Archive for the ‘ Text Passages ’ Category

The Portrait of Legion 『レギオンの肖像』(Taconaguri Review)

The Portrait of Legion
by Umisawa Kaimen (Vita Sexualice)

Review by Yuuki Ao.

Original article: [link(JP)]

There is a ton of kanji1. There are so few line breaks and so many words that the pages are more black than white. It is difficult to read. Not only are the sentences and words themselves difficult, many use characters that no normal person knows how to pronounce.

There are several words and phrases that hint at a deeper meaning, but no more insight is offered throughout the entirety of the book—if a deeper meaning is truly intended, I do not understand it. Frankly, it is gross. Grotesque depictions make up the better half of the novel, and the remainder consists of impossibly abstract musings that I cannot wrap my head around. The word choice is unique and stands out, but there is so little variation throughout the book that it quickly becomes a bore. You can tout with examples the beauty the word-smithery has distilled out of the Japanese language, but to the layman the language is overly decorated and needlessly verbose.

If I were to spend this article berating Umisawa Kaimen’s novels, the above should give you a fair hint of what that would look like. Not only is the above representative of some of the criticism leveled at Umisawa Kaimen’s works, it would be hard to argue that such criticism is not valid.

The target (or rather victim) of this review is Umisawa’s The Portrait of Legion (レギオンの肖像), released at Winter Comiket in 2013 (C85). Despite being a doujin novel, it was released as a hardcover-bound book—which on its own was enough do draw widespread attention. However (returning to our berating mode for a moment), what use is there to bind a doujin novel as a hardcover book, other than to serve to inflate the ego of its author? Do not most readers of doujin novels just want to read about their favorite characters doing this or that in a novel setting, without giving two cents about the outward appearance and design of a physical book?

I would say so. Other than a small subset of self-professed binding fanatics, most readers of doujin novels do not care about a books binding or how much it cost to produce—at the very least, such matters are secondary or tertiary to its contents. Moreover, you could say that a work whose contents is rubbish despite all the effort put into its binding is much more of an eyesore than great content barely patched together. Following that logic (and again excuse me for continuing this beratement), one might say that The Portrait of Legion is an egotistical production of value only to its author and a small subset of otaku who never learned to grow up, and that is that—but is it really?

The answer to that question is a resounding no. You cannot write off The Portrait of Legion as such.

It is true that this novel, as I have stated previously, is frustrating in a variety of ways, but even with that in mind, it has value.

One source of value may be found in the extreme nature of its contents: In The Portrait of Legion, Marisa (to center on one example), is subjected to a broad spectrum of sexual violence and dies ten times. She is raped and bleeds out. She has her internal organs ruptured. She has a glass bottle forced into her vagina and shattered. She has flies’ eggs implanted in her womb, whose hatched maggots eat and tear at her internal organs. It is…a lot.

And this abuse is not limited to Marisa. Every other cast member dies, and often in the most gruesome possible way. While of course, killing Touhou characters off does not itself make a masterpiece, when it is done this thoroughly, and this meticulously, it is only human to want to invite others to share in your reading experience. What I mean to say is: Such extremes get people talking about the book. It sparks conversation.

From my perspective at least, the ability of a work to become the topic of conversation is immensely important. Especially given the ability of such notoriety to breathe new life into the genre. Although fans of Touhou-derived doujin novels know that there are many interesting titles to be found, doujin novels as a whole are a rather minor subset of the doujin works more generally. There are multiple reasons for this, but for one, sales probably will never approach that of doujin manga.

When the publication of a work such as The Portrait of Legion, endued with such seeds of notoriety, sparks conversation of Touhou-derived doujin novels outside of the usual circles, I think it is fair to say that it contributes a considerable amount of life-force to the entire industry. Therefore, whether you are a fan of the actual content or not, I think you must admit that the direction of Umisawa’s works as a whole, has merit in and of itself.

A second source of value may be found in that “overly decorated and needlessly verbose” language I mentioned earlier, which is to say, the intrigue inherent in Umisawa’s writing style.

I am not pivoting away from my previous statements to say that Umisawa Kaimen’s writing is beautiful, or inspiring. However, it is clear that Umisawa fully indulges themselves in their writing style and that a significant number of fans praise the result. Such writing demands a closer look.

Umisawa Kaimen’s novels, generally speaking, do not contain much of what we might traditionally think of as a plot. They begin without providing the reader any sense of what is going on, present layer upon layer of bodily destruction in exorbitant detail and end without providing any clear answers, leaving the reader no less confused than they were at the beginning. The Portrait of Legion itself has some kind of arguably logical conclusion rushed at the end, but not in any sense that should count. It would be generous to call it more than an afterthought.

But Umisawa Kaimen’s readers do not read these novels for twists, hidden subplots, overall composition or the sense of catharsis that comes with a satisfying conclusion. The simple truth is, Umisawa Kaimen’s readers read these novels because they want to read the prose contained within the work.

To understand why that might be the case, let us put aside Umisawa Kaimen for a while and look more generally at two categories of novels.

Anthony Burgess, the author of A Clockwork Orange, once separated authors into two distinct categories in one of his essays on James Joyce.

The first category of author, he wrote, strove to use language as a transparent tool, used only as a means to craft the worlds of their stories. On the other hand, to the second category of author, the words themselves were the object of their obsession.

This does not mean to say that all authors clearly fall into one category or the other, but for instance, one would not argue that J. K. Rowling or Sakaguchi Angō clearly fit in the former category, or that James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov or Anthony Burgess fit in latter. Umisawa Kaimen, without a doubt, also belongs in that latter category.

In Burgess’s essay, he referenced the opening lines to James Joyce’s Ulysses, and pointed out that it was not, in fact, the kind of flowing prose that ought to win awards. Instead, it was incredibly shaky, even clumsy — what normally would be offered up as an example of how not to write:

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air.

The very first word ends abruptly with a comma, followed by a triple alliteration of the same vowel. To English speakers, reading these first four words feels like stumbling, and then hopping three times in an attempt to regain balance — according to Burgess.

After these first two lines, a confusing conversation immediately begins without any context, filled with omissions that might otherwise provide it. Only later does the reader finally get a sense of the scene.

Burgess proceeded to take these opening lines and rewrite them in ordinary style of the “type 1” author.

His rewrite began by setting the stage: a scene of morning light dawning upon Dublin, of women gossiping amongst themselves before his literary camera zooms into the tower where Buck Mulligan and Stephen Dedalus make their entrance, quickly introducing the two. Their conversation is filled with context, and every aspect of the opening is made clear to the reader in easy to read prose.

After presenting his rewrite, Burgess says this: “If Ulysses were written like this, surely it would have no literary value.”

According to Burgess, Ulysses has value not because it has beautiful imagery or awe-inspiring prose. Nor does it have value thanks to a realistic depiction of its characters’ struggles or a critique of societal problems. It is certainly not due an exciting evolution of its plot. Ulysses has literary value only because it does not fit into the former category. It cannot be adequately described in pictures because its “poor” prose lacks the necessary clarity2.

Why though, should a lack of clarity be valued over the clear writing of the “type 1” author? Ultimately, a novelist who uses their words only as a transparent tool cannot win against other mediums, such as television or film. No matter how vividly detailed their depictions of scenes or people are, a visual will have more impact. In this sense, Burgess writes, novels have no future. From the perspective of a multimedia consumer, visual media will deliver more to them at a lower cost (of their investment in terms of time and energy) than the prose of a “type 1” author. In this day and age, we even have virtual reality. In terms of simply crafting a world, words are simply not as strong a tool (and so, the percentage of readers in the younger generations continues to decline).

