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The Deconstruction of Croquet (or how Takaki got his groove back)

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[Camera fades in on a green grassy field. It pans around until it reaches Takaki, standing on the grass, holding two thin white wires shaped into a three-sided rectangle]

“Looks like we’ve got ourselves a sticky wicket,” he says with a small laugh, waving the wickets in the air like he’s shooting finger guns.

“Sir, do not remove the wickets from the course,” says a stern voice just off-camera.

“Oops, sorry.”

[Camera cuts to the opening credits and title card: The Deconstruction of Croquet]

***

[camera cuts to Hey Say Jump all standing together in the grassy field]

“Okay,” Yamada begins while passing out packets of paper to the each member. “I googled the rules of croquet and printed them out for everyone so we can be better prepared. Try not to get a papercut.”

“Why didn’t you just email them to us so we would have the info on our phones?” Hikaru asks.

“Yeah,” Daiki adds. “That’d be easier than carrying all this paper around.” He waves the thick stack of paper in the air for emphasis.

Yamada narrows his eyes as he tries to come up with a legitimate excuse instead of admitting to not being able to figure out how to email the information. “Just read the rules,” he snaps.

[cutaway to Yamada’s one-on-one interview]

“All nine of us are taking a tiny break from our busy schedule to participate in a croquet tournament tomorrow. The problem is… we have no freakin’ clue how to even play the game.”

[cutaway to Yuto absentmindedly swinging his croquet mallet around until it slips out of his hands and crashes into a nearby tree, scaring away several birds. “Uh…” Yuto looks around and then shouts “Goooooooooooaaaaal” like he’s at a soccer match]

“So…” Yamada continues explaining, “it’s not going to be easy but I feel confident we can pull together and win. That’s our goal.” He puts on his best confident smile for the camera.

[cut back to the group still gathered out in the field]

There’s silence except for the sound of shuffling papers as everyone reads through the rules of the game for the next few minutes. The peacefulness, however, doesn’t last long before the group starts talking again.

“This whole game looks needlessly complicated,” Chinen says. He’s already tossed his papers into the nearest trash can.

Inoo flips through his papers again. “Does anyone see a rule about shoes being required anywhere? I don’t see anything against it? Do you think I could—”

“Maybe you should keep your shoes on just in case?” Yabu suggests.

“Ouch!” a voice interrupts.

Everyone turns to see Keito wincing and holding his finger. “Papercut,” he explains.

Yamada rubs his temples and tries to get everyone back focused, but it’s hard to hear him over the cacophony of voices. But instead of Yamada, it turns out to be another voice that brings order to the chaos. At least temporarily.

“I’m sorry I screwed up, guys,” Takaki says. He looks down at the papers in his hands and frowns.

“No, don’t worry about it” and “everything’s fine” rings out all at once from the group. Keito, standing closest to him, gives his shoulder a reassuring pat. (And then Keito looks distressed that his bleeding finger had left a tiny stain of blood on Takaki’s shirt. Keito inches away and hopes no one will notice)

Takaki smiles and nods at their reassurances, but it doesn’t exactly reach his eyes.

[cutaway to Takaki’s one-on-one interview]

“I’m the one who got us into this tournament in the first place,” Takaki explains. “I was walking down the street on my way to work and I saw a sign that caught my eye. Free croquet tomorrow, it said. Sign up here.” Takaki rests his hand on his forehead, looking exasperated as he remembers what he did.

“I thought I was signing up for free croquettes. You know, those delicious little fried potato things? And I thought it’d be nice to share them with the rest of the group so I put their names down too. Turns out, croquet is not a misspelling of the delicious food but an outdoor game played with…” He pulls out the paper printoff from Yamada. “...A sport that involves hitting plastic or wooden balls with a mallet through hoops, called wickets, embedded in a grass playing court.”

Takaki pauses for a moment and narrows his eyes at the paper and then looks back up at the camera.

“I think Yamada just printed out the Wikipedia article on the game.”

