Bring on the big guitars
You've got a prophet's name. - "Gareth Brown Says", McLusky
Izaya first finds out what his name means thanks to a school project. Their Japanese teacher has decided to make his lessons more applicable to his students' lives, and assigns them the homework of finding out what their name means, and telling the whole class the next day.
He knows how his name is written thanks to hours of painstaking effort on his mother's part, although it's difficult to remember the order of strokes in his name. It's especially infuriating when he's sitting next to Akira, because that is the easiest name to write as compared to Izaya.
He can't find that particular combination of characters in the dusty, yellowed name dictionary at all. When he resorts to looking the individual kanji up in the normal dictionary, he realises that the two kanji were possibly never meant to be combined to produce a name, and even if they were, they were probably never meant to be read as Izaya.
But he has to say something for the oral presentation, if not everyone will laugh at him, so he sits down to watch reruns of American cartoons and waits for his mother to come back from errands so he can interrogate her.
He finds out that his name is his parents' best try to render Isaiah in Japanese. They'd liked the idea of naming one of their children after a prophet - someone who would speak nothing but the truth, someone close to God, someone who loved humanity. She shows him the relevant passages of the Bible, and reads them to him, helping him pronounce the difficult words when he falters at the kanji.
When Izaya goes to school the next day, he has his speech about his name all planned out. He made notes of what his mother said, and did some research on his own. He's standing in front of the class, ready to tell them all that he learnt.
He looks at the paper, and he doesn't know why, but he doesn't want to tell anyone the truth about his name.
When he opens his mouth, nothing but lies come out. His parents got his name from an English song they listened to and the brushstrokes of the kanji added up to an auspicious number. He goes into detail about the fictional fortuneteller that his parents visited, the imaginary arguments his parents had with his grandmother over his "modern name", and the time runs out just as he's about to make up a story about his birth - something suitably Biblical.
No one suspects a thing, the teacher leads the class in a round of applause for his detailed report, and he basks in the attention.
Izaya is a sickly child, and the winter is unusually cold that year. As a consequence, Izaya's mother buys him a fluffy down jacket that makes him look like a blue marshmallow. Its fur-lined hood and fur-edged sleeves, combined with his chubby cheeks and small hands, make people at supermarkets coo over him and compliment his mother on what a fine son she's raised.
He doesn't quite grasp the implications of this, but he knows enough to exploit it shamelessly, stuffing handfuls of free candy from shopkeepers into the jacket's cavernous pockets.
He realises that it was the jacket and not him when he goes to the stores with his mother again. It's warmer and he's in a plain T-shirt, and the only comment she receives from anyone is about how her son has yet to lose his baby fat, a far cry from the gushing compliments that he's become accustomed to in winter - how adorable, how cute, if only my son looked like that. His pockets remain empty, bereft of any sweets, and he can't help but feel some sort of loss.
When his mother next takes him shopping, he gathers information from observation. While she's choosing the best leeks, he hears a high-pitched squeal, and turns around to find a young woman cooing over a baby in a pram. The baby's dressed in a Doraemon onesie, pastel blue with an adorably round robot cat cavorting on the front.
It's also the ugliest child he's ever seen. His nose wrinkles in disgust.
This trend continues through the shopping trip. The most average-looking children get cooed over just because of their adorable little shoes with bunnies on them, or their Hello Kitty hat, or their Piyo Piyo jumper.
On their next shopping trip, he asks his mother to buy him a Badtz-Maru beanie. She refuses at first, citing the cost, but he puts it on and looks at her dolefully. Messy tufts of hair stick out from the bottom of the beanie. He's using his cutest expression, and she just melts, ushering him to the cashier.
The tag is cut off so that he can wear it immediately, and he parades through the department store with his mother, charming everyone in his wake. He adopts a high-pitched squeaky voice, gained through weeks of imitating terrible dramas with precocious children and talking animals from anime series, pointing at things and asking his mother what they are, and that only intensifies the amount of positive attention he's getting.
He knows it's just a herd of middle-aged women, and they're only doing this because of his false front. But for a moment, when he has a dozen of them following him around, cooing over him, hanging on his every word, he feels like all of humanity loves him.
It's a wonderful feeling.
Izaya is eleven and a self-proclaimed master of manipulation. He has at least five girls in his class devoted to him, and most of the male population of his class is convinced that he's the coolest one there is. He's perfect at feigning interest in anything, and he's getting good grades in all his subjects. They could be perfect grades, but he's figured out that showing a visible flaw is preferable, so his teachers don't figure out that he's smart enough to be stringing them all along, and it allows him to evade the messy problems of academic jealousy.
