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<Heehahahaha! Welcome to this happy damned dump of an island!
<Heehahahaha! Welcome to this happy damned dump of an island!
It’s been a while! Or is it nice to meet you?
Today, we’re airing a cat-and-mouse documentary!
A little game of tag between children who were abandoned into rathood and a girl who made herself into the island’s cat!
Although the rats are never ‘it’, they’re still nibblin’ away at the hearts of the high-and-mighty humans!
Will the cat manage to protect her master, the island itself? Heehahahahaha!>
The Eastern District’s Guard Team
—the words of Spring-heeled Joplin, the Observer
Welcome! Welcome, friends! Welcome to this subtly off, tarnished, beautiful, and truly endlessly lovable world!
Would this be your first time on the island?
Then the first thing you all must do is secure your own safety!
I am Joplin, the Observer. Not to brag, but as the Observer who has seen countless ways to survive on this island, I thought I should give you some pointers.
Newcomers like you might as well ask an organization for protection. What, you don’t think there’s groups like that around? Fine, fine. Here’s some proof.
Check out this video! It’s from a camera hidden on the Eastern District boss’s collar.
Black suit: I told ya not to make Jun cry, Boss!
Girl with bangs: *sniff* I-it’s okay, Mr. Zhang…
Black suit: How the hell could you write ‘肉’ on her precious wanted poster of Inui?!
???: Sorry, I was feeling a bit jealous. Better than writing ‘骨’(1), though.
Black suit: What are you, eight?
What do you think? Talk about cozy and domestic! They typically do bodyguard work for bigwigs, but they’re cool enough people to protect folks like you if you’ve got the cash.
What, you don’t trust ‘em? You don’t get how a buncha punks like them can protect people on this island? Wrong! Too bad. Circle. Shooting blanks. In onomatopoeia, bzzt. Sucks for you. Fuck off. Hah! Just kidding. I was just messing with you. Sorry.
I told you, this island’s off. Trying to judge everything by your standards? That’s no good. No good at all.
I mean, I bet the guy in black’s the only one you thought was worth the money.
I bet you thought he’s the leader.
Wrong. You’re still chained by your own standards.
All right, all right. I’ll tell you.
About the ‘guard cat’ that lives on this island.
The story of an adorable, soft, and slightly misbehaved li’l kitten with claws that shred everything they touch.
That’s right. It was just about when a casino opened up in the Eastern District…
—the words of Yakumo Amagiri, the Killer Ghoul
Sorry. I’m actually the Killer Ghoul.
So I think I’m going to kill you.
I don’t know why you were sniffing around like that, but to be honest… it bothered me. The way you were mousing around me.
Although if you were a rodent like Nejiro, I might have spared you.
Hm? You’ve never heard of him? I see. You’re new to this island, aren’t you.
Nejiro is king over the rats on this island.
They’re such tiny little rats. Those children, you know, are everywhere.
It’s a little different from being able to go anywhere. Me and people like Yua can get anywhere, but those rats are different.
Those rats, you see, are everywhere. That’s the important part. I’m emphasizing the everywhere because it’s most important.
They spread into every corner of the city to nibble away at people and even the island itself. They’re some of the more annoying things around here. Although they’re no problem for me.
Their eyes look completely empty, but at the same time they’re like mirrors. They reflect their leader Nejiro’s eyes. Sad and lonely, but unable to see that that’s what they look like themselves.
I can’t say I know what they’re thinking. Just like you don’t understand a Killer Ghoul like me, I don’t understand rats.
But it’s strange. They look like rodents to me, so I never get the urge to kill them.
I’m a killer, not a butcher.
All right. I’ll tell you.
The legend behind the poor, sweet rats that nest on this island.
You should pray that I change my mind while I talk. That I change my mind about killing you.
That’s right. It was just about when a casino opened up in the Eastern District…
—the words of Takeshishi Kanjurō of the ramen shop
So what’re you snooping around for?
I mean, I don’t care s’long as you pay for the ramen. But lemme at least talk to myself or something. It’s for your benefit.
The folks on this island are basically trash beyond help. Including me.
Just like Uenoshima by Tokyo used to be a dump. This is an island of human trash.
The trash just ended up drawing more trash, and eventually they split into district like East and West and caused a ruckus.
We used to have a North and South not too long ago, but all the groups just chomped away at each other until we just had the mountains East and West left standing.
What? You wanna know who’s at the top of those mountains? You’re outta your mind. Why’re you replying to something I’m saying to myself?
All right. Lemme keep talkin’ to myself.