***

[cut back to the field again where everyone looks like they’re about to start practicing the game]

The field is set up with the wickets in the proper formation and Yamada passes mallets out to everyone before he checks to make sure the colorful balls are all in the right places for them to begin. He glares at Hikaru who was having fun juggling a few of the softball-sized balls.

“Those are heavier than I expected,” Hikaru says. “They’d really hurt if you got hit with one of them.”

“They just roll in the grass when you hit them,” Yamada reassures him. “They don’t go very fast at all—” He doesn’t get to finish his sentence as Hikaru grabs his collar and yanks him backwards to avoid the red ball that suddenly goes flying by his face.

“What the…” He turns to see Takaki holding his mallet and looking very sheepish as he scratches the back of his head.

“Sorry,” Takaki calls out.

“You don’t swing the mallets like a golf club, you crazy!” Yamada yells back at him, shaking his fist in exasperation.

“Wait, what?” Yabu pauses mid-swing.

Yamada facepalms. “Why did I even print the rules out for everyone?”

“How about instead of practicing, we just wing it tomorrow?” Chinen suggests instead as he pops up beside Yamada. He surveys the ongoing chaos on the croquet field where Inoo is attempting to tackle Yuto for sabotaging his shot and Keito is quietly moving the wickets to better positions and hoping no one will notice.

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Yamada sighs. “Go grab Keito. We can do something better with our time.”

***

[camera cuts to Inoo’s one-on-one interview]

“It’s no secret that I’m kinda really terrible at every sport on the face of the planet,” he begins.

[cutaway to footage of Inoo at a bowling alley watching his bowling ball fall into the gutter. And then Inoo shooting a basketball and missing the hoop completely. And then Inoo trying to serve a volleyball which subsequently lands on the court right in front of him. And then to Inoo at the bowling alley again still rolling gutter balls. And then Inoo holding a hockey stick while wearing ice skates and falling down immediately. And then Inoo trying to kick a soccer ball and his foot slips and kicks the grass instead. And then Inoo at the bowling alley once more, still glaring at his bowling ball as it fails to knock over any pins]

“So,” Inoo sighs, “I would do anything to improve my skills. I don’t want to be terrible at playing croquet.”

[cut to Inoo and Daiki standing outside]

“You know how you can get stronger real quick?” Daiki says, sounding every bit like the kind of shady person who stands in alleyways and tries to sell you knock-off watches.

“How?”

“Energy drinks!” Daiki pulls a little bottle out from his pocket. “You should try this one. It’s illegal in thirty countries, has ten times the recommended daily amount of sugar, and it’s grape-flavored.”

“Uh… no thanks,” Inoo takes a step backwards.

Daiki shrugs. “Suit yourself.”

Inoo watches him down the drink in one big gulp and then shiver like he’d just taken a particularly nasty shot of alcohol. Then Daiki jumps up in the air a few times before he declares he’s going to go for a run. Inoo stares after him as he runs away until he’s finally out of sight. Then Inoo turns back and gives a deadpan stare to the camera.

[cut back to Inoo’s one-on-one interview]

“I would do almost anything to improve my skills,” he says. “I draw the line at nasty energy drinks.”

***

[camera fades in on Yamada, Chinen, and Keito in some sort of dark place, until a click of a light switch reveals that the three of them are hiding in a small broom closet and all dressed in camouflage from head to toe]

“Is this really necessary?” Keito asks. He flexes his fingers near his paint-covered face, knowing that scratching will mess up his camouflage look.

“Of course it is,” Yamada answers, putting on a pair of black sunglasses. “The best way to beat the competition is to know all about them.”

“It just seems kind of excessive,” Keito mutters. “It’s just a croquet tournament.”

Yamada gasps. “Just a croquet tournament? Are you hearing this Chinen?”

Chinen just nods as he slips on a form-fitting pair of black gloves.

“If we’re going to join a competition, we’re going to win it,” Yamada insists. “Now put on your gloves so you won’t leave any fingerprint evidence behind.”