He is also very, very bored. He's manipulated everyone within immediate range, and even engineering arguments between the girls of his class can't make up for how bored he is. No hobby can hold his interest for long, and his room is scattered with half-assembled Gundam models and unfinished kites.
It is under these circumstances that he discovers the internet.
It's amazing. He doesn't even have to be a version of himself, he isn't limited to pretenses that take his ethnicity, gender and location into account, he can be someone else entirely.
He starts small, pretending to be a girl amongst boys. There's an IRC server that some of his classmates use, and he goes to the most male-dominated channel. It's dedicated to Shonen Jump, and Izaya tries his best to keep up with the conversation from what he learns between lessons, where he gets Kusakabe to give him an executive summary of the latest manga developments.
He calls himself Hanako.
The fanboys in the channel are so stunned that a girl is there and interested in the same things that they are that they don't bother to question him (her), but start competing for her attention, to try and flirt with a rare specimen. If Izaya's guise slips from time to time, or he says something inaccurate, they don't notice. They're too busy trying to impress Hanako with how much they know. They're charmed by Hanako's quirky obsessions with trashy boybands like Petunia♥Boyz and Rainbow Team, and impressed by her knowledge of esoteric manga trivia.
This lasts for a few weeks, and Izaya is fairly amused, but this all ends when Maron enters the channel.
Maron's a girl. She might be a real girl. She's probably a real girl, because Izaya would hate to admit that someone was better than him at pretending to be one.
She also knows way more about the things that Izaya has pretended to be interested in. She knows even more about shonen manga than he does. He doesn't have the time to do research between messages, because Maron is replying too fast, and she's so excited that another girl in the chat likes Rainbow Team that she quizzes Hanako about every song they've ever made, and the colour of Daikon's hair in the music videos.
Izaya struggles to make Hanako keep up with Maron's rapid-fire interrogations, but it's too much, even for him. He slips and misidentifies a song, and Maron proclaims how very wrong Hanako is. He mistakes one manga character for another, and Maron giggles (she even types her giggles), and recommends that Hanako buy the official fan guide.
The boys from the channel laugh at Hanako's inadequacy. They might find it endearing - oh, who is he kidding? The only girl they're thinking about is probably Maron. Hanako is long forgotten.
Izaya turns off the monitor and presses the power button on his CPU until the computer ceases to whir and all its lights grow dim. He'll return to chatrooms when he feels that he's learnt enough. About pretending to be someone else, about lying so well that it seems like the truth, and about revenge on stupid little girls.
He stares at the blank screen, and tries to decide on a new hobby.
Izaya's starting high school when Shinra makes him a bet. Shinra isn't a betting man, and is convinced that Izaya is a complete devil despite Izaya's best efforts. He doesn't know why they continue talking to each other when they both have nothing to offer the other, but he has to admit that Shinra is the most interesting person he's met.
Shinra is betting that Izaya can't defeat a kid called Heiwajima Shizuo. He'll arrange a meeting between the two, since they're going to the same school. If Izaya manages to defeat him in a fight, or manipulate Shizuo into liking him, Izaya will win.
When Izaya asks what Shinra is betting, Shinra smiles and refuses to tell him, because there's absolutely no way Izaya will win.
Izaya isn't a betting man, as he only bets on things he can win. However, Shinra's proposal is very intriguing, so he accepts, since there's no penalty for losing. He spends the next few days finding out who Heiwajima Shizuo is.
Unlike his name, Shizuo isn't serene or peaceful at all. He leaves a trail of destruction where he goes. He bleaches his hair blond - and Izaya knows all the jokes about dumb blondes, but in Shizuo's case it seems more like a warning sign that he's potentially dangerous. Izaya's lucky enough to witness one of Shizuo's fights in the cafeteria, and he's disgusted. Shizuo fights like he's trying to destroy everything in his path, and unthinkingly deals blows that could end someone's life if they actually connected. His nostrils are flared as he throws tables around, leaving indents in the metal from the pressure of his fingertips. There's no skill, no finesse, nothing in him except brutal rage. He's the enemy of everything Izaya holds dear - careful planning, subtlety, pretense, camouflage - and leaving him alive and unchecked could potentially mess up Izaya's plans.
It's up to Izaya to take him down.