The boss in the Western District’s some guy named ‘Ei’. But the real movers and shakers are the executives. We don’t even know if this Ei guy’s on the island or not.
I know about one of the execs—this woman named Yili, who’s essentially the head honcho over West. She’s a shrewd one, that. If you stumble around like someone who got caught by Yakumo, you’d end up with a new pair of cement shoes. Unlike Yakumo, she doesn’t let her whims tell her what to do.
The boss over East acts like he knows exactly what you’re thinking. He’s even worse than Yili. He’d know what a cockroach or a rat is thinking if it lived on this island. ‘Cause he’s basically a house-sized rat himself. A freak, if I ever saw one.
They’re the trashiest of trash there is. King and Queen Trash. They meet more ‘trash’ prerequisites than anyone else. Which means they’re the most human people on the island.
You already know that people are made up of 90% trash.
Let me just tell you the whole thing while I’m at it. About the two top idiots who sold all their their souls and lives and pasts to the island.
That’s right. It was just about when a casino opened up in the Eastern District…
(1) A parody of the extremely popular manga ‘Kinnikuman’, where the main character has the character ‘肉’(‘meat’, but referring to muscle) on his forehead. ‘骨’ is the character for ‘bone’.
Prologue: The Future - Legends
Phuket, Thailand. Patong Beach.
Under the blazing sun that summer day, the beach was crawling with tourists.
Though it wasn’t as crowded as Japan’s beaches, where there were more people than there was water, Patong Beach was not lacking for energy.
Visitors from all over the world melded into the captivating scenery enclosed in the Andaman Sea.
The beach was filled with so many people of so many backgrounds, as though they had been on the island from the very beginning.
“Huh? No way, you Japanese too? Man, talk about nostalgic! Yeah, I was there until just half a year ago!”
There was a food stand in the middle of the beach, full of tourists.
A man with rainbow-tinted hair grinned as he chattered amicably with the man next to him.
“Then again, I guess you can’t really call that Japan. I mean, it’s in Japan, but it’s not part of it. You know about it, man? Everyone does. Y’know. That big-ass bridge between Sado Island and Niigata. The one they never finished! You heard about the artificial island in the middle? I used to live there for a while.”
The Japanese man, who seemed to be a tourist, gave the rainbow-haired man a curious look.
“They just left it there before they finished, so thugs and illegal immigrants started flockin’ to the place. What do people call it now? ‘The Island Abandoned by Japan’, ‘The Extraterritorial Island’, ‘Dump Island’, ‘The real island of dreams’…”
As though recalling a distant hometown, the man put on a lonely smile and began to tell his story.
“Sure the place is a dump, but it’s a damn good place for someone like me to live. Y’know, how normal people like you treat the island like a legend? But once you get used to the shit, there’s nothing better in the whole goddamned country.”
The rainbow-haired man tipped his glass, boasting of his past.
“A legend. Yeah. That’s the perfect word. The whole island’s turned into a legend like the Kowloon Walled City. Now, I pulled some crazy shit on that island, but there’s actually a lot of living legends there. Just like a movie!”
The Japanese man urged his new friend for details, curious.
“Hm. You wanna know ‘bout the legends? Let’s see…”
The rainbow-haired man looked up and thought for a moment. Then, after placing an order for more beer and snacks, began to narrate as though telling history.
“First up is the strongest man on the island. Sōji Kuzuhara, the head of the volunteer cops! One serious badass, swear to god. It’s like nothing is average about this guy. He deflects bullets with his hand. Can you believe that? Hey, don’t give me that look. Then again, I don’t blame you for being skeptical.”
Getting into the groove of storytelling, the rainbow-haired man chuckled and began to tell the many legends of the island.
As though bragging abut his own family, he did not know when to end the waves of legendary exploits.
“If you’re just thinking power, there’s Greatest Zhang—he’s the champ in the underground wrestling ring. Hand-to-hand, he’s on Kuzuhara’s level—he might even be stronger if it’s pro wrestling. Then again, fighting on the ring’s totally different from fighting off the ring.
“Guns? There’s Carlos. Almost made the Olympics, that guy.
“If you’re talking strong and dangerous, there’s Spring-heeled Joplin, the living urban legend. And—
“The strongest, baddest of them all. Yakumo Amagiri, the Killer Ghoul. He almost got me, too. Got away by the skin of my teeth, but I had the devil’s luck that day.
“Other than fighting skill? There’s this girl named Yua who tried to make a map of the entire island on her own. Nah, half the island’s a total maze now ‘cause the bums who live there keep renovating the place. And unlike amusement parks, there ain’t any employees there to bail you out if you get lost.
