As usual, the one who brought it up was Haruhi, and she did so one day after school hours.
“Can’t we do anything about this?”
She asked as she stared at the monitor on top of the Chief’s Desk. Projected on it was the top page of the SOS Brigade’s website.
“The access counter’s not going up, huh.”
It seems like she hasn’t given up.
“It’s been quite a while since we made this site, so I wonder why it isn’t going up.”
The number of clicks recorded on the access counter stayed the same, and we weren’t getting any emails. Despite openly placing our email address in a conspicuous position, all we got was spam1. It was as if someone had compiled a daemon program to return all emails sent to our address. Who would do such a thing, you ask? As if I know.
Well, the content to speak of were activity updates, with text like “We participated in a baseball tournament.” and “We went to an island for a club excursion.” They did not reveal the true state of affairs within the club in the slightest. I would certainly like to know what this wholesome circle portrayed on the website is.
“Exactly, that’s the problem! Well, it’s given that my SOS Brigade should be a wholesome one, so we can’t give any information about our activities at all.”
At that moment, the switch for Haruhi’s emotions was suddenly turned on.
“That’s why I was thinking of going with a manga.”
Just which part of your brain did you pull this idea from?
Haruhi continued with a triumphant air, as though she truly believed her idea was a brilliant one.
“There are many people who feel uneasy if they don’t read the 4-koma2, even if they usually just focus on the TV program listings and haphazardly flip through the rest of the newspaper, right?”
Indeed, that statement applies to me.
“But even if we turn our activity updates into pictures, they still won’t be interesting, right?”
I suppose it would end up being about us mostly chatting in the clubroom or in a café.
“So, I think we should alter and dramatize our character settings in the manga so that it turns out to be a lot more interesting.”
In what way?
“We could use the one that you mentioned a while back.”
What did I talk about again?
“The setting where Mikuru is a time traveler, Yuki is an alien and Koizumi is an esper.”
The memory of me regrettably running my mouth played back vividly in my head.
“Instead of describing our usual selves, this will definitely bring us more emails of mysterious sightings, right!”
I can’t say for sure. Actually, isn’t this just misleading advertising? We’ll get called up by JARO3. In fact, I’ll call them up myself.
“Wait a minute.” I put up some resistance against the idea.
“Come to think of it, didn’t we already use this setting in the movie some time ago? Wouldn’t it overlap with this?”
“It’s fine. That movie was only given shape based on my interpretation of the setting. Someone else would adopt that setting using a different approach.”
At first glance, that seemed like the most appropriate thing to say, but what it actually meant was that Haruhi would decide on only the character settings, then pass the remaining tasks on to someone else.
“So, we need to talk.” Haruhi looked at all of us in turn. “Can any of you here draw manga?”
All of us expressed denial in four different styles. “I-I-It’s i-impossible for me.” “……” “I’m afraid I’m not skilled enough.” “Draw it yourself.”
“Well, I suppose that’s to be expected.” Haruhi rose from her chair, then continued. “If so, then let’s ask some experts. This school has a Manga Research Society, right?”
Having finished saying her piece, Haruhi dashed out of the room in a burst of energy.
After experiencing thirty minutes of discomfort borne from the tepid, wordless gazes from the other three members, the brigade chief returned to the room with a thumbs up gesture.
“It’s perfect! I’ve hired someone from the Manga Society!”
“I didn’t have a choice since they4 were the only person in the room, but from what I saw, their art was good, and they easily agreed to my request.”
Is that really true?
“I told them, ‘I’ll just give you the character settings for now, so don’t worry about the details and draw like your life depends on it!” and they said that it’s sufficient.”
What a strangely understanding fellow.
“Anyway, they’ll take a week to draw something, then attach it in an email to the SOS Brigade’s email address. Kyon, did you know that manga today isn’t drawn using Kent paper and G pens?”
As I stared at Haruhi, who had a good-natured smile fully loaded on her face, all I could do was mutter, “Just like her.”
As declared, the email ringtone that rarely sounded gave off a stately chime one week later after school, signifying that the ordered product had been delivered to Haruhi’s computer.
Even Haruhi could do something as simple as open image data attached to an email.
“Look, Kyon, the manga’s really here!”
I went behind Haruhi, whose eyes were gleaming, and leaned forward to look at the monitor.
“That’s a pen name that seems like it would be immediately extinguished from existence if it was born in a triplet.”
But Haruhi had no reaction to my words, apparently focused on reading the manga. Aside from controlling the mouse to scroll down the pages, all she did was let out some chuckles, proof that she was totally immersed in the manga world. In the end, she finished reading the manga and put on a bright smile.
“That was super interesting, wasn’t it? As I thought, this style of introducing ourselves is great! Yes, this is exactly what I was looking for!”
Holding back my desire to ask, “Is this really it?”, I took over Haruhi’s position at the Chief’s Desk, for the purpose of doing work that I had been appointed to do. I created another page on the website, pasted the whole manga on that page, then placed a link on the front page. Job done.
From this day on, I would be transported into another space by the manga that was like a badminton match between gag and comedy, with characters modelled after Haruhi, the SOS Brigade and other related beings.
It was drawn in both 4-koma and story form. It was like the very comicalization of the freedoms of reality, from its style to its content.
