Thursday, 16 May 2013

Gakuen Kino 4 - Chapter 7 (Part 2)

The slowness of Gakuen Kino updates is due to the fact that this volume is loaded with music-related exposition. Which you'll see more of under the cut. Enjoy!

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Chapter 7 - Part 2: Hear my song
~The Band~


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Saturday. Cloudy.

Having only been liberated from club activities the previous evening, Kino spent the previous night lazing around instead of practicing for the Take Action Now Club.

But it occurred to her that she should probably start practicing soon, so after breakfast she went back to her room and began to read the textbook Chako-sensei had given her.

“Of course... ‘Attach the strap to the guitar and hold it at waist-level. Your grip must be light, in the same way as when you provide support fire with a squad automatic weapon’.”

She continued reading.

“‘The guitar should be naturally tipped at a 45-degree angle, similar to the angle of firearms used by riflemen in wide-open patrol areas with a low risk of attack--for example, the rolling hills of Afghanistan’. I see, I see...”

She kept reading.

“‘The pickup is the heart of an electric guitar. This is where the quality of the sound is determined, of similar importance to the breech cap and cycling mechanism of an automatic weapon’. I get it...”

Looks like this book was written for Kino. Although it probably means nothing to 99.9% of the world.

Kino read the book as she lay on her bed, sat at her desk, and sometimes held the Stratocaster. She studied the basics of guitar surprisingly earnestly.

When this protagonist puts her mind to things, she gets her job done. She has great focus, if nothing else. Unlike the author.

Sometimes, Kino came across terms what were so basic that they were not explained. In these cases, she turned to Hermes.

“Hermes, what’s a ‘broken chord’? It’s also called an ‘arpeggio’ or something.”

“It’s when you play the notes in a chord one after another. So instead of a ‘BAM’, you’ll get ‘Ba-ba-ba-bam’.”

Hermes gave Kino all the answers she asked for, probably because this wasn’t her midterm.

And so, Kino spent the day cramming the most basic information on guitars into her mind.


The next day. Sunday. There was a light drizzle outside.

Kino would learn the specifics about playing the guitar tomorrow during club activities. But she still had one job to do.

“Hm... what to do...”

Kino listened to the song from the music player Chako-sensei had given her. She thought very hard with a mechanical pencil in hand, an open notebook in front of her on the desk.

Yes. The lyrics.

She was supposed to put lyrics to the song coming from the headphones.

The melody itself was, fortunately, upbeat and easy to sing. But trying to put lyrics to them was a different matter altogether.

First of all, Kino had no idea what theme she should sing about.

The few songs she knew were all about love, relationships, dating, passion, and heartbreak. Unfortunately, none of these things had anything to do with Kino.

“Hmm...”

Kino kicked her grey matter into high gear. Time passed, with Kino doing nothing but uselessly taking up oxygen from the Kanto area.

She thought, had lunch (with rice containing chestnuts, the perfect meal for autumn) and ate some snacks, but she came up with nothing.

Maybe she should do something else, and the lyrics would come to her. Kino did fifty push-ups and sit-ups each, then did about three hundred rounds of shooting practice with her model gun. But it was all useless.

The sun was setting outside. It was almost time for dinner. Today’s dinner menu was meatloaf with special gravy, with a side of mashed potatoes and Hokkaido corn. It sounded delicious.

“ARGH! I don’t care anymore! I. GIVE. UP!” Kino cried.

Hermes, hanging from the belt on the wall, spoke.

“Why don’t you just wing it? That’s why four out of ten lyricists do anyway. Probably.”

Whether Hermes was telling the truth or not, it was the kind of comment that might get him lynched by the lyricists of the world.

“But Hermes, I can’t write up lyrics about something I don’t know anything about...”

“Then how about something you’re familiar with?”

“...”

Kino was silent.

She was thinking.

Soon, she opened her eyes with a glint and slammed her fist into her open palm.

“I’ve got it.”

Kino sat at her desk. Her right hand began scribbling away furiously.

“I’ll just write out stuff I thought about when I was little. Lalala... Lalala... Lalala...”

Kino, who had already memorized the melody, wrote out the lyrics to match.

She wrote and wrote, and sometimes rubbed it out with an eraser. She then wrote some more.

Ten minutes passed.

“Finished!” Kino said, raising the notebook into the air. Now she could make it to dinner on time! Just you wait, meatloaf!

“That was quick. Let me see too!” Hermes pressed her.

“It’s just one song, but I guess it’ll do. My magnum opus!”

Kino showed the note to Hermes, who was hanging on the wall.

Hermes read its contents.


Title: My Gun is a Hotchkiss
Lyrics: Kino
Music: Don’t know

Step over the past and future and raise a battle cry
They call you a barbarian, and you’re covered in blood
But fight on with your comrades in arms
You alone can enter battle, on behalf of those who can’t
Though humans are tragic creatures destined to fight forever
Though this truth is played out for the ages
We’d sooner mark ourselves for Hell than send our loved ones to Heaven today
We march into the battlefield to protect their futures
Now, soldiers, let us march
Hold your heads high and walk side-by-side
The gun you carry is the weight of all you must defend
Remember and remember
My gun is a Hotchkiss


‘A war song?!’ Hermes thought with a silent snicker.

This was not the work of your average schoolgirl. What kind of a childhood had Kino experienced? The lyrics were in perfect contrast to the upbeat melody of the song.

