3rd Person Perspective
With the recent founding festival, Sugamo celebrated the 30th anniversary of its founding. Although it is a relatively young city, it has grown to become one of the top ten largest cities in Japan with a population of 50,000.
Although the city has no special major industries, it has become a center of trade through the opening of the northern, southern, and eastern highways, attracting people and goods from neighboring areas.
The city is safe and there are no dangerous Metros nearby. Citizens are generally affluent, and many are kind, probably due in part to the personality of the city’s mayor. Newspapers and magazines often feature articles ranking the city as a “desirable place to live,” and for the past ten years or so, the city has been a regular on the list.
It may sound like a utopia if you only list the positive aspects, however, the city of Sugamo is no exception to the rule that under the light is a shadow.
The center of the city’s northwestern district is the busiest shopping area in the city, with many restaurants and watermen’s stores, but if you go deeper into the city, you will find a completely different face from the “Front Sugamo,” an area called “Uramachi,” or “Back Town.”
Rowdy, damp, and moldy houses stand side by side. A group of dangerous-looking people, whom you would never see in Chuo Ward, are drinking on the side of the street from noon. A couple of hoodlums are trying to blackmail a wandering civilian with a false accusation.
This man can’t just turn a blind eye to them, so he gently stops them and separates them from each other. The young man who had been entangled in the situation bows his head and runs away like a rabbit. Well, he doesn’t mind, because he doesn’t expect to be thanked.
As expected, the man asks for his wallet, so Koichi Imada tells them that he is a hunter belonging to the city. When he showed them his ID, they flinched and retreated, grumbling that he was just a noisy kid with a big mouth. It might have been quicker if he had worn his jersey, but today was a completely different matter.
“Kahahaha. If you get tangled up with those gangsters, it’s a sign that your ears are still a little wet. Mr. Sugamo hunter.” (Gorin)
Koichi could do nothing but shrug his shoulders and nod his head in agreement with the person he met in the usual back room of the usual tavern.
Hamada Gorin, an old man in a Happi coat, is the leader of the Hamada clan, the largest faction in control of the Sugamo underworld. He must be over sixty years old, but the dignity and intimidation that emanates from his body have hardly diminished since our first meeting.
“Koichi, how old are you? How long have you been in and out of this place?” (Gorin)
“I will soon be 20 years old. I’ve been working here since I was an apprentice, so it’s been about five years.” (Koichi)
“I see, that little pissy boy is now 20 years old. …How time flies, it gets faster and faster every time the coffin gets closer.” (Gorin)
Such small talk is becoming popular as a side dish for shochu. Even though it’s midday.
“I still think that I was right to expect you to look forward to the future.” (Gorin)
“But… I lost the match the other day.” (Koichi)
Koichi is 16 years old, has been a hunter for five years, and is currently level 24. Compared to colleagues of the same age, such as Naoto Ishii (level 21), the son of a Rice Ball Shop, and Atsushi Kurano (level 18), who he met on a quest in Rikugi Village the other day, his growth rate can be said to be favorable, but Koichi himself is growing at a favorable rate. Koichi himself does not think he is living up to Hamada’s expectations.
One of Hamada’s main sources of income is the recruitment of players in the “Sugamo Underworld Torunament”. Koichi is one of the players who will participate in this club as a protege of Hamada. Koichi is one of Hamada’s protegees, but his record is not good at all, as he mainly competes in handicap fights against higher-ranked opponents.
“Well, most of the time you’re acting unreasonable. I’ve said it many times because I don’t care. The important thing is to make it raw and crawl forward. Then at least by the time you’re an old man, you’ll be one of the best, just like me.” (Gorin)
“…I understand…” (Koichi)
“ I didn’t call you here today to talk about that. I’m here to ask you for a favor.” (Gorin)
The Hamada clan is a group that calls itself the “advisor of the northwest district. Their main source of income is a fee they collect from stores in exchange for maintaining public order and resolving problems in the downtown area (apparently called a “protection fee”). The city of Sugamo has a bylaw that prohibits them from doing so, but in reality, they are given a pass because of “adult circumstances. Koichi himself is not involved in any of the details.
