Toha Heavy Industries Group, also known as Toha Keiretsu, is one of the oldest and most prominent business groups in the country. It originated with the formation of the Toha conglomerate in the late 19th century and has since evolved into a complex network of companies with interlocking relationships.
The Toha Keiretsu consists of various companies operating in diverse industries such as automotive, electronics, heavy machinery, finance, AI, and more. Some notable companies within the Toha keiretsu include Toha Heavy Industries, Toha Corporation, Toha Motors, Toha Electric, and Toha UFJ Financial Group. The most prominent however is Toha J.J. System, which holds a monopoly on the communication infrastructure and its technology in post-war reconstruction Tokyo.
The companies within the Toha keiretsu often have cross-shareholdings, joint ventures, and collaborative relationships that promote cooperation and mutual support. This network allows them to leverage each other’s resources, technologies, and market presence.
Kaishou Rinroku is the current chairman of Toha J.J. System.
Terada Rinroku is a second year high school student at Soubu High. The mid-terms have just ended. It was supposed to be an unsupervised Reading Time period; however, obviously no one was reading anything except if it was on their phone.
“Is there anything I could say that would change your mind?”
Yumi Minami, the class representative for class 2B reprimanded Rinroku for being late to class again.
“You have got to make the most of your school days; you know they won’t come again. You are not even part of any clubs!”
Terada thought this was stupid.
“But I am part of a club.”
“Oh? Which club?” Minami asked, tilting her head somewhat cutely momentarily breaking Terada’s annoyance.
“The Go-Home club.”
“Hmph! Why you!”
Minami stomped her foot and stormed off to her seat, wagging her brown ponytail. She was used to being told off by that boy but as class rep she couldn’t let a loner be alone and useless.
Terada’s grades were just above failing, and he had no aptitude for sports. Yet, despite this, he carried himself about with an unfounded pride that kinda pissed her off. During breaks, he disappeared, presumably to eat alone on the school’s roof. She had caught him sneaking up there a couple of times, obviously, it was against the rules, so now he disappeared somewhere else. She hadn’t tattled him off to the school because she wanted to deal with it herself. Terada sat at the back of the class in the seat adjacent to the window.
During long lectures he would just start scribbling and drawing, even after being admonished he wouldn’t stop, so some teachers just stopped paying attention to him.
“What are you even doing here? You know high school is not mandatory in Japan!”
An exasperated teacher had scolded him. A week later that teacher resigned from the school. What was that about? Minami thought. Anyway, that teacher, Tetsuo-sensei, was right, why do apathetic students like him, who made no use of their time in school and participated in no activities even come to school? Is it because his parents want him to? I pity his parents.
Unusually, that day, a student other than Minami approached Terada. She overheard their conversation. It was one of the otaku in the class, a porcine-bodied kid, who was shorter than Minami.
“Have you joined any clubs yet, Terada?”
Terada raised his eyes as if to say, ‘You already know the answer to that.’
“Then will you join the manga club? I saw you draw some fan art of Re: Stardust Memories during the Social Studies class. I am also a fan of that series.”
A satisfied smile crossed over Terada’s face, but he declined the offer.
“No. Just watching and talking about other people’s manga is boring. Plus I haven’t got the time for clubs… except for the Go Home club.”
He looked at the class rep’s direction and met her heterochromic gaze. She did not look away until he did.
“What do you mean you haven’t got the time for it? You’re part of the ‘go home’ club.” Pig-kun protested. “Oh well I understand if you want to go home and play games tho.” He came to his conclusion on his own and then left.
“Why did you reject his offer?” Minami later asked.
“Weren’t you listening?”
“You are supposed to ask “Were you listening?”— It was just unusual for someone to talk to you and you were loud. I just overheard you. I don’t care about who you talk to or who talks to you or anything like that.” She made excuses. “More importantly, are you the sort of shallow person who looks down on other people’s activities and work as an excuse to do nothing?”
“Stop getting on my case like Tetsuo-sensei!”
“Oh? Or else what? Will you shut me up like you did to him?”
“No, I had nothing to do with that. Anyway weren’t we talking about pig-kun?”
“Why are you calling him pig-kun!? Don’t insult your classmates.”
“Okay, calm down class-rep. But doesn’t he sort of remind you of a pig?”
