March 23rd, Reiwa 9 — Tokyo, Japan
He’s really going all out with it. Imari has dedicated something like a hundred hours a week to this game since he first registered. Not that there’s really all that much for him to do otherwise, given that he doesn’t actually need to show up to school until the graduation ceremony at this point. None of his friends seem too keen on hanging out with him lately either, though they did try to reach out to make some final high school memories at first. His own reluctance to hear out these offers and clear pattern of denying them caused a rather quick downturn in their frequency.
At the very least, he logs off for meals, sleep, and the occasional trip to the store with his mother. This is could merely be an attempt to appease his mother’s newfound fear that he’ll be a complete shut-in by the time he actually starts college. He does seem to want to save face a bit, despite showing no real remorse for burying himself in the world of a video game, and caring about his image with his family means he hasn’t reached a state of total detachment… yet.
Certainly, he may eventually morph into some manner of hikiNEET at this rate. That would be something worth sticking around to watch, but it could take months if not years. There’s also the chance that he meets someone at his university that can fill the void that Shiori seems to have left, reducing this current episode to just that, an episode. I have my doubts about the likelihood of such a thing, he is at such a tender age that one could imagine even that not reversing his descent. The future is, as always, uncertain. Yes, there are so many diverging paths that we can only divine a step or two ahead with any modicum of confidence.
Such a shame that we don’t have that kind of time.
Today is a day of graduations, the most important of which at the moment is Yamada Imari’s high school graduation. It will have all the typical pomp and circumstance of such a ceremony at a Japanese school and thus take up the whole day, which means that he’ll have to spend the morning preparing as he would have all those days before when he was actually attending school. Having slept at most three hours last night, he rinses the sleep out of his body with a quick shower and dons his freshly cleaned uniform.
Then, in a flash of inspiration, he decides to tie his ever growing hair up in a neat ponytail. Tying his hair like this isn’t particularly revolutionary for him, he’s been doing it off and on while playing Covenant of Dragons, but he has never done such a thing while in public. It’s always been a practical move designed purely for the function of keeping his hair from bothering him while he played. For that reason, he has just the one band that he sheepishly asked to borrow from his sister last month. He won’t soon forget the look on her face when she agreed, or the tone with which she said “I guess that makes sense.” This all makes his current choice rather curious, but he likely has some mundane excuse lined up if anyone questions it.
The rest of the morning is spent on the typical commute via the same train he has ridden just about every day for the past three years followed by homeroom to go over some preparations for the ceremony. His teacher offers some sage life advice along the lines of “don’t do drugs, stay in school, et cetera.” Staying awake through all this is just about the limit of Imari’s current ability, so one has to wonder how he’s going to handle the excessively drawn out ceremony that is soon to follow.
Evidently, he has a plan for this.
Once their homeroom let out for a break, an early lunch or just a chance for the class to stretch their legs, Imari immediately heads for the school’s courtyard. His goal, it seems, is the vending machine there which dispenses hot drinks, perfect for warming up in the cool springtime (though, one might conjecture he’s more into the caffeine content at the moment). Promptly lying to himself about his own preferences, he selects a coffee from the display screen. It’s black coffee, he would definitely prefer something sweeter, but what’s life without a little suffering, I guess.
Speaking of suffering, the moment he cracks the can open he notices Jin standing at the entrance of the courtyard, waiving to him. They’re in the same class, after all, running into each other at some point is inevitable.
“Yo,” says Jin, nonchalantly.
“Hey,” responds Imari, nervously.
“So, how are you doing these days? You haven’t been around much.”
“Ah, well, I’m not in any clubs or anything, so there really wasn’t much point in being here, was there?”
“Fair point.” Jin nods along with this. He can’t really argue with that, not that he doesn’t have more to say about it. “Sorry I didn’t tell you about me and Shiori sooner.”
“Don’t be, it’s fine.”
“You like her, don’t you?”
“I suppose so. Still, it’s fine. You don’t need to worry about me.”
Awkward. Really makes you wonder how any of these kids managed to be friends for so long in the first place, they’re all so awkward around each other all the time. Maybe that’s just how it is for students, all packed together in schools, no reason to ever stop being friends without some sort of fight. Is this a fight? What’s happening here, right now?
“So, did you, uh, ever end up checking out that game I told you about?”
“A bit,” Imari fucking lied.
“Nice, what’d you think of it?”
“It’s pretty fun. Gives me something to do, at least.”
“Ah, I can imagine. I’ve been logging on more these days myself, not much else to do.”
Imari is definitely thinking something about how Jin could just hang out with Shiori the whole time instead. Jealousy can do that to you, make you forget that the girl you like is an underclassman and therefore still has to show up to school every day, still has tons of homework, and still has other friends she can’t just toss aside to be with her boyfriend 24/7. Kind of makes you wonder if he could’ve handled being in such a relationship himself, though I’d reckon he knows he couldn’t.
Their strained conversation continues for a bit. They talk a bit about Covenant of Dragons, Imari tries to play it off like he’s only played for a few hours. They talk a bit about what they’re doing after graduation, Imari tries to play it off like he’s fine with the school he got into. Finally, the bell rings, signifying the beginning of the end of their high school lives.
The floor of the gym is lined with row after row of students, all seniors here to be seen off by their school, their teachers, their families, and their friends. Out of the corner of his eye, Imari can see Jin waving to someone in the crowd of other students packed at the edges of the room. That someone is probably Shiori, of course. Avoiding this little spectacle is precisely why he has been trying to stare directly ahead for the duration of this ceremony, but peripheral vision does not simply cease whenever one desires it to.
Ignoring the twisting feeling gripping Imari’s heart, everything goes as anyone would expect. The principal stands on the stage at the front, giving his annual speech no different from any other year. The students sitting in their seats below her are all burdened by tearful farewells. The speech emphasizes that this may be the closing of one chapter of life, but also the opening of the next one. High school is, for most, simply one step on the road of life. All rather typical, just as the transition to the next speaker. “And now, a word from the representative of the graduating class: Inoue Yuri.”
Inoue makes her way up to the stage from her seat in the second row. Standing behind the podium on the stage she begins.
“As I stand here before you…” yada yada yada. God, just reading this is boring, did she really write this? How horrendously derivative. The proceedings thus far have been boring enough, let’s mix it up a bit! “For some of us, this day marks a transition, moving from life here at this school into the unknown of the world outside its walls. However, for the rest of you, this marks only the end.”
I give an emphatic wink to Imari, I know he’s still staring perfectly true. Let’s play with him a bit longer. Hopefully he appreciates the spectacle of it all, it would be really boring to just delete everything outright, you know?
“Now, everyone, your roles here are complete! I thank you for your service! However, as much as it shames me, I cannot commend you further than this.” Thus, it begins. The faculty all lined up on the stage here have been trying to jump out of their seats to stop me for a bit now, but for some reason they haven’t been able to. All the students below have the most shocked expressions plastered on their faces, no doubt wondering why this speech was allowed to continue.
They don’t have to know I already erased just about everything outside this gymnasium. The windows are all too high up for them to see and the doors have been locked shut. All they get to see is the haze enveloping the walls now. The edges, the details of it all, are so hard to see now. The wall is still there, mostly, just impossible to see where it begins and ends. Soon, the same can be said for the people along it, like they’re all fading out.
This isn’t the first time I’ve gone through this process, but I never had a front row seat like this! It’s kind of exciting. Everything merges together. Everything becomes one hazy facsimile of here until, finally, even that fades. Then nothing remains.