question please, if you don't mind."
"Ahaha, I keep telling you, no need to be so formal with me even outside the series. It is over, we can call each other however we want. Right, Teppei?" The playful tease weld together the broken pieces of his heart but it was a searing burning not a healing one.
"It's about our series." How could she took everything so lightly while he carried such a heavy burden of guilt and pain?
"Sure, shoot!" How could she still smile like this when everything they had worked for was broken?
"Were you satisfied with the ending we got?" How could he think like her?
Aino put her left forefinger on her mouth, making a pensive face. The seconds ticked by and felt like hours for Teppei who was in an up and down of feelings, glad to finally hear her thoughts as the second most important character and mortified upon what the answer might be as he feared he might not be able to make a lick of sense to it.
"Hmm, in my opinion satisfied ain't exactly how I would describe our ending. I think we got the best with what our creators had left for us and if that is not good enough for me, what else could it be? It's an ending which left many questions open but finished the main core of the story we were set out to solve. It might have not done it in the most elegant way, but it still finished it and that is more than many other series could ask for. I'm not satisfied, I am at peace with our ending because it is all we will ever get. Plus it showed us drawing mangas for the rest of our lives and that was all I wished for!"
Teppei had no idea that even his toes could feel awful. He never felt so dragged down by his negativity, even in the series he had the strength and stubbornness to stand up to it all. Here however, before the stairs to Mangahalla, he felt weak and helpless before this earnest girl answering him so seriously, her smile now tinged with sadness he had brought onto it with his question. She really had wanted to draw manga in their series for a longer time than she was allowed to.
"Haha-ha, ye-yeah, I see it the same way, Aino-san..."
"Really now, Teppei! What did I just say we could call each other?"
"Hmpf, much better."
Teppei felt so miserable at not only lying at the heroine of his story who's lifework he had stolen but also for not even being able to stand up to her in such a simple matter of how to call each other. No way he could ever call such a young and beautiful girl on a first name base! What's wrong with her? Well, quite some screws are loose in her head but she's a genius so that is to be expected, but still.
"Come on, let's go! We can't let the others keep waiting for us on the other side." With this declaration Aino grabbed Teppei's hand and started to pull him as she ascended the stairs with bravado towards the golden Gate beckoning them. His feet felt like large iron balls as he lifted one feet and stepped on the first stair with dread in his soul. He couldn't stop Aino just like he couldn't stop his series crashing down. He would die as he had lived his short life, as a failure depending on others to make the moves for him.
"I gotta stop you right there, Aino-chan."
A youthful voice came from the bushes around the stairs and both Aino and Teppei stopped in shock as three figures emerged from the bushes which had been fakes all along. Come to think of it, it should have been pretty obvious with only three bushes on the entire spotless Plaza. The three people dropped the bush disguises and whisked away any leaves left on their clothes. Teppei felt conflicted who to look at first, it was like the presence of all three demanded to be looked at. The one who had spoken was a teenager with pink short hair raised in spikes and parted by a bolt-like scar going from his left eye all the way over the head. A lean young fella wearing a black jacket with various stickers over his white school uniform accompanied by a loose tie. No way that would be allowed in any decent school, it was obvious that he was a rebel character.
To his right stood a large young man, his Afro being an eye catcher, he wore his white shirt sleeves rolled up showing his impressive muscles. His expression was sincere and a bit goofy, clearly he was a hardworker character.
The left of the pink haired rebel was graced by a slender small girl wearing a white sommerdress with a white hat on which was a white rose and white ribbons, of course even the shoes she wore were white as well. It seems like her creator had been dead-set on only using white colors on her, her choker on her slim neck was white, the silky armbands on her thin wrists were white and her long eyelashes were white just like her hair. Yet her porcelain-white skin and snow-white long hair seemed even more pristine than her purely white colored clothes. Her modest chest emphasized her graceful face. The Rubin-red eyes stood out like shiny flames in her unmoving expression, burning so cold as if ice could be a fire itself. She was transparently a cool beauty character but there was something mysterious and dangerous to her which Teppei couldn't name.
The young man in the middle stepped forward, his honest smile and wide eyes indicating a kind-hearted boy who would left no injustice unchallenged - Teppei would have used the White Knight Character to describe him.
The large man hurried after him, his neon-green sport shoes and attire revealing him to also be a student; with his powerful movement in his limbs Teppei would see him as a sports character, the excitement in his expression reminded him of the young Hinata from Haikyu!.
The young lady huffed slightly as her step following the others was so light and elegant that Teppei suddenly wasn't sure if she was of the same age as the boys, with the disdain evident in her look Teppei could see her as an Oujo-sama yet it felt wrong to call her such.
But he knew one thing, all three had something that made them main characters, they were made and designed like he and Aino were to catch the eye and interest of the readers. Then again he had never seen them in the WSJ Tower nor seen their designs in any of the other towers freely available magazines.
"Who are you and how do you know my name?"
Aino's question reminded Teppei that she was still holding his hand. Embarrassed he pulled free of her grip as the three intruders suddenly got into a superhero pose. Well, better said the two boys got into such poses with the large young man taking his arms up shoulder-high and tensing up his muscles making his shirt even more tight than it was before. The rebel teenager brought his upper body down to his right knee with his left leg stretched far away from him as his right hand covered part of his face and his left hand was reaching out as a palm to Teppei and Aino. The girl in white just rolled her eyes and faced slightly dismissive from the others, looking away with her arms crossed, a dramatic wind playing with her long white hair, letting the two braids in it dance on her shoulders. Honestly, because of the two boys overly dramatic poses her not posing felt the most chunni outta the three.
"WE ARE THE U19 CLUB!", declared two manly voices loudly while a third soft one muttered it under her breath. Teppei had no idea what an U19 was but before he could ask the boys changed their poses yet again.
"I'm Kudou Eiji!" The pink haired boy stood up from his crouched pose, his right hand on his chest, the left clenched into a fist still directed at the two characters on the stairs.
"NAME'S BANDA - THE MAN!!!" The Afro boy shouted even louder, both his thumbs pointing at himself.
"White, nice to meet you~" The white girl had closed her eyes as she spoke those words softly but clearly, however there was no "nice" feeling in her words, it was cold and uncaring.
"You guys are U19? So you were real!" Aino's exclamation made Teppei speak up.
"You know them?"
"I heard of them. The others in the tower said that a few years ago some characters refused to leave the city to enter Mangahalla and have since survived in the Underbelly of the city. They see the current system of grading and axing fresh series as oppressive and unfair, their goal is to change it into a more forgiving and chance giving system. At least that's what the girls told me in the sleepovers." Teppei wasn't sure what to comment on first, that there was no way anyone could change a system which worked from outside this pocket world of fictional series or that Aino had taken part in sleepovers and he had no idea that those were even a thing in the tower.