For your reference, the Hotchkiss mentioned in the lyrics refers to the Hotchkiss machine gun. The manufacturer is French, so it’s only right to ignore the ‘H’ and pronounce it ‘Otchkiss’.

The Hotchkiss was one of France’s most prominent machine guns during the First World War. Even the Imperial Japanese Army licensed the design and mass-produced it to use as a supplementary weapon. I’m not lying!

“Awesome! This is great! I love it!”

Kino seemed to be quite happy with her work.

But maybe this was just the warm, fuzzy feeling of completing a difficult homework assignment, regardless of the quality of work.

But it was the perfect sort of feeling that would let her have dinner without a care.

“I don’t believe this...”

Hermes couldn’t help but worry about how badly Chako-sensei, Shizu, and Inuyama would take these lyrics tomorrow after school.


<=>


“Excellent work, Kino! We’ll go with your lyrics!”

“Yes, they’re quite good. There is a unique soul residing in these lyrics.”

“I’m in full agreement.”

Chako-sensei, Shizu, and Inuyama heaped praises on Kino’s work.

‘Seriously?!’ Hermes wondered, his jaw dropping, but he said nothing.

“Ahaha...” Kino laughed, being surprisingly modest.

“The song is finally complete!” Chako-sensei cried, “Shizu even brought the sheet music for your practices. All you have to do now is practice until you drop!”

So practice began.

More specifically, they would first look at the sheet music Shizu had brought to decide upon the image they wanted to go with for the song.

Because Shizu could already do everything, he had already been practicing the bass.

“Let me give this a try.” Shizu said, grabbing the bass guitar and the amp from the shelf.


Gakuen Kino’s Music and Instrument Corner - Part 2

The bass guitar looks similar to the electric guitar, but it is longer and thinner in shape. A guitar also has six strings, but bass guitars usually only have four (although some can have five or more).

Shizu’s model of choice was the Bacchus (Note: A Japanese manufacturer) Handmade Standard model, in black. It was a wonderful match for his pristine white uniform.

An amp is a device that amplifies the sounds made by an electric instrument (such as an electric guitar, bass, or electric violin) so it produces sound through its speaker. You can make all kinds of adjustments with this baby, from volume control to distortion.

Studios use amplifiers that are the size of small refrigerators, but Shizu was using a smaller one because he was only practicing at the moment. Of course, it was still the size of a small suitcase.

End explanation.


Shizu plugged the amp into the outlet, connected it to the bass with a shielded cable, and switched on the power. He strummed on the bass strings with his right hand to test out the sound.

Tng tng tng tng.

Four low tones rumbled from the amp, sounding out notes that were each one octave lower than the third through sixth strings of the guitar. Looks like this bass doesn’t need any tuning.

“Well then.”

Shizu played the song on the cassette player and performed his part along with the music.

Tng tng tng tng. Tng tng tng tng tng tng. Tng tng tng.

The bass rumbled pleasantly at low frequency. This is making me feel hungry.

Shizu continued to play the bass, at times closing his eyes to become the epitome of cool and stylish. The bass was a perfect match for his great height.

He soon completed playing his part of the song, all without a single mistake.

“Amazing! That was wonderful, Shizu!” Chako-sensei said, clapping her hands together. She then turned to the dour Inuyama.

“Shizu did so well that I wouldn’t blame you or Kino if you couldn’t outdo him. Right?”

“No, sensei! I’m sure that with enough practice, I will be able to do even better! I’ll practice like my life depended on it!” Inuyama cried, baring his fangs. Chako-sensei was quite the manipulator.

“Then give it your best!”

Chako-sensei set up Inuyama’s instruments.

It was a full electronic drum set, manufactured by the Roland Corporation.


Gakuen Kino’s Music and Instrument Corner - Part 3

The electronic drum set looks very much like a regular drum set, but it doesn’t have real snares or cymbals or the like. The ‘drums’ are actually rubber pads or cloth equipped with sensors. When they are hit, the sound of the drums is expelled through the amp.

Inuyama took a seat.

The drum set was composed of a bass drum, a hi-hat, a snare drum, tom-toms, a floor tom, a crash cymbal, and a ride cymbal. Before his eyes was laid out all sorts of things to hit. You don’t have to remember the names of all these drums to enjoy this novel. The author is just desperate to pad out the length of the book.

End explanation.


Inuyama received the drumsticks from Chako-sensei and started off by gingerly tapping on the snare drum.

Tat tat tat tat tat tat.

The bright beat of the snare filled the music prep room. Almost like a trained professional, Inuyama calmly began to increase his speed and tried out different rhythms.

Thunk. Chk chk chk. Thunk.

He stepped on the right pedal to sound the bass drum, and made small metallic sounds with the hi-hat.

It looks like two days of individual practice were enough to help him master the basics.

Chako-sensei then handed him the sheet music for the drum set that Shizu had made. Unlike sheet music for other instruments, this particular one indicated the rhythm at which Inuyama was supposed to hit specific parts of the set.

He slowly went over the timing for each drum.

“Wow... You’re really amazing, Inuyama. We’ll have this song mastered in no time!” Chako-sensei said with a satisfied grin.

So now there was just one problem left.

“Why’re you all looking at me?”

And that was Kino, who had never played the guitar in her life.


<=>

“Phew...”

