Life had never been fair to Kazushi Miura. He always found himself in trouble somehow. No matter what he did, the tables turned upside down and everything collapsed on top of him. Like the time when he was still a little kid, and while he waited for his parents to pick him up from kindergarten, he saw a boy kicking a puppy on the street. He tried to save the puppy, but it ended in a fight against the boy, and his parents happened to arrive right when Kazushi had connected a kick to the boy's stomach. The Miuras were none too pleased to see their son hurting someone, and no amount of arguing would change their minds.
Or when Kazushi became an elementary school student and was bullied at school. For a few days, he did nothing, and only endured his schoolmates mocking him and playing pranks. Then they began hurting him physically and stealing his lunch money, and he couldn't stand that situation anymore. But as soon as he reacted, things went downhill. The bullies were quite the apple polishers, and lied to the teacher saying that Kazushi had hit them out of nowhere. The teacher sided with them, and Kazushi got the blame.
"Mrs. Miura, your son behaved very badly today," one of the teachers said when Kazushi's mother came to pick him up at school. "He hit two of his classmates during lunch break."
Mrs. Miura was horrified. She scolded Kazushi on their way home. "Kazushi, what you did today was bad. Hurting people is wrong. Don't do that again."
The first time wasn't so bad. However, it happened again. One of the bullies charged at him. Kazushi tried to defend himself and ended up knocking the boy to the ground. The fact that Kazushi wasn't weak physically didn't help his case at all. The bully told the teacher about it, who told it to Mrs. Miura.
"Kazushi!" His mother exploded during their walk home. "I already told you that hurting others is wrong!"
"B-but..." Kazushi tried to argue, but his mother didn't let him explain himself.
"No buts! Once we get home, you'll go to your room and stay there. Oh, and today you won't get dessert. Hopefully this way you'll regret what you did."
Kazushi was teary-eyed, but his mother didn't pay any mind to him. Since she wasn't likely to listen, he gave up trying to argue. They arrived home. By fear of an additional punishment, Kazushi decided to just do as his mother told him. He locked himself in his bedroom, lay on his bed and cried. He lost track of how much time passed before he fell asleep. And when his father came back from work at night, Kazushi had to endure another scolding session.
This kind of incidents kept happening throughout the years, and Kazushi was never able to defend his points. Either because the bullies lied too well, or because one of them was the teacher's favorite, or because the teacher wanted to close the issue as fast as possible and put the blame on the easiest target... the outcome was always the same. Kazushi was always the one who got the blame, with no chance to defend himself. Sometimes he reacted and it turned into a fight. There was also one time when he endured a beating and did nothing to retaliate, because at that point he had known that reacting would only get him in trouble. But that was no use, either. The mere fact that he got involved in a fight and got home with bruises was enough for his parents to scold him and ground him. He also got into fights trying to help other kids that were being bullied, but of course it didn't go well for him, and the kids he tried to help never said a single "thank you" for his attempts, either.
Kazushi didn't know what to do. He didn't have anyone to talk about his problems to, because no one ever listened to him. His parents began yelling at him much more frequently. The teachers began viewing him as a problem child, and even new teachers looked down on him from day one because rumors of the "problem student" had already reached their ears. He had no friends, either, because his reputation caused other students to avoid him.
By his last year of elementary school, Kazushi was so used to being scolded that people yelling at him didn't even cause him to flinch anymore. And he also began neglecting his studies. His teachers insisted that students needed to apply themselves hard in order to become successful in life. So what? He had to study hard just to become mean and unreasonable adults like his teachers? They didn't seem to have gotten that much "success" in life, either, unless "success" to them meant becoming smart enough to be able to explain things in an utter complicated way so that no one could understand their lectures, then making the students feel miserable by yelling at them and emphasizing how dumb they were. To Kazushi, that wasn't "success." He didn't want to become like that, thank you very much.
But then, he met a teacher that gave him a new insight in life. Ms. Ishihara, his Composition teacher, was everything he wished the other teachers were. Unlike the others, she explained things in a lighthearted way. Her lessons were fun and easy to understand. Instead of going over passages from the textbook first, she started by having the students interpret snippets from some manga, then she would explain the sentences' structure and grammar. She also had the class take part in little games in which they had to form sentences by making up dialogue for the characters. After all that fun, solving the exercises from the textbook was a breeze.
One day, Ms. Ishihara's class ended and everyone left the classroom to go to lunch break. Everyone, except Kazushi. He knew it was against the school's rules to stay in the classroom during lunch break, but he wasn't in the mood to leave. He would be alone and would have nothing to do either way. Outside the classroom was actually worse since it was so noisy and annoying.