"Ah, I see our fame precedes us." Eiji in the middle smiled happily and rubbed his hands together. White no his left side sighed blatantly.
"More like infamy as sewer rats. I doubt they speak about us as positively as Aino-kun makes it seem."
"EH? You mean they badmouth us in their golden tower with their silver spoons in their mouths?" Banda words seemed shocked to the core.
"Just saying, it seems more likely than them seeing us as heroes."
"Uhm, well, they did not speak very positive of you guys but I wouldn't say they think badly of you or anything like that.", laughed Aino nervously, scratching her cheek.
This seemed to take some spirit from the leader-like boy before he caught himself and moved on a script he must have spoken of many times, so easy did his movement and speech feel like.
"Then you know what we are and why we are here. We'd love you two to-"
"I'm sorry, thank you for the offer but no." Now the boy's shoulder clearly hung low due the sudden refusal and apologetic bow from Aino.
"Couldn't you at least let me finish my sentence before rejecting me? Do you know how rare this is an occasion for us?"
"Didn't you got to say it more lately though? You were jumping around like an overly excited monkey the past months."
"That's not true, White!"
"She kinda has a point, dude. You even trained your speeches before the mirror to make them perfect to the T."
"Uhm." Teppei raised a hand as all four were looking at him. "Excuse me please, but I have no idea what is going on. Could anyone please be so kind to explain to me what this is about?"
"Certainly!", Eiji clapped his hands together. "If you were so kind to follow us to our headquarters for some tea so we can have the talk without any interruptions."
Teppei knew following three strangers to their "headquarters" was pretty dumb but he was too curious to not do so. It was as if his heart was telling him to follow those three, no matter how often his brain reminded him what a stupid idea this was.
"Are you sure, you want to follow them, Teppei?"
Aino's question made him stop but he felt no hesitation, no heavy weight on his feet no more, he felt secure and at peace. So he answered her worried expression with a smile and said:
"Yes, I want to."
The genius mangaka mirrored his smile and shrugged her shoulders before her hands moved up to her hair. She took off one of her two red hairclips with a smiley on them and threw it towards Teppei who absentminded caught it, looking confused at her.
"So you won't forget where you came from. I hope we see each other someday in the future. Cya~"
She turned to the other three characters with a plea.
"Make sure you take good care of Teppei, he tends to overwork himself."
"Of course we will!" Banda hit his chest with his fist creating mighty bang sound. White walked up to Aino on the stairs, moving so close that Teppei could no longer see her face hidden by her long hair and large summer hat.
"Are you sure you want to leave? For all we know this gateway could be nothing but a giant trash bin, meant to erase all characters who walked through it. Or why should heaven await you over there and not hell?" For some reason Aino stepped back in surprise and shock before her expression turned into a huge grin with excitement burning in her eyes.
"How interesting! You look so cool! I love it! A real shame I don't write manga anymore that would have been a twist to make any reader turn their heads, haha." The girl in white seemed taken back by Aino's reaction as if it was not what she had expected to happen.
"White, no need to persuade her anymore. Aino-chan made her choice, we gotta respect that." The girl in white huffed at Eiji's words before turning away and walking down the stairs, in her face were haughtiness and disappointment fighting a close battle.
"Pfff, just another female deuteragonist who's keen on leaving everything behind because she was nothing but a plot device to her story." Teppei wanted to speak out against such an unfair assessment but Aino beat him to the punch there.
"Maybe I wasn't as involved in the series as I had wanted to be, maybe I don't know what awaits me on the other side and maybe I am running away from it all, but no matter what is on the other side I will see it with my own eyes. Because I am not scared to walk into the unknown." Teppei wished he could think up such cool lines on the ready and not ages later when the argument has long been over. White didn't reply and moved back to her group. Aino nodded towards Teppei before she walked up the stairs. The closer she got to the swirling white energy framed by the golden gate the tenser her shoulders got. She was scared after all, but also dying of curiosity to see what the others who stepped through this gate had seen before her. Below on the stairs Teppei felt his heart clench in guilt yet again as he watched Aino walk the stairs, once more she had stolen the march on him, proven how much stronger of a character she was, not in need of a deus ex machina to showcase her positive traits. The words of White had also left an impression on him. Soon he might never see her ever again but he couldn't, didn't wanted to rush after Aino as she reached the gate and stood before it, taking a deep breath to get ready to walk through.
"AINO-SAN!" Teppei screamed from the deepest of his lungs to make sure his admired rival and cherished friend could hear him. "I have always thought how amazing you are! It was thanks to you that I could become able to not only chase but fulfill my dream and realize what it really meant to be a mangaka! It was all thanks to your work, your White Knight! Thank you so much for... for everything!"
Despite the 99 stairs between them Teppei could have sworn that he saw crystal clear the self-confident and as ever mischievous smile of Aino-san when she turned around and put her hands to a funnel before her mouth.
"Thank you for never giving up on saving me! I wish you the best of luck, Teppei! And call me Itsuki the next time you see me, got it?" And with both her arms high in the air waving good-bye to the small crowd watching her, Aino stepped backwards into the gate and vanished into the whirlwind of energy.
"Well, that's it. Do you need a moment or will you follow us right away?" Eiji was empathic enough to know what it feels like to watch your friends and comrades leave on their own will even if that meant leaving the MC of the story behind. He didn't wanted to push Teppei too much but the new found comrade just turned away from the gate and with dead serious eyes asked to be lead the way to their headquarters.
"This is your headquarters?"
"You're not kidding me?"
"BAHAHAHA! It sure looks unremarkable, right, Sensei? Exactly what we had in mind!"
"You're not joking after all..."
"That's what I say each morning I wake up in this hellhole..."
"But...but... this is the CELLAR of the WSJ Tower!!! How can nobody have ever noticed that you're living right under our noses?!"
"Because why would any running series bother going down when they have everything they need and can dream of above?" With those words Eiji opened the door to the headquarters located deep below the shining Tower Teppei had just left this day. The whole way to their HQ he had felt more and more nervous as the vicinity kept getting more and more familiar until they stood before the backyard of the Tower he once called home. Through a hole in the fence hidden by a blanket they entered it and Teppei saw that the Backdoor which was supposed to be closed had been opened with its many locks being only decorations as they had been lock-picked a long time ago. While walking through the dark damp hallway Teppei had tried to make sense of it, hoping this was just a elaborate joke.
Sadly it was not.
The swung wide open door revealed a large room, mostly empty except for a table, some chairs, a couch and a large board at the wall which read "Welcome to U19!". This wasn't quite what he had imagined from a rebel headquarter.
