Kibogamine. A school solely dedicated to the study and cultivation of talent, or so I’ve been told. Open only to the select few blessed with talent, said to be the hope of the nation. For the rest of us, this meant that the doors of the academy would be closed forever and we would go on to live menial, insignificant lives.
That is, until recently.
The Reserve Course was the only chance that the majority of High School students had at ever seeing the inside of Kibogamine. True, it was segragated from the main school and its students were certainly not of the Super High School Level, but the announcement was laced with sugarcoating to the point where it sounded like that by attending, we would one day reach Super High School Level ourselves.
Naive as I was at the time, I took the bait and was enrolled almost immediately, truly believing that this was the path to a hopeful future.
I couldn’t have begun to fathom how wrong I was.
Still, my story is no different than that of the other 2,357 reserve students, even sharing the eventual fall to despair by the work of that woman and the depressing climax that she heralded. Why would anybody want to hear about my life? I have come to realize during my time here that I am insignificant, and my and my peers’ corpses will lay the foundation for true despair and with that our purpose will be done. The only thing that sets me apart from them, I suppose, would be my connection to that student.
Despite what everybody says, I believe it is untrue to say that all 2,357 Reserve students met the same despairing fate; though I do not know for certain what became of him, I find it unlikely that he would allow himself to become just another human influenced by her all-consuming despair.
The student to whom I am referring is Hajime Hinata.
At least, that’s what he used to go by. Back then, before she even attended Kibogamine and the school hadn’t been caught in the jaws of absolute despair, still a nexus of hope, even for us insignificant humans in the Reserve course. I am still not entirely sure what became of him, except one day he was no longer himself and I was never allowed to speak of him again.
I apologize. Please, let me start at the beginning.
Hajime Hinata, as he was at that time, was an enthusiastic young man with a drive to succeed and an overwhelming love for Kibogamine and what it represented. I cannot recall exactly why it was that we became friends, for the mysterious winds that guide human interaction have always eluded my understanding, but soon after our first conversation I found myself fond of him and we began seeing more of each other. Although I did not share his love for the academy and felt rather insulted by how we were separated from the main school — the one that mattered, in the eyes of the teachers and faculty — I found his passion inspiring.
He did remarkably well in class, more due to his unwavering passion than being inherently superior to any of the other students, and I sometimes thought it was a shame that the main academy wouldn’t take him. I knew the reason why well enough, of course — no matter how good he was, it wasn’t the type of true talent that the administration was studying. But even so, it was a tragedy that someone so enamored with Kibogamine was fated to be cast aside in the reject pile with the rest of the talentless masses. Even the teachers agreed, to an extent, and whenever somebody from the main school paid us lesser students a visit I could have sworn I saw them looking his way just a second too long, singling him out more than anyone else and sharing my sentiments about him, but I convinced myself that it was wishful thinking and gave it no further thought.
As we continued to bond and I learned more about the underlying reasons he loved the school, my admiration turned to sympathy. His love for the school was a byproduct of his own low self-esteem and overwhelming desire to be special, to be significant. He came to admire the school that stood as a symbol of talent and hope, and believed that by attending — even as a Reserve student — and doing his best, he could truly, finally have a reason to be proud of himself.
It was a side of Hajime Hinata that only a select few saw, I think, for the image of an upbeat and dedicated student was all the others knew of him.
And even despite his insecurities, I do believe it was genuine. He excelled in his studies and I don’t believe I ever saw him stressed or overburdened. Even as a second-rate Reserve student, he seemed happy, and maybe that was enough. Maybe he could have found it within him to be proud of himself.
I suppose we’ll never know, because as it turned out, it wasn’t my imagination. The higher-ups at the main school had noticed the diamond in the rough.
There was nothing out of the ordinary about that day until a well-dressed man arrived in the middle of an assessment and asked if he could speak to Hinata. The color drained from his face — there was no way this was good — but he hesitantly stood up and followed him out of the room, leaving the rest of us in bewilderment and without even the luxury of being able to verbally address it, for the teacher knew as much as we did and we were in the middle of an assessment. I, unfortunately, could not return my focus to the task at hand. What did they need with Hinata? A million different scenarios, none of them remotely good, swam through my mind and clouded my consciousness.
He returned not ten minutes later, but it felt like so much longer, and there was something jubilant about the way he carried himself that turned my anxiety into raw curiosity. I pressed for answers after class, and somehow I wasn’t even surprised when he told me that he would be attending the main school. I couldn’t even find it in myself to be jealous, for he deserved it more than any of us. I kept the news a secret at his request, sharing his excitement alone.
And yet, there was something off about this situation, prodding at the back of my mind, too far out of reach to grasp it and translate it into a lucid idea. I did my best to ignore this feeling, but sleep did not come easily that night and when he was absent the following day, that was the first red flag that something was terribly wrong.