However, what about “type 2” authors? What about those authors who write nonsensical sentences you can hardly wrap your head around, who trip you up and make you stumble as you read, who leave you feeling off? What about the puns, the sounds of the language, the rhymes, the play on words, the fetishes, the adherence or non-adherence to form? More than the surface level story, sometimes these elements are more important, at least in poetry and strange prose. It is in these elements, Burgess argues, that you can find value unique to the medium of the novel. Authors who lean into these elements accomplish what only writers can. Can film or television accurately portray the stumbling feeling inherent in the first four words of Ulysses? Surely not.

Not that I mean to say that “type 2” novels are vastly superior. If there are people who like puns, there are people who do not. I am sure they exist out there, somewhere — the pun-haters. I would not bet my life that they do not exist, at least.

At the end of the day, it depends on what your preferences are. I am sure there are people out there who claim that those who do not grasp the value of Ulysses (or Jean Cocteau, if we want to lean back towards Umisawa’s writing) are idiots—but they are wrong. Different people respond differently to different aspects of any work.

However, a reader who responds only to “type 1” works will probably eventually stop reading novels, because for them, reading a novel must eventually feel illogical. It would be easier to watch a movie, or television, or an MMD video on Nico Nico Douga and obtain the same experience they sought from “type 1” novels.

Let us follow Anthony Burgess’s example and rewrite an excerpt from The Portrait of Legion.

The Portrait of Legion is split into separate sections with relatively distinct tones, but for the purposes of this demonstration, I settled upon a passage from the beginning of the first section, Higeki (Tragedy), where Marisa descends into the basement of the Scarlet Devil Mansion.


The stairwell leading to the basement, decorated in chains of bramble vines, conjured memories of peering deep into the depths of a witch’s cauldron. A faint light ignited with magic in the palm of her hand, the magician slowly lowered her foot upon the first step and shifted her weight onto it. The surface of the step made uneven by the bramble vines caused the stairwell, already steep by any measure, to appear as a trap laid before her very eyes for the purpose of dragging its unwilling victims into shadows reminiscent of the blackness of night, even as she traversed each subsequent step cautious, but allured by the path’s gold flowers, such that her deep in her throat she could not help but mutter voicelessly: This mansion has always been sealed shut in such a way that one could never expect to feel a breeze. That I know. However, there still used to be a clamor to the air… in stark contrast to the current stagnancy. In taking care to not trip over the undulating surface of the steps, she would have liked to reach for support from the wall, but there as well the brambles had spread, preventing her touch.

At the terminus of her laborious descent—ahead: she lifted her magic light to glow upon the doorway she knew almost too well. Countless times she had witnessed the flecks of rust about its metal frame and the ineffable deep red material constituting its doors, but in the midst of this familiarity, one object cast an uncanny shadow: the doorknob, whose purpose was to open the way forward. Upon it, something was hanging that hitherto had not existed. What first reached her eyes, reflected in the faint flicker in her hands, was… silver and gold. Gold chains without the faintest hint of tarnish wound in countless layers around the doorknob, creeping over the surface of the doors before becoming lost in the walls’ black brambles. Upon all this was a silver lock. With her free hand, she reached out and wrapped her fingers around the lock. The clear and cold rejection characteristic of metals bit into the skin of her fingertips. With a not insignificant proportion of her strength, she yanked upon the lock, but the firmly locked silver ring did not budge, not offering even a few millimeters of give.

“Damn it, what is going on here?” she spat in irritation. (p.12)

Before we continue, I want to make clear that I do not assert that the above excerpt is poorly written. Many, I am sure, would call this prose elegant and masterful. However, it is inarguably not the kind of easy to read prose expected by most readers. There is an inordinate amount of kanji3. Words like “hitherto” are used in place of simple alternatives4. I doubt most people can read the word “clamor”. Writing out many of the words in phonetic hiragana alone would would make a world of difference.

How would this passage read if it were written by a “type 1” author?


The stairs, which led into the basement, were so overgrown with bramble vines, the stairwell was reminiscent of a witch’s cauldron. With a faint magic light held in her hand, Marisa slowly descended the steps.

It was very dark ahead, the shadows of the furthest depths shaded with the black of night. Although the stairs had always been steep, the unevenness of the brambles made them feel even more so, and it was very difficult to walk. The very passage felt like a trap meant to draw Marisa into its depths. Still, Marisa continued to follow along the same path of gold lilies she had followed from the entrance of the mansion, but deep in her throat she grumbled.

The mansion had always been kept shut, so there was never a breeze inside. However, even with that in mind, the air felt even more stagnant than before. While she took care to not trip over the bramble vines on the stairs, Marisa had reached for the wall, hoping to steady herself, but there were vines on the walls as well, so she was unable to use the walls for support.

After a lengthy descent, Marisa finally reached the end of the stairs. There was a deep red door, made of a material beyond her knowledge. The frame of the door was rusted.

Marisa had seen the door countless times before, but this time, something about it was off. Something was hanging from the door knob. Lifting her light to look closer, she saw gold chains wrapped around the doorknob, which extended from the doorknob over the surface of the door to wall beyond it, with the ends buried in the black brambles of the walls, out of sight.

Along with the gold chains, a silver lock hung from the doorknob. Using her free hand, Marisa touched the lock. It was cold, and gave off a metallic feeling of rejection as the difference in temperature bit her fingertips. Marisa tugged on the lock, but it would not budge—not even a few millimeters.

“Damn it, what is going on here?” she spat in irritation.

This is how I would expect an author who puts a stronger emphasis on clarity to write the scene. Which style is preferable is entirely up to the reader’s preferences, but I can say for certain that Umisawa Kaimen’s readers do not want to read something like what I have written. Umisawa’s fans are fans because they they respond well to the style of the original.

There was a doll—at least, it seemed fit to describe it as such.

However, this “doll” had no head. In its place, was only a birdcage. As she approached, she saw that there was a single chair placed opposite of it—facing it. Alice sat down in the chair, crossed her legs and crossed her arms. She then rested her jaw in the palm of her right hand and stared.

The lower half of the doll was not visible, for the area below the waist was covered with a crinoline frame—absent any external clothing. Yet the frame’s interior, wide as though the mesh was, held countless heads—crowded to the point of bursting. At first glance there was so spaces between them, such that the heads melded together in continuity, yet upon closer inspection, what small gaps were there were filled in with black brambles. Yet it was not that which bothered her. Each of the heads emanated an inharmonious air, for none of them had eyes. Where the eyes should have been were dissected columbines. They filled in each socket, without exception.

The doll’s abdomen was swollen, as if impregnated. Yet—from the upper ring of the crinoline frame, down across the navel, the abdomen was split vertically open, the fissure resembling an engorged vagina. From this opening it was clear that the doll was stuffed with countless eyes. Each adjacent eye’s iris was of a different color: accounting for slight variations in hue, not a single eye was the same, despite their number… From time to time, one of the eyes would tumble out of the opening and onto the ground, but Alice was confident the doll would never be emptied.

The doll’s arms were raised toward the ceiling. Upon the palm of its opened right hand lay an old hourglass, its crimson stand trickling down without interruption. Upon its opened left hand rested a severed head, from which draped long scarlet hair. Alice recognized the face, with its eyes closed. The head belonged to the familiar of the witch who resided in the mansion’s library. Although she had never once learned her name, she knew of her existence. (pp. 20-21)

Here is another somewhat graphic scene, where its obsessive level of imagery transcends into something beautiful: it exposes the reader to the vivid, grotesque and abnormal in such a way that they could never experience in a normal day-to-day life. Personally, I am a fan of this aesthetic, but let us take a look at another passage.

The poet once wrote, whilst sublimating the pain of a certain skin-devouring mold with the intoxicants of opium:

I ponder this mold.

They too must ponder me.

They who mask half of my face.

With every fetal movement, my consciousness is torn asunder. My blood has turned to ink. This I should have avoided, at all costs.

Then, the poet wondered:

We ponder God.

God ponders us.

Yet God surely does not do so for our sakes.

