The being wandered the streets aimlessly.
To change itself, to take just another step forward.
To willingly cross the line drawn from thin ink, stretching from the farthermost reaches of its own brain.
Or even: to ground that line beneath its foot.
Midnight. Somewhere in the city.
“Huh? Hey, look at that, look.”
It was night time in Tokyo Ward 23.
Despite being at the heart of the city, it was dark.
An adult couple was strolling along the narrow road leading into a certain park when they encountered the ‘being’ walking at the the end of the road.
“Huh…? What’s that?”
“That’s, uh, what was it? That character from the zombie film?”
“Ohh ohh ohh! The Ikebukuro one!”
On this otherwise deserted path, it was a silhouette in full-body mascot pajamas that had caught their attention.
The costume as a whole appeared to be designed after an owl, with a special hood that completely enveloped the wearer’s head.
With the stranger’s face so concealed, it was impossible to read he, or perhaps her, expression.
“What was the character called? Dark something. The bad guy, the evil zombie…”
“Is that a cosplay?”
As they spoke, the couple went past the stranger dressed as a movie character.
There were now and then people like this who walked around wearing mascot pajamas themed after some character, or a cat or bunny. It was an occasional sight around 60 Storey Street and such even without any event going on.
The couple had assumed this person was returning home from a friend’s party, or filming something for a video sharing site—
But these theories were quickly quashed.
The first to feel the blow was the man—
And the first to notice something wrong was the woman.
For at the same time the man felt the blow to his head, before he could realise what had gone wrong, he lost consciousness.
“Eh… ah… what?”
The woman saw the man’s body fall forward to the ground, accompanied by the sound of blunt impact.
As well as the person in the mascot pajamas, who had come up behind him without their noticing.
Clutched in the stranger’s hand was a metal hammer, wrapped in bandages.
Still silent, the stranger in the costume raised the hammer.
The woman screamed and tried to run, only to trip over her boyfriend’s body and fall to the ground.
As she struggled to stand she turned her head, and saw their assaulter once more.
She felt as if her entire body was paralysed; as if time itself had slowed.
And while in this state, she suddenly remembered.
What the mascot pajamas she saw had been designed after.
—Yes, I remember now.
—It started off as an anime or manga, not the movie.
The woman usually worked at a cabaret club in Ikebukuro.
A young hostess that had recently joined was a fan of the work—she often brought the anime merchandise or manga volumes into the dressing room.
It had been adapted to a live action movie a few years ago, and since it had become a huge hit, the woman had lent a ear to the summary so as to be able to discuss it with her customers should it come up.
She had thought it might arise in conversation with her customers because the original work was an anime staged in Ikebukuro where her workplace was, and the filming locations for the film were largely in Ikebukuro also.
—Its name, it was…
Even as her body thrashed and sought escape, the woman’s mind was desperately fixed on remembering.
She had the strangest notion that if only she could remember, she could escape.
Perhaps some part of her hoped that simply putting a name to this unknown attacker would attenuate her fear—
But no one, not even she herself, knew just what her jumbled mind was thinking in that moment.
—Yes! I remember! I remember!
“D… D-da… Dark Owlubua”
At the same time she whispered the name, the hammer came down upon her skull.
The next day.
‘Next on the news. We have an update on the serial assault case ongoing in Tokyo.’
‘The woman injured has regained consciousness. From her testimony, it has been determined that the perpetrator was dressed as a cartoon character. Police Headquarters urges witnesses to come forth—’
10 days later.
‘Next on the news we have the Tokyo serial assault case. A man was struck by another man with a dull weapon walking on a street in Toshima Ward. The injury is severe and will take 2 months to recover—’
‘From the modus operandi and witness reports, the police are working with the possibility that the culprit is the same one behind the serial assaults that occurred in the past weeks—
‘According to eyewitness reports, the perpetrator was dressed as a movie character—
15 days later.
‘A follow-up on the serial assault case. Yet another attack has occurred.’
‘The perpetrator appears to be dressed as a character from a popular animation which was adapted to film just this February—’
‘This brings the victim count to seven—’
‘Maou Publishing, which publishes the manga the anime was based off, has made the following statement: “We wish the victims a speedy recovery. We are deeply regretful about this incident and hope the police can resolve the situation as soon as possible.”‘
‘In our previous segment, it was stated that the OPD anime was spun off from the manga. This is erroneous; the comic was an adaption. We apologise for the mistake.’
20 days later.
‘The work under scrutiny as of late, ‘Owl of the Peeping Dead, also known as OPD, is a multi-faceted project created by design company Walking With Wizards, also called WWW, that originated on the web, and has spawned an exceedingly popular anime.’
‘Today we have anime critic Ushidaira Jackson here with us for a commentary.’
‘Thank you for having me.’
‘Ushidaira-san. This is the character merchandise the assaulter has been said to be wearing, the pajamas supposedly resembling the character Dark Owl… Is this mascot suit themed after the character in the series?’
‘Not quite. Rather than themed, it’s more that the actual character wears a hooded suit with this exact design. The character’s face is never shown, so you could consider the costume itself representative of the character.’
‘Thank you. The live action film adaption of this series has also achieved tremendous popularity, recognised even in other countries—but the depictions of violence in the anime and manga, as well as the film, have been criticised since this incident—’
Ikebukuro West Gate. Karaoke Pasela. Private room.
‘OPD did nothing wrong! Nothing!”
A slit-eyed man said this vehemently, shaking his fists.
“It’s true that it has more violent content than usual for Maou Publishing’s shōnen manga, but the violence only happens to the zombies, and the premise of the story is that the main character who’s kept his sentience despite dying and becoming a zombie tries to handle the humans who try to kill him in a non-violent way! If you go around hitting people with a hammer you’ve failed to understand the series completely!”
At that point, the woman sitting beside him said with a calm expresssion,
“Maybe it was the bad guy that influenced the criminal. He was dressed as Dark Owl, right?”
“Kuh… Dark Owl might be a villain planning to overtake Ikebukuro by controlling the zombies, but still… But still, he’s a complete villain! If someone turns to evil because he wants to be a villain like that, it’s no longer the influence of manga that’s the problem—he’s already irredeemably corrupt! What I’m trying to say is… OPD is an interesting series!”
In contrast, the person sitting across the zealously chattering slit-eyed man wore an unflappable expression.
Replying so shortly was a boy in a Raira Academy uniform—Mizuchi Yahiro.
He replied in this manner not for any contempt of the man; it was simply that he had no idea how to answer and had decided to just acknowledge the man’s words for now.
As the slit-eyed man continued to argue the manga series’ case, Yahiro was neither moved nor apathetic; he only continued to listen very seriously.
This was Yahiro’s first meeting with this man.
At first glance what he was saying might have seemed fine to ignore, but Yahiro soaked up his words with as much focus as if the man was his own schoolteacher.
How did he, a high school boy, end up listening to the grouches of this stranger in a karaoke box?
It was as simple as that.
For this was a component of the part-time job he had chosen to join just minutes ago.