"Miura-kun?" Ms. Ishihara called him to attention.
"I can't stay here in the classroom. I know. That's what you were going to say, wasn't it?"
"Huh?" The teacher blinked as though she weren't expecting that kind of reaction. "No, that wasn't it."
"... I-it wasn't?" Kazushi was the one surprised now.
"No, it's just... you seem to be always alone. Don't you have friends?"
Kazushi said nothing. He only stared dumbfounded at the teacher, unable to guess what she was getting at. No one had ever asked him that question, probably because the answer was too obvious. He wasn't going to respond, but she kept staring at him as though she had all the patience in the world. "People rarely talk to me," he said at long last. "Whenever they do, it's only to annoy me or to play pranks."
"They... bully you?" Ms. Ishihara's eyes filled with worry. "Have you talked to the other teachers about it?"
"It's no use. They always take the other kids' side. Even if I don't do anything and only let the other kids beat me, I'm always the one that gets blamed." Kazushi was so desperate to let that out of his system that he began ranting even before he realized it. He gave a bitter chuckle. "Why am I even telling you this? You won't believe me. No one does..."
"Miura-kun..." His teacher looked at him with sympathy. "I believe you. I know how those teachers can get. They look down on me, too."
"Y-you get bullied, too?" Kazushi asked in surprise.
"Yeah, sort of. They don't take me seriously because... you know. I use a 'nonstandard' method to teach." Ms. Ishihara sighed sadly. "You're probably right. It's no use talking to them. What about your parents?"
Kazushi sighed. "They only believe the teachers. They never listen to me."
Ms. Ishihara silently stared at him for a few seconds. "I wish I could help you sort your issue out with the other teachers, but they wouldn't listen to me, either." She forced a smile. "But I could try to help you in some other way! You said you don't have anyone to talk to. If you want, you can talk to me."
Kazushi couldn't believe the miracle that was taking place. So far, Ms. Ishihara hadn't yelled at him. Or at least, not yet. He knew he couldn't count on his luck, but he hoped the miracle would last. "You said you want to help me? ... Why?"
"Because you kind of remind me of myself."
That caught Kazushi's interest.
Ms. Ishihara continued speaking. "I've always studied by transporting the exercises to manga and little games, but I didn't tell anyone at first, and only used these 'techniques' for myself. Only in the last year of middle school, I told my classmates about it. They were performing so badly and worried that they might fail, and I decided to try to help them out. It worked so well that I decided I'd become a teacher and use these techniques to help other people understand the subjects better. But it hasn't been easy. I've always had problems at work because of my teaching methods, and most of my colleagues never took me seriously. Some of them even did some... unfair stuff and managed to get me fired from the first school I worked at. I almost gave up. If not for my family and a dear friend that supported me, I don't think I'd be here now. Miura-kun, I don't want you to give up. Just like my friend supported me, I want to support you. As long as there's hope, there's a way to solve your problems. So, don't lose hope."
Kazushi's mouth opened slightly but produced no words.
And right at that moment, one of the school's workers had to appear and ruin the mood... "Ah, so Miura's here again. Miura, how many times we have to say that you can't stay in the classroom during lunch break? Not only that, but you're also bothering Ms. Ishihara. She needs to go on lunch break, too, you know."
Kazushi-froze. The miracle was probably over. He was sure Ms. Ishihara would side with the worker, and the conversation from a moment ago would prove to be nothing but an illusion.
"No, it's no trouble at all." The teacher waved it off. "I was the one who volunteered to stay and discuss some things with him."
"Huh? Is that so...? Uh, well, I guess he won't cause any problems if you're here supervising him..." The worker muttered awkwardly and left.
Kazushi unfroze and sighed in relief to see that Ms. Ishihara still seemed to be on his side. "It's always like this. To everyone else, I'm just a problem student, nothing more. Or maybe just a problem and not even a student..."
Ms. Ishihara let out an amused laugh.
"Huh?" Kazushi threw her a questioning look.
"I hadn't seen that one coming. If you're cracking jokes, it must mean that you're feeling a bit better." She explained.
"What do you mean? I'm serious."
"Uh, never mind, then." The teacher still had an amused expression. "It must be hard for you right now, but one day I hope you'll be feeling well enough to laugh at your problems."
It was the day after the first exam's results were posted. Ms. Ishihara called Kazushi to a corner to talk.
"Miura-kun, what happened to your grades?"
Aside from Composition, all his grades were in the red. His parents had already yelled at him because of that, but he didn't care. And Kazushi knew it. Ms. Ishihara was going to scold him now, too. The fact that the miracle had lasted a few days was a miracle in itself. "Nothing. They are what they are." He answered simply.