On the day before they're scheduled to meet, Izaya changes his clothes. He's usually in the habit of wearing a traditional Japanese uniform, even though Raijin Academy's official uniform is Western. It's long, black and stiff-collared with gold buttons, and he wears a white long-sleeved top under it. It's a pain to button it, but it's worth the trouble. The uniform advertises his unique nature, makes him seem like he's a person who can't be bothered to conform to the rules of the school, and it doesn't hurt that its clean silhouette attracts all the girls.
But now he's preparing for battle, and he changes into a red long-sleeved top. He's had his spare uniform altered, the long black top is now a cropped jacket, which he wears unbuttoned over the top. The cropped jacket should allow for ease of movement, and the red top should draw Shizuo's attention. It's like the urban legend about how bulls are drawn to the matador's red cape. It's not true, of course, the bulls are drawn to the movement of the matador - but Izaya allows himself to be poetic from time to time. He stands at a high vantage point, scanning the crowd for a blond head, and he's surprised when Shizuo notices his presence.
Their first official meeting occurs the next day, after school. The girls are cooing over how red is definitely Izaya's colour when his phone beeps. It's a message from Shinra with the meeting place and time. Izaya shakes his admirers off, and saunters to the football field, arriving just as Shizuo tosses the last of his adversaries into the distance.
Shizuo's teeth are clenched with rage, and the school will need to replace another goal post in addition to returfing the football field. A pile of unfortunate victims lies in a heap, groaning in pain.
Shizuo looks up, and his gaze falls directly on Izaya.
Izaya claps, condescendingly, and it just escalates from there - it's lucky that Izaya brought enough money to pay off the truck driver. The driver feels enough guilt to frantically honk his horn, but not enough to brake in time, and there's a crashing sound as Shizuo goes flying through the air like a ragdoll, landing unceremoniously on the road.
Shizuo is the very image of a messiah, lying there. He's wincing, he's spread-eagled on the road, and fresh spots of blood are blooming on his uniform. Finally, Izaya has an adversary, a counterpart, the brawn to his brains. While he'd much rather have preferred a cerebral cat-and-mouse game, the adrenaline is still pumping, and he supposes there are merits to this kind of working relationship. Shizuo hurts so beautifully, and Izaya feels a thrill rush through him.
This is how it is going to be, until one of them dies.
And if Shizuo is going to take on the role of the suffering saviour, then Izaya supposes he'll have to become the devil.
Izaya's listened to the girls in his class, and apparently a critical part of being a Japanese schoolgirl is having a soul-consuming obsession with the newest and most popular boyband, Sunny Lovers Express. It's one of the stream of boybands produced by J*Entertainment, and the spiritual successor to Rainbow Team. The lead singer is Finny, who is ostensibly a reincarnated British merman from the 14th century. If Izaya wants to understand the psyche of a modern Japanese girl, he should probably start with Sunny Lovers Express.
Izaya's playlist starts to consist of nothing but Sunny Lovers Express songs, and when he turns on the television it's only to catch a piece of Sunny Lovers related news, like Finny's hairdresser talking about how he gets Finny's hair that perfect shade of seafoam green, or Finny's new line of makeup. Of course, Finny is the only one that matters - no one really cares about the seven other members, even if they say they do.
When he feels ready, he picks a suitable username (Violet) and joins the unofficial forum. It's incredibly large, and Violet's first few posts remain unnoticed in the torrents of introductory posts. The obvious solution is to post more, and so he does. He floods the forums with his thoughts on Sunny Lovers yaoi, he learns the forum-exclusive in-jokes and acronyms, he criticises J*Entertainment's decisions and, of course, he sucks up to the users with the highest post count and the largest signatures.
Gradually, Violet's forum title gets upgraded to "Fan" instead of "New User", and he grows more familiar with the regulars as they get to know his persona. He knows he's made it when one of Violet's posts becomes part of a forum in-joke. When a new user asks what the joke refers to, three users post simultaneously to mention Izaya's username.
The forum has an incredible information-gathering capacity. They're aware of every aspect of Finny's life, from what food he eats (ootoro sushi) to what underwear he wears (Calvin Klein), and they're able to use the tiniest bits of information to predict what he will do. It isn't a struggle for Izaya to take part in this aspect of the forum, it's comparable to his network of blackmail in school, but on a much larger scale. He finds himself adopting some of Finny's habits in order to understand him better, although he draws the line at platform shoes as daily wear. The sushi, however, is delicious.
Izaya's persona quickly gains a reputation for his accurate predictions of Finny's whereabouts on a daily basis, and the admiration showered upon Violet makes him smile. He's an integral part of the forum after two months.