Kino returned to her room from the dormitory baths and flopped down on her bed.

She was currently dressed in her school gym uniform and a T-shirt. Over her chest were the words [Delayed Blowback!].

There was a towel wrapped around her head because her hair wasn’t quite dry, but Kino didn’t seem very inclined to get up anytime soon.

“You must be tired.” Hermes said, hanging from the wall.

“So... sleepy... Burned it all... to white... ash...” Kino replied.

Today’s club activities were more difficult, painful, and excruciating than ever before.

Setting the singing aside, Kino was given a very heavy crash course on the guitar. From tuning to fixing the strap, to using it and playing it.

“Otherwise you’ll never become a real marine!”

Chako-sensei was a truly merciless commanding officer.

“This is her first try with the guitar, sensei. Let’s not be too harsh.” Shizu said, taking Kino’s side, but our superior was undeterred. Why don’t you say anything about the ‘marine’ thing she just brought up, Shizu?

Chako-sensei furiously forced Kino to practice and furiously berated her.

“You’re just like the Tokyo Sky Tree, standing up high!”

What does that even mean?

After several hours of concentrated guitar lessons, Kino returned to the dorms, exhausted. Although she did learn quite a bit during this period of training.

After dinner and a bath, Kino was already dead tired. She didn’t even feel like studying.

“I can’t believe... Two more weeks of this...?”

Without caring that she would probably wake up with a bird’s nest for a head tomorrow, Kino fell asleep.

But Chako-sensei’s training had been so strict that Kino had forgotten something:

Namely, that they had neither tea nor cake today during practice.


<=>


“Sensei! You didn’t give us any cake yesterday!”

It was after school on Tuesday. It was only during lunch today that Kino realized this fact. So she stormed into the music prep room in anger! Fury! And outrage!

“Oh? Didn’t I?” Chako-sensei asked nonchalantly, sitting in the prep room.

She was laying out a delicious cake on the table, with Shizu and Inuyama’s help.

“No! But what’s done is done. Forgive and forget, right?” Kino said quickly, her eyes trained on the cake.

“I think so too, Kino. Let’s start with the cake today. We’ll practice afterwards.” Chako-sensei said.

“All right!”

Kino sounded completely refreshed.

‘Hook, line, and sinker. Huh.’ Hermes thought, but he said nothing.

Chako-sensei was probably only going to feed them tea and cake every other day. Sure, she brought the cake this time, but tomorrow--Wednesday--she’ll have ‘forgotten’ to bring it. She would put everyone through such a rough practice session that Kino would forget this fact, and by the time Kino realized the lack of cake on Thursday, Chako-sensei would have it prepared once more.

And that was what really happened.


Time passed. It was Friday.

“I’m tired...”

Kino was lurching down the hill with the guitar slung behind her, heading for the dormitories.

Of course, she didn’t get any cake today.

“Put your soul into it!” Chako-sensei had cried during practice, driving them so hard that Kino had no time to even think of food.

For your information, Kino had improved quite a bit over the past couple of days.

Two weeks was not nearly enough time for anyone to master an instrument. What Kino had to focus on learning first and foremost was getting the timing right to play power chords.


Gakuen Kino’s Music and Instrument Corner - Part 4

A power chord is a chord consisting of the first and third from a three-note chord. Because you only need two notes, you only need to strum two strings that are right next to each other. Simple, isn’t it? Not only that, you also only use the three strings at the top--six, five, and four. The thickest ones.

Holding down these strings is also a very simple task.

The part of the guitar where you press down on the strings is called a ‘fretboard’. Not to be confused with riding a small, long mammal down a slope. The board is divided into ‘frets’, which are marked by metal strips. Each section is numbered, with the section furthest from the body of the guitar being called the ‘first fret’.

In terms of pianos, think of each fret as one key. Twelve frets make up a single octave.

You have to press down on many strings at a time if you want to play all the chords on guitar, but power chords are very simple.

Hold down the first note with your index finger, then use your ring finger to press down on the string directly below and two frets above--this point is the third.

‘Hold down the first note with your index finger, then use your ring finger to press down on the string directly below and two frets above. Then play the strings’. This is all. There isn’t even a major/minor distinction.

Let’s try practicing. Press down on the third fret of the first string. Then use your ring finger to press down on the fifth fret of the fifth string.

Now strum!

That is the G power chord. Good job.

Try some more:

The fifth fret of the first string, and the seventh fret of the second string. This is the A power chord.

Then, the fifth fret of the second string and the seventh fret of the third string. This is the D power chord.

The fingering poses are all the same, so all you have to do is move them left, right, and up and down.

End explanation.


What Kino had to do was play a power chord at the beginning of each bar.

It was a relatively simple task, but it was still a difficult goal for a total beginner like Kino. So lured by the promise of cake, she poured blood and sweat into practice. And she hadn’t even started on singing practice yet.

For your information, Inuyama plugged in a USB drive containing the song into the electronic drum set’s control box, and was practicing with a pair of headphones clamped over his ears. Thunk thunk thunk. Thunk thunk thunk thunk thunk.

He was starting to sound convincingly skilled. But it was doubtful if anyone knew the fact that Inuyama was visualizing each drum to look like Shizu and Samoyed Mask’s face.

Shizu, meanwhile, had brought in a white electric guitar, a Flying V (Note: an object that only appears to be capable of flight). He was playing through Kino’s part at a snail’s pace in order to help her.