"In with you, Sensei!" Effortless shoved Banda the guest into the room while White took place on the only comfortable place in the room by claiming the couch as her own. Two more doors, one to the left site and one to the right site lead to other rooms but none said what was behind them. Teppei was sure though to have heard some rustling and whispering behind the wooden doors, but ofc it could just be the sounds of rats and machines. Banda walked past the mangaka and leaned onto the table, crossing his arms. Teppei stood still as Eiji closed the door behind him and strode to the board with the welcome greeting. His arms wide spread out he faced Teppei and with a grin repeated the words on the wall:
"Welcome to U19!"
Teppei was not impressed in the least. This felt more desperate than planned. He was suddenly unsure if he should really be here.
"He's getting cold feet, oh great leader~" White lazied on the couch, looking disinterested at her nails.
"First thing, Sensei, you gotta sit down and relax!" With the strength of a bear Banda pushed Teppei onto the sole chair in the room. "I gotta go and bring the cups and tea, back in a few!"
Eiji watched Banda get through the left door before licking his dry lips and trying to get back on track. Ever since his series ended in 2017 he had done this speech a couple time yet it was an act of courage each time as everyone looked as Teppei now, a bit confused, a bit scared but mostly questioning themselves what they are doing here.
"What are we doing here at U19?", began Eiji his club introduction speech, hoping to grab Teppei's thought written on his face and with it his attention. "U19 means under 19, that is under 19 chapters in Jump, which is all we in those room were given as time to tell our story to the readers. And I ask you as a mangaka character - how much can you tell in 19 chapters when you had a 100 and more in your head?!"
"Not that much but most mangakas don't really have a 100 chapters thought out in advance, usually they got a rough idea where they want to head to and-"
"Dude, that was a rhetorical question."
"Oh, my bad. Continue please."
"Exactly! NOT ENOUGH! We at U19 want to change this cruel system of axing young series into a fair system that gives a fresh manga an appropriate amount of time to at least tell the core of their story in a satisfied way and not in a rushed one! For this we gather like-minded comrades to finally have enough members to become a force to be reckon with. No one shall have to suffer the humiliation of being ended as a "failure". Everyone deserves to be heard and to be read even if most of the audience do not want to read it, the story should still be told! Every story is worth being seen! Else why would they have found their way to Jump in the first place?"
"Because the editorship receive a lot of stories and it is hard to tell which one will really click with the readership?"
"Teppei, that's beside the point."
"Alas! Our club shall not only be a safe haven for those characters who were driven out of the golden Tower of Jump but the starting point of a cultural revolution! A revolution for respect and empathy! Down with the money-grubbing adults and their one-sided way of defining series as "success" or "failure"! Begone should be the times where a few lucky series survive on the corpses of the unfortunate ones! We will stand for justice of the unpopular and the mocked series! They were each created with love and thought of their creators just like the long-running and popular series! They also deserve a spot at the sun and not a lifetime in the garbage bin! WE! WILL! BE! HEARD!"
With the last four words Eiji was pumping his right fist into the air four times and then stood there, hyped by his own speech, oozing the air of a hero ready to jump into action, entrapping Teppei into the greatness of a MC's aura. A slow and tedious clapping from the couch broke the magic in which EIji and Teppei were enveloped.
"Yay~ Great speech~ You really showed them, Eiji~" Those words spoken with no feelings or care behind were very disheartening and Teppei felt sorry for the young pink haired leader in front of him. But Eiji just sighed and shook his head.
"Thanks, White. Always a pleasure to speak before you."
"You bet.", grinned White playfully in response.
"Tea's ready! Did I miss the speech?"
"You didn't miss anything, Gorillafro. He gave him the classic wewillbeheardyaddayadda stuff."
"AHAHA! The good old stuff he got us with! Hey, don't call me a Gorillafro, Sharkface!"
"Hoh? You wanna go, Mr. Japan Representative?"
"Sure do, just lemme put down the tea, Ms. Monster Commander!"
"Guys! Zip it! What's our guest supposed to think of us?"
The guest felt strangely entranced by their bickering. It reminded him of the long running series character casts who often got more a family than a coworker feeling with them and who used to tease each other with the knowledge of best friends and sibling love that they would make up before anything bad would happen. It was something Teppei never had heard in his series apartment where he mostly kept from the others away who were all depressed of the bad reviews and yearning for more screentime to have their characters been fleshed out to improve the attention they got from the readers. It had been a tense and brooding environment where only Teppei and Aino received enough attention from both the creators and the readers to live a relative good life-style, albeit Teppei could have really give the kind of attention he got a miss. Then it hit him like a brick.
"How are you guys still alive?"
The three looked confused at the question giver.
"I mean, your series ended years ago. Shouldn't you have starved to non-existence by now? Even shitty manga enthusiasts could not have feed you over such a long period of time, their attention would divert to other newer series!"
The three looked at each other.
"Who wants to do the honors today?", asked Eiji very generously.
"Oh! Oh! Me! It has been a while since I last did it!", volunteered Banda his raised hand nearly touching the ceiling. White just rolled her eyes.
"Ugh, human boys..."
Banda gave a few strong coughs to ready his voice while Eiji stepped away and White covered her ears. The large boy with the Afro gave Teppei an intense look then he jumped aside to dramatically point to the board at the wall with the welcome greeting.
"BEHOLD! THHHHHEEEEEEEEEE INTERNEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEET!!!"
Before Teppei's eyes the words on the board disappeared and gave way to a manga double page spread with a very familiar setting. It showed Eiji, Banda and White greeting another member to the U19 club, this time it was Bone Collection, the exorcist series that had finished just a week before his own series. Teppei was surprised that those three still received drawn pages considering they were from three different series! But then he noticed some differences. Eiji didn't wore his jacket with the stickers, White had an untypical school uniform with too long sleeves on and the Banda near the table wasn't Banda at all, he just looked similar to him. He realized what this was as it was something he had seen often for himself each day and all the more so often the closer his series end approached.
"This is just a Meme!"
Teppei's surprised declaration wasn't quite what Banda had hoped for. A bit peeved he rose to his full size of nearly 1,90 meter, crossed his arms in a defensive manner and puckered his lips into a pout as his eyes narrowed into slits.
"No, this is LOVE!"
Both Eiji and White started to snort with laughter which made Banda's head crimson red. Both young adults were holding their stomach while Banda tried desperately to hold his pose as he started to shake off the embarrassment. White pointed wheezing at him.
"Love? Did you really just called this love? Hehehehe~"
"Hohoho, even I would not go that far for this."
"Argh! Can it, Sharkface, Romeo! In any case, Sensei! This is how we survived so far! We took all attention we got and shared it between each other, making each day a struggle, a battle we win every time no matter how hard it gets! What else to call it but love, if not from the readers so between us!"