The witch removed her lips from the hookah’s mouthpiece, and exhaled slowly a bluish white plume of tobacco smoke. On and on the smoke lazily continued to flow. Upon the plate above the long and narrow body of the hookah rested a bowl shaped not unlike the body of an hourglass.

Inside it, gelatinous brown clumps engulfed in blue-white flames were slowly stripped of their mass.

Droplets of smoke fall…

…down towards the base of the device, an almost spherical glass cistern.

Water resided in its depths, filled halfway, while its upper story was claimed full by blue-white smoke.

The room was vacant, but for a single bed, a single desk and a single rocking chair…

…in addition to a single small round table beside the hookah, upon which was a plate with two jujubes, three pieces of hard candy, and a single fig.

The witch returned the golden mouthpiece to her lips.

“The investigation into the actuality of the statement, ‘We exist,’ is a difficult one to be sure, but it is very much like the smoke of tobacco. For the soul is like a kind of gas escaping from an eudiometer. We continue to die. My arms, my abdomen, my legs, the tip of my tongue, my sex, my eyes, my hair… everything that constitutes who and what I am, every part of this material body of mine fated to be disintegrated cries, writhes and kneels, pitying the dying other, my material brothers and sisters. However, my soul, my still ever captive soul, upon witnessing those others disassembled on the occasion of their death, my soul is filled with envy—from the deepest depths of my being.”

An expectorated huff of smoke spun a snail’s spiral.

Such are leaps of life.

Dancing in a spiral, crossing the stage, in a leap somehow refreshing, the smoke left the witch’s lips to find its destination somewhere about the windowless room’s ceiling…

…to the ceiling but no further.

As tightly as the doors were shut it had nowhere to go, like the stagnant empty breath of a bird who missed its chance to hatch, bound by its egg’s unbroken shell. Children boiled alive have no other option than to desublimate.

Existence solidifies…

…not unlike ulceration.

“What are you talking about, Patchouli?”

“Death, Remilia.”

(pp. 134-135)

“What are you talking about?” indeed…

I doubt anyone would read that passage for the first time and respond with, “Exactly! That’s so on point! I was just thinking the same thing!” If they do, they’re either being sarcastic, or trying to play themselves off as some elite (idiotic) intelligentsia. Patchouli can say “Death” like it is some sort of answer all she wants, but I still do not get it. I don’t even know how to read the word that comes just before the end! (It’s “ulceration”, I looked it up.)

However, setting aside the subject of understanding, I am sure that quite a few people out there will think the passage is at least interesting, or intriguing—and it is not necessarily the meaning of the passage that makes it so, but the rhythm, the conjured up images, how those images are connected, the ambiance created by the unfamiliar words, the lack of a distinct singular meaning, how that lacking diversifies readings, and so many other experimental excursions that rely on words for words’ sake, that—like Burgess asserts—could not survive in another medium.

When evaluating Umisawa’s writing, these aspects must not be ignored.

To be clear:

Up until this point, the argument that I am trying to make is not that “bad” or “extreme” or “experimental” writing should be praised simply because it is experimental. I am only arguing that such an axis of value exists, and that, whether by intention or not, Umisawa Kaimen’s works lend themselves to an evaluation on that axis.

Because of how Umisawa’s works are read and perceived, one must consider whether that work succeeds or fails according to those metrics. As for The Portrait of Legion, I would like to leave that determination up to the reader.

However, simply offering my honest opinion, without praising or denigrating the work: as much as it feels Umisawa is only writing for themselves, I find the prose fascinating—although the more I read the more I feel my stomach turned upside down. But I would not pin that feeling down to “bad writing” or even to the obtuseness of it, but to that feeling of getting pummelled with meaning that almost, but not quite makes sense, similar to the murkiness of meaning found in Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Still, as much as I keep saying “I do not understand,” at every twist and turn, I think it is time to touch on at least one thing I can say I understand: The characters of The Portrait of Legion, especially Patchouli, clearly are written with meta-self-awareness in mind.

“A happening must be realized, for that signifies nothing less than a cultivation of the void.”

“Which, in turn, is the most meaningless thing one can ever hope to accomplish.”

“Even so the man continues to fantasize, of girls dying blissfully. Yes, only for that purpose—for that itself is a happening. A happening must be realized, for that signifies nothing less than a cultivation of the void.”

“We exist. However, that existence is nothing more than a cycle locked in a loop of us all. By repeating our acts we give those acts meaning. By creating in a mutual environment we exist not as one but as an aggregation.”

“This story.”

“I am legion, for we are inflated self-consciousness. I am legion, for we are many.”

All of these lines and phrases level self-referential criticism not only at the novel as a whole, but at the entire ecosystem of Touhou derivative works, and they repeat and carry on throughout the novel as an undercurrent, not unlike a pedal tone, serving as one of the story’s few cohesive elements.

Therefore, it is possible to read the work with that in mind, and possible to write a view centered on that aspect alone. However, I was unable to do so. It did not feel like the main point to emphasize, at least not in comparison to Umisawa’s writing itself.

That is why I focused on Umisawa’s writing style for this review, but I am not sure how it has turned out in the end. The review ended up longer than I expected and am frankly not confident anyone will make it to the end. I claim it to be a review of The Portrait of Legion, but I have hardly (if at all) touched on its contents, and do not feel that I can call myself a “good reader” when it comes to Umisawa’s works. I’ve only read three or four after all.

Furthermore, I get the feeling that Umisawa’s readers look for something more poetic than prosaic in a novel such as this… Therefore, from the perspective of Umisawa’s fans, this review come off as unsophisticated and unrefined.

  1. Chinese characters↩︎

  2. Vladimir Nabokov, among other readers, might disagree. He famously made students of his lectures on Ulysses track the progress of the characters on a map, and argued for an attention to concrete details.↩︎

  3. The kanji usage in this excerpt is reflected by the usage of less common word choices.↩︎

  4. I translated this sentence into an analog which matches the translation, but specifically the reviewer is talking about using kanji for words such as “this” and “that”, which is exceedingly rare in modern texts.↩︎

五秒革命前夜 // Five Seconds Before the Revolution’s Dawn (Story)

“The current local time is 4:45:32 am; our location—the rooftop of the New Kyōto Station complex.”

“I know that much…” Merry replied, covering her mouth as she yawned.

I felt a yawn of my own coming on, and tried to contain it—but failed spectacularly, making a clownish sound that should have been easy to make fun of. Although with dawn approaching, I thought, anyone who stayed up all night like us would be tired by now. As contrary as it feels to want to go to bed just as the run-of-the-mill crowd is beginning to wake up, call it the spice of life for us members of a delinquent club…

…On second thought, “delinquent” may be putting it too mildly—we did sneak on to the rooftop of a closed-off building, after all—“illegal” is probably a more accurate word to use…not that this is new for us or anything.

That day was just like any other—for us members of an illegal occult club, anyway—but even so, one thing did stand out: the fact that we missed our mark.

“So it looks like that rumored caped crusader won’t show themselves after all this time, huh?” I remarked.

“I wonder if we didn’t just pick a bad spot,” Merry offered. “Do you want to try someplace further out into the suburbs tomorrow?”

“Let’s stick with this location for another two or three days, at least. If that doesn’t work out, we can try somewhere else.”

I thought it was too early to decide our initial location was fruitless. We still did not know well enough the conditions necessary for the caped crusader to appear. All we had to to off of were the rumors about this individual that were making the rounds among students in Kyōto:

In Kyōto, under cover of darkness, a mysterious caped crusader flies—building to building, shadow to shadow.

Unfortunately, I thought, we did not encounter you this time. Nor was there any sign of them at all. The nighttime cityscape Merry and I saw below us did not look any different from its usual, peaceful, boring self.

“What with them being called a ‘caped crusader’ and all,” I remarked, “the least they could do to respond to their new-found fame is start announcing their appearances beforehand somehow… I suppose that’s more of something a ‘phantom thief’ would do though… I guess you can’t have it all…”

“If a full-blown announcement is asking too much, what about something like, ‘The caped crusader will appear right after this 60-second commercial break! Don’t go away!’?”