Hinata was never absent.
He had, at one point, broken his ribs and collarbone in an accident and he still held his perfect attendance streak, even against the doctors’ advice. But today, his seat was conspicuously empty and there wasn’t even an announcement that he had transferred. The teacher had not received any word from Hinata or the main school excusing his absence.
I said nothing for the rest of the day and kept my thoughts to myself, but if anybody else found anything odd about this, they didn’t speak up.
Fortunately, the remote fear that something had happened to him was assuaged when he arrived the next day, ten minutes late, and walked up to the teacher’s desk and handed her a form signed by the Headmaster himself. He didn’t say what it was, but the teacher silently nodded and he sat at his desk. I asked him where he had been, but his answer was agonizingly vague — something about preparations — and he seemed so happy that I put my thoughts aside for just one moment because maybe this was just the pessimistic side of my mind acting up again. Maybe there really was nothing else going on.
Nothing else out of the ordinary happened for about a week. Hinata sometimes left early, but he swore that it was just prep courses and that there was nothing to worry about. I had finally begun to accept his explanations, and the second-hand joy of his achievement truly sank in.
And then, he didn’t show up for at least three days. The teacher said he had gone on vacation when I asked, but it wasn’t enough to calm my nerves. I forced my mind away from the subject enough to half-concentrate on the schoolwork I was given, but the conspiracy theorist within me cooked up an insane theory to what was going on every second and no matter how much I told myself it was all nonsense, there was still that small possibility.
Of course, I did see him again. He reappeared just as suddenly as he vanished, and the bandage wrapped around his head that he claimed was just the result of an injury wasn’t the only thing off about him. He was still noticeably happy, but there was something different about the way he held himself that I decided had to be nothing.
The next red flag, I suppose, would have to be his increased performance levels.
Hinata had always had good grades, but he maintained them through concerted effort rather than a natural excellence at the subject material. His regular visits to the main campus slashed most of his free time, and he gradually phased out studying entirely, spending the little time he had to himself sleeping or evading my questions.
The reasonable assumption would be that his grades would plummet, but, amazingly, the very opposite happened. He absorbed information like a sponge, cracking it down to its basest components and concepts to comprehend and reapply them. It was incredible to watch; his test scores gradually went up as his studying went down and when I asked him about it, he just said that some of the talent in the main school must have rubbed off on him.
I began seeing him less often, for he traveled between campuses after class and slept when he returned — he was sleeping far more often than he used to. That’s not to say I didn’t see him at all, we did still have lunch together, but even then he seemed elsewhere. His hygiene had taken a bit of a dip, too, and it wasn’t until I pointed it out did he even seem to notice his hair was almost down to his shoulders.
The turning point, I think, was around the time of the end-of-term exams.
I had been struggling for the past month to not only keep up with the course, but to gradually reintroduce myself to forgotten concepts. It seemed that as Hinata’s academic prowess miraculously increased, mine decreased. He expressed some shallow sympathy, but seemed too distracted by all the new intelligence he had to really register my problems. When I went to him for help, he always explained things in ways I couldn’t understand and grew irritated when it didn’t sink in. He always apologized, swearing he didn’t know what came over him, but I always walked away understanding less — not just about the course material, but about what was happening to my friend.
The day of the exam crept closer and closer until it was finally upon us, and I knew I hadn’t a chance of doing well. Hinata, on the other hand, seemed almost bored — uninterested, even — as he rapidly ticked off answers and finished before even fifteen minutes had passed. When our grades came back, I can’t say I was surprised by my 63 and his perfect 100.
Surprised I may not have been, but I was definitely confused, especially by Hinata’s behavior at our next break together. He was clearly proud of himself, as he wouldn’t stop going on about how well he did and how he’d be in the main school in no time, how everything had been a success, but there was something hollow about it, like he was making up for a low reserve of genuine enthusiasm by spreading what he did have too far and too thin. His words were more observation than expression. He came across as arrogant, but not in a malicious way and more naively unempathetic, and part of me wanted to hit him.
I would have told him off under normal circumstances, but by this point I was genuinely concerned about his well-being. His hair was long and unkempt, his eyes colorless and glazed over, and there was a dull note to his voice that permeated and twisted every syllable he spoke, and he didn’t seem aware of any of it. Only the clean, white bandages wrapped around his head — his head injury still wasn’t fully healed, he said — were still fresh, still crisp, and it was terrifying in contrast with the lively, enthusiastic young man I had known.
Mid-sentence, I grabbed his wrist and desperately asked what was happening to him.
He paused for a moment, staring unblinking, before quietly withdrawing his hand. “I … I don’t know," he said, head bowed and voice somber with a monotonic tune. “Really, I don’t. I hadn’t even noticed anything was wrong or different about me until you said so. I didn’t even notice that my hair had grown until you pointed it out. What does that tell you?" He laughed bitterly, and it was nails down a chalkboard.