“Buruburu Airwaves! That’s the island’s very own radio station. The babe who runs it is this weirdo named Kelly. Nah, you wouldn’t get it if you didn’t see her in person.
“Then there’s the legendary pickpocket, Grandpa G. The G-pick for short. Apparently he’s never lost in fifty years. Dunno what he’s never lost at, but don’t ya think it’s pretty crazy how he lives off of pickpocketing on an island of poor-ass bums? He got me about three times, too.
“Old man Take’s tonkotsu ramen is a legend of its own.
“Ah, right. There’s the boss of the Eastern District. He’s a real wacko, that one. Huh? Oh. See, the island’s divided into a bunch of Districts. There’s an organization controlling each district, but they’re all pretty shady folks. It’s a big headache. I ended up here ‘cause I picked a fight with a Western District exec. Talk about stupid.”
Though the rainbow-haired man laughed self-deprecatingly, he showed no sign of regret or frustration.
“Who else… ah, I remember.”
After a short pause, he burst out laughing.
“Almost forgot this one. The island’s adorable kitten. The sweet pussycat who got to the island first, hunting down the rats taking over the joint.”
Chewing on a snack, the man began to tell the story of a certain legend.
“She’s whimsical and misbehaved, but you just can’t leave her alone. Just lookin’ at her makes you want to scratch the back of her neck. Although her claws are something else. Nah, not metaphorically. I’m talking literally.
“‘Cause her claws’re actually—”
Prologue: The Past - Cat
The sea breeze and the rumbling of engines filled the island as construction vehicles roared everywhere.
And at the center of the island she sat, her eyes gently closed.
She was quite young—still only in elementary school, from her looks.
With her arms wrapped around her knees and her face looking up, she slept.
As though the rumbling that shook the island was nothing more than a soothing lullaby.
Perhaps the term ‘island’ did not fit the place where she slept.
A dull grey mass expanded inorganically outward. Construction machinery was everywhere on the flat, measured land, and materials were stacked in endless piles.
Though the materials were to be turned into the buildings on the island, the countless steel beams almost looked like piles of rubble.
Because only the construction vehicles brought in by ship were on the island, the street that passed through the center of the island had neither traffic lights nor guardrails. But once the island was completed, it would be the best road on the entire facility.
“From here, it looks just like the reclaimed land in Odaiba.” A man in work wear standing in the middle of the crossroad muttered to himself, looking down the street.
The tire-marked street seemed to run forever, but the blue seas unfolded just as the road reached the horizon.
The man, who was almost middle-aged, turned slightly.
“But that’ll change once the island is finished. With the Etsusa Bridge as the turning point, Niigata, Sado, and even Japan’s economy will improve instantly.”
“Hah hah. That’s a very bold claim.” Replied a suit-clad man standing next to him. “Mr. Sahara, you’re almost sounding like an Ishin-shishi(1) patriot.”
“Heh. So I’m being conceited, now?” The man in work wear replied with a chuckle, sounding like an ordinary salaryman. “Then again, I suppose it’s not something a construction manager is really qualified to say. That’s for higher-ups like you, Mr. Kirino.”
“Please, I’m only an architect. This bridge and the island carry the hopes of everyone involved—equally.” Kirino replied. Sahara gave a toothy grin, embarrassed.
“I suppose that’s true. Once they’re finished, I’ll have more than enough to brag about to my daughter.”
He slowly turned to a pile of materials nearby.
Kirino followed his gaze and saw a small truck parked there.
The engine was on, and in it the girl sat hugging her knees. In the din of noise, she alone seemed to be cocooned in silence.
Her face was pointed upwards, but she seemed to be asleep. Kirino watched her curiously, then turned to the construction manager.
“That would be your daughter, then?”
“That’s right. She begged me to take her along so she could see, but she fell asleep. Damn. People always say she acts like a borrowed cat(2), but now she’s really curled up like a kitten wrapped up in blankets.”
Sahara’s tone was a little rough, but he wore a loving look.
He then changed the subject, turning to Kirino.
“Come to think of it, didn’t you say you had a daughter, too? Why not bring her over so she can watch her father in action?”
“Ah, my daughter’s still a bit young for that. It’s too dangerous to bring her on site, but my wife is taking good care of her, and they’re watching from the mainland.” Kirino said, also laughing proudly, and looked in the same direction as Sahara.
On the southern side of the island, they could see the mountains of the mainland and the sea between, and the cityscape on the shore.
The foundations of the massive bridge dotted the gap between the mainland and the artificial island.
“I see… so they’re watching from there.” Sahara said, fixing his helmet awkwardly.