“Yes. Perfect timing.”

Bam.

“Like this?”

Bam.

“That’s right. Excellent.”

Ba-bam.

“Oh, I see. Like this.”

Ba-ba-bam.

The electronic sound leaking through the doors of the music prep room confused the students who passed by in the halls.

“What have they been doing all week?”

“Did our school even have a light music club?”

“The school festival’s already over, though...”

“Did you notice? The music room’s been dead quiet all week.”

Actually, the school band that usually practiced in the music room had been relocated to the gymnasium stage early this week (where the Take Action Now Club had performed their play).

Currently, the gymnasium was filled with the passionate wail of trumpets, accompanied by the sound of volleyballs and basketballs bouncing to and fro. The members of the athletic teams were being driven up the wall.

“Sensei, can’t we do something about this?” They complained to their supervising teachers.

“Let’s try to get along for now. It’ll only be two weeks.” The teachers all said to their students, word-for-word.

Only some of the teachers knew of what Chako-sensei had secretly done to gain their cooperation.

Those teachers would probably take this secret to the grave.


The school was tinted red in the beautiful autumn sunlight.

And here was our terrifying Chako-sensei:

[It’s all going according to plan.] She said from the driver’s seat of a car in the school parking lot. She was talking on her cell phone to an unknown person. In English, at that.

The car was a new Honda hybrid sports car, the CR-Z. The chassis was sharp as a knife, and it was painted a bright red. Red is for passion.

Although the license plate indicated that the car was from Yokohama city, the fact that the number did not start with a [わ](1) indicated that this was not a rental car, like the one she had brought for the club’s outings with Inid.

[Yes, that’s right. Don’t worry, now.]

Chako-sensei spoke English in a very gentle tone. The members of the Take Action Now Club have probably never heard her talking like this before.

[Just relax and rest up. You need to recover properly. And once the time comes, all your problems will be solved.]

What in the world was she talking about? This is all very suspicious.

As the person on the other side of the phone spoke, Chako-sensei nodded and agreed in English.

[Thanks for worrying for us. But it’s going to be all right. I promise.]

Chako-sensei turned her gaze to the distance, through the sunroof and into the red-and-maroon skies.

[We’ll use our skills to destroy any obstacle in our path. That’s what it means to be part of the Take Action Now Club.]

Chako-sensei grinned cooly.

[I want you to take a good look at the way we warriors of justice fight. From all the way across the sea!]


<=>


The next day. It was a sunday, and the Take Action Now Club was not meeting today.

Cold autumn rain poured down onto the streets. It was cold, and with each shower the season inescapably drew nearer and nearer to winter. Although it would be terrible if it started going backwards.

Kino, hoping to at least take a break from practice during her day off, was lazing around in the common room, reading a magazine.

There were about eight students in the common room today. They were all dressed in gym uniforms, sprawled on the couches like those lethargic white bears you see in zoos in the middle of summer.

“You all look so tired. Are you just going to lay around until feeding time?” Sato-senpai said, stepping into the room.

She was once again holding the Blu-ray of the Anete Harami Yokohama concert. She must have watched it over and over again by now.

Sato inserted the disk into the player. The bears in gym uniforms stirred and sat up one by one to watch the concert. Some took a quick minute to go to the washroom, or went to buy juice. I can use commas and clauses all day long.

Kino, who really wasn’t interested, kept her eyes on her magazine.

“Sato, did you hear?”

“About what?”

Kino could hear someone talking to Sato. A girl in the same year, most likely.

“You know how Anete hasn’t shown up on TV recently, right?”

“Oh, yeah. She put up an apology on her homepage. It’s just a cold, right?” Sato sighed.

“No, no. People are saying it’s actually pretty bad.”

“Wh-what?!” Sato raised her voice.

“...”

Kino looked up from her magazine.

Sato stopped in the middle of bringing the disk to the tray and glared daggers at her friend.

Her friend looked a little taken aback.

“It’s just a rumor, Sato. Don’t worry about it too much. The thing is, it’s been three weeks since she came on TV or radio. And she hasn’t posted on her blog or tweeted anything.”

“Yeah, but...”

“Isn’t that a bit long for a cold? There haven’t been any new announcements, either.”

“But that doesn’t mean she’s in a bad spot, right?”

“And someone posted on an internet forum yesterday, saying they saw Anete Harami overseas. Some city with that famous clinic--Maya? Mayor? What was it, now? Anyway, there’s rumors that she has a really serious illness and she’s recuperating in America.”

“...You’ve gotta be kidding...” Sato trailed off, on the verge of tears. Her friend desperately tried to console her.

“H-hey! It’s just a rumor, Sato. People are probably just blowing things out of proportion. C’mon. She’ll be back on stage before you can say ‘gee, whiz’!”

What time period is this girl from?

“You’re right. Right. Right! Everyone has to take breaks. Even Anete Harami!”

Sato perked up once more and placed the disk in the tray, and began to watch the concert again.

Everyone began to enjoy the sights and sounds.

Kino, who listened to the music as she read the magazine--

“Huh?”

Noticed something strange.

“Whoa...”

She could hear the sound of the guitar much more clearly than before.


<=>


Monday, after school. The sky was clear.

“Sensei! I can stuff myself full of cake today, right?!”

Is that the first thing you say as soon as you start the first practice of the week, Kino? Are you sure you’re human?