"It’s funny," he said. “I’ve gotten so much smarter, so much more talented, but …" he clenched his fist until it was white, “I don’t feel anything. I thought that if I agreed to … I would be special. I could have something to be proud of. And now I have it all, everything worked, but there’s no joy or pride." His voice had fallen to little more than a whisper. “What’s happening to me?"
His chest heaved as if he were sobbing, but his blank expression was chiseled in stone. I didn’t know what was happening to him, but I knew that my friend was suffering and that was all I needed to know. I wrapped my arms around him and held him tight. He leaned into the embrace, but there was no strength in his arms and he only breathed deeply.
The following morning, he arrived late to class, and when he did, he was flanked by the man who had collected him in the beginning, what felt like a lifetime ago. Neither of them moved from the doorway, and Hinata announced that he would be transferring, voice notably lacking the enthusiasm it had had when he gave the exciting news to me. His eyes flickered to me for a split second and he gave a small nod, which I read as a silent promise to stay in touch.
It wasn’t until later, when I was alone during lunch, that I realized how ambiguously worded his announcement had been, and it vexed me. If he were truly transferring to the main school, wouldn’t there have been a public announcement? If the Reserve students knew it was possible for them, wouldn’t it inspire them to work harder? Wouldn’t the administration want that? The more thought I gave this matter, the less sense it made.
I didn’t hear from him for a number of days after that, though I can’t say I missed him. It wasn’t exactly that I was glad he was gone, but his absence was a weight being lifted from my chest, a situation in which I was powerless from which I was finally taking reprieve. I could afford to worry about him again at some other time, when miraculous acquisitions of unseen talent and colorless eyes and crisp bandages weren’t the center of my life.
He called me at night over the weekend, and it was a relief to hear his voice again, to know that he was safe, but when I learned that he wasn’t even supposed to be calling me (but it should be fine if he didn’t reveal anything), that he had just taken the opportunity as soon as he was alone, my thoughts immediately turned to why me? Why would I be his first priority, above even his own family? He paused at the mention of his family, before slowly stating that they seemed to have slipped his mind.
And that’s what our friendship had decayed to: brief, awkward phone conversations over the weekend without any purpose besides him going on about how talented he was in an unfeeling way that sent chills down my spine, and I wasn’t sure if Hinata felt the same disdain I did about them — if he even felt at all, at this point — until I once tried to feign an excuse to end the conversation early, this mixture of concern and lack of any inkling as to what may be going on and distaste for what had become of him — he even forgot my name, several times, and I had to remind him — was too much.
But then he surprised me, saying simply that he didn’t want to be alone. His voice had faded to all but an inexpressive monotone by that point, but I picked out a tinge of an emotion, a faint hint of a plea corrupted by whatever force was twisting his heart in mind to something that was definitely not Hajime Hinata. A pain shot through my chest and I couldn’t bring myself to say no, so we sat in silence until he hung up unannounced, as was routine.
And then even the calls ceased not too soon after, finally marking the end of our friendship that had been clinging to life by a razor-thin thread, and it was a miracle that it hadn’t snapped. I wasn’t sure how to feel, so what I did feel was an amalgamation of everything I had ever felt for him made numb by detachment. I did have other friends, though none quite as interesting and certainly nowhere near as important, but it was enough.
It would have been enough. I would have gone on living and slowly forgotten about him, except that wasn’t the last I saw of him.
It was the end of our friendship, to be certain, but it was not the last time I saw Hajime Hinata — if one could even still call him that by then, for he had degraded to a shell of his former self that could hardly be called human.
I don’t know what it was that compelled me, possibly a faint, far-off curiosity buried beneath layers of detachment, but at one point during break, I stole into the building of the main school. What could they do to me, even if I got caught? Nothing I couldn’t take tenfold. I told myself it was just exploration, that there was no purpose to it, but every time I heard talking or the sound of footsteps I found it harder to deny that a part of me wanted it to be him.
It never was, of course. Always some teacher or another, walking between rooms and becoming increasingly difficult to avoid. But I caught snippets of conversation between them as I crept through the halls, whispered mentions of a cultivation project and “that student" that, if nothing else, caught the attention of my inner conspiracy theorist, and I managed to follow the breadcrumb trail to an out-of-the-way room on the fifth floor.
The door was unlocked — for nobody should even be here, apart from the staff — and I wasn’t even surprised to see him inside.
Except, it took me some time to recognize him. His hair was grown out — darker, somehow, and not the mess it had been when I saw him last — and his skin a sickly pale, eyes discolored and expressionless. He carried himself like a different person, and only the shape of his face remained.
What terrified me even more was that when I said his name, he didn’t answer immediately, as if he needed a moment to sift through his memories and remember who he was.