"I can't be so sure. I checked your grades from last year, and they were way better than these."
Kazushi straightened up. "... You checked?" He hadn't expected her to go to the trouble of checking his previous results. Was she going to start looking down on him, too?
"Yeah, I checked. That's why I know you can do much better. So, what happened? Are you having a hard time to grasp the other subjects?"
Kazushi bit his lip. He said nothing for a few seconds. Then, he sighed. "I'm tired."
Instead of explaining, he threw her a question of his own. "Ms. Ishihara, do you have success in life?"
"Huh?" She seemed confused. "... Well, I'm teaching people, which is what I chose to do. I like what I do, and I like when my students show that they learned what I taught them... but I don't know if I can say that I'm successful. Like I already told you, it's hard when my colleagues don't trust my work just because I use a different method. Maybe I'll feel more accomplished when I overcome this barrier."
Kazushi nodded slowly. "I'm tired of hearing the teachers going on and on about how we should study hard, as though it were the magical formula to guarantee success in life. They don't look any 'successful' to me."
"Hmm..." Ms. Ishihara looked puzzled, as though she hadn't expected an answer like that. She spoke up after a few seconds of silence. "I can see what you mean. It's like they don't know what they're talking about. Studying to have a good basis is important, though. Miura-kun, have you ever thought about what to become when you grow up?"
"I don't want to grow up." Kazushi answered firmly. "Adults are mean and unfair and selfish. I don't want to become like that." Deep down, he was scared that growing up would automatically cause him to lose the little sanity he still had, and he would become like all of them.
"And... what about me?" His teacher seemed hesitant. "You do realize I'm an adult, right?"
"Huh?" Kazushi took a few seconds to think. "Y-yeah. You're nice, though."
"Oh, thanks." Ms. Ishihara smiled. "not all adults are bad. I have some nice friends that are also adults." She placed a hand on Kazushi's shoulder. He startled a bit by the sudden touch, but didn't back away. "Look, Miura-kun. Everyone grows up. You'll eventually grow up, like it or not. There's no avoiding it. It might still be a bit early to decide what you want to be, but I want you to promise me this."
"... What?" He was a bit reluctant to promise anything.
"That you'll become a nice adult, and be a good example to others. So, what do you say?"
That actually sounded like a good idea. He would endure whatever he had to endure, and when the time came, he would show the others how things should be done. "Okay." He finally agreed.
"Good." Ms. Ishihara smiled in approval. "And to start, you have to do something about your grades. If you fail finals, you'll have to attend summer school, and it'll be very boring. I'm sure you wouldn't like that!"
Kazushi grimaced. "Ugh, I guess you're right..."
Kazushi managed to score well on the midterms. Summer vacation came, but not without homework. Kazushi's Composition homework assignment was to read a manga of his choice and write a summary of it. To buy a manga, he had to use the allowance money he had been saving up by not buying lunch. He couldn't ask his parents to buy a manga. There was no way they would believe that it was for school...
This was when Kazushi came in contact with a manga where the main character was a notorious thief named Arsène Lupin III, who managed to do justice by thwarting the plans of criminals that were worse than he was. Despite doing things that were considered wrong, Lupin always got his way somehow. Kazushi enjoyed the manga, but he was envious of Lupin. How come someone doing wrong things could be considered to be righteous, while Kazushi always did everything right and was considered to be wrong? That wasn't fair... but those opinions didn't belong in his homework assignment. The summary should be just that, a cold summary of the manga as it was, and wasn't the place for him to dump his views.
Once classes had resumed, everyone handed their assignments to Ms. Ishihara, and she took a brief look at a few of them. Most seemed to be short, judging from the number of pages.
The classroom burst with students engaging in a discussion about what manga characters they would like to be, which Kazushi didn't join. As the class ended for the day, everyone else left the classroom, and Kazushi found himself alone with Ms. Ishihara again. She was checking his homework assignment.
She lifted her head from the paper and regarded him with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion. "Miura-kun, do your parents even know you've read this manga?"
Kazushi could tell that something was wrong, but he couldn't put a finger on it. Did his parents have to know what he had read? "Huh? No. They wouldn't believe if I told them I needed to read a manga as a homework assignment."
"That's not the problem!" She seemed worried now. "This manga isn't targeted at kids!""
"O-oh?" Kazushi was taken aback. He didn't check what the target audience was. "It isn't? I-I didn't know..."
"You said your parents don't know about the manga. If you didn't have adult supervision, how did you even get the manga to begin with?"