“Where did that come from? Were you an entertainer in a past life or something?”

Once our caped crusader has fallen low enough to be announced on the edge of a commercial break, they’ll have lost any claim they ever had to being “mysterious”…

Besides, getting an announcement like that, sixty seconds prior to arrival, is something I would have mixed feelings about. There’s no element of mystery. All you’re getting is a confirmation that everything is proceeding according to plan. It’s like watching a magician perform a trick you already know the ins and outs of.

When you think of it that way, this swing and a miss of an outing is an essential part of what makes this fun. Sure, I’m tired, but I don’t feel particularly down—even Merry—she looks tired, and a bit dazed, but she’s smiling.

It wasn’t a bad night.

With that conclusion in hand, I shrugged my shoulders and said jokingly:

“The best countdown I can reliably offer is to count down the time it will take for dawn to break.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“But of course!” I said, a little irked Merry did not trust me. “With my ability, it’s a sure thing. I can tell precisely what time it is, and I know when dawn will break—to the second, so it’s a simple matter to count down the time until the sun peeks out from behind those buildings over there.”

I do have some pride, after all: I could not let a challenge to my abilities stand—but more importantly, we’re talking about my partner here: my co-conspirator, my complement. So it was even more important than it would otherwise be for me to set the record straight.

However, Merry did not react the way I expected. She only looked me in the eye and said:

“Renko, are you really sure about that?”

“Well, of course I…”

As those glass-like eyes of hers full of night stared right at me, my voice trailed off.

It was only then that I, much too late, realized my misunderstanding. Merry was not questioning my ability. Her doubt was not directed at me, but at the world.

When Merry asked, “Really?” she was not asking whether I could really count down to the dawn. She was asking whether the dawn would really come on time—if at all. That’s what her eyes told me.

Merry, Maribel Hearn. The girl who crosses borders into dreams. In a sense, you could say she lives in an eternal state of wandering—night after night, so it was all the more important to me to return her mellow gaze, to make sure I could still find myself in her eyes.

“…Well, I suppose there may be nights that never break to dawn,” I admitted.

“In the same way as there may be dreams one never wakes from… That’s just the way things are.”

“Or conversely, the world might end in the next five seconds. You never know.”

A childish delusion it was, to suppose the world really only was just born five seconds ago, only to end in another five seconds, that in only five seconds, so much about the world could change… That alluring possibility was a dream children believed in, only to be forgotten upon adulthood. Despite knowing this…

“Five, four, three…” I began to count down, slowly, from five, by ones.

What if… I began to think. A member of our Secret Sealing Club, and still a girl at heart—I could not fully give up on such a childish dream.

By the time I count to five, the world as I know it could end—the world as I know it could change. After all…

“…two, one…”

As I continued to count, I glanced at Merry and her mystical eyes. Nothing had changed, so far. She only continued to gaze at me and listen, unsurprised by my sudden countdown.

After all, Merry… Merry… Maribel Hearn… My world has already changed so much because of you.

I met Merry on a night filled with fluttering cherry blossoms. The instant I met her, everything changed. My boring day to day life came to an end and I entered a new world—a world where Maribel Hearn and our Secret Sealing Club was an everyday part of my life, where each passing day was filled with excitement and each coming day I could hardly wait for. There was no countdown then. Right up until the moment it happened I had no clue. Merry suddenly appeared, we met, and my life was changed forever. It was like magic. That’s why…


…as I uttered that final word, I thought, Prepare yourself, World—for a revolution!

And—of course—nothing happened. The sky did not split open, nor did the mysterious caped crusader appear. Not a single change graced the quiet, boring cityscape of Kyōto.

Well, it is what it is, I thought, and shrugged dramatically.

“Merry, let’s head back,” I said as brightly as I could. “If we wait around for the sun to rise, I’m sure a security guard will spot us sooner or later, so—”

“Wait Renko, I haven’t had my turn.”

As I turned back around to face her, I had to choke back a squeal.

Only a second ago, there was a good deal of distance between us, but now she stood right in front of me. With the smile of a scheming child, her face blocked everything else from my view. I hardly had time to react, before she raised her hand and covered my eyes.

“Wait, what are you…?”

Five, four, three…”

Merry did not let me finish my sentence, before she began her own countdown. Unlike mine, she used an older set of numbers. I could not see anything, so I listened carefully to her voice: It sounded as if she was enjoying herself, as if she was smiling as spoke.

In that world of darkness, Merry’s voice was everything.

I suppose this isn’t so bad, I thought. I’m not really sure what Merry is getting at, but… I might as well let her do as she wants. There’s a reason I like her so much, and this is part of it. I could sit here and listen to her voice forever…

“…two, one…”

But such a forever would not last for me—and Merry’s count quickly approached its end—and yet Merry did not speak it.

Instead, she whispered with her lips touching my ear, just so I could hear:

“That last ‘one’, is for our Secret Sealing Club1.”

Slowly, Merry uncovered my eyes. The world had not ended. It had not suddenly changed. But nevertheless, I was struck speechless—and could not look away from what I saw: not from Merry, but just beyond… where a shooting star crossed the sky, and leapt into the east just beyond the horizon, as if it were searching for tomorrow. For only a moment its light graced the sky, falling like a tear before its light melted into the dark of night—but I was sure I had not imagined it. The smile on Merry’s face was all the proof I needed.

“How…did you do that?” I asked.

“Oh, I just asked the night sky to shed a tear for us,” she replied.

It’s a secret then… I thought. That’s what her sly smile seemed to say.

Whatever secrets Merry held behind her smile, she would not let me in on them—but she did not deny their existence either. That balance she kept was part of why I loved that smile of hers so much.

Up against a smile like that, there was nothing more I could say.

In the silence, Merry’s smile deepened.

“Shall I make it snow next?”

She might as well have said, Shall I change the workings of the world? as if it would only take a snap of her fingers or click of her heels.

Okay, I give up… I shrugged in exasperation. When you get to that stage, it’s no longer a trick, but simply magic—a miracle. Unless…

…No, I’m done, It’s no use thinking about that now. No sense in ruining a good night—a night soon to break dawn… For tonight, the activities of the Secret Sealing Club have come to an end.

“I’ll expose those secrets of yours one of these days, just you wait,” I said, with a daring smile, before taking my first step toward the exit. Sure, it was a bit of a bluff, but I meant it. I looked forward to it. After all, she set the stage we both live on. She changed my world—our world.

As we began the trek back, I looked up at the sky. It was already tinged with morning light. Silently, I began the countdown to dawn, looking forward to what the next day would bring, knowing Merry would be there beside me.


October, 2020. (“Five Seconds Before the Revolution’s Dawn” provided by Hitohira in support of TUMENECO, who “Lost the DATA”)

The lyrics for the track this story was written for may be found [here].

  1. Both “Secret Sealing Club” and “one” (in the traditional sense) begin on the same syllable: hi. Furthermore, hifuu “Secret Sealing” and hi, fu “one, two” (counting) are essentially homonyms.↩︎

蓬莱人形 ~ Dolls in Pseudo Paradise

This post includes translations of both the widely released C63 “press version” and the original C62 version of 蓬莱人形 ~ Dolls in Pseudo Paradise.

My original translation of Dolls in Pseudo Paradise was one of the first times I had attempted to translate something other than song lyrics, and unfortunately it shows, so after nearly a decade, I have decided to go back and re-translate it.

蓬莱人形 ~ Dolls in Pseudo Paradise.
 Hourai Dolls ~ Dolls in Pseudo Paradise

C62 Story // C63 Story


We, the village of honest folk, have been, since our inception, a group of just eight. Nearly two years ago we decided to move into the eastern mountains, and honestly speaking, every day since has been a bore. However, just the other day, one of our group discovered a hidden passage by the wild peach tree, and through that passage we went, wandering into this paradise. Not long after, I quit being human.