One night, when he's browsing the latest Sunny Lovers-related news, he comes to a realisation. Finny is going to leave the band. Finny's been increasingly disgruntled with the rest of the members lately, and his successful bit part in a drama might result in him switching from singing to acting. He's even dyed his hair a relatively normal shade of brown - maybe he's going to star in the new serial that hasn't announced its lead actor yet. Finny's departure will probably be announced in two weeks, during their scheduled morning talk show appearance.
He frantically checks the forum, and no one has read the same articles and looked at the same photographs and come to the same conclusion that Izaya has - they're still eagerly speculating about the next music video and what songs will be on their next album, and hoping that Finny will cheer up and not be so grumpy. Izaya - Violet - doesn't feel the need to enlighten them, he's frantically planning how he'll make use of this opportunity, and there are so many possibilities he doesn't know which one to pick, but he'll go with one of the classics that he's always wanted to try since he first saw it in action.
It begins with him registering a new account. He pretends to be Violet's sister. There are ten posts, scattered over threads and over the course of a week, introducing herself to the forum. Violet posts in the same threads, asking the regulars to take care of her sister.
This also coincides with posts from Violet on the off-topic forum about her relationship going downhill, and about how she's so depressed that only a new Sunny Lovers album can cheer her up. The other users commiserate with her, posting pictures of Finny with amusing captions and telling her about their situations in life. Izaya replies to every one of the posts, trying his very best to make himself sound wistfully depressed. This state of affairs, a holding pattern, continues until Saturday.
Saturday dawns bright and sunny, and teenage girls everywhere in Japan are awake, because Sunny Lovers are guests on a morning talk show. There's cheerful banter between the hosts and the seven other members, and then the hosts turn their attention to Finny while the rest of the band members sit around and fidget in the background. They tease him about his merman ancestry and ask about how he copes with dry weather.
Finny smiles brilliantly when they ask about the band's next album, and announces that he's going to pursue an acting career. The studio audience gasps, and one of the younger audience members shrieks and faints.
Izaya can't help it. He laughs.
He has a long, leisurely breakfast, checking the clock until he decides that enough time has passed. He takes his dishes to the sink - he'll wash up later - then flips his laptop open.
He's already prepared the post, it's just a matter of adding new relevant information. He fills in the blanks and tries to decide between two drafts - would "killing myself" be a better turn of phrase than "leaving this world"? Decisions, decisions. He types a new, lengthy paragraph about how Finny has betrayed his fans by depriving the music industry of his angelic voice, and how Violet sees no point in living in a world without Sunny Lovers. Violet's suicide note ends with a torrid profession of love to Finny, and a wish to be reincarnated as a mermaid so she can meet Finny again.
He posts Violet's suicide note in a new thread, then goes to wash the dishes. He doesn't bother to read the replies.
Izaya's next post is ten hours later, as Violet's sister. It's a hate-filled screed towards Finny for causing Violet's death, towards J*Entertainment for driving Finny away, towards the rest of the band members for making Finny quit, and towards Violet's boyfriend for breaking her heart.
There are twenty replies within three minutes, and Izaya knows that his plan will definitely work.
Two weeks later, Izaya stands where there's a clear view of the J*Entertainment building, and looks at the seething throng of girls trying to batter the door down. They've raised their voices in high-pitched tuneless shrieks - possibly trying to sing one of Finny's songs. A security guard hesitantly approaches the formless mass, and tries to shoo them away. He's promptly battered with placards and scratched with manicured nails. He yells in pain and backs away, fumbling with his walkie-talkie as he calls for reinforcements.
There's a violet ribbon tied around every girl's wrist, and they're out for blood.
Izaya isn't sure how he's going to top this, but he'll probably spend the rest of his life trying.
Izaya's searching for a new hobby, since nothing interesting is happening.
He's browsing the random forums that he frequents when he's bored, idly clicking on images of kittens in teacups and anime characters in amusing freeze-frames, when he comes across an invitation to a mysterious website. It comes with a password, and he pastes it into the box because he's too bored to put his hands on the keyboard and type.
The website loads, and Izaya clicks around the message boards. His eyes widen. It's nothing much at the moment - probably the creation of some kid who paid for hosting with his parents' credit card. However, Izaya is one of the rare few who comprehends the sheer potential of this concept - if this "secret club" could reach critical mass, there's a high likelihood that some of the people bored enough to join the group will also be the people who are bored enough to unwittingly spread Izaya's brand of chaos.
All it needs is a little push.
He starts to post invitations to the website everywhere. When he runs out of forums that he knows, he searches for random ones, then starts posting again. The creator's doing the same thing, so Izaya's just helping his group to become popular.