“Then we’ll just have to make sure they get to visit the place someday. Put our backs into it and finish up this island.”
The architect nodded silently. Sahara began to walk toward the work site.
“I can’t wait. Until the day children our daughters’ age chuckle together on this island we built.”
“I’m not so sure about ‘chuckle’, but I feel the same.” Kirino said with a wry grin, looking over the island once more.
The world’s largest, longest bridge, was to stretch between Niigata and Sado.
And at the center of the bridge would be the artificial island. On that as-of-yet unnamed structure, the men dreamed of a brighter future.
Like fathers watching their children grow.
At the center of the island, the construction manager’s daughter remained cut off from the world around her.
Even in the din of noise, she was as docile as a borrowed cat.
So long as the engines continued to rumble, the girl’s state of peace remained unbroken.
Until the moment the commotion spread, cutting short the sound of construction on the island, she continued to entrust herself to the rumbling air.
Even to the moment of her father’s death.
Even when her father was pulled into the massive engine that formed the core of the island.
And time passed—
(1) Japanese political activists from the late Edo period.
(2) An idiom referring to someone who remains alone and reserved even in the midst of a lively crowd.
Prologue: The Present - Rats
Summer, 2020. Just above the Pits in the Western District.
“See? He’s already dead.” Said a boy, looking down at an unmoving old man.
The boy was not yet fifteen years old, his face still quite innocent. He looked around at the children around him with an indifferent mask.
“I told you, didn’t I? I win the bet.”
There were four or five of them gathered together. In the dim concrete passageway, the children relaxed in whatever ways were most comfortable.
As though closing in on the fresh corpse, they drew near. The old man was still warm, and he stank of something other than rot.
The old man was bleeding everywhere—there wasn’t quite a flood, but the blood was forming visible pools around him.
Watching it unfold, the girls whispered.
“How’d he die?”
“He got beaten with a lead pipe, so maybe cranial trauma?”
“Or old age.”
The boys began to whisper, then.
“How long’d it take?”
“About fourteen minutes.”
“So Nejiro’s the only winner.”
“Was he the only one who guessed he’d die in less than 15 minutes?”
Though they had witnessed death, the children did not show any sign of fear or compassion. There were no smiles on their lips, but from the way they spoke it almost sounded like they were entertained.
“Old people are really weak. Don’t you think, Nejiro?” One of the boys wondered. The skinny boy called Nejiro replied.
“He wasn’t weak because he was old. People in general are just much weaker than we expect.”
A beat. Then he added,
“Especially the people on this island.”
Nejiro did not seem very healthy himself, with his pale complexion. The children around him seemed much the same.
To exaggerate slightly, the dead man looked to be healthier than the children around him.
Though the children were surrounding the corpse, they were not the ones who had killed the man. The old man was a local of the artificial island, but he had been caught up in a fight with a group of punks new to the city, and ended up being beaten to death. The punks had shown him no compassion; they had swung planks and pipes at the man several times older than they were without even blinking.
Watching the old man lay there moaning, his belongings looted, the children merely did nothing. Instead of helping him up or putting him out of his misery, they whispered amongst themselves as they made bets on whether or not he would survive, or how long it would take for him to die.
Not knowing just how cruel their actions were.
Or perhaps they knew their own cruelty well.
The old fluorescent lightbulb above their heads flickered with a noise. As if on cue, one of the girls turned her dull eyes to Nejiro.
“What do we do with the body? It’ll smell if we leave it here.” She wondered. The boy next to Nejiro chimed in.
“This is the Western District. The volunteer police’ll take care of it.” He said, his eyes staring nowhere.
Nejiro spoke, his gaze also directed at no one.
“You think? …I heard their leader Kuzuhara’s not on the island right now.”
“The volunteer police are a bunch of weaklings without Kuzuhara.”
With that surprisingly mature assessment, the children went silent.
The air was heavier. The temperature on their skin was icy.
Aboveground, the summer sun was probably warming up the ground and the air. But underground, near the Pits, the air was surprisingly frigid. Perhaps it was all the unnecessary air conditioning on the aboveground level; the chill gradually robbed the boys and girls of body heat.
Yet the children did not even flinch. Not for death, not for the air, and not even for their own positions.
The light flickered again. Nejiro turned, and without sparing a glance at the body or his companions, headed for the nearest staircase.
Then, he looked over his shoulder with one final conclusion.
“Even if no one takes care of it now, I’m sure even the slower ones will do something once it starts to smell. Or maybe someone else will do it before that. So all we have to do is avoid this area until then.”
His mechanical voice, the intonation restrained to its limits, slightly shook the chilling air.