   The Legend of Hourai


I, the most curious of our group, hurried ahead of the others into the depths of the forest, whereupon I heard a voice calling me—and turned to face a mysterious clown. Happily it held out to me what appeared to be the famous jeweled branch of Hourai, but the instant I reached out to take it, my head—it seems—was separated from its body. Unable to move, never again could I return to my companions—the honest folk—who now number seven.


Not even the servants of the first emperor of China succeeded in their quest for the elixir of life… How can you expect me to believe anyone could find the jeweled branch of Hourai?

2.二色蓮花蝶 ~ Red and White
   Bi-chromatic Lotus Butterfly ~ Red and White


In the morning, I saw a shrine maiden dressed in red and white dancing over the surface of the pond. The earliest riser of our group, I was enchanted by her ruthless, radical dance for quite some time. Eventually it began to rain, but by the time I had come to my senses, she was gone.

 あら、あの娘… 人間でも妖怪でもないみたい

Another strange person has found their way here, it seems. I must do something before they find their way to the shrine… But that young girl…does not seem to be either human or youkai.

3.桜花之恋塚 ~ Japanese Flower
   Lovely Mound of Cherry Blossoms ~ Japanese Flower


The rain knew no end—and the shrine maiden, her body drenched, faded behind its curtain as if she had become part of it. But while I was enthralled by her, the rain worsened into a frightful storm, and I, the most beautiful of our group, was captured by a clown. Into the storm, it vanished with me, and I was unable to return. Only six of our group—the honest folk—remain.


I wonder if, even now, she still sleeps under that cherry tree. But as its once crimson flower petals grow lighter, year after year, perhaps nothing remains left under the ground.

   Meiji 17 (1884) Shanghai Alice


That night, the six of us held an oriental party, but I, the youngest of our group, could not yet drink liquor or smoke opium and was terribly bored. So, alone, I crept away from the event, but in the pitch darkness I was captured— by an ominous clown. My head was cut from by body with ease, and never again would I experience boredom. So now, only five of our group—the honest folk—remain.


The opium smoke hovers like a cloud, and billows into every corner of town. I live in an autonomous settlement, where people in colorful outfits dance the waltz. Your magic will not reach me here.

   Fantastic Eastern Tale


I ran, and ran—until I was out of breath. The most cowardly of our group, I had grown afraid of this so-called paradise. I expected as much, but no matter how far I ran, I could not find my way back. Since the one I loved had vanished, no longer had I any reason to live. So in my despair I hung a noose from a thick tree branch and tied it around my neck. I expected the end but as moments came and went I realized I had regained conciousness. Was the rope I tied not strong enough…? I wondered. Thus I, the most cowardly, was reborn. With nothing to lose, I decided I would once more pretend to be human.


“Youkai? In this day and age? That’s nonsense.” But I know the truth: That this only is what youkai want humans to think—so they can live in peace. That, in the end, youkai are far more realistic and peaceful than humans.

   Enigmatic Doll


The five of us awoke in darkness. According to one, we had been snatched away by a mysterious clown. While the other four were constructing an infantile escape plan, I, the wisest of our group, realized it would be best to wait it out, but I did not interject. However, contrary to my expectations, the four’s plan to escape succeeded, and by not joining them I forever missed my chance to escape. While I was biding my time in the darkness, I felt a presence behind me, but did not act, letting events happen as they may. The last thing I felt was was a hot sensation running down my back.

 っちゃうのよ? あの目は本物の目よ。

This doll… O how I want to throw it away. After all, a black crow keeps coming to take its blue eyes away in its beak—real blue eyes. I know, because I’m always putting in new ones.

   Circus Reverie


We made our brilliant escape and felt like geniuses. All that remained was for us to return to the home we found in paradise. None of us had any doubts about the others, for we were honest folk, and all great friends…


Up next is bird-man! This marvelous creature is a child born from the crossing of a human and a rare bird of paradise known only to exist in countries to the far south! Its parents long dead, we discovered the thing as a poor and desperate orphan! But our troupe rescued it! Aren’t we just awesome?

   Forest of Dolls


Paradise prepared a perfect abode for us to stay in: an ancient, western-style mansion, which has always welcomed us. However, I noticed that although a large amount of food was normally prepared for us, only half of that amount is now necessary, for our number— the number of us honest folk—has dwindled to half in no time at all.


The rain will not cease. Not since I wandered into this house have I ever seen the sun. How many days has it been? I cannot say. The dolls keep talking to me. They will not cease. So I twisted their heads off, and finally—it appeared—the rain had stopped.

9.Witch of Love Potion

それが惚れ薬−Love Potion−入りだったとは…

I always took my coffee in the afternoon, but the bitter drink I was accustomed to tasted a bit sweet that day. Little did I know, my coffee had been spiked with a love potion… Thus I, the most mature of our group, fell in love with a beautiful clown and then proceeded happily to fall further, into a deep sleep. And so, three honest folk remain.


Of course not. I’m no idiot. If I told my friends, they would just laugh at me. Who else would believe that store sold love potions? That’s why I broke the piggy bank without telling anyone.


いたんだ。一体どっちの仕業だろう? 暗闇の中恐怖に顔

I discovered one of our companions, killed clearly by some sort of poison. It could not have been suicide—of that I was sure. However, although I distributed it randomly, I was the one who brought everyone their coffee, so of course I did not tell the others of his death. After all, the only clear suspect was me. So I, the most distrusting of the group, refused to eat or drink anything I did not prepare myself, and strived to stay awake until the other two slept. That night, the three of us each entered our separate rooms and locked the doors. By then, I was sure one of the other two was the culprit.

Then, all of a sudden, I heard the sound of someone hammering a nail into wood. Which one of them is it? I wondered, my face twisting in fear as I peered out into the dark. With each thud I could feel a sharp pain in my hands and feet, as if six inch nails were being hammered into me. At first, I thought about consulting a medium, but then I realized the obvious: I cannot move, because I am being nailed to a tree. Which of the two of them is doing this to me?! I thought desperately. But then, I felt the final nail pressed against my brow. As I suspected, a face came into view—but before I could cry out, the lights went out.

– interlude


What a fool you are. Don’t you realize living an honest life only prepares you to meet a cruel fate? Or did this otherworldly escape paralyze the sharp senses you used to call your own? Don’t you still yearn for the bustling towns, for riches and pleasure? I only wanted a fresh start—to return to the days we lived as a band of thieves—but now… Having finished my work, I made preparations for breakfast, and waited for dawn to break.


It is strange enough that a western-style mansion was built in the middle of the forest with no roads leading to or from it, but the young woman who lives there almost never comes to town. I have, however, seen a girl who appears to be her daughter around sometimes. How do I know it is her daughter and not some other girl? Well, she looks just like the young woman did when she was a child.

   U.N. Owen was Her?


Barely hanging on to consciousness, I, the earliest riser, knew I was already at death’s door. There was something in this morning’s ham and eggs. How stupid I was, not to realize the truth until our group had been whittled down to just two. It was all *** fault. I should have killed *** the moment *** went mad. Regardless, it is all too late now… I thought as I began to drift off. Is that… No, I must be hallucinating. Why would that shrine maiden be here? Was…her hair really that blonde? Nevertheless, I thought, I would give up the rest of my life to hallucinate just a little longer— but before I could voice such a wish, only the first part came true.


You really have no imagination. Anyone could make you fall for a trap if they so wished. Given a culprit with the imaginative power of U.N. Owen, it is obvious they could have a rope around your neck before breakfast.