“You betcha!”

Chako-sensei came prepared.

Eep! Kino’s tail began wagging. She looked like an overexcited puppy. Club Activities LOVE!

“Yeah! That hits the spot!”

Once again, she downed nearly a dozen slices of cake and a liter of tea. Kino, supremely satisfied, began practice.

“We only have a week and a little bit left until the big day,” Chako-sensei said, “so we’re moving on to Phase II.”

It was a very cool name, but it essentially meant that they were now going to start singing practice.

Chako-sensei suggested that they begin by attempting to sing.

They had recorded themselves playing the song last Friday. Preparations to play the recording through the speakers were complete.

They had already set up the mic and the mic stand. They connected it to the amp. One, two, testing, one, two. All right.

“It’s time for the vocals, now! Featuring our very own Kino! And of course, the song will be this year’s mega-hit--[My Gun is a Hotchkiss]!”

I wonder if anyone could sing proudly after an intro like that. Only the best of the best. But wait, was this song ever a mega-hit?

“W-wait, I beseech thee!” Kino cried, shaking her head. What a strange protagonist, slipping into historical drama whenever she feels like it.

“Could you give me some time to practice?”

Chako-sensei, who had been acting like an emcee from a music show, nodded and agreed.

“Then how about we all go for singing practice together?”

Where? The club members looked at her curiously.

“Let’s go for some karaoke!”


Karaoke.

Karaoke is karaoke in English, too.

Thanks to the widespread usage of cell phones and the internet, young people have mostly stopped going out for karaoke. But it is still one of Japan’s foremost forms of entertainment.

Other forms of entertainment representative of Japan are pachinko, whaling, watching pervy anime, and toilets equipped with bidets (data gathered from foreign research).

Anyway, it was still the middle of the day, and the karaoke boxes were empty. The three club members and Chako-sensei had a large room (seating capacity: 20) all to themselves. They had couches left over, so everyone sat very far from one another. They had so much room that they could probably sleep on the couches.

Chako-sensei ordered beverages for everyone through the intercom and asked:

“So, what’s the first thing we do before we practice?”

Shizu was the first to answer.

“Before partaking in physical exercise, it is imperative that one starts off with warm-ups. This also applies to singing.”

“Perfect answer, Shizu! I expected nothing less from you!” Chako-sensei said. Shizu even got the usage of ‘imperative’ right. This is a word that means ‘necessary’. But don’t go around defining it to everyone you meet, or they’ll just call you an annoying know-it-all.

So let’s begin with warm-ups.

In your seat, lean your upper body forward at a very slight angle. Then take deep breaths and release.

Then, put pressure in your gut to make it stick out. Maintain that position as you breathe out. One more time! A long, thin breath.

Kino had no idea what any of this was supposed to be, but she followed Chako-sensei’s instructions.

“Next, we’ll practice voice projection! Straighten our your backs and repeat after me. ‘Amenbo akai na, a e i o u’!”

Amenbo akai na, a e i o u” The students repeated.

“‘Ukimo ni koebi mo oyoideru’!”

“‘Ukimo ni koebi mo oyoideru’!”

They went on with ‘Kaki no ki kuri no ki ka ki ku ke ko, kitsutsuki kotsu kotsu kare keyaki’, but it might eat up too many pages if I go on with this, so I’ll omit the rest.

This is actually a poem called ‘The Water Strider’s Song’, written by the Japanese writer Hakushū Kitahara.

With ‘uekiya idoga e omatsuri da’, they finished their warm-up.(2) The young man working part-time at the karaoke place brought everyone their beverages with an incredulous expression. I don’t blame him.

“All right then! Let’s get to practicing!”

Chako-sensei was very excited.

“I’ll start us off!” She cried, grabbing the microphone. But at that moment--

“If you could please stick to supervising us, sensei!”

We’ll do the singing, so please just listen, sensei!”

“Don’t sing, sensei! You have to teach us!”

“Don’t sing, sensei! You’ll destroy our eardrums!”

Shizu, Inuyama, Kino, and Hermes cried at once. They all meant the same things, though. No one would want to hear nails on a chalkboard, amplified through an extremely high-quality karaoke sound system. It was an act of risking one’s very life.

“Oh? If you say so...”

Chako-sensei looked a little disappointed, but there was nothing to be done. The moment she put down the mic--

“Phew...” “Phew...” “Phew...” “Phew...”

The three people and the cell phone strap all sighed in relief. Looks like no one paid any attention to what Hermes said.

“Then the three of you have to sing your hearts out! You need guts to stand on a stage. Step forward and imagine the world’s eyes on you! Be sexy! Be cool! And I’m going to keep the scoring function on, so keep that in mind!”

Chako-sensei sipped ginger ale through a straw and gave her command.

“Then let me begin.” Shizu said, pressing buttons on the remote control. He then started the song. It was a very serious, down-to-earth ballad.

Shizu took the mic and stepped onto the stage. He bowed.

His beautiful voice began to echo through the speakers.

The handsome Shizu’s dandy voice was a perfect fit for the song he had chosen. He gently sang a bittersweet song about the events of a man’s life.

“As usual, I expected nothing less.” Chako-sensei said between slurps of ginger ale. Inuyama looked very resentful. He began fiddling with the remote as he searched for songs, silently claiming the next place in line.