“What? N-no. I don’t think so. He possesses none of the features of a pig. I am positive.” Minami replied.
A first year student slid open the classroom door. Minami could say it was a first year student because she wore a blue ribbon on her uniform whereas second year girls like Minami wore red ribbons and third years’ wore dark green ribbons.
“Excuse me,” the first year girl called out. “Miyabi-sensei wants to see Terada-sempai. It’s something urgent.”
“…Idiot.” Terada said under his breath and left.
The school bell rang. Terada hadn’t come back yet. Minami always helped the students on cleaning duty even when it wasn’t her duty, so she stayed back and did that.
After the mid-terms there was a field-trip. Unfortunately Minami was already going to prep school at night, so she wanted to inform Miyabi sensei, the homeroom teacher about not being able to go on a overnight trip. Soubu High was essentially a school for students who wanted to or will go to university, so it was common for students to go to prep school in their third year but it was unusual to go to prep school in second year.
Miyabi-sensei, an art teacher, was, in fact, the head of the art department despite being only 26. Minami headed towards the school’s art building.
It was supposedly entirely empty since everyone had been busy with mid-term exams but she could hear voices from Miyabi-sensei’s class. The sliding doors were thin enough she could overhear the conversation going on inside. At first she thought it was Miyabi sensei admonishing some student for not having turned the assignment and so she didn’t want to jump in but she soon realised it was the other way around. Miyabi-sensai was sobbing softly while being admonished by a boy. Just as she was about to charge in she was stopped in her step by the boy’s words.
“If you don’t want Minami to find out what kind of person you are then you better turn in the backgrounds on time. Also stop with the over-dramatic fake crying and moaning. Somebody might overhear us.”
It was Terada’s voice speaking those words. Minami peeped through the door, and she saw that Terada was standing and while Miyabi was sitting on her knees on the floor.
“Oh Terada-sensei you worry too much, the mid-terms just ended today – so no one is going to come and meet some poor, useless art teacher.”
Terada struck Miyabi in the head with a bundle of papers.
“True.” Terada replied.
“You agreed too easily to that.”
“Just shut up and do your work as we agreed, so I am not forced to come and meet you during school hours. The deadline is tonight. I don’t care if you are lonely or tired.”
“Aw that’s so mean Terada-sensei.”
The door slid open without so much as a knock. Minami had enough of sneaking around and decided to just ask them what’s going on. Miyabi promptly got on her feet and put on her “respectable teacher” face. Terada responded with his own “it’s too late for that,” face.
“What the hell is going on here, Terada?” Minami calmly asked.
“Were you eavesdropping on us?” Terada asked.
“That’s not the question. Sensei what’s going on here? Why were you on your knees in front of this guy?”
Minami’s light brown ears looked reddish in the afternoon’s sun’s light.
“Oops, I guess that the secret’s out of the bag?” Miyabi said putting her tongue out while winking at Terada.
“I knew I shouldn’t have trusted an idiot like you.”
“Hey! What are you doing calling your teacher an idiot!” Miyabi said in a stern voice.
“It’s too late for a teacher act, now isn’t it?” Terada said unfazed.
“Haha, I guess so.”
Minami watched the exchange in confusion and disbelief. Miyabi had always acted like a proper teacher towards her students before. She certainly wasn’t one of those overly friendly teachers whom Minami disliked. And besides even such teachers would mostly socialise with the popular kids in the class rather than some loner like Terada. Nor would they tolerate being called an idiot by one of their students.
“In short I am an accomplice with Terada’s crimes.” Miyabi-sensei explained. “And now that you know our secret I have a new assignment for you Minami, right Terada ‘sensei’?”
“What are you talking about?” asked Minami.
“You must become one of my assistants.” Explained Terada. “It’s nothing as sinister as Miyabi makes it sound. She just likes teasing you by being cryptic. And if you refuse to join us then…”
Terada whispered into Miyabi’s ear.
“I understand,” Miyabi bitterly said. “I’ll help you. It’s not like I have a choice but don’t expect me to go along with anything criminal, even if you reveal my secret I don’t think anyone would believe you.”
“You are underestimating me at your peril. How do you think I was able to find out your secrets anyway?”
After school was over, Terada and Minami left by the front gate without paying much attention to each other. They soon met up at the Fuyutsu Metro Station which was being reconstructed by Toha Heavy Industries. The military was also involved.