   Eternal Shrine Maiden



I, the reborn member of our group, was assaulted by an intense drowsiness after yesterday’s dinner. I awoke with a spitting headache and could not remember anything about the night before. It felt as if I had been dreaming for a very long time… If only I did not have to wake to this… I thought, as reality stared back at me. One of our group was poisoned by their coffee, another was nailed to a tree, and yet another was beheaded and… It only made sense for the one poisoned to be the last to die. In that case… I wondered, is that what happened? It’s the only way. Something must have been put into my dinner as well. But that does not matter now. What matters is that I am all alone. I have nothing left to regret leaving behind in this world full of lies. I made sure this time the rope was sturdy as I tied it to the ceiling and around my neck, and kicked the chair I stood on—and this time my body never again reached floor.

And then there were none.


Nothing happened today, and tomorrow I have nothing planned. After all, no one comes here, neither humans nor gods. Youkai? Oh, they come here every day.

   The Strange Everyday Life of a Sky-Flying Shrine Maiden




The shrine maiden of paradise experienced yet another peaceful summer. In her diary, she recounted these events:

August Xth
About the only thing that happened today was I met a beautiful blonde-hair girl who came walking from the direction of the ruins of the western-style mansion in the forest. I felt I had seen her somewhere before, but I did not waste any thought on such a trivial thing. As she bowed to me in greeting, she stuck her tongue out in jest, before turning around and laughing her way towards the exit out of paradise. What a strange girl. Now that I think of it, she was the only woman in that group of eight honest folk— not that it matters. All in all, today was yet another boring day.

In this paradise, otherwise known as Gensoukyou, the number of humans decreased by eight and seven corpses were carried away by youkai. The honest folk are now gone forever, but in the end, all that has changed is a subtle shift in numbers. You cannot claim that to be news.


Lately the number of people who thoughtlessly accuse happenings on magic or youkai are increasing. Honestly, it is depressing.

C62 Composer’s Greeting




 2002.8.11 ZUN(正直村の隠し子、最も高所恐怖症な僕)

This is probably the first time we’ve met, so nice to meet you. I’m ZUN. I’ve been composing for a long time, but am just now accidentally putting out a music CD. Its contents run against the flow of modern times, a kind of love letter to retro sensibilities. It is certainly not full of the sort of stylish, dance-game type music you encounter nowadays, but I am sure it is a perfect match for people who love the kind of straight-game music that was a hit not too long ago (a tiny target audience). However, there is a bit of a girly-tastic flair to the music as well, so for those into that sort of thing, I would love you to listen as well.

From here on out, I plan to continue composing “antique” original melodies in both eastern and western styles.

As a final note, it is possible that while listening to this CD, you may find you cannot feel at ease for some reason. I think that may be because when people (or things) step off the beaten path, they give up certain guarantees of safety. Hourai Dolls may be an un-healing CD, what with the hanging and all…

 2002.8.11 ZUN (Illegitimate Child of the Honest Village, the Most Acrophobic of Them All.)

Press Version Composer’s Greeting




Nice to meet you—if indeed this is the first time—I am ZUN. This CD is the mass-produced version of the one I released at C62. The tracks themselves are all ones I made a long time ago, so listening to them now is a bit embarrassing. Most are arrangements of tracks I used in my own shooting games. My hope is that, through this music, you might feel something that harkens back to the bygone era of arcade games.

Also, to those abandoning Japan to fly off overseas, I especially hope you will listen to this CD as well.

Shanghai Alice Illusionary Orchestra
            Music Composer / Arranger ZUN

Eupho Christmas Special // Daytime Christmas Lights

I originally planned to release a translation of this short story on Christmas Eve last year but it never happened. Better late than never though, right?

This short story is taken from the last book in the Year 2 arc of Sound Euphonium (a short story collection – [AZ-JP]), and is written from Nozomi’s perspective. She is running errands on Christmas Eve and runs into Natsuki. This story takes place after the main sequence of Year 2 events and is therefore after the events of Liz and the Bluebird and the most recent movie (but does not spoil its ending).

I wanted to translate this story because it offers a rare glimpse from Nozomi’s perspective (who often hides what she thinks) and also illustrates what I love about Natsuki.


(This may be taken down by the end of the year so read it while you can!)

真昼のイルミネーション // Daytime Christmas Lights

The usual Christmas songs were playing, out onto streets lively and gay, when Nozomi walked into the bakery to pick up the cake her family had ordered: a white-frosted strawberry shortcake, dressed up neatly in a decorative box. Strawberries were a fruit her mother liked, the firmness of the shortcake fit her father’s tastes, and the not-so-sweet frosting was Nozomi’s favorite kind, so as long as she could remember, her family ordered the same cake every year from the same shop. It was, at this point, an integral component of the Kasaki family’s Christmas dinner, along with curry, rice and chicken.

It was only just past noon, but Kyoto’s 4th Avenue was overflowing with people. In no hurry on her way back to the station, Nozomi glanced at the packs of students, all dressed up for the holidays, shuffling this way and that. Nozomi liked the merry atmosphere of Christmas: the tall trees with their bright decorations, the staff with their Santa hats, the skip everyone seemed to have in their step—all of it served to lift some weight off her chest.

“Oh, hey—Nozomi!”

When Nozomi heard her name, she stopped and turned around. It was Natsuki. She was dressed casually, in a light grey coat and purple scarf with subdued hues, and was waving.

“Hey! Never would have thought I’d run into you here! What are you up to? Out shopping?”

“Well if buying a movie ticket counts as shopping, I guess so.”

“You went to see a movie? By yourself?”

“Yeah, by myself. So what are you here for?”

“I came to pick up a cake for the fam, for tonight—you know, it being Christmas Eve and all.”

“Tonight? You don’t celebrate on Christmas day? That’s the normal thing to do, isn’t it?”

“You open gifts from Santa on Christmas day, but everything else happens on the twenty-fourth, right?”

“That’s not the way my family does it at least. We don’t break out the Christmas cake until tomorrow.”

“Well, ‘to each their own,’ I guess. Everyone has their own way of doing things.”

“When you put it like that,” Natsuki said with a nod, “I guess there’s no real right or wrong way to celebrate Christmas.” As far as Nozomi could tell, she did not have strong feelings either way.

Natsuki glanced at her watch. “Do you have time to grab a bite to eat?”

“Yeah, I have time… Did you have something in mind?”

“Not really, but I’m sure we’ll find a good place if we just wander around a bit.”

Without waiting, Natsuki headed across the street and Nozomi followed, looking around and taking in the decorated sights.

The topiary in front of a nearby department store was cut into neat cubes and wound with electrical cords for all the Christmas lights. It was ugly. To Nozomi, the windings of unlit lights looked as if they were choking the life out of the greenery.

“Doesn’t it make you feel a bit strange, seeing the lights during the day?” Natsuki asked suddenly.

Nozomi froze. Was I being that obvious? Or am I just that easy to read? She glanced at Natsuki, but Natsuki was focused on the topiary Nozomi was just looking at.

“At night, they’re all bright and shiny and all, but during the day, all you can see is a tangle of cords. It’s like seeing the person on the inside of a mascot character costume.”

“You’ve seen inside one of those mascot character costumes before?” Nozomi quipped.

“Oh, you know what I mean! It’s a metaphor,” Natsuki laughed.

Nozomi gripped the handle of the bag holding the box with the cake in it tightly. “I really do like the lights though, when everything’s all lit up…”

“But doesn’t it upset you? You know, how the kind of people who wouldn’t even notice the lights during the day just turn around and are always like, ‘Wow! It’s so beautiful!’ the moment they’re turned on? Like, ‘What gives you the right, when you can’t even tell the worth of someone unless they’re burning bright?’ You don’t feel that way too?”

“Am I missing something? Because I think you’re reading way too much into this.”

“I can’t help what I feel okay? …and I really feel that way. You know, I…think the kind of person who can realize someone’s worth without having to see them shine, and can be like: ‘You don’t have to shine to be worth something. I see your worth, and I see you,’ those people—I just think they’re really amazing. Like, Yuuko’s really good at that, seeing people for who they are.”

“Natsuki…you really like Yuuko, don’t you?”

“What makes you say that?”