Kino sipped her warm jasmine tea and thought to herself:

Was it actually imperative that she sing on stage and write the lyrics by herself? No.

How long did it take you to figure that out, Kino?


Shizu’s sexy voice finally closed off the song.

The score screen flashed onto the monitor.

Ratatatatat. There was a dramatic drum roll, and then a crash of cymbals. Crash! The score was a whopping ninety-six points.

Kino had never received a score like this on any of her exams.

“Scores that high really do exist, huh? And here I was, thinking it was just an urban legend.” She said honestly, holding her cup of jasmine tea. What a tearjerking thought.

Inuyama, meanwhile, silently ground his teeth.

“Great work, Shizu! I knew you could do it!” Chako-sensei said, applauding. Kino and Inuyama found themselves mimicking her before they knew it.

“Thank you. It’s actually be some time since I last sang, but it was a wonderful experience all the same.”

Shizu casually returned to his seat.

“I’ll go next.” Inuyama said, desperately clinging to discipline, as he took hold of another microphone.

The song began. It was rock. It was also all in English. The title, the names of the composer and the lyricist. All of it. In other words, a foreign song.

Inuyama took a very deep breath and sang to the upbeat tune.

No one could ever expect such a powerful voice from the normally quiet Inuyama. He sang in rapid-fire English, perfectly in time with the furious beat.

“...”

Kino was left slack-jawed by Inuyama’s unusual display of emotion and the lyrics that made no sense to her.

“Ah.” “Hm.”

Shizu and Chako-sensei listened contentedly, with a slight hint of condescension.

Inuyama had reached the chorus. He began to belt it out, sweating furiously.

Kino had no idea that the lyrics at this point were “This is revenge, I’ll kill you! This is revenge, I’ll kill you! This is revenge, I’ll kill you!”. Well, I guess ignorance is bliss.

Ta-dah. The song came to an end.

Inuyama clasped his hands over his chest, as though in prayer, and tightly gripped his mic as he looked up at the Bose speakers on the ceiling. Something was dribbling from his eye--was it sweat, or tears?

“Amazing, Inuyama! Good work!”

“Excellent job.”

But he did not hear these compliments.

Inuyama lightly shook his head and stared into the monitor. Here comes the drum roll...

And...

His score was...

Ninety-six points! Exactly the same as Shizu. No more, no less!

The karaoke machine must have learned to read Inuyama’s emotions, not wanting to be destroyed by his outrage. Excellent work.

“Urgh!?”

Inuyama furiously glared at the screen, holding the microphone tight enough to break it.

But staring wouldn’t do much to change the numbers on the screen. In the end, Inuyama returned to his seat and sipped his bitter iced coffee.

“And finally, it’s Kino’s turn!” Chako-sensei said.

“Uhh...”

She couldn’t run now. Kino chose a song with the remote.

She stood up and stepped up to the stage while the prelude was playing.

Kino took a deep breath and began to sing.

It was...

A laid-back...

But upbeat...

And gentle song.

“Oh.” “Ah.” “...”

Kino did not notice the others’ expressions changing.

Once she began, she continued without stumbling once. Kino melded into the world of the song, as though there was nothing around her.

Eventually, the song came to an end.

The music faded out.

“Brava!” Chako-sensei cried suddenly, applauding loudly enough to wake the dead.

The word ‘brava’ means the same thing as ‘bravo’, but is used when the performer is female. This is how they do it back in Italy.

“That was splendid, Kino! I’ve never heard anyone sing so well!” Chako-sensei said. This sounds strangely familiar. Where have I heard this before?

And, of course, what was her score?

The couch Kino was sitting on had suddenly turned into ‘Kiss and Cry John’.

Drum roll! And fanfare!

To everyone’s shock, the score was a whopping--

Ninety nine!

Not only had Kino surpassed the others, she was also only a single point away from perfection. She wins with a personal best score! Take the gold medal already! Congratulations!

“Astounding!”

“That was great!”

Shizu and Inuyama praised her.

“Wha?”

Kino was the one most shocked by this development.

She had never received a score like this in her entire life. If she had brought her camera, she would have take a picture of the screen, printed it in poster size, slept beside it once, and then mounted it on a frame to put on her wall forever.

She was so floored that she couldn’t even react properly.

“Uh... thank you.” She said, scratching the back of her head.

Chako-sensei looked very pleased.

“Now that we know who’s the best singer in here, I’ll turn off the scoring function! Let’s eat, drink, and make merry as long as we’re here. You know this place serves some great dessert!”

“That sounds wonderful,” Shizu agreed.

“I’m not sure. Could we finish up for today?” Inuyama asked.

“Food please!” Kino cried, her eyes lighting up.

After all that cake?!’ Hermes thought, astonished.

The Take Action Now Club spent the next four hours eating, drinking, and singing.

By the way, Chako-sensei.

“What is it?”

Did you by any chance meddle with the scoring function?

“Nope. Not one bit. It was all Kino. I swear!”

That’s what she said.


<=>


Tuesday after school. They finally began practicing like a real band.

In music, rhythm is key.

Inuyama on drums and Shizu on bass. Futari wa Rhythm Max Heart.

These two would set the rhythm in place as Kino played the guitar and sang.

“Then let’s give it a try!” Chako-sensei said, kicking off practice.

Kino was desperate.

“Um... Up next is A... and then a D...”

At the beginning of each bar, she played a power chord.