Keito looks around the room to see if there’s somewhere he can sneak away to instead.

“Chinen, you’re the best at stalking people,” Yamada continues, unfazed. “What’s our game plan?”

“I wouldn’t call it stalking,” Chinen says. “I just know where Arashi is at all times.”

“That’s stalking,” Keito mutters.

“Let’s get going,” Yamada says and throws the door to the broom closet open, startling a few old people who were walking by. “All we need now is to acquire some sort of transportation.”

[cut to Keito’s one-on-one interview]

“If we get arrested, will one of you guys bail me out of jail?” Keito asks the person behind the camera.

***

[camera opens on Takaki sitting on a park bench intently reading the croquet rules Yamada had given them earlier]

“Okay, I guess that sort of makes sense,” Takaki mutters to himself before taking a pencil and writing some notes down on the papers. “I had no idea that was acceptable in any sport…” he continues talking to himself.

[cut to Takaki’s one-on-one interview]

“I feel really bad I got us stuck in this tournament,” Takaki says, looking guilty. “We’re so busy right now with the concert tour and television appearances and magazine stuff, you know. And I feel like I haven’t been on top of my game lately. Sometimes I wonder if I’m holding everyone back.”

[camera cuts to footage of Takaki in dance practice, apologizing for messing up his steps. And then footage of Takaki apologizing for spacing out while they were recording a TV show. And then Takaki apologizing for getting lost and showing up late to an important meeting]

“I don’t know…” Takaki trails off and looks away for a moment. “I guess I feel a little lost. Like, what is my place in this group?”

[camera cuts back to Takaki in the park]

He’s standing up practicing his swing with the croquet mallet, taking care not to swing it as hard as a golf club. He’s crumbled up the papers to use as a makeshift ball, and he hits it around to work on improving his aim. He completely ignores the people staring at him as they walk by.

***

[camera fades in on Hikaru’s living room where he and Inoo are seated on the couch]

“Since you do all that weight-training stuff, you can help me get stronger right?” Inoo asks, looking hopeful. “I want to be really good at croquet tomorrow.”

Hikaru nods. “Well, I don’t think muscles make much of a difference in this game—from what I can decipher from the rules—but I can help you.” He grins like the Cheshire Cat until Inoo points out he looks like the Cheshire Cat, and then he just grimaces in disgust.

“So let’s get started,” Inoo says, jumping up from the couch. “Time is running out.”

Hikaru claps his hands together. “I agree. We should start with the windows.”

“Huh?”

“We’ll start with you washing the windows,” Hikaru repeats. “Haven’t you seen The Karate Kid? It’s like that.”

Inoo purses his lips and looks skeptical, but then finally lets out a sigh of resignation. “Where do you keep your cleaning supplies?”

***

[camera cuts to Yamada, Chinen, and Keito crouching behind a bush at the croquet course]

“I think there are ants crawling into my shoes,” Keito whispers. “Can we just go home now?”

Yamada shushes him and continues looking through the binoculars he has. He’s busy surveying the group of old men who are playing croquet nearby. The men are casually chatting and laughing, not paying too much attention to whether they hit the balls through the wickets or not.

“Do you think we have a chance of winning tomorrow?” Keito whispers.

Yamada scoffs. “Of course we’re going to win tomorrow.” He looks away from his binoculars for a moment to side-eye Keito for suggesting anything less.

“Then why are we here?” Chinen asks.

“Research,” Yamada replies.

Chinen suddenly stands up and brushes the dirt from his knees. The men playing croquet look over at him and say hello, and Chinen waves back. “Let’s go do something more exciting,” he says. Keito stands up too, shaking his feet just in case any ants are still clinging to his socks. After a moment, Yamada reluctantly stands up to join them as well.

“You probably don’t want to record this next bit,” Chinen says directly to the cameraman before he leads them away towards where a bunch of golf carts are parked.