The mangaka was moved by those earnest heartfelt words of the young man's conviction. He himself had seen all the memes about himself as something hurtful and mean-spirited, as proof that the audience rejected him both as MC and as a character, denying his series the love he had hoped to gather for it. Back in his room, he had hardly shared any of the few good attention he got with the others in the apartment. Aino was more of the type to spread the love and joy she received from the readers with the lesser known characters. He felt bad for his selfishness. Those three strangers had a deeper bond with each other than he had with nearly all characters of his own series except for maybe Aino.
"Well, those memes alone would not fed us enough of course. Nor would it provide us enough energy for creating hygiene articles and other daily necessities we need." Eiji wiped away the laughing tears from his eyes as he continued the explanation. "We take the left-over attention from other series that they discard of and make the best of it. It might not be the most honorable profession but it feeds us."
"What? How are you doing that?"
"You'll hear an example soon, it is almost 2 o'clock, guys." White's warning came lazily as she started to put in earplugs into her ear. The two boys followed swiftly and put on the ear protection, leaving Teppei with large question marks in his eyes.
"Ah, did anyone give Teppei any plugs?", asked Eiji the other two.
"WHAT DID YOU SAY? I CAN'T HEAR YOU, EIJI!"
"3...2...1...showdown!" With the countdown of White Teppei fell from his chair as the entire room started to shake violently, vibrating like an earthquake was holding it tightly in its paw. Pressing his hands onto his ears he heard a swish of lots of water, so loudly as if he stood right below a waterfall. After two minutes the noise stopped and Teppei opened carefully his eyes as he looked up to the three teenager who removed their earplugs.
"This was short today."
"Seems like the One Piece Monkey Gang planed a quiet day for today."
"Lucky us! The last storm they had went on for hours! Even with earplugs I thought I would go deaf!"
"Wha-what was that?"
"Oh, sorry for not providing you with ear plugs, Teppei!", Eiji gave Teppei a hand which he took to stand up again. "This was just a short water exchange from the highest apartment where the One Piece cast lives. Given the short time interval it seems they only changed their fresh water of their pool and not the ocean water for when they do their ship battle plays or storm exercises. So lucky us, we probably siphoned some good water in the tank now, lasting us for some time."
"Were you never in someone else's apartment? Gosh, you're really a shut-in, aren't you?" White dismissive words were like knives homing into their target but Teppei could not refute those claims as he truly had not spend time in any other apartment than his own. He thought he could do so once his series has been established and his apartment moved up a few levels but instead his series got risk-labeled and he got so busy working hard for his creators sake that he never even thought of visiting another series's room. And why should he have done so? To complain about how unfair it is that the readers think his series as uninteresting and even criminal?
Banda put an arm around Teppei's shoulder, all comradely.
"Listen, Sensei, all apartments are their own dimension growing and adapting to the cast of the series and popularity of it in the real world. The more characters the more rooms and the longer the series runs the more the apartment changes into whatever the cast wants it to be. The One Pice characters have created a giant ocean with a big island in their apartment. They all got their own ships and the island has villas, villages and even a large port town where everyone lives. I heard though that the Straw hat Pirates prefer to live on their old ship, the Going Merry, despite having their own Luxus Villa with pool and everything."
"I know that already, Banda.", deadpanned Teppei at the large young man. "It's just that my world never grew like that. I imagined I would grow a large studio with many shelves of mangas as reference and many tables for my assistants, editors and friends, but I stayed all alone in a tiny room that never felt like home. The others lived even worse, they were sleeping in the living room or shared a single bedroom as they had no chamber of their own. I hardly left my room to not look them into the eyes. I just used the few attention I got to keep myself fed! I lied to myself that I had to do it to stay healthy and strong for the future of the series! But the truth is I just wanted to avoid the blame from everyone and I was scared I didn't had enough attention to give everyone something from it! I-I-I-"
Teppei felt his eyes grow wet. Tears of frustration ran down his cheeks. Banda jumped away in surprise, looking panicky at his friends. It was White who stepped forward and offered Teppei an, of course, white handkerchief.
"Dry your tears. Are you a man or s baby? You ran away from your responsibility as a main character, do not except pity from me." Eiji pulled the girl in white quickly away as Teppei was clenching onto the handkerchief, close to crying again.
"A bit harsh, White! But she ain't wrong, you know? We were all there as well, in our limited world within the walls of our apartments. We could feel it all, the indifference, the frustration, the mocking, the outright hate for us just being ourselves. And we all were destroyed in this whirlwind of negativity. However, that doesn't mean that this is the end, Teppei. Tell me about your series and I mean, the series as you, the main character had imagined it would be like."
"Aye, Sensei! I help you out if you need an example, okay? I always imagined I would be the cool dream goal striker, basically the big titan to the small titan Hinata. I had my own best friend who would give me the great trick shots to make awesome goals with. I had this super cute girl who would have helped me learn the ways of soccer after her misunderstanding of in what I was so good in. And I had the Captain who was a man among man who would have been my ideal to follow and surpass. We would have become a team of friends going to tournaments and the nationals with many tears and cheers! Well, that never came to be as I ended in 12 chapters, but I like to think back to those times where my future was still undecided and open for any possibility."
"Hmpf! A nostalgic way to halo the past, befitting of a banana-brained fool. For me it was obvious to me that I would play the first large villain as I was both the Commander of Monsters to destroy humanity as well as the one who made the Main Character go on a rampage killing his own girlfriend, mother and thousands of people as the first monster! However in the long run I would become a partner and ally of the MC I once used as there were other Commanders of color planed and other 47 Monsters to battle. I would have seen the worth of humankind and be one of its steadfast guardians and together with the MC we would have fought the others and brought peace to the world. Instead I got cut off so hard that I teleported out of the story, being nothing but a caricature of the role I was supposed to have! I even played my role perfectly, the fans loved me, but they disliked the dark nature of my story and how one-dimensional Kou, the MC and first Monster, had been. Ugh, this story had sooooo many loose screws due my creator being so incompetent to plan ahead properly, no matter how good I was it was never enough..."
"I'll interrupt your rant here, White. In my story we would have introduced so many more powers and how we would have slowly changed society for the adults to be more in favor of us teens and how the Grown Up Party would lose favor with each of their crimes we uncover and release to the public. We would had traitors who would sell us out to the Grown Up Party for favors and for the safety of their parents. We had seen terrible fights with loses and sacrifices on our side and much headwind from the public who wouldn't want to change their ways of how society had become and call us terrorists. All that though was pretty much cancelled and we went straight to the Aryan plan school final battle phase and ended it there trying to tie as many loose strings as possible. Instead of a beautiful woven scarf we had an entangled mess of a yarn ball, it really wasn't a good ending~"
"Maybe cut the knitting references next time? You don't have to bring in your hobby all the time, Eiji.", criticized White her friend.
"Excuse me, who was it that said she did everything perfectly fine and is not at fault for the fall of her series?", retorted Eiji slightly annoyed.