Anyone who heard what you just said would have the same reaction.”

If you asked either of them directly, both Natsuki and Yuuko would claim to hate the other’s guts. “She and I can never—and will never—get along,” they would say, but despite that, both of them clearly had a deep respect for the other. Nozomi, as well as many others, often wished they would put aside their differences, be a little more honest with themselves and just get along, but she recognized, even if she did not fully understand, that the way they always fought was more proof than counter-proof of the love they shared.

Nozomi subconsciously smiled when she thought about Yuuko fulfilling her role as the band’s club president. She was a model president, from the moment she took on the role to the moment she passed on the torch. She was kind, a little scary, and most of all, determined, in a straightforward way. It would feel weird for Nozomi to say she admired Yuuko; they were much too close for that. To admit she was jealous did not fit either; Nozomi was too soft to hold on to that sort of animosity.

It really is so much easier to speak ill of others than confront your own problems, Nozomi thought, reflecting on where her thoughts almost took her. When things don’t turn out the way we want them to, everyone wants a villain to have take the blame. That way, we can file away the outcome as unfortunate but settled. After all, the future is too long to bear to consider the faults that lay at our own feet; no one wants to admit they could have been better—but if there is one thing I never want to become, it’s someone who refuses to look at the ugliness inside her. No matter how hard that is.

“Oh, look, it’s that café Kanade’s been going on about. Let’s go here!” said Natsuki, as she stopped and looked inside one of the glass-paned storefronts.

The warm-looking interior, dotted with the glow of several wood-burning stoves, looked very appealing to Nozomi, who had begun to shiver from the cold wind blowing outside.

“Do they have dessert?” Nozomi asked.

“I’m sure they do… Look, see? It says they have galletes.”

“Oh, that sounds good… Now I’m hungry.”

Natsuki opened the door, and Nozomi followed behind her. As they walked into the café, they were first met by a pleasant gust of warm air. The table they were shown to had two sofas for seats, with decorative cushions that more-or-less cried for attention.

As they Natsuki and Nozomi wiped their hands with the steamy wet hand towels supplied at the table, they looked over the menu. The names of each dish were overly long, but each was paired with a picture, and Nozomi felt her stomach shift expectantly.

“I think I’ll have this one—the one with the walnuts and vanilla ice-cream.”

“That’s what you’re looking at? I’m really drawn to this one with the bacon and eggs, but I don’t know…”

“If that’s what you want, you should get it,” said Nozomi, offering a nudge.

“You know what? I think I think I will,” replied Natsuki, dropping the menu and waving for the wait staff.

The both ordered one item each. If Nozomi had her way, she would have liked to order some tea as well, but her allowance was running a little tight, so she passed on it.

“I’m glad I ran into you today,” said Nozomi, as they waited. “It’s great to be on winter break, but everyone’s so busy with entrance exams I can’t bring myself to ask anyone if they want to hang out.”

“Well you can always ask me. I’m always up for hanging out.”


“You bet. Now that we’re done with the band, honestly I’m bored to tears,” said Natsuki, with heavy yawn as if for emphasis. She did not bother covering her mouth. “I know it’s not like me to say stuff like this, but it feel like I’ve got this big hole in my heart, you know? When you’ve spent every day practicing as much as we have, hearing ‘You’re free!’ is more of a nuisance than a blessing.”

“Not to mention the fact that we’re both done with our entrance exams.”

“Yeah, that too. Definitely. I mean I have no idea what to do with this much time. I guess once we enter university our time will get gobbled up by part-time jobs and circle activities and whatever, so this is only temporary, but still…”

“Don’t forget to add studying to the mix.”

“Right, studying. I can’t even imagine what that’ll be like—studying at university. Honestly I’m still not convinced going to college is really the right thing for me. I’m only going because that’s how everything ended up. If it wasn’t for everyone else going, I doubt I would.”

Natsuki, who had slumped over to rest her chin in her palms after her yawn, slumped further, onto the table like a pudding collapsing without its container. By the time Natsuki’s chin hit the table, Nozomi could see the whorl on the back of her head without leaning forward.

“I think it’s rarer for someone to go to college with a set goal in mind. Isn’t the whole point of going to figure out what it is you want to do?”

“You really think four years is long enough to find that out?”

“I’m sure it’s long enough for some people, and for the others, they gain the insight that four years of college isn’t enough to find what they’re looking for.”

“That’s quite a spin you’re attempting.”

“But I’m right, aren’t I?”

“Well, I guess…” Natsuki yawned again, this time so hard tears welled up in her eyes. “What do you plan to do at university? Are you going to keep playing the flute?”

“That’s the plan—but there isn’t any concert band at our university, so I think I’ll end up joining an orchestral group.”

“I’m glad to hear that. The flute really suits you.”

Nozomi laughed. “What does that even mean?”


Natsuki looked as serious as she sounded, staring up from the table, so Nozomi pulled back the gut reaction she had to laugh it off. But Nozomi did not want to look fazed, so after hugging one of her legs with the other under the table, she moved to change the subject.

“What about you?”

“Me? I dunno, maybe I’ll join a band.”

“You mean like, a rock band sort of band?”

“Yeah, I think it would be fun.”

“You’re not going to continue playing the euphonium?”

“No plans as of yet. I’m kind of burnt out on it.”

“Ah… I hear you.”

Nozomi could not count the many times she had heard the phrase. Burnout was an all-too-common refrain, throughout both middle school and high school. It’s a lot of work, being part of a concert band club. You put your soul into it, sparing no effort to squeeze whatever you can out of yourself, and all for one single performance. As Nozomi reflected on the past few years, she found a lot of pain and suffering—but what lay beyond it all, at the culmination of her efforts, was an unbelievable experience—it was so fun. There’s just something about performing in front of other people. Preparing for it is like refining the tip of a beautiful blade, working improvement on improvement, reaching for perfection. Practice is boring, and has none of the flair of a performance, but the final result, that moment on stage when it feels like the heavens open up and your soul tingles from the excitement and joy, is more than worth it. To Nozomi, that moment was everything; she loved it more than she could bear—but she could still understand how chasing after it for so long could wear someone down.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t think it’s possible for me to have an experience like what I’ve had at Kitauji ever again, so I can’t really justify the effort anymore.” Natsuki, usually brimming with confidence and a do-or-die attitude, looked down at the table and spoke slowly, as if considering every word. “It felt so incredible, performing at the Kansai competition. I thought to myself, ‘This has got to be my peak in life.’ I’m dead serious.”

“It may be your peak for now, but only until you hit your next one. You’ve got no need to worry.”

“If you say so…” replied Natsuki with a smile masked over a sigh. The way she smiled was beautiful, but it was a beauty tinged with loneliness.

Nozomi began folding her hand towel into an awkward looking boat, but before she was done, the wait staff brought their orders, so she quickly shoved it out of sight.

“Well, don’t mind if I do~” said Natsuki, popping a piece of bacon from her gallete into her mouth.

Nozomi took her knife and fork and split hers straight down the middle, spilling the pastry’s caramel sauce onto the plate.

“This is really good,” said Natsuki, after taking a proper bite. “The only problem with stuff like this though, is that there’s never enough to fill you up.”

“But isn’t that a good thing? You get all these flavors, but you still have room for more.”

“I didn’t think of it that way… You’re a genius.”

With that silly of a response, it was hard for Nozomi to take Natsuki seriously, so she answered with an exaggerated shrug. Natsuki meanwhile busied herself with folding a part of her pastry over with her fork to keep the egg yolk from spilling out.

“About what you were saying earlier…” said Nozomi, grabbing Natsuki’s attention back from her plate, “it’s true we may never have an experience like what we had at Kitauji again, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have something different. Playing an instrument doesn’t have to be such a serious endeavor.”

Natsuki did not interject, but continued chewing on her food.