The other children showed no emotion to his conclusion.
With equally mechanical replies, they stirred after Nejiro.
Like a pack of lemmings bound for a cliffside.
They had climbed up several winding flights of stairs when Nejiro suddenly opened his mouth. Without even slowing his pace he spoke in a monotone.
“Our bonds are strong. Nothing can break us.”
It was a line straight out of a passionate shōnen manga, but the boy’s tone remained as neutral as ever as he continued to live out his indifference.
There was something resembling surrender in the way he said the word ‘bonds’. As though he had no choice but to accept that word.
Eventually, the children reached the top landing aboveground.
Stopping in front of a door at a dead end, Nejiro brought up an unusual metaphor.
“…This ‘ship’ won’t stay afloat for long. It might even already be sinking. And we’ve been forced aboard it.”
And finally, he seemed to change. His tone shook faintly, betraying the sudden surge of emotion in his heart.
Was he speaking to his companions behind him? Or to himself?
“That’s why we’re going to get out of here. To survive. That’s why we joined forces and swore to live as one. Right?”
His tone quickened as he spoke. His gaze grew sharper.
“That’s why… we gave ourselves a name. ‘Rats’. We’re going to escape this sinking ship. We just want to survive.”
Nejiro was not the only one who began to show emotion. The other children, who had been listening as though they were inanimate objects, slowly began to react to his voice.
“Is that right?”
“Are we running away?”
“We’re running away.”
“Anywhere but here.”
“Is there something that’s not here?”
“I’m sure there is.”
“Can we be happy?”
“I think so.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Have you ever felt happy before?”
“You just know it from a dictionary, right?”
“I know we’re not happy right now.”
“There’s no way kids like us can ever be happy.”
“I bet ‘happy’ is outside the island.”
“The people who abandoned us must have taken it away when they left.”
“Can we even survive outside the island?”
“But if Nejiro says we can…”
“We might be able to.”
“I bet we will.”
There was nothing childlike about their conversation, yet it was not an adult-like one, either.
Though they were speaking Japanese, the sequence of words was something not quite human.
The children were not lethargic; they were simply indifferent to everything but themselves.
With the undirected whispers of his companions at his back, Nejiro slowly took hold of the doorknob.
“Where we’re going, we’ll be able to find happiness. I know we will. That’s why we’re running away. To the great big world where the people who abandoned us on this trash-filled island are.”
An unpleasant, rusted screech echoed down the stairwell. At the same time, a bright orange light began to illuminate the children’s faces.
It was evening. The blinding sunlight seemed to pierce their very eyes.
“And to get there, we’ll nibble through everything. From sacks of rice to human hearts.”
And as though to himself, the boy repeated:
Silent in unison, they filed out the door.
They were on the roof of a small building. The moment they stepped outside, the ocean breeze and the boiling heat encapsulated them. The children had to blink rapidly because of the sudden temperature change.
“It must have been months since I last came outside.” Nejiro said to himself, looking out at his surroundings from behind the railings.
The beautiful decorations and the staggering electric lighting on the streets had long been broken beyond function.
The grubby grey jungle was almost post-apocalyptic to behold, but there were signs of life in every corner.
Countless wires suspended between broken windows, and the laundry hanging out to dry from them.
The hand-assembled houses that crowded half-finished buildings.
The scent of dinner and the white smoke that accompanied it wafting over the city.
Incandescent and halogen lamps shining like Christmas lights from behind the windows of ruined buildings.
And—the sound of generators working to keep those lights going.
It was like countless people had been stuffed into living spaces, left to churn to and fro.
Again and again, like a shot out of a nature documentary.
Peering down from the roof, Nejiro tightened his grip on the railings.
“This is the world we’ve been given?”
He unleashed his emotions in an instant. There was clearly a smile on his face, but the voice that spoke those words was trembling.
The boys also laughed.
“Hah hah hah.”
The girls also laughed.
Listening to the chorus of monotonous laughter, Nejiro put on a fake smile of his own and slowly raised his head, burning a certain image into his eyes.
The image of the world’s largest over-sea bridge, stretching through the center of the island from north to south.
And the endless ocean before them, surrounding the filthy city.
In spite of the many hopes and dreams piled upon it, the island was never completed.
Though it was a world away from the work its creators wanted to make,
There was still laughter.
The children were laughing.
Their faces completely blank.
On and on they chuckled.
It was neither the mainland nor the island.
It was Japan, yet not.
It was neither land nor sea.
The longest bridge in the world, spanning Sado Island and Niigata.
The nameless artificial island that stood in the very middle of that bridge—