"What can I say but the truth, right?", smirked the girl with red eyes proudly sparkling back.
"Well, what is your take on your series, Sensei?", asked Banda, trying to get the train back on track.
"I..:" Teppei hesitated, unsure how his description of his hopes would be received by the others. But they had been frank and open with him with their series and their dreams, so it would be only fair he repays in kind.
"I never wanted to stand in focus so much. All I wanted was to write a manga that all of humankind can enjoy. For that not me but the manga would be important, I would just be the tool for its greatness. But I never achieved that on my own, so I plagiarized by accident a series send to me from the future. Yet that should have only been the start for the real series to capture all the hearts of the readers, not this cheap copy of an amazing series. I would have told the truth to the real creator, Aino-san, and I would have given up on continuing her story because I am not what it deserves as I was far from perfection.
Aino-san would have stopped me, the energetic positive girl she is, and proposed a plan in which she helps me as an assistant so that she can take part for her story she had thought up so long. We would have adapted a Pen Name, would have faced hardships like the series getting hiatuses and color pages not identical with what we got. We would have learned from each other, I how to write a coherent and interesting story with breath-taking characters, she how to draw beautiful lines to express the non-spoken parts of a manga. In time we would have gotten more friends, assistants and rivals competing with us.
White Knight would have been finished by us both after we find out that her future self died and the series had been brought to a satisfying end for us. Afterwards we break apart each of us creating a new series, trying to surpass each other. I would get visions of Aino-san's future and the warning that she is on the path to die for her ideal. Then I would have won on my own due taking in all the advise and support from my other friends and editor whereas Aino-san would have tried to do everything herself and ultimately fail to keep up. It would have been an up and down, a close race between each other but at some point my sales and ranking would overtake hers and she would admit defeat and ask how I was able to do this amazing series to which I explain to her that I gave up after all on ever reaching the perfect manga all of humanity can enjoy.
It would have been a journey of my growth and my persistence. Instead it became all justification about my plagiarism and Aino-san was pushed out of the story as my partner and became a rival and damsel in distress. It was undeserving of her. I-I really wanted to create a manga with Aino-san together even if that had meant taking a step back to give the manga itself more room to be presented. But now I don't even know what my series which I worked on for so long to convince Aino-san was about. It was just empty papers filled with everything and nothing. It was a farce and I felt horrible for doing it that way. I wish I could restart the whole series anew and do it differently this time."
Teppei closed his mouth. It was stupid to wish that, the author was the one writing and the artist the one drawing the manga, he was only a character. The Characters just breathed life into it, inspired their creators and capture the hearts ot the fans to lose themselves in their world. He couldn't do any of those three things, always feeling like a puppet on strings in his own story. And all he had done now was making an epic rant about his deepest desires which never came true. This was not how a MC should behave.
"I get you, Sensei, I get you!" Banda cried with emotion, touched by Teppei's worries and wishes. "If I could do my story again, I would be a more driven, less goofy person!"
"If I could have a say, I would have made the start of the story less extreme because that really limited our development into what direction we wanted to go to.", admitted EIji.
"I wouldn't change anything about myself as I was perfect, but I would make Kou have less of a revenge-boner and I would change the entire brain wave stupidity of weaponry, I mean I alone was able to disarm all of mankind's best warriors with the snap of a finger! How stupid is that?", complained White.
Teppei felt his heart grow lighter and warmer as the three laughed about their failed series, the attempts to change things to win back the favor of the crowd and the inescapable doom of their series being finished in a couple of chapters. It was okay to fail, you could still laugh afterwards. It could have gone the other way but it didn't and that was alright. He had done all he could as a character but in the end the product was made by his creators and he could not and would not want to use his creators like a tool meant to bring him fame and happiness. Teppei was already thankful for having lived and experienced at least a part of his story. Without it he would have never met Aino and become the mangaka he was supposed to be.
"But you know, given your strong empathize on Aino-kun, doesn't this mean that my theory of him being a villain from the first chapter and making Aino-kun the main character who had her work stolen first chapter would have totally been a home run? After all the twist of the villain being the secret hero trying to save the MC from herself all the time would have been a great revelation in the finale!" White threw her hair back, her smile proud and her eyes lit with fire.
"Hey now, easy, girl! If anything it means Sensei should have been a man's man and confess to Aino-chan that he did copy her future work! I'm sure that balla move would have swayed the hearts of the readers in his favor and would have created a new dynamic which would have catapulted the story forward by a mile! It's like a cross-shot in soccer, you expect it to happen but the outcome can still take you by surprise." Banda's right fist hit into his left palm with a loud smack.
"I would have put greater focus on the manga itself. If you start the series by saying you want to create the manga everyone can enjoy then we should know what genre would be taken, how would the hero look like and behave, what twists and changes would the story entail. This way the mangaka could have a theme he is familiar with but can still recherche deeper into and show off drawing techniques and story telling abilities, on what features you have to keep an eye on when creating a character and of course with two mangakas both aiming for the same goal you could have show-cased the differences between their approaches. I think this would have interested many readers quite a lot considering all of them love manga itself." Eiji nodded sagely, confident of his theory.
"Did... did you guys read my series?" Teppei couldn't believe his ears to hear such elaborate versions of his own story. Only someone who had read it and put deep thoughts about it would come up with such changes to see the story and its core theme to be told from a different perspective.
"Of course! We all read it. We read all WSJ series." Banda and White nodded in agreement with Eiji's statement before they restarted their argument.
"You two think of female characters too much as accessories for a male hero character! Why not make the 2nd MC the main MC when she has so much more Charisma than the first MC? Aino-kun would have taken the hearts of the audience in storm and with her tragic story of her work being stolen by a deviant selfish copycat she would get so much sympathie right from chapter one. And people love to hate villains, this guy here would have had an armada of haters who all would be interested in the punishment of him just to be surprised to see that he was the true hero all along and that exaggerated ideals were to blame."
"Nuh-uh! What about the title then? With Aino-chan as MC you cannot bring in the time paradox aspect. My confession handles that as Aino-chan would be part of the whole timetravel jump magazine thingie and Sensei would gain a partner he can confide in while she gains the knowledge that she DID became successful in the future of an alternative world. That will be a huge boost to her morale and not destroy her!"
"Bakuman already had huge success with its focus on manga creation. TPG could have recreated it with Teppei and Aino having their own styles so the copying is not line by line but by thought as in Teppei sees stuff from an artistic view that could be improved."
"Eiji, I'm pretty sure the readers read it because of the characters way of creating manga in such a "shounen" way and not the technicalities."
"I agree with White. Weren't you the only one disappointed we never saw the "manga all of humankind" can enjoy? I mean, that was obvious to happen. If the creators were so good they would have done one themselves from the start."