“It’s time for the vocal part, now! One, two, three!” Chako-sensei called.

“‘Step over the past and future~ and raise a battle cry~’”

She’s really good. Her karaoke score isn’t such a shock anymore.

It looks like last week’s hellish training sessions also paid off. Although she missed some of the chords in several places, Kino continued singing and playing without any horrible mistakes.

And--

“My gun~ is a Hotchkiss~”

Dundundundundun. Bam! End song.

“Excellent job! Not bad for a first runthrough.” Chako-sensei said, applauding.

“...”

Released from the pressure of singing and playing the guitar, Kino turned her slightly sweaty head to her side.

“You did well.”

The ever-handsome Shizu was smiling, holding the bass.

“Great work.”

Inuyama, not looking very likely to sweat despite his intense performance, grinned.

“...”

Kino felt slightly ashamed of herself.

I don’t belong in a band, she had thought. I don’t enjoy music, she had told herself.

But now she felt ashamed for having ever thought that way.

“Can we... try that one more time?” She asked.

‘Did we just change genres to a coming-of-age drama?!’ Hermes wondered.

He kept quiet, however, and remained hanging from Kino’s belt as she began to sing again.


“Later, everyone!” Kino said at the end of practice, stepping out of the music prep room with the gig bag (containing the Stratocaster) on her back.

“See you tomorrow!” Chako-sensei said with a wave. She smirked.

She stood by the window, watching Kino disappear from the school grounds as the orange sunlight illuminated the world.

“You two.” She said to Shizu and Inuyama, who were both also preparing to leave.

Inuyama was just moving the drum set over to a corner of the room. Shizu was in the middle of transferring the recording they made today into Chako-sensei’s laptop.

They both turned towards Chako-sensei. She took out two sets of sheet music from a binder and handed it to them.

“I want you two to practice these songs at home. I know you’re both skilled enough to master it in no time.”

“This is...” “What is this...?” Shizu and Inuyama mumbled simultaneously, looking down at the sheet music. Chako-sensei flashed them a wink.

“Don’t ask. And not a word to anyone, okay? Not even Kino.”


<=>


Time flies when you’re focusing hard on something.

The Take Action Now Club practiced very hard all week long.

Thankfully, no one fell to demonic temptation during this time. The students here are just way too savvy to fall for them anymore.

After class every day, Kino would go to the music prep room and practice guitar. Every other day she would also get to stuff herself full of scrumptious cake.

Shizu and Inuyama were also reliable bandmates to Kino, supporting her from behind. Chako-sensei crossed her arms with a very content expression, listening to them play.

“Amazing... I never expected so much from your first song...” She gasped. “Good work, Kino. We’ll take care of the rest, so you can go ahead and leave.”

Sending Kino away, Chako-sensei, Shizu, and Inuyama lowered the volumes on the amplifiers to their absolute minimum and began practicing another song.


<=>


That evening, Kino wrote a letter to her grandmother in Hokkaido.


Dear Grandma,

How are you? I’m doing fine.

It’s getting a little chilly here, but I’m sure it’s already freezing back in Hokkaido. But you know, I’m not worried about you at all, Grandma. After all, no grandmother looks better in camo gear than you!

You know, I have some news that’s going to knock your socks off!

I joined a band, and we’re going to make our international debut! Actually, it’s just a battle of bands at the local town hall. But they’re going to broadcast it all over the internet.

But it’s still going to show all over the world! Isn’t it amazing? I was kind of nervous about it at first, but our supervising teacher really convinced me with her energy and passion.

Now I’m playing an electric guitar for the first time in my life. I’m also the lead singer. You’ve met the other members before--Shizu-senpai and Inuyama.

You can watch us perform on Culture Day, at around one in the afternoon.

I’ve only ever used the internet at school, so I’m not sure if you’ll be able to watch it or not. But I’m giving you early notice just in case.

The title is [Yokohama City Battle of the Newbie Bands]. Even if you can’t see it live, I’ll send you the video later. So look forward to it, okay?

I’ll do my best!


Love, Kino


<=>


An old woman was reading a letter.

The late-autumn skies in Hokkaido were beautiful.

The reds and yellows of the trees had already disappeared, and winter was just around the corner. A traditional Japanese-style house stood alone in the woods.

An elderly woman, tall and standing upright with her long, silver hair in a bun, stood before the door as she read Kino’s letter. It was written on a cute piece of stationary decorated with a drawing of a 9mm Parabellum round.

The old woman was wearing a green combat suit.

Slung over her back was an SR-25, a semi-automatic sniper rifle manufactured by Knight’s Armament Company. It was a bit difficult to see, but there was a warning carved on the stock indicating that this particular gun was still a Japanese Self-Defense Force prototype. It looks like this woman was entrusted with testing the self-defense capabilities of this firearm.

“Oh my! The internet? What should I do?!”

The woman excitedly took off her combat boots, set her SR-25 against a gun rack, and stepped inside.

She entered a traditional tatami room that contained nothing but a single seat cushion. She snapped her fingers.

Part of the ceiling slid open without a sound. Something descended to the floor.

It was a table equipped with several computer monitors and three keyboards. The machinery appeared silently, like something straight out of a secret military base, and stopped just a couple dozen centimeters short of the floor.

“There.”

The old woman brought the seat cushion from the corner of the room and set it down before the table. As if on cue, the screens flickered on automatically.