"Hajime Hinata …" he said, voice saturated in layers of monotone that were painful to my ears, “that’s what they called me. I had forgotten." He looked up, and I couldn’t tell if he was disinterested or just that far gone. “So you must be somebody who knew that person."
All the emotions I had repressed flooded in as he spoke, and I wanted to grab him by the arms and find out what had happened to him, to scream at him who he used to be and evoke even the slightest emotion from him. Instead, I remained rooted to the spot and didn’t say a word, didn’t move.
He continued, eventually. “You have nothing to say to me? I don’t have anything to say to you, either. But if you’re looking for that person, I’m not the one you want. They’ve given me a new name, ever since I was blessed by talent, but I’ve never truly identified by it."
There was nothing, no hint of recognition or happiness or pride, and it was chilling to see a boy who had been so full of hope with his soul consumed and gone. I could barely feel my lips move as I asked what had happened to him, where did he go, and my voice was hoarse.
"What happened to that person, you mean?" he said. “My memories are … hazy, before a certain time. I can’t help you there." We stared at each other, and I found myself understanding less and less about everything that was going on. “But I care not for the life and memories of a talentless boy. If it won’t help me in the pursuit of new and greater talent, why should it matter?"
I unconsciously took a step back. He was empty, somehow, and it scared me. I could see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice. Even the way he talked about his talent was empty, like his desperation to be proud of himself by becoming more talented had eroded into a mechanical process of filling his empty heart with more emptiness.
He sat down again, and looked away from me. “Aren’t you going to leave? I don’t have what you want." When I didn’t, he continued. “Ah … I see. That’s fine, then. Do what you will."
After a long moment of silence, I repeated my question, more confidently this time.
"I’ve … been blessed by talent," he said. “That’s all that matters."
The silence resumed, and I was beginning to feel uncomfortable being alone with this boy who, despite everything, was still definitely Hinata on some level far beneath the surface, wrapped in layers of something foreign. The familiarity amongst everything else was what made it so uncanny, I think.
I turned to leave, and I heard him speak, voice just above a whisper. “Except it’s not enough … it’s just boring. This existence is boring and contradictory. The world is boring and unfair." He looked up. “Will this boredom cease when I’ve acquired enough talent?"
I didn’t know how to answer him, because yes and no were both equally depressing and he had no substance to comprehend anything beyond that.
In any case, I was robbed of the chance to do so when footsteps became audible and he was on his feet in a moment. He grabbed my wrist — was Hinata ever this strong? — and led me to the nearest window, opening it and pushing me out in a swift motion before I even realized what was happening.
The next day, I was taken aside by a large man from the main school and asked what I knew about Hajime Hinata, and that’s when I truly understood that this went far deeper than me and him. I told him what he wanted to hear, that I had known him but hadn’t heard from him after he transferred and resolved to keep quiet, to stay out of the way of whatever was going on so I wouldn’t have to be forcibly silenced.
I thought that was the last I would ever see of him and grew complacent with the idea. He crossed my mind every now and again, of course, and sometimes I was sure I caught long, billowing dark hair flanked by well-dressed elderly men out of the corner of my eye, but I would always look again and see nothing. Life gradually returned to normal.
And then any sense of normalcy was lost when a certain woman from the main school arrived.
I recognized her from magazine covers, and her beautiful face made the poison that spilled from her mouth hurt even more. Her words were laced with honey and she called for an uprising, and even though I got the feeling that I was being manipulated I couldn’t help but take what she said to heart because it was true, this system was unfair.
And then she took out a video, saying that it would prove once and for all that the hope of this academy was nothing to her despair, and whatever I was expecting to see it certainly wasn’t him.
She called it mutual killing, but that was nothing mutual about the slaughter that played out on the screen. Not long after it began, one almost unrecognizable student did away with the rest of them in an alarmingly brutal fashion, and the most unnverving thing about it was that he didn’t even come across as bloodthirsty, face still as expressionless as it had always been.
Everything about it made me sick — the deaths of the Student Council members and what Hinata had become, and how unaffected this girl was by all of it.
So that was the legacy he would leave, a disgusting snuff video meant to inspire us to spread despair.
And that, truly, was the last I saw of him.
The video was replayed again and again as we rallied behind the woman who would bring us despair, and I never learned what became of him except that he survived, but I didn’t know if that was a good thing anymore. I didn’t know who he was.
But that didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. I didn’t matter, he may have mattered, but it didn’t matter.
Next to Junko Enoshima’s despair, nothing matters.
And as I reflect on my own insignificance, made even more significant by my connection to somebody far more significant, the end of it all and my inevitable fate approaches. I’m not afraid — this is my place, what I have come to realize as my role in this war of despair.
It’s just a shame my curiosity will never be sated.
Perhaps he will fare better, play a more significant role in this story. Or maybe he has already perished.
I tell myself it doesn’t matter and step up to meet the end.