Kazushi didn't like the look of suspicion that his teacher was directing at him. She might indeed get angry at him this time. But no matter what happened, he would be honest. "I went to a used books store because books are cheaper there. The manga caught my attention, and I bought it. That's all. I didn't even think about checking the target audience. The people from the store also didn't say anything, so..."
"Alright, I'll believe you." Ms. Ishihara sighed. "You're lucky that I also like this manga." Her expression returned to normal. "Which also means you can discuss it with me if you want! But this issue about this manga should stay only between us, okay?"
"Uh... o-okay." It sounded like he had been forgiven. What a relief...
Ms. Ishihara turned her focus to the papers again.
"It's time to go home," Kazushi said. "Do you really need to read that right now?"
She didn't look away from the papers to answer him. "No, but your summary grabbed my attention, and I just can't stop."
Kazushi couldn't see what the big deal was. "It's just a summary."
"A well-written, very detailed summary. From the way it's structured and how the sentences fit nicely together, I can tell that you liked the manga a lot."
Indeed, Kazushi had put a lot of effort into his summary. He spent a considerable amount of time of his summer break debating over what to include and what to leave out, and did a lot of drafts until he was finally satisfied. He had nothing better to do during his summer break. Unlike other kids, he had no friends, and also couldn't go on a trip because his parents were adamant about saving money. So, writing about the manga turned out to be his most enjoyable pastime during summer break, and he made sure to spend as much time as possible on it.
"Very well done." Once Ms. Ishihara was finished, she handed him his assignment back. "Good work, Lupin-kun."
"... What?" Kazushi's eyes widened, and he shook his head vigorously. "No, I'm not Lupin."
"Of course you are. Your disguises can't fool my super teacher eyes!"
Kazushi sighed in annoyance. He wasn't in the mood for playing around. "Ms. Ishihara, please. I'm serious! There's no way I could be Lupin. I'm not even smart, for one..."
The teacher chuckled. "I beg to disagree. Your logic often amazes me."
Kazushi inserted his assignment in his notebook. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said as he struggled to place the notebook along with his other materials in his school bag.
"Your insights are interesting, and sometimes I wonder if I'm really talking to an elementary school student."
Kazushi didn't have any more arguments, because he didn't understand what the deal really was. He only told her his opinion, which he knew no one else cared about. He didn't get what she thought was so special about them.
"And the fact that you managed to buy the manga without adult supervision proves how sneaky you are," she added.
"Ugh." Kazushi had taken his bag and was about to leave the classroom, but his teacher's last statement made him freeze in his tracks. "I didn't know about the audience thing! That was an accident!"
"Tsk." Ms. Ishihara slowly shook her head. "That's what all of them say when caught in the act."
"Uh... but you said you'd believe me!"
Ms. Ishihara laughed. "Yes, I believe you. Seriously, though, be careful about the target audience warning next time. And I hope you aren't also checking other materials that aren't meant for your age!"
"I wouldn't do that!"
"I sincerely hope you won't." Ms. Ishihara retrieved her things and began walking towards the exit.
Kazushi sighed. He didn't like when Ms. Ishihara got like that. It was hard to tell when she was serious or when she was only messing with him.
"How long are you going to just stand there?" She spoke from her position near the door. "I need to close the classroom. Come on, Lupin-kun."
"Stop calling me that!" Kazushi scrambled to leave the classroom, with a flustered expression on his face.
The following day, Kazushi discussed the manga with Ms. Ishihara some more during lunch break. However, he still wasn't able to get across the message that he had reservations against the main character, and Ms. Ishihara addressed him as "Lupin-kun" once again.
"I'm not Lupin!" Kazushi protested. "I don't know where you got that idea. I'm nothing like him!"
But she didn't give up. "Hmm. If not the one from the manga, maybe you're closer to the original?"
"The original? What do you mean?"
"The Lupin from the manga is inspired on another character named Lupin, created by a French writer called Maurice Leblanc." She explained. "The manga actually says that the main character is a descendant of the original Lupin."
"Oh. I didn't know."
"In fact, many manga and movies use elements from literary works, or mythology, or folk culture. Interesting, isn't it?"
"Yeah." Kazushi agreed. "... But still!" He made sure to go back to the matter at hand and try to get his message across once and for all. "I'm not Lupin. Not the one from the manga, and not the original, because the original is the original and no one else can be him, and... yeah, you get what I mean."
"Oh, but your summary earned you that nickname, and it's already stuck in my head." She didn't give him time to continue protesting. "Lunch break is almost over. I have to teach another class now. See you tomorrow, Lupin-kun." And she left the classroom.