In the manga, we were sometimes distorted, sometimes life-sized, and we moved around vividly like little birds caught in a hurricane. It made me sweat to think that the manga could actually know more about me than myself. As the friendly, playful laughter of Haruhi and Asahina-san resounded in the clubroom, Koizumi spoke in admiration, “The characters in this manga might take us as motifs, but they are crafted with the author’s unique originality, and while they boldly deviate from the typical elements of original characters, they also manage to maintain the perfect distance such that they are still kept within the bounds of acceptability, and can be said to be excellent simulacra, beyond the frame of mere replicas and stereotypical parodies5. This manga is the very definition of an adaptation.” A trickle of comments that would belong to a second-rate manga reviewer.
It was initially my job to upload the files, which were sent in psd6 format, to the website, but before I realized, new chapters were being posted directly to the manga page, meaning that if someone hadn’t written a program to automatically handle that, then it would have been the handiwork of the humanoid interface. Nagato, an insect who subsisted on the written word, was an avid follower of the manga, as expected.
Some time passed, and I was starting to take the delivery of the manga for granted, when I had this thought.
In the first place, who was the author of this manga? Were they male or female? Which year were they in? Which class? And why did they know so much about us that they can weave us into such well-written stories in the medium of manga, which requires considerable specialized skill?
Was this person really just a member of the Manga Society?
During a break, I caught hold of a Manga Society member I happened to recognize in the corridor.
“I have a question about the member who’s writing manga for us… I mean the SOS Brigade.”
As he looked on quizzically, I gave him the pen name of the SOS Brigade’s exclusive cartoonist.
“Did we have someone with that pen name, I wonder…” He mused as he pinched his neck, then asked, “Who is it and which year are they from?”
That’s what I want to know.
I then told him the date and general time period when Haruhi dashed off to request for a manuscript.
“All of us should have been in the room after school on that day, since there was a meeting about our next periodical. I wouldn’t forget if that girl had come in. Eh? You’re asking if there was a time frame during which there was only one person in the room? I don’t think so. On that day, I was always in the room until we all left, so there’s no mistake.”
It was a reply filled with so much conviction that I couldn’t think that he was lying.
So, which clubroom did Haruhi visit and who exactly did she ask to become a purveyor of comic manuscripts for the SOS Brigade? But more importantly…
Did that person even exist?
Was that person a North High School student that only came into existence from Haruhi’s occultic powers?
After conversing with Haruhi and acceding to her wishes, that being’s physical body disappeared. It then became like a digital fairy drifting about the sea of the computer network, and that’s how it could assiduously write manga and mail it to us… I remember Haruhi saying, “Did you know that manga today isn’t drawn using Kent paper and G pens?” In this case, Kent paper and G pens are unnecessary, or rather, they would be a hindrance.
…But that’s just my worthless hypothesis. It could be a fitting explanation or a needless worry, but in reality it was neither of those things. That’s because—
The Manga Society member I’d grilled could be the manga artist in question, and was feigning ignorance to throw me off. Or Haruhi could have made a mistake and walked into some other club’s room, happened to spot a student there alone, and ordered them to draw a manga. By chance, the student from that unknown club had artistic inclination as well as a sense for names and humor, and was conscientiously drawing and delivering the manga to us. Another possibility was that Haruhi stepped into the Manga Society in a high school of another world, and the club member there was sending us completed products that transcended dimensions. I can’t even rule out the possibility that Haruhi was acting the whole charade out on her own, pretending that someone else was responsible for the manga that she herself was drawing.
“In other words,” I muttered to myself as I stared at the empty space ahead.
“I can come up with as many correct answers as I want to afterward.”
In actual fact, while the manga was steadily being delivered, I’d totally stopped caring about the true colors of the artist.
Naturally, Haruhi didn’t worry about it, and while Asahina-san and Koizumi had seemed curious at the beginning, they had turned into mere readers who awaited the next instalment of the manga. The same probably goes for Nagato, even if I can’t be exactly sure given her lack of emotion.
That’s because the manga sent over was certainly interesting. Also, I can’t think that there is anything more important than just reading the manga.
As I thanked the unknown sender of the manga, I headed to the clubroom again today. Based on the developments in the manga, it was about time that the final chapter would be mailed to us. I feel reluctant to part with it, but it would be bad to make the artist continue doing publicity for the SOS Brigade forever. On top of that, I would like to read other works by that same artist.
Everyone else were already present in the clubroom. Haruhi, Asahina-san, Koizumi, and even Nagato had assembled at the Chief’s Desk and were looking at the display of the computer there.
“Kyon, you arrived at exactly the right time.”
Sitting on the only chair, Haruhi extended her arms.
“The final chapter was just sent to us. Let’s read it together!”
While it seemed like it had come and gone in the blink of an eye, it also felt like I had been reading it for ten years already, which goes to show just how accustomed my body was to this manga.
There wasn’t really a need for us to gather and look at the same computer, since we could just read the manga on our own notebook computers once it got uploaded, but I suppose this was a special occasion, and everyone happened to be in the mood for this.
I checked that I was at the very back of the group as Haruhi clicked the mouse. The viewing program automatically started, projecting the images on the screen—
“The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi-chan – Final Chapter”
Great job for the longstanding
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Editors (Tier 2) : Smash the Oni, Sam D., Steven Baltakatei Sandoval, Yazmin Arostegui
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- This gets me so hard, all I get is spam too since hardly anyone leaves comments :(
- 4 panel comic strips that appear in almost all types of publications in Japan, including newspapers.
- Refers to Japan Advertising Review Organization, a self-regulatory body of advertising.
- Once again, the gender is not specified. It’s really annoying when Japanese authors do that :<
- Yes, Koizumi did say all that in one sentence.
- Photoshop document.