“You might think you’ve had enough now, and not play at all in college, but you might feel an itch to play after you graduate. Maybe that feeling won’t come until you’re old and have grandkids. It’s never too late to start again. Competitions offer us really clear goals to strive for, so it’s easy to get obsessed with them, but there’s nothing wrong with just playing because you want to. At least that’s what I think.”

“Were there people like that in the ensemble group you joined outside of school?”

“Yeah, tons! Some people who only picked their instruments back up after starting their careers, and there a few people in our group older than my grandmother—people who just want to play.”

“That’s really cool, taking the initiative like that to be true to yourself. Maybe I’m just overthinking things.”

Natsuki used the leftover pieces of her gallete to scoop up the rest of the sauce on her plate and gobbled up the last few bites of her order. Nozomi, meanwhile, had more than half of hers left on her plate.

After wiping her mouth with a napkin, Natsuki, with a satisfied look on her face, leaned back into her seat. As Nozomi watched her long bangs brush against her cheek, she thought about how much longer Natsuki’s hair was since the time they first met. It looked even longer than usual because it was not tied up that day, perhaps because of how cold it was.

I wonder what kind of face she would make at me if I told her I liked it shorter.

Nozomi’s clumsily made towel ship began to collapse, sinking in the puddle of condensation pooled around her glass.

“I mentioned I went to see a movie, right?” said Natsuki, breaking the silence.

“That you did. What did you go see?”

“The one everyone’s talking about nowadays, you know, the one based on the suspense novel. I went to see it because a band I like did the main theme song.”

“Was it any good?”

“It was. The movie incorporated aspects of the novel pretty well and overall, had a decent script and cast.”


“Well, yeah. I guess so.”

As much as Natsuki seemed to be praising the movie on a surface level, that clearly wasn’t all there was to the story. Nozomi bit down on a walnut with her back teeth and decided to press her on it.

“Was there something that bothered you about it?”

“I don’t know if I would go so far as to say that, but…when I heard the main theme song play during the movie, it was just so catchy, like a pop song. It just felt so different from any of the music the band used to play… I guess this is what happens to everyone when their music starts selling, but I didn’t want to accept that it would happen to this band.”

“So what you’re saying is, now that this band you like has made it big, you feel left behind. A lot of early fans feel that way, don’t they? At least that’s what I hear.”

“I’m not denying that’s part of it, but there’s much more to it than that. Remember how I was talking about the Christmas lights? That’s closer to what’s bothering me.”

“What do Christmas lights have to do with anything?”

Natsuki did a rare thing and took her time to think about how to answer, furrowing her brow.

She must really have strong feelings about this band… Nozomi could only guess what kind of music they played, but most of what Natsuki listened to had lyrics that were a bit too intense for her tastes.

“I guess what I’m trying to say is: I’ve always felt this band was fine just the way it was. Even if they weren’t shining, so to speak, there wasn’t any need for them to. When I was looking at those unlit Christmas lights, I thought, you know, ‘This is beautiful.’ But it’s not like those lights aren’t going to come on; they will, and they’re all the more beautiful for it, so people from all around will come to look at them. But what happens then? Someone will say, ‘We’ve got to make them brighter, so more people will come!’”

“Well, I suppose so.”

“It’s not a problem so long as they understand what was great about the lights in the first place. The kind of people who say, ‘If we do this and this, it’ll really bring out the best in them,’ they’re not the problem. Even if there’s a big change in direction, I can understand when it’s done in service to the original. I can respect that. But the more people gather, eventually you’ll have people who don’t have any idea what they’re talking about speak up. ‘There’s still not enough light. We need to add these other, different lights,’ they’ll say, or, ‘I know the instructions say we can’t have these run all night, but I’m sure it’ll be fine!’ Then what happens? When the circuits overload and the lights all break, it’s always those idiots who are scratching their heads, saying, ‘I wonder why that happened?’ Gee, I wonder why.”

“You’re kind of scaring me here. This is just a metaphor, right? Are you really that upset?”

“I’m not upset, I’m just…worried. I don’t want this thing I love destroyed by someone who doesn’t know the value of it.”

Natsuki became quiet before she continued. “But that’s not the worst of it. What I’m really worried about is becoming one of those insensitive idiots, an adult who doesn’t even realize they’re trampling all over someone else’s love. I can’t see myself as a college student, let alone a working adult, so as I sat there watching that movie and listening to the main theme song, I felt this wave of anxiety swallow me up. You know how they say a lot of people panic right before they’re about to get married? I guess this is just the college version of that.”

Natsuki tried to laugh it all off with a joke at the end, but she wasn’t doing a very good job. Her smile was strained.

Nozomi picked up the last piece of her gallete with her fork and popped it into her mouth. The last bit of the melted ice cream was so sweet it made her teeth hurt.

“I’m anxious too—about college and about starting a new way of life. It’s equal parts excitement and worry.”

“So you’re saying it’s normal to feel this way?”

“Yeah. I’m sure everyone has to deal with a little anxiety. But it’s going to be alright. Even if you end up thinking you’ve made the wrong choice, all you have to do is turn back and start over.”

“Is that you speaking from experience?”

“I…guess you could say that.” Nozomi said, reaching for her glass and downing it in a single gulp. The cold of it gave her a brain-freeze and she visibly flinched.

Natsuki broke out laughing, and when Nozomi saw that this time her smile was genuine, she smiled back.

“Natsuki, you’re not going to turn into one of those adults you hate.”

“Where’s your proof?”

“Okay, so I don’t have any proof, but…” …that’s how I hope things will turn out. As Nozomi admitted, she had little to back up her claim, but, even a baseless confidence is worth something if it can help lift someone up, she thought, and decided to assert herself a little more.

“…I know how good of a person you are, Natsuki, so I’m sure everything will turn out fine.”

Nozomi had spent so long running around in her thoughts that by the time she blurt out the rest of her sentence, it was not quite what she had in mind. Now I sound like an irresponsibly positive idiot.

“What?” Natsuki said, as she responded with a “What am I going to do with you?” sort of laugh.

See? Nozomi thought at first, but in the lightheartedness of Natsuki’s voice she felt a non-verbal thank you.

The Gymnopédies Never End (Gymnopedie ga Owaranai)

Download the e-book (PDF:JIS-B6) [here] for free!

(Use this link for a more updated version with some typos fixed: [link])

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If you would like to support the author, please buy the original story (if you haven’t already) in Japanese [here] for 100 JPY. (Booth allows for an extra “boost” to be sent as well).

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If you happen to be in Kyoto, the full text of Gymnopedie ga Owaranai is being re-released in print as part of ジムノペディが終わらない-Re:Medianoid- at the Cafe Terrace event today (11/17) at 部-27 for 800 JPY.


Secret Sealing Club members Usami Renko and Maribel Hearn visit an abandoned amusement park, seemingly as part of their usual activities, but Renko cannot shake the feeling that something is controlling her. When a strange girl—or thing—invites them on a ride she calls “The Circus” Renko is forced to confront the forces that drive us all mad.

Vita Sexualice’s seminal 2011 short story, The Gymnopédies Never End, will be sure to turn your mind and your stomach as you search for answers, even after you are done, to the parasitic nature of life.

Content Warning:
(Mild) Depictions of non/dubiously-consensual sex, suicide (aftermath only) and murder, with a touch of cannibalism and body horror.

Image Song:

Don’t forget to check out RD-Sounds’ tribute to the story!
“捧げられたイメージ/Sasagerareta Image” [lyrics]

In lieu of an afterword:

First of all, I would like to thank Umisawa Kaimen for their support. When I got the green-light to go ahead and translate Vita-Sexualice’s doujin novels I was ecstatic. It took a while to get to this point, but I’m happy to share the un-healing. I probably would never have translated this story (and others) if not for a minor stroke, seizures and considerable other brain wreckage, but deep dives into the stories and hacking away at the translations really helped me, so it’s weird these things work out sometimes.

Jane Does is still in the works! Expect it!