When the creator announces that invitations are closed, Izaya blithely disregards his wishes, forwarding invitation messages to some of the people he knows. After all, it's best that Dollars has a few strong people around, and their membership might come in handy later.
In fact, he's so enthusiastic about this new hobby that he takes it upon himself to moderate a relatively-private chatroom on the Dollars website. It takes a while to configure, but it displays a cute avatar whenever a user sends a message and it's very aesthetically appealing. He's so captivated by it that he spends an hour scrolling through hexcodes to pick the background colour of his messages, and takes a day to decide if his avatar should have pigtails or ponytails.
He remembers his old vow never to attempt chatrooms until he gained more experience, and he's definitely more experienced now. He has at least five girls' suicides under his belt - eight if you count attempted - he's a downright expert at manipulation and gathering information, and his impersonation of women online is flawless.
That day, he goes back to the old Shonen Jump IRC channel under a different nickname, finds out Maron's current internet whereabouts, and starts a systematic campaign to smear her reputation, ruin her professional life, and lead her to a mental breakdown. He takes periodic breaks from that so he can moderate the Dollars chatroom, introduce himself to new users, and ban people with unsightly avatars or poor colour choices or boring conversation topics.
He hasn't felt this good in a long time. It's always nice to get involved with people.
Izaya's old jacket is falling apart. It's a familiar companion, and it's been with him ever since high school - what he wore when he was toying with Shizuo. He supposed it was comparable to how animals warned others that they were poisonous - since Shizuo obviously wasn't human, and wasn't exactly the type to get subtle hints in body language.
He hasn't seen Shizuo for a year or two, but perhaps it's time to reintroduce himself. He needs to do something to distinguish himself - the old Izaya was small-time, but he's improved now. He needs something that will set him apart, something that draws the line between Izaya then and Izaya now.
He needs a new jacket. Obviously nothing from a store will do, it needs to be tailored to suit his unique needs. Clothes make the man, and a shoddy off-the-rack jacket might work for a seedy little mob informant, but not for a man of the world like Orihara Izaya.
He sketches out designs, rejecting them one by one. A trenchcoat would be too gauche, a blazer would combine with his youthful features to make him look like a schoolchild, double-breasted doesn't suit his slim body. He wants clean, simple lines, and buttons would break the illusion, so he opts for a slim zip, almost invisible.
It'll be black, of course, but in something that black and that sleek, he'll look too dangerous, too unapproachable. Hired assassin isn't the image he wants to depict, and he needs something to soften his edge. He doesn't want to show his hand.
Fur trim around the edges seems to be the answer. It's a timeless classic, and the cream-coloured fur sets off his pale skin. But it seems to be lacking something - it's still too sleek, the fur might actually give off the impression that he's too classy and rich to know much about what's going on in the underbelly of Ikebukuro. He'll look really out of place when he's getting information from the lowlifes and the scum.
That's when he has the idea of adding a hood. It's an inspired touch - it makes him look more like a careless teenager trying to play with the big boys than someone with actual acumen, and the people he deals with will be more likely to let something slip. He goes for the fluffy fur trim instead of something sleek. It'll look cheaper than what it actually cost, but he'll also appear more approachable and trustworthy.
After his visit to the tailor, when he next meets the yakuza, they give him a once-over. One of them comments that he preferred Izaya's old jacket, but he's wearing a cheap shirt and a ratty blazer, so Izaya ignores the comment. They're far more loose-lipped that day, casually chatting in front of him, dropping names and places and times before their leader tells them to shut up. The underlings shrug after being chided, and resume talking in hushed whispers.
Izaya absently strokes the fur on his cuffs. He can't hear what they're whispering about, but the recorder in his jacket's hidden pocket should be able to pick it up, and some post-production should make it clear as day.
It's not their approval he's after, and it's only a few weeks until he can finally meet the one he's waiting for.
He steps out of the police car, smirking, and the flashing sirens cast their spotlight on him. He takes measured steps, it's a steady pace, he doesn't want to ruin the moment by appearing too overeager to see his long-lost counterpart. It's the debut of the new Izaya, and he has to look his best.
Shizuo screams in frustration as he throws his head back, like a trapped animal voicing its pain and terror. He can't get free, he's pinned against the wall, he's held down and crucified.
Among the cacophony of police sirens, the rattling of the metal fence, and the buzz of walkie-talkies, the only thing that Izaya hears is Shizuo shouting his name.
It's always good to be appreciated.