Filling the screens were countless forms of communication. Email, Twitter, blogs, and others. Their contents consisted of things like:

[Colonel Granny: We wish to request your aid for a mission. The pay is three million dollars for three days’ work, negotiable.]

[We wish to hire you as an instructor at our academy for special operatives. We will pay you whatever you request.]

[Selling a V-13 tractor]

[Do you have enough firewood this year? Make sure to chop that wood before snowfall! When driving at night, please exercise caution so as to avoid hitting deer or other wildlife that may wander out into the road.]

[To celebrate your great contribution to our nation, we would like to name a street in our capital after you. Please tell us your real name!]

[When will you accept your medal? From the Government of the United States of America.]

These messages were written languages from all over the world.

The old woman ignored them all. She lightly waved her fingers in midair to change the screen, and began to surf the internet.

Soon, she arrived at a popular news site infamous for its gossip section.

The headline read:

[The Truth: Anete Harami Illness Rumors]


<=>


The second of November. It was a school day.

Tomorrow was Culture Day, a national holiday. It was already so very close.

The Take Action Now Club had finished their final practice early, and everyone was now partaking in cake.

“I honestly didn’t think we’d be doing so well. I’m so proud of you guys!” Chako-sensei said energetically.

“Even I was shocked by how quickly Kino improved.” Shizu said, also complimenting Kino. Inuyama agreed.

“I’m sure our performance tomorrow will be amazing.”

But Kino herself--

“This new Montblanc cake is out of this world! Chestnuts really are perfect in autumn. One more slice, please!”

She was focusing on the cake. And nothing else. Well, at least she’s practiced diligently.

“Come to think of it, sensei...” Shizu said, “we still haven’t decided on costumes to wear on stage tomorrow. Do you have anything in mind?”

Chako-sensei began to skim the top of her cup pudding as she answered.

“Nothing in particular. Why don’t you just dress comfortably? There’s no dress code or anything. And if you’d like, you can even change outfits midway through!”

Hey, these people are playing one song. When are they going to change? In the middle of the performance?

“Understood.” Shizu nodded. Right. This guy’s more than creepy enough to pull something like that.

“Wouldn’t our uniforms be the best choice?” Inuyama wondered, “they’re comfortable for us, and we could even use the fact that we are students to make a bigger impression on the audience.”

It sounded like a very sensible suggestion, but Inuyama was only saying this because he wanted to see Shizu’s pristine white uniform become stained red with something other than tomato juice for once.

Whether she knew what Inuyama was thinking or not--

“That sounds fine to me.” Chako-sensei said. She then turned to ask Kino for her opinion.

“Sure. Can I have another slice of cheesecake?”


<=>


On the way back to the dorms.

Kino left the guitar back in the music prep room because they wanted to move all of their gear together tomorrow. So she was only carrying her beige messenger bag, although she was still wearing her belt and holster.

“I can’t believe it’s already tomorrow! You know, I was really anxious about all this when I first started.” Kino said, having made sure that no one was around to hear.

But Hermes, hanging from her belt, said nothing.

“Huh?”

Kino looked down and felt with her hands to make sure Hermes was where he was supposed to be. Yes, Hermes the cell phone strap was still safely hanging from her belt.

“Hermes...?”

Kino stopped in her tracks and frowned.

“No way...”

A shadow of fear was cast over her eyes.

“Does this mean... Hermes went back to his magical world? And that’s why he can’t talk anymore? ...So I’m back to being an ordinary high school student?! Does this mean Gakuen Kino is going to be a normal high school romantic comedy from here on out?!”

“Don’t worry. That’s never going to happen.” Hermes breathed. (Editorial dept.: Hermes breathed?)

“Oh.”

Kino continued walking.

“That’s cold of you, Kino. Anyway, there’s something that’s been bugging me for a while.”

“Really? Like a cute female cell phone strap in our class or something? All right, you have my permission to leave on a date.”

Hermes ignored Kino’s joke.

“Kino, this school’s been under surveillance for the past few days--no, the past two weeks.” He said suddenly.

Kino frowned.

“What? What are you talking about?”

“Exactly what I said. There’s a bunch of people keeping watch on the school from the outside. From apartment windows and cars parked nearby. And from the woods.”

“Maybe it’s because of the demons. Wasn’t there that government organization? KAERE or something?”

“No. It’s definitely almost as well-funded, but I don’t think it’s government-related. It’s probably a civilian group, but it doesn’t look like a PMSC, either. They don’t look like they’re used to this kind of work at all. We can’t make any rash moves since we don’t know what they’re after, but I want you to keep an eye out just in case.”

“Hm...”

Kino slowly continued walking, falling into thought.

‘PMSC’ stands for ‘Private Military and Security Companies’. Until not too long ago, they were known as ‘PMC’. The dangerous-looking men who tried to kidnap Inid were from this kind of organization.

Although this group was different, they were still keeping the school under tight scrutiny.

“I don’t like this one bit.” Kino said, her eye glinting with the wrath of a fierce warrior.

“I’m not going to let anyone steal my cake.”

No one is trying to steal your cake.

You’ll find out what these people are after. Tomorrow.


-----


Part 3. 


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(1) As mentioned in the previous volume, the character (わ) is only present on the license plates of rental cars.
(2) Because this poem includes every sound present in the Japanese language and is organized in order, it is frequently used as an enunciation exercise.


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