A fashionable young woman on a motorcycle rode up to them. It was Miyabi.
“Mmmh it’s going to be a tight fit but I think it’s going to be okay,” Miyabi said a bit excited.
“It’s not too far from here so let’s just walk there.” Terada replied.
After a five minute walk from the station they arrived at the old office building district. Most of the buildings were occupied again and the streets were busy but most of the large corporations had moved out of areas like this to the Green Zone, the fortified central district of the city.
They walked up to the front of the Y2K building. It was a rather narrow eight floors high office building with a telephone tower on its roof.
“My studio is on the sixth floor.” Terada explained.
“Your studio? Isn’t it my place?” Miyabi objected.
“Paid for by me.”
“You mean by your M2 chip.”
“There is no difference. Come on we’re late let’s go.”
The ground floor was a reception room gaudily decked with purple chairs and pink walls. There was only an old security guard who ignored them as they headed towards the old rickety lift. Terada pressed the button to the sixth floor. Inside the lift there were the three of them and also two other bespectacled men carrying papers in their hands. The two men got off on the fourth floor.
Minami and the others got off on the sixth floor and Terada knocked on the red door with the number 10 door number plate on it. After the sound of a few locks and latches being removed were heard, an unnaturally beautiful maid opened the door.
“Welcome home, master.” She said.
“Thank you. I am back.” Terada replied.
A few places on her upper cheeks were covered in metal where there should have been skin, making a face look like it was separated into three separate panels, but what gave it away was the small triangular screen on her forehead, and the elf-ear-like antenna accessories where her ears should have been.
“A humanoid AI! I knew that you were up to no good. Don’t think that just because you—” Minami started.
“Riko, that’s her name,” Terada raised his voice. “Riko was built before the A.I. Protection Law was passed.”
“Even so… Okay I understand.” Minami cautiously replied.
“I hope you do. Anyhow lets get to work.”
The A.I Protection Act 2084 was passed into law 3 years ago by the National Diet due to the influence of an anti-AI group called the Human Defence League, more commonly known as the League or simply as HDL.
The office floor was spacious and clean but also full of things which looked out of place as it had been partly refashioned into a living space. Minami was not sure if she should remove her shoes or not but she took them off anyway and put on some loafers for guests.
They entered an orderly office with a large table in the middle. On that table there was a large and heavy-looking CRT monitor hooked to an equally old-looking keyboard and a drawing tablet. The studio was a cosy yet organised space, filled with bookshelves stacked with manga volumes, colourful posters, and various art supplies.
“Welcome to the workshop. I shall assign your tasks for tonight.” Terada began.
Minami felt nostalgic looking at some of the old fashioned nib pens and drawing utensils. Most of the posters featured characters from Stardust Memories.
“It’s that ridiculous mecha x magical girl manga.” Minami complained with a disgusted face.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less from a magical girl purist. Nevertheless here you are.”
Terada turned towards the rest.
“Alright, let’s dive in. The opening scene will be set in the bustling city of Neo-Tokyo. Miyabi I want you to pay extra attention of the background details, capturing the energy and essence of the metropolis. Riko, work on making the new gridknight mecha designs to stand out by giving it sleek, yet powerful lines. And Minami, I trust you to add subtle digital glows during the magical transformation to enhance the sense of wonder and eroticism.”
Miyabi nodded and started working on the drawing tablet connected to the old CRT.
“Yes, master,” Riko replied and immediately got to to work with the physical non-digital art utensils unlike Terada or Miyabi. Terada preferred computers that looked old hence the CRT but otherwise there was nothing old about it.
“Sense of eroticism? Why can’t you otaku leave magical girls alone. Why should I work on yet another subversion of magical girls? I mean sure they are erotic but you’re not supposed to say it.”
“It’s not a subversion, Minani-san, it’s called deconstruction and reconstruction, in any case you don’t get a choice.”
“And what are you going to do?”
“Did you think this was the only manga series I worked on? Telling entertaining lies is a manga author’s job so I may as well tell as many of them at once as possible.”
“So this is what you have been wasting your time on, rather than school.”
The three got onto work. Before long it was 9pm.
“I need to leave now,” Minami said.
“Is it work?” Miyabi asked looking away from her work.
“Why do you care?”
“Well, of course I care about one of my students.”