Kazushi sighed and covered his face with his hands. Ms. Ishihara was really nice, but her use of that nickname was getting on his nerves. What could he do to convince her that he really disliked it?
Months passed, and despite Kazushi's protests, Ms. Ishihara continued addressing him as "Lupin-kun" when they were alone, and that annoyed Kazushi to no end. He began avoiding talking to her about the Lupin manga to see if she would let it go. When he thought she had forgotten about the nickname, she unexpectedly brought it up again. Kazushi wanted to prove once and for all that he wasn't Lupin, and was actually against Lupin.
At home, Kazushi didn't have anything interesting to pass the time with. He hadn't gotten any new toy since the time he was in kindergarten. He didn't have a video game console. He also didn't have a cellphone, because his parents were against having him spending their hard-earned money on phone calls (not that he had anyone to talk to in the first place...). They also didn't let him take part in school clubs, with the argument that he should prioritize his studies over other activities that wouldn't be useful in his future career, whatever that was supposed to mean... Kazushi didn't have friends to hang out with. All he had for "leisure" were a bunch of books - because his parents insisted that reading was important -, and a TV in his room, where he could watch some anime, movies, news, and music-related TV shows. Not so many options...
Without much better things to do, Kazushi had to use his creativity and make do with what he had. Since he concluded that failing his grade wasn't a good idea, he had to use much of his time for studying. And study he did, but not by normal means. He decided to turn his studies into little games, much like Ms. Ishihara often did. His goal? Stop Arsène Lupin's plans. Math equations became sums of money Lupin intended to steal, or passwords of safes that Lupin shouldn't discover. History and Geography became research about places likely to be infiltrated. Science became information-gathering about artifacts or rare animal species that might be targeted next. Artistic Education became research about valuable pieces of art likely to be targeted, and Physical Education exercises turned into physical training for a possible confrontation.
To Kazushi's luck, the other kids didn't bully him as much that year, even though he got in trouble a few times trying to help other people. His new secret study plan also proved effective, and his grades on the next exam were good, although not perfect. Encouraged by his results, he continued applying his study plan during the rest of the year, and finals came. Once Kazushi had conquered finals, he was exhausted.
Even though Kazushi's results on the finals were pretty good, his parents didn't show any signs that they recognized his efforts, and acted as though he were only doing what was expected of him. This was really disappointing. Kazushi had yet to hear them praise him for something. All he ever heard from them directly was scolding, and he often heard them telling the neighbors how he was a troublemaker at school and got various warnings due to bad behavior. How Kazushi was tired of all that...
It was Kazushi's last day in elementary school. After that, he would move to another institution to attend middle school.
"Spring break starts tomorrow." Ms. Ishihara was talking to him after class. "Enjoy your break. You deserve it."
"I'll have to attend another school. This means I won't see you anymore... doesn't it?"
"Uh... yes, sadly."
Kazushi teared up. "M-maybe I should have repeated the year. This way I could k-keep seeing you..."
Ms. Ishihara narrowed her eyes at him. "I wouldn't approve you repeating the year!" But then her expression became gentle and she smiled comfortingly. "Miura-kun, you still remember your promise, right? About becoming a nice adult and being a good example to others. Repeating the year, on purpose no less, would serve as a terrible example."
"I-I know!" Tears escaped Kazushi's eyes. "But you're the nicest teacher I've ever met... no, the nicest person I've ever met..." He closed his eyes and tried to fight the tears off. "I wish my parents were nice like you..."
Ms. Ishihara took a handkerchief from her pocket and wiped Kazushi's tears away, then enveloped him in a comforting embrace. "You're also a great person, Miura-kun. I'll be cheering you on. Just don't forget your promise, and don't ever lose hope in life."
Kazushi let out an affirmative sound, and hugged her back. They stayed silent until Kazushi had stopped crying, then they broke apart. "Ms. Ishihara, uh, thank you, for... everything. I'll always remember you."
"Me too." She smiled. "Goodbye, Lupin-kun. Take care."
"You too." Kazushi smiled back. Only for this time, he decided that he wouldn't complain at her use of that nickname.
But he decided it would also be the last time. On his way home, Kazushi smirked while he pictured watching from the distance as the police handcuffed and arrested a hooded figure. The figure's face wasn't visible, but it was undoubtedly Arsène Lupin. The one from the manga? Or was he the original? To Kazushi, it didn't matter. It only mattered that his plans of researching targets in advance and hiding safe passwords had finally paid off. No one even thanked him for helping capture the slippery thief, but it was okay. What mattered was that Lupin was finally arrested, and Kazushi wouldn't have to think about him ever again.