“Hello, Fujino-san. This is Shinohara Wakaba. I’m not sure if you remem—”
“Wakaba? From Ohtori Academy? Eeh, how are you? How have you been since—wow, middle school? What are you doing these days…”
Shinohara blinked, then broke into a smile, holding the phone a little further away from her ear. To be honest, she barely remembered this girl—well, a woman now—who had been at Ohtori for less than a week before transferring back out. But at this point, she might know something that the rest of them hadn’t.
People told Shinohara she was outgoing, but apparently this woman hadn’t changed since middle school.
“—I’m an accountant now, would you believe it? Say, if you’re ever in the ______ Town area we should meet up for coffee.”
“Thank you!” Shinohara interrupted, laughing. “You know, this is probably the warmest welcome I’ve gotten since the start of the project.”
“Project?” came the quick reply.
Shinohara cleared her throat. “I’ve been trying to put together a kind of investigative report on Ohtori Academy. Well, half report and half memoir, to be honest.” She dipped her head despite the gesture being wasted over the phone. “I’ve been collecting interviews from the students and teachers who were there at the same time as us.”
There was a pause at the other end of the line. “Well, I don’t know how much I can help with that. I was only there for four days, after all.”
“That’s all right” Shinohara replied, trying to sound encouraging. “If anything, it means you have an outsider’s perspective. Most of us were there all the way through high school, after all.”
“Well, okay,” the other woman said, still sounding a little doubtful. “To be honest, it all feels like a dream. Not that anybody remembers much from middle school, I bet.”
Shinohara felt her eyes cloud over at that; with effort she brought her mind back to the task at hand. “By the way, is it all right if I record our conversation? Just so I can refer back to it later.”
“Oh, uh—” Shinohara could tell she had caught the other woman off-guard. “Yes, I suppose that’s all right.”
“Thank you very much,” Shinohara said formally.
“It all feels like a dream,” Fujino said again, her tone one of obvious reminiscence. “It was my first time away from home. Changing schools is hard for everyone, of course, but you were all so nice to me! And—well maybe this is just how it felt at the time, but everyone was so beautiful…”
Her voice trailed off. Shinohara coughed politely.
“Anyway,” the woman went on hurriedly, “I’m not sure what you’d like to know. The classes were pretty much the same as my other school, although I think you were like a year ahead. Honestly, what I remember most is the Student Council.”
Shinohara felt a pang of jealousy, than laughed silently at herself, surprised to find that a part of her still cared.
“Do you remember anything…strange, from your time at Ohtori?” she asked, once she had composed herself.
There was another pause. “I was going to say that everything was strange and new for me, but…that’s not what you meant, is it.” A sigh. “I always thought I must be misremembering. That it must have been wishful thinking, or my mind blocking out something awful.” Fujino stumbled a bit over the last word. “Yes, I must have been misremembering.”
Shinohara felt her heart beating fast. Was this, finally, a lead?
“What must you be misremembering?” she asked carefully.
The other woman gave a nervous laugh, her earlier cheer fallen away. “W-well,” she said, “there was this fencing hall. Not the regular one, a big white one on the edge of the campus, near the dorms. I remember my parents told me about it before I started.” There was a catch in her voice when she mentioned her parents, but Shinohara couldn’t figure out what it meant. “Except…half the time it was a burned-out ruin. Whenever I wanted to show someone, it was a burned-out ruin.” She laughed again, a helpless sort of sound. “That’s impossible, right? I must just be getting mixed up with what my parents were telling me.”
“It does sound—far-fetched,” Shinohara replied, trying to hide her disappointment. This didn’t sound like it was connected to the Student Council, or any of the rumors surrounding the Chairman. Still, she supposed, anything that was part of the school’s history was at least useful background information.
The woman sighed again. “Sorry if that’s not very helpful. I suppose I didn’t stay long enough to hear anything real, anything worth telling you about.”
“That’s quite all right,” Shinohara said hastily. “By the way, there was one other thing I wanted to ask. There was another student who came in around the same time as you, who also disappeared at the end of the week—”
“Sanjouin Chigusa,” the other woman replied sharply.
Shinohara almost dropped the phone in surprise at the change in tone. “That’s right,” she said carefully. “I had forgotten her name. Do you know where I can—”
“She’s dead,” Fujino interrupted again, as curtly as before. This time Shinohara thought she caught a note of bitterness.
“I’m…very sorry to hear that,” she said, feeling at a loss. It appeared that there had been some relationship between the two women, but she had no idea what it entailed, and there was no polite way to ask anything further. “Well, I don’t want to take up too much of your time—”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Wakaba!” the other woman interjected, her earlier casual cheer remembered. Shinohara winced; some of her frustration must have crept into her voice. “It really is good to hear from you, it’s thanks to you and shshsh that those days were so special, that I was able to fit in at all. I still owe you for that, even if I ended up leaving only five days later.”
Shinohara blinked. “Sorry, who was that you mentioned? I didn’t quite catch the name.”
Fujino laughed. “Ushsh, of course! She was the first person I met, and—oh, Touya, no, get that out of your mouth.”
Shinohara smiled. “Your son?”
“Yes. I’m sorry, Wakaba, I have to go—but if you are in the area, really, please do stop by! It would be wonderful to see you again.”
“Thank you very much,” Shinohara said almost automatically.
There was a click, and she slowly lowered the phone, disturbed. Who was this other person her old classmate had been talking about? She couldn’t make out the name, but the other woman had said it as if Shinohara ought to know them—her. Was it someone else who had only been there a short time?
She gave herself a shake. One more student she couldn’t remember wasn’t that important—it had been a big school, after all. What she needed now was a lead, something to make Memoirs of a Student, more than just another coming-of-age story.
What had been going on behind the scenes at Ohtori Academy?
There’s a whole lesbian culture around Revolutionary Girl Utena, and of course I’m not part of that but I get glimpses of it sometimes from my position on the fringes of Queer Twitter. It is such a weird show with plenty of problems, but at the same time it seems to have so much staying power.
This is the fourth piece in my Memoirs of a Student series based on Shinohara Wakaba, who I guess must be my favorite character in Utena given how often I come back to her. The prompt for this particular installment was seeing the friend who got me into Utena post some of their own fanfiction (for Boku no Hero Academia) and wanting to try writing fanfic again. I’m not quite sure if this scratches that itch, though, since it’s not quite the exercise of writing someone else’s characters if there’s been fifteen years of intervening time.
(I haven’t seen any Boku no Hero Academia, by the way.)
With Memoirs of a Student I think I’ve managed to make something even more obscure than “Determination”…and this section is even more obscure than the previous ones, because the person Wakaba’s interviewing is the player character from “Story of the Someday Revolution,” the tie-in visual novel Sega Saturn game of questionable canonicity. I found the game very satisfying, so I was glad to realize that it actually fit well with the story I’m exploring with Memoirs of a Student.
And what is that story? I’m not exactly sure yet either! But it’s taking a lot of cues from the ending of the last episode of the anime. We’ll see if I continue going anywhere with it.
(Oh, and the player character in “Someday Revolution” has no default name, but this piece didn’t really work if I tried to leave it out, so I borrowed the surname of the voice actor instead. And the shshsh thing is actually taken from the digital version of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series, in which one of the characters has a similar affliction.)