Miyabi looked a little sad at how all her status as a reliable teacher was gone.
“That won’t do.” Terada declared. “You can’t leave until the work is done. If it’s about money, don’t worry I’ll pay you for your services.”
“You can’t pay me that sort of money… Not even if you really are a successful manga creator.”
Minami smiled bitterly and mockingly.
“We’ll see about that. In any case you’re a student so you can’t work after 10pm anyway.”
Minami grinded her teeth.
“Just give them a call to let them know you won’t make it.”
Minami picked up her phone to give her employers’ a call but she soon realised that there’s no telephone signal.
“Sorry, Riko is blocking all telephone signals to block all distractions from creating manga. Riko could you—”
Riko snapped her antenna which caused the mobile network to be unblocked on Minami’s phone.
“Yes, it is me. You do not have to talk. That’s fine. Anyways I won’t be able to come today. Go ahead without me.”
“What was it about?” Terada asked without looking away from his screen where he was furiously typing the script for an upcoming manga chapter.
Minami ignored him. By the time they were done it was two in the morning.
“Fufu… If you are tired you can sleep here. In fact since it’s late I can’t let you go outside this late.”
Minami looked dubiously at Miyabi.
“Ignoring that perverts predilections she is correct, though if you want to leave I can get Riko to drive you home.”
“Pervert? Minami asked.
Minami turned towards Miyabi.
“Is it really a good idea though?” Miyabi asked. “Those goons from the HDL might catch Riko and destroy her to bits.”
“That’s not going to happen.”
“Oh is it the M2 chip talking again. I wouldn’t put it so much trust in it. In the first place there’s no such thing as clairvoyance.”
Terada submitted the completed work by email, so now it was officially the end of the workday.
After a short meal cooked by Riko, Minami was led out by Riko into the Y2K building’s underground car park. On their way down the lift they were joined by two tired looking salarymen. Riko and Minami overheard their conversation.
“The draft was late as usual wasn’t it.”
“It’s not even worth discussing.”
“If only I could meet Raita face to face I could give him a piece of my mind. Angry emails just aren’t enough.”
There was a limo, not much longer than a sedan sitting in the parking lot.
Riko sat on the driving seat while Minami sat on the rear seat. Riko turned the limo’s lights on and started the car.
“Minami-sama, could you please keep Terada-sama’s mangaka activities a secret? Terada-sama’s father, Rinroku-kaishou-sama, wants his son to work for his company and would put an end to Terada’s manga career.”
Minami fixed her sailor uniform’s collar and ignored Riko’s request.
“As an AI what do you think of the Human Defence League.”
Minami replied with her own question.
“If human beings have declined to the point where they have to depend on cliches like ‘the human touch’ and ‘a human’s kindness’ then there really is no hope for humanity, or at least that’s what Terada-sama said.” Riko replied.
There was hardly any traffic on the road so they reached 123 Sakura Street, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 100-0001 half an hour later. At this point Minami didn’t even bother questioning how Riko knew her address.
Sakura Street, was in one of the poorer areas of town, damaged by the war and condemned for demolition, it had not benefited from any official reconstruction efforts but rather was being reclaimed by the poor for cheap residences. There were a few dozen wooden food stalls which were closed due to how late it was.
Riko dropped Minami off at the foot of a slightly run down metal staircase leading to a damp looking one-room flat above a pastry shop. They did not exchange any pleasantries as Riko got off as soon as Minami stopped the car. Riko smiled to herself, and then drove off.
Minami took off her navy coloured sailor fuku and put on some bear-themed pajamas instead. The inside of the room was much cleaner than the lacklustre outside would suggest. One side of the room was covered by a bookshelf, the other with the window towards the depressing surroundings had several plushies on it.
“Should I contact headquarters tonight?” Minami mused aloud.
‘No, I need to find out what’s exactly going on first,’ she concluded. ‘Thinking back on it there was something strangely familiar about that Robot.’
Minami looked at the picture framed beside her bed side and then fell asleep. It was herself when she was six at the beach with her father and mother at Disney Land.
Back at Miyabi’s apartment/Terada’s studio, things were much the same when Riko returned.
There was a power cut that night but these “load shedding” incidents as they were euphemistically called were becoming less common thanks to the new off-shore wind power farms being built by the Toha Keiretsu. In any case Riko’s main computer room had several back up generators.