He threw the ball up and jumped high in the air: it was clear that, in spite of how hard it was to get up so early, those morning trainings were bearing fruit. He spun, rolled and turned round in the air. And just as he kicked the ball he shouted enthusiastically:
"Shin… Rolling Kick!"
The ball shot out diagonally towards the goal. There, the goalkeeper was waiting, ready to face the shot with his burning fist.
"Shin… Nekketsu Punch!"
The flames coming from the goalkeeper's hands couldn't match up to the power of the shot and he fell to the floor, defeated, as he helplessly saw the ball enter the goal. Nevertheless, he wasn't sad. On the contrary, a great smile appeared on his face as he gave him a thumbs up as a sign of approval.
"Great, Shin-shin! You have improved a lot in a very short time!"
Yeah, improved… He thought.
"A-ah, thanks, capt'n…!" He stuttered.
His captain could say what he liked: the opinion Shinichi Handa had on his talent for shooting wouldn't change no matter how much praise he got.
"You are very commendable, you know?" Endou had stood up and got closer to Handa while the midfielder was lost in his own thoughts. "It's incredible that you created a hissatsu technique on your own so quickly! Most of mine are either grandpa's or based on other people's…! And look at you: you and your own techniques! You can tell you were one of the first people who joined Raimon!"
Indeed, back in the day, Endou, Handa and Someoka had been the only members of the soccer club that would subsequently be crowned as the best team in Japan. And, of course, two of its first members had reached the very top: saviors of the human kind! World champions! The kind of achievements one can proudly brag about to their grandchildren. But Handa, unfortunately, dropped out halfway through.
Shinichi sighed at the idea.
"Capt'n, it isn't that much of a big deal… Also, however much my Rolling Kick has improved, it's still the weakest shot of the team. And I'm still salty everyone thinks that bloody Italian guy created the Freeze Shot…!" The midfielder snorted, crossed. For one fairly powerful technique he had, no one would recognise it as his. Handa was and had always been what in the modern society is known as a scapegoat or, simply, a battered guy. "Also," he added, "my Cyclone was taken from Teikoku, and Zigzag Spark was a hissatsu created by your grandpa… And even if I can use Ryuusei Blade and Odin Sword, they aren't even half as strong as Hiroto-san's and Fideo-san's…"
He had indeed asked Hiroto to teach him his technique as soon as he had had the chance, since he thought it would help Raimon after the former alien joined the team to fight The Ogre. On the other hand, Fideo and he had got on so well that Fideo offered to teach him his ace hissatsu to lend him a hand and, maybe, even inspire him to create a new technique of his own.
Despite that, his lack of experience with those techniques and not being able to adapt easily to other people's styles lessened the might of those awesome shots considerably. So, in the end, most of his techniques were copied, and his own were either too weak to be useful or no one would even recognise them as his.
But, of course, Endou soon saw an easy solution that, from his point of view, was very easy to put in practice.
"Create a brand-new hissatsu from scratch!"
Handa thought of how joyfully and nonchalantly Endou used to always take it all.
"T-that's easier said than done, capt'n…!" Handa retorted. "I've only created a couple of techniques so far, and they're very simple…! I couldn't create something as advanced as your Ijigen The Hand…"
"Listen to me, Shin-shin," the captain said, placing a hand on his friend's shoulder and the other one on his own chest as he stared at him. "You don't need to create a technique like mine. First of all, because I'm a goalkeeper and you are a midfielder. Also, you have your own soccer, and your hissatsu must bring out the best there's in you! If you try to do it like me, you will never obtain anything you can call yours. Trust yourself, look inside your heart and let us all see the strength that's inside you!"
"C-capt'n…" Shinichi spluttered. His whole body was shaking, both because of the feelings Endou had stirred within him and because of the excitement brought by such a big personal challenge.
"And, of course, I will help you! From now on, we will be having special training sessions everyday!"
Oh, dear God…
Kuusuke Matsuno and Shinichi Handa were focused on the Pokémon battle they were having. As they struggled, Handa decided to talk.
"Guess what, Max-kun…! Capt'n wants me to create a new shot hissatsu."
Handa's Raichu knocked out Max's Gyarados with a well-aimed Thunder.
"What? You, a shot hissatsu? Don't make me laugh~" Max said teasingly as he hurled a Nidoking out to the battlefield. "You are a midfielder, so stay in your league. Leave the forwarding business to forwards, Han~da~kun~"
Luckily for Shinichi, Max was having one of his dumb days.
"…Said someone who was a forward just out of necessity. They rushed to demote you to midfielder as soon as Shadow-kun came…" Handa answered, upset by his friend's comment and trying to be, at least, as hurtful as the Earthquake attack the foe Nidoking had just used, which had finished his dear Raichu off.
And he managed to do so.
"At least I do have a strong shot," Max asserted.
"And at least I do have my own shot. And I don't think Cross Drive can be considered 'strong' either…"
Generally, it was Max who would always manage to slag Handa off with his sarcastic remarks, but, that day, good old Shinichi was way more inspired than usual. By a stroke of luck, they were close enough to finish the argument off and let their actions settle the subject.
Unusual as that was, Handa won that time. But, clearly, he wasn't the same as always that day.
"So your own shot, huh~?" Max repeated once the battle was over. "Well, if you're that convinced, go ahead. But it's not like you could steal Gouenji's, Shadow's or Someoka's place in the team just with it~"
"I don't wanna be a forward, Max-kun. I simply wanna be a useful midfielder in more than one sense…"
"But being so aggressive it's not like you at aaall, Handa-kuuun~ You are rather like… like a panda. Fairly calm and not much of a man of action. I can't imagine you attracting everyone's gazes in a stadium thanks to a goal, actually~"
"A panda…? Hey, but not all pandas are like that! Haven't you watched Ranma ½ or what…? Genma was no pushover…"
Shinichi grimaced, but a thought soon occurred to him. Truth be told, Max had given him a great idea. If he looked so much like a panda, he would bring out the panda inside him and he would show its fangs and claws to the world. It would require effort, but there's no progress without sacrifice.
But, of course, he could never do it alone. It wasn't easy at all to create a hissatsu, and even less so when your knowledge about them was as limited as his.
To unleash the beast inside of him, he would need help. And the first step was clear: learn how to make use the strength that beast was able to offer him.
A strength that, back then, was already roaring inside of him.