“…is it a match?” (Koichi)
“No, it’s a different matter this time… and I’m not asking you to help me with this side of the business.” (Gorin)
“I don’t like going around in circles, so I’m going to tell you straight to the point. I’m going to have a fight with the Shabazou from “Strangely Naked” signboard. The loser promises to be under the winner. It’s our bet.” (Gorin)
Koichi purrs loudly. “It’s finally here” and “Why at this timing?” crossed at the same time.
“It’s going to be a battle that I can’t lose… So, I’ll borrow your strength, or rather, your face.” (Gorin)
“Huh, my face…?” (Koichi)
He can’t read what’s between the lines. He doesn’t know where he was supposed to be when the curtain rises.
“You were pissing me off the other day… You said you became the apprentice of that ‘Hero of Sugamo’.” (Gorin)
“Huh… Huh?” (Koichi)
“It doesn’t matter if it’s the person himself, his friend, or someone else. I want to talk to him. I heard a big fish is coming—” (Gorin)
When he passed through the familiar rusty gate, the children who were kicking a ball in the yard immediately came running up to him, saying, “Oh, there’s Koichi!” They were like a swarm, snatching a paper bag full of souvenir sweets and taking Kouichi’s hand, they pulled him inside the orphanage.
As soon as she saw Koichi’s face, Director Fujiwara’s expression suddenly brightened, then quickly clouded over. She accepts her words, “Let’s eat together,” and they have dinner with the children.
The staple meal consists of a loaf of bread, a soup with meat, stir-fried bean sprouts, and pickled spinach. He doesn’t know if this is just a coincidence or if this is the menu every day, but it seems to be even more frugal than the last time he was here. Well, when he lived here, there were often times when the food was even worse.
“Yeah… lately it’s been a bit difficult to make ends meet.” (Fujiwara)
Koichi asked the director after lunch, and sure enough, that was the case.
“The festival was suddenly canceled, and we couldn’t hold the bazaar. The sad faces of the children who had been working so hard to make our products were more painful than the fact that we didn’t make the sales we had hoped for.” (Fujiwara)
I put the children in the bath, played hanafuda cards [T/N: cards used to play various Japanese card games] played cards until late at night, and left after everyone was asleep.
No matter how much I walk on the road to my house at night, the damp heat follows me. In the Northwest Ward, it may be at its peak around this time, but this is outside the east gate, outside the wall that surrounds the city. Entering from the east gate, I continued to trudge, and when I returned to the run-down apartment where young hunters gathered, I collapsed on the futon as it was troublesome to change clothes.
(I’m going to be okay, right?) (Koichi)
(I’m not going to get crushed, am I?) (Koichi)
Koichi thinks to himself as he looks up at the dusty ceiling.
In Sugamo, there are three facilities that take care of and raise children without relatives.
The first is a municipal orphanage. The second is a children’s dormitory run by Metro Church. The third is “Yoshimoto Garden,” where Koichi grew up.
Yoshimoto Guarden is a private facility funded and operated by Sugamo City Councilor Rokuo Osaki. It is a valuable place that accepts children with disabilities and children from neighboring communities.
Osaki is one of the wealthiest men in Sugamo (though apparently not nearly as wealthy as the mayor’s family). He is well-known in the city and beyond for his warm personality and philanthropic activities, but few people know that his true character is the complete opposite.
He is a shrewd merchant, sensitive to the smell of money, and a miser who will not pay a single penny for anything that does not benefit him. His investment in the garden, which he does to save taxes and make himself more appealing to the public, is minimal, and he is even said (but there is no proof) to have pocketed most of the goodwill donations that come his way.
And there is another reason he has a hand in the operation of the garden. To collect and train a private army.
Only about 10% of the total population of the “threadweavers” have Fungal Classes, those who have mastered their Fungal Skills and can attain level 10 or above. Although there is a disparity in the number of Fungal Classes by region, according to the number of members in the guild branch, the number of Sugamo is slightly smaller than the others.
Osaki has been training the orphans he has gathered in his garden as his own offspring. Some, like Koichi, are made to work as professional hunters, while others are kept on hand as guards or henchmen. Although the total number of these men must be less than ten, it is probably far more cost-effective and more efficient than employing a hundred [Peasants].
However, Koichi himself is seldom asked to take care of Osaki. This is because Hamada holds the reins of his collar.