"Hey! No teaming up! That's unfair, you two!"
"What if we take the premise the other way and show me in the future sending back the magazines to the Teppei of the past to prevent Aino-san dying in the future?" All three stared at Teppei after he made his suggestion with dismay.
"That sounds so dumb, you really should leave thinking up plot-lines to Aino-kun." White shook her head in disbelief.
"Wouldn't that reveal whole time travel thing from chapter 1? What are the readers supposed to look forward to?", says Eiji with wild gestures.
"...I don't get it." Banda's confession made both Eiji and White facepalm. Teppei started to laugh and laugh and couldn't stop laughing. The others joined in with Banda's roaring laughter, White's chuckles and Eiji's hearty laughs.
After a while Teppei stopped to listen to his stomach grumbling loudly. This was the first time in a long while he had felt so hungry.
"Guess it is time to fill our stomachs. Can you get us the chairs, Banda?"
"You got it, Boss-man!"
Never before had Teppei looked so forward to eating a meal. At the start of his journey he saw his meals as great reward for his series good work but with time he dreaded those moments; did they just show him the change in attention he had received. From opulent feasts to a poor man's meal, only those series rich with attention could eat whatever they wanted. The others had to take due with what they got. It was easy, just imagine something you want to eat and you get it or a variant of it, befitting your series attention. But as Teppei sat down with the others at the table he knew that those three were even more dirt-poor in attention than he was. So he was surprised when White brought a couple bags from the other room and put them on the table.
"Excuse me, White-san, what are those?"
"Left-overs and scraps we pulled from the trash.", answered White without any hidden shame or disgust. Teppei's eyes grew wide as he watched the three pulled the remains of different dishes out and arranged a meal for each of them.
"Thank you for the meal!", shouted the boys while White muttered a mere thanks as they all clasped their hands in prayer.
Teppei couldn't imagine eating the attention meant for other series, he knew his own was not so great but even so he rather ate his own attention than ate the garbage of other more successful series. With his eyes closed he tried to imagine a simple meal, hot rice with egg and soy sauce. This has been his last chapter, maybe he could get enough pity attention to get what he want. He opened his eyes and before him was a plate with a couple rice balls and a salt shaker next to it. Teppei sighed, but still he felt that this was miles better than what the others must have, at the very least it was his very own attention he worked so hard for, his last meal so to say. Because he knew in the future he would share the same meals with the others from the trashbags.
"That looks good, Sensei." Teppei looked up wondering if he should over Banda one of his rice balls for the praise and was caught off-guard by the large ramen bowl Banda had before himself. Looking at White she had meat and sausages and hamburger on her plate with sauces and Eiji was eating a rice curry with gusto. How came their meals looked so much better than his?
"Something the matter?", asked White as she delicately cut her steak into tiny pieces with silverware certainly taken from the trash or even stolen for all Teppei knew.
"No, no, nothing! I was just surprised how good your meals looked. My eyes must have played a prank on me because I was certain it didn't looked so great before..."
"Well, it didn't.", admitted Eiji between his curry-flavored noms. Teppei just blinked back in response.
"This here ain't just the attention we, uhm, bored from the other series, it is sprinkled and mixed with our own. Thus we were able to change the meals look and taste to our liking.", explained Eiji showing an example by pouring water from an half empty bottle into a glass but then it changed its color as Eiji closed his eyes and focused on it. It now looked like normal coke in a cup.
"Your own attention...", repeated Teppei still not believing his eyes.
"Aye! I just got someone new this week who had never read my story before and read through all 12 chapters in a go. He even searched to find the english version of the 3rd chapter but that one is only available in spanish. And in the week before I had another who checked my first two chapters before dropping it! I can now make real spicy ramen for some time!", caroled Banda taking another huge helping of the ramen into his mouth.
"You're lucky in that regard. I only ever got three chapters translated by Viz so the international audience always has a hard time to follow me over it considering I only really become relevant in chapter 7, so I depend a lot on the Japanese readers to take an interest in me. Thankfully I still got those hentais made from me, they give me lots of attention I can mix into my meals. Also if I hear one meat or sausage joke on the table I will zap you jerks. You're just jealous you got no doujinshis made of yourselves." Eiji and Banda quickly shut their mouths, their playful grins indicating though that they had this spat many times before in the past.
"And I still use the attention I got three weeks ago from a reader who randomly came my series across. That plus all the Meme interest we collect is enough to not go hungry into bed and that is already plenty.", added Eiji to the food conversation as he took a another big spoon of curry into his mouth.
Teppei looked back at his own 100% self-attention made meal. He felt embarassed for pitying the others for their meal when they had learned to live like that for years and here he was with his couple weeks of experience using only his own attention.
"Go on, take a bite from your rice balls before they get cold.", suggested White as meat piece of meat piece wandered into her small mouth.
"I have a feeling you might be surprised, Sensei.", grinned Banda suggestively as his eyes started to tear upon the spiciness of his food.
"Please tell us what you think of your meal, Teppei-san." Eiji's smile would have looked grander if it wasn't smeared with curry on its left side but it gave it a childish honesty that was endearing. Hesitating Teppei grabbed a rice ball and put some salt on it, remembering the tastelessness of the past weeks. But with the others looking so intensely onto him he couldn't dare nibble on his food like he usually would do so he took a large bite to get over it quickly.
This time besides the usual salty and crunchy rice grains, Teppei's taste buds felt something else, sour and sweet. Atonished he looked at the riceball in his hand and saw the purple color of...
The others smiled at their guest's marvel of such a simple extra hidden in his dish.
"Teppei, you can see from where the attention used for your creation came from, remember?"
"Why not check who you have to thank for this plum?"
"Come on, Sensei! We're all curious!"
Teppei obviously knew that and had done so many times in the past when his series had been young and new but later he couldn't bear witnessing the mocking words, the spiteful comments and heated discussion filled with hate and dread, he closed his eyes before the attention he received because it was less hurtful to ignore it than witness the indifference and negative feelings towards his story. This time he couldn't help but share the curiosity of the others at the table. When was the last time he had eaten something with company? The plum disappeared at this thought of Teppei's and everyone could read the words formed in the air:
*This had so much potential so it would’ve been awesome to see it run longer but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I hope to see more works by the mangaka in the future cause the art is beautiful and the concept was great, so I’m sure the next one will be amazing!*
Teppei stared at those words as they disappeared into nothingness. He could feel the sorrow but also joy and hope of the person who had expressed his opinion, his attention, about this series, Teppei's series. Slowly he grabbed another riceball and bit in it. Tuna! Again he exchange the food for the knowledge of who gave him this attention to have created it:
*Thank you sensei, this was a truly wonderful manga! I really wished it continued for longer because it had amazing potential! The themes of “drawing just for fun/ self enjoyment” really hit close to home, as I was almost about to give up drawing too. Can’t wait to see more stories from this mangaka*
The next, Cucumber:
*La fin de cette série n'est pas si mal au regard du temps qu'il lui restait à vivre. La logique du Shonen Jump est respectable, mais l'éditeur gagnerait à prendre davantage en compte l'intérêt des lecteurs internationaux, quite à renvoyer les séries de ce genre vers d'autres systèmes de publication.*
*It‘s sad that it had to end so quickly. I wish this had run in another magazine where the author can tell the story he wants (with a clear goal in mind) rather than working under the constant pressure of weekly rankings. It was a good ending nonetheless, and an important message.*
*It actually got really good around the half way mark I wish it could’ve been extended so that the ending could’ve had more of an impact but this artist has a lot of potential to make something great I hope he continues to make manga I enjoyed this one a lot.*
"Sensei! Imagine some noodle dishes!"
*Thank you Tsunehiro Date sensei and Ichima Kenji sensei, i love your work. I will miss the thrill and excitement when i read time paradox ghostwriter since the first chapter. Looking forward to your next work. Arigato*
"No! Get us some sushi! Think of all the sushi you can!"
*Thank you Kenji and Tsunehiro for this amazing series It really touched me and the ending is also still the same best quality I’ll miss the series, but I’ll be glad it ended at least in the best way possible*
"How about some sweets, Teppei? It can be anything, icecream or cake or pudding, I love them all."
*Thank You Kenji and Tsunehiro Sensei for this amazing manga! Hope to see you with a new banger soon! *
*good series ended too soon :c :c :c *
*So much potential, it was good while it lasted*
*sad it ended too fast. the story actually great.*
*“You can’t make something everybody likes”. When he said that, I thought it is a message for those who their manga were axed, including this manga’s authors. I really enjoyed this manga, I will support authors’ works in the future. Thanks for creating this manga, so many of us loved it.*
*I had a great time reading this manga, i loved it. Thank you, i look forward to your next manga.*
*U-19 club has a new member. Please welcome, TPGW~*
"The usual abbreviation is TPG to remind of TPN...", choked Teppei tear-soaked voice quietly. He couldn't remember to have ever cried so much before, even when his creators got told their series was finished he hadn't cried as much. With shaking hands he whisked the running tears off his cheeks and tried to keep his trembling lips under control.
"Uhm, Teppei? I think this is enough..." Eiji's cautious words brought Teppei back to reality.
The table was creaking under the enourmous amount of food Teppei had imagined with the attention he had received for the last chapter. There were many noodle and rice dishes, meat dishes frizzling in their hot fat, several pizzas, sushi on a large plate, so many different soft drinks, a cake and a large stack of pudding of all kinds of flavors.
"Wow! You made so much tasty food, Sensei!" Banda's eyes were nearly popping out of his head.
"What's bad about it? It just means our dear guest was thinking of us and creating a gift for our great welcome, am I correct?" White had already claimed ownership over the sushi and was putting the best parts of it on her plate. Teppei laughed and invited them all to eat as much as they could. It really became a joyous feast.
Later when Teppei's stomach was full and content, the table was still filled with much uneaten food. But Teppei didn't cared. This was proof he and his story had been loved. There had been meaning to his existence.
"You see, you might not have had the adoration of the world, but isn't the love of a few people already filling enough?" Eiji's eyes looked nostalgic and sad as he shared his wisdom gained from his own experience as a failed series who still had some fans as it ended.
"You probably spend too much time on the negative thoughts and comments of some readers which made you lose sight of what you had all along." White looked up to the ceiling into a past only she could see. Her expression was full of regret and anger.
"BURP! Uuugh, I gonna die, my poor stomach will explode and then Banda the man dies as he had lived - going to the limit and beyond!", bragged Banda as his large bulge of a stomach was nearly ripping his pants apart.
*You'll only capture a small audience, but at least it's something with value.*
The harsh but realistic advice of his Editor of four years entered Teppei's mind. Seems he had reached his goal from chapter 1 without realizing it himself. Despite the message of his last chapter Teppei had been so busy wrangling with his fate of not being a popular series that he couldn't see the words, hear the thoughts and voices, feel the feelings of those who truly loved his series, no matter how short and rushed it became over time.
"Kikuse-san..." The name of the man who had searched for him besides Aino flashed before Teppei's inner eye. How funny to remember it only now, when it was all over.
"Nobody... nobody who matters anymore..."
Absentminded Teppei reached into his pocket, touching the parting gift of Aino. As he pulled the little hairclip forth and looked at it under the artifical light of the cellar lightbulb a decision took form in his heart.
"You sure about this?"
"Yes, I am sure."
"You know there is no coming back. This is final."
"I am aware, thank you for your worry."
"Hmpf! As if I'd waste a thought about you."
"I GONNA MISS YOU, SENSEI! Thank you so much for the food you gifted us!"
"Hahaha, you take care, Banda."
Teppei stood at the white stairs to the golden gate once more, looking straight at each of the three characters from three different stories who had all meet an end too soon. He felt no weight dragging down his feet anymore, no dark clouds were covering his thoughts and his heart was singing like a taiko drum. He felt good, he felt happy, he felt complete. He knew he was doing the right thing. He had put on Aino's red hairclip onto the front hair of his and even though it looked a little silly, Teppei liked this unique little accessory on his head. The others had accompanied him to the stairs, talking the whole way about comments from fans and thoughts of readers and how attention can be put to different uses. Now that they had finally arrived it was time to say good-bye.
"I am really sorry that I decided to leave after all you have done for me.", began Teppei to which the others only waved off with laughs, smiles and shakes of their heads. "You guys really helped me finding myself. Without you I would have always been caught in my self-made prison with no escape, tormenting myself with the inevitable. You showed me there were those who enjoyed and even loved my chapters in Jump. I was not garbage and even if I was there is still someone out there who would have clicked with my story and what greater joy could I ask for as a character to receive as attention? Truly, thank you for helping me reach a resolve in this matter."
Teppei bowed to the three as he gave his thanks coming deeply from his heart.
"We did nothing, Teppei, that was all you."
"Yeah, Sensei! Don't make yourself smaller than you already are!"
"That was always the problem with his character, wasn't it? But nonetheless, even you had fans who cheered for you the way you were. Cherish that thought."
Teppei felt his throat tighten again as tears swelled up in his eyes. He really wished he had been this open and communicative with the other characters of Jump the past months as he had been today with those three strangers of a past long forgotten by most. Maybe it would have been more of a good-feeling experience if he had not taken retreat in his room to be alone with his thoughts. But that time was gone. All he wanted to do now wasw to meet Aino and all the others from his series and open his heart to them and listen to their side of the story. It was high time he did that and from now on he would have all the time in the world to do so.
"I wish you three all the success in the world with your plans. I hope we get to see each other someday again."
Eiji smiled confidently as he stepped forward to Teppei's front to put a fist on his chest.
"When this world has become fair and caring I am sure we will meet you on the other side."
"Speak for yourselves, boys, I'll find a way to claw my way back to the top, no matter what the world thinks of me."
"Way to kill the mood, White.", sighed Eiji.
"Yeah, read the mood, Sharkface!"
"Ain't there a tree somewhere you have to climb, you Gorillafro?"
"Ähm, excuse me?" Teppei felt sheepish to ask this question now, but he couldn't find a better timing before and now that he was about to leave this world it was not like he had anything to lose by asking this: "Why is your nickname Sharkface? It doesn't seem to fit your petite beautiful character. It could be because of your personality having a mean "bite" but then you wouldn't call Banda a Gorillafro since he obviously looks like a Gorilla with an afro on his head."
"SENSEI?!?", interjected Banda in badly acted shock as Eiji had a laughing fit.
"Ku ku ku~" The shadow from the hat onto White's face seemed to darken as an evil laugh escaped her lips. "So you are curious after all, hm, I see, I see. But I have to warn you, Sensei, the truth ain't as beautiful as I and many have paid a high price for seeing the real me. Do you still wish to know?"
Teppei gulped hard, feeling the seriousness of the situation. He nodded, aware of both Eiji and Banda shaking their heads viciously behind White's back. White's smile widen and widen and widen, with each inch revealing razorsharp Sharkteeth, ivory-white. Her rubin-eyes grew larger and the red fire in them intensified. Her cat-like pupils changed into goat-like pupils but lined up vertical with a small line crossing it in the middle giving it the look of a heretic cross. Her looks of beauty were not gone but devoured and changed by her monstrous expression of a devil's smile.
"Annnnd? Do you still think I am beautiful?" White was enjoying herself as she looked at Teppei's perplexed face. She loved those moments so much when people got captivated in her looks just to be shocked and scared of her alien supremacy. She didn't quite took into account who Teppei was though.
"AMAZING! I totally get why Aino-san said you were cool! Man, this is so good! I thought you were a bit too one-sided on the color scheme but the whole Monster feeling throws you off so much while the rest of your remaining beauty enhances the evil aspect of the transformation! And to think that was only achieved with the teeth and eyes! The jarring difference between your usual petite composed looks and the large monstrous changes is great!"
White's joy was gone. This fool was as much a manga idiot as the girl character. She turned to the boys to complain but both were looking away from her changed face.
"Seriously? You guys know me for years and you still behave like that while this idiot is gushing about it?"
"Nope, can't get used to it...", Eiji admitted while covering his eyes with one hand.
"Great, my appetite is gone.", lamented Banda gloomy.
"How can you still be hungry after eating so much? Are you Luffy's cousin?" White's Manzai act broke the spell and her features slowly returned to her usual human look. Teppei already knew what kinda topic to discuss with Aino after their first meeting and heart to heart talk.
"Guys! I'm off!" Teppei smiled from the bottom of his heart as he turned away from those three kindred spirits and walked up the 99 stairs with ease. Applause and shouts from the three accompanied him on each step.
"Good bye, Teppei! Greet the others from us!"
"Look after your feet! Except you want to fall to make us laugh then go ahead and do so!"
"SAYONARA, SENSEI! I WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER YOU WHEN I EAT YOUR PUDDING!"
"So by tomorrow you'll have him forgotten?"
"Harsh, Banda, harsh. I should call you Goldfishfro from now on."
"Do you two really trust me so little with cherishing Teppei's gifts?"
"By tomorrow was a generous expectation, buddy."
"Or Pigfro or Boarfro, you are eating like a wíld animal after all."
Teppei smiled to himself. He had no idea how the Main characters of a failed sport manga and a failed battle shounen as well as a villainess of a failed monster series could play each other off so well, but they did and they showed the deep connection they had with each other. He knew in his heart, no matter how difficult their path may become, those three would never surrender before fate. Maybe they really could change the world, who knows. They certainly changed his. Before the swirling vortex of the gate, he turned around for one last good-bye wave, then with a deep breath he stepped through the gate, the first step to his final journey.
"Is he gone?", asked White slowly sinking down her hand which had lazily waved good-bye compared to the enthusiastic waves of the boys besides her.
"Yep, can't see him. He is gone for good.", confirmed Banda with his great eye vision.
"Ugh, finally I can roll my eyes now. Aino's hairclip on his hair was sooooooo tacky! I can't believe he thought that was a good idea..."
"I don't think he cared about whenever or not it was a good idea. He just felt like it. He felt happiness and freedom for the first time, it can make anybody do questionable choices to express themselves, especially in fashion." Eiji was proud that they had managed to help another poor soul crushed by their series death, but he felt sad that Teppei would no longer sit and eat with them.
"Yeah, you're an walking example of that statement."
"Says you, the monoton in white Lady."
"You heard him, I rock my style~"
The three left the golden gate to return home as the sun started to sink behind the horizon, painting the city in red and orange.
"You know, given we got a period of so many potential U19 members, not many of them stayed behind. Only that one suitguy from Zipman did so far. Should we maybe change our recruiting approach? We should enlarge our team after all." Banda looked at the others questioningly. Eiji and White gave each other a short glance.
"Personally, I don't mind Teppei leaving us. I don't think he really wanted to stay behind, he was just lost and lonely, that's all. So I suppose our approach was not wrong."
"You know, you always surprise me when you show your empathic side, White."
"You might be a girl inside, Eiji, but I am a girl with a monster inside, of course I am empathic if I want to be."
"I fail to see how liking fashion and having knitting as hobby makes me a girl."
"It makes you pretty feminine, bro, but that's cool. You do yourself! Now about that next series who could join us..."
The whole way to their base the three comrades were arguing about which series had the most potential to end under 19 chapters and how to get them to join them and why they would want to have them on their team.
It was a good day.
Word of the Author:
Finally, after so many years I wrote a fanfic about the Internet Meme U-19 club. I hope it was not too confusing to read, I tried to make differences in the speech like Eiji never calling Teppei with san or Banda always calling Teppei Sensei or White refusing to use Teppei's name until the very end when he had already left. I hope you guys liked this, if you see ways where I can improve or where I made mistakes please let me know. I hope I can make a chapter about this club each week albeit future ones probably will not be as large as this one which got 15121 words in total.
Thanks for reading.
PS: If any of you know if chapter 4-14 of Ziga got translated and where would you be so kind and send me a link? I know that a couple years ago there seems to have been a translator group who wanted to translate it, at least that is what the only comment on mangadex says, but even bakaupdate tells me that only the first three chapters got translated by Viz and that's it. Is there really no translation for Ziga?