***

[camera cuts to Takaki who’s taking a break from his croquet practice to eat a croquette]

“This is good,” he says between bites. “I’m still kinda disappointed that sign-up wasn’t for these. Everyone should have free croquettes all the time.”

***

[camera cuts to Inoo who’s vigorously scrubbing the windows of Hikaru’s apartment]

“Great job,” Hikaru calls out from where he’s reading a book on the couch. “Keep up the good work.”

[camera cuts to Hikaru’s one-on-one interview]

“Inoo said he wanted to get stronger,” he shrugged. “Washing windows is great for building upper body strength. Next we’ll probably do the kitchen floor. I think this is really working out great.”

***

[Onscreen text: The day of the croquet tournament has arrived]

The group, minus Daiki, is gathered at the croquet field, standing near the rest of the competition but still a bit separate as well. They’re all buzzing with excitement about the tournament since it’s giving them something new to try.

“We’re going to crush the competition,” Yamada vows with his fists clenched.

“Crushing seems a bit excessive, don’t you think?” Yabu replies. “Tripping up the competition might be easier.”

Inoo sighs and then stretches himself down in the grass, catching everyone’s immediate attention.

“What’s up with you?” Chinen asks.

“I’m exhausted,” Inoo whines. “Do I have to play? Can I just lie here all day?” They watch as Inoo curls up like he’s seriously going to take a nap right on the ground, using the grass as a makeshift pillow and hugging his croquet mallet like a teddy bear.

Hikaru frowns. “But we did all that training yesterday. You can’t give up now.”

“Yes, I can,” Inoo replies. “Too much training. Now my whole body hurts. I’ll just stay right here.”

After that Inoo refuses to move even with the tournament about to start. The rest of the group just shrugs and goes to play. Yamada looks a little annoyed that Inoo gets disqualified for not participating. Without Daiki showing up at all, that means two of the group are out, which lessens their chances of winning the tournament.

[cutaway to Yamada’s one-on-one interview]

“I’m still confident we will win,” he declares, but his smile is starting to look strained.

***

[The camera sweeps across the expansive croquet courts, revealing the players all spread out as the tournament begins. It’s set up so that the players are split into different groups and the winners of those groups advance to the next round until finally one person wins. Jump is split into three different sections and they wish each other luck before they begin]

“This is fun,” Yuto says to Yabu who ended up in the same group as him. He hits the blue ball towards the nearest wicket and cheers as it rolls through it perfectly. “Touchdown!” he shouts and throws his hands in the air.

“Uh… wrong sport I think,” Yabu answers. He lines his mallet up to hit the red ball, but just as he swings, Yuto sneezes loudly. The noise throws him off and Yabu accidentally lets go of the mallet and watches as it sails through the air.

It lands right by the judges who are sitting nearby.

“Whoops.”

The judges promptly disqualify Yabu for attempting to harm the officials. He apologizes while Yuto steps up for his turn again. He straightens his shoulders and prepares to hit the ball again through the next wicket. With the utmost concentration, Yuto gets the ball rolling through the grass perfectly.

“Yahtzee!” he shouts in celebration and then dances around for a few minutes. Getting a bit carried away, Yuto concludes his celebratory dance party with a cartwheel which sends him accidentally flying into the judges table.

The judges promptly disqualify Yuto too.

Neither are particularly upset about getting kicked out of the tournament, so they leave their course to find the rest of the group. They trek through the grassy croquet fields, not really paying much attention that they’re walking through and blocking everyone’s shots.

It’s not too long before they reach the course where Yamada, Chinen, and Keito are playing.

“How’s it going?” Yabu asks, casting a concerned glance at Keito who’s brushing a lot of dirt off of his clothes.

“It’s okay,” Chinen answers. “We just learned that it’s important to look out for wickets when we’re walking.” Keito nods seriously while Yamada patiently brushes dirt out of Keito’s hair.

“That’s cool,” Yuto responds. “We got disqualified.”

Yamada immediately looks horrified that they have two less people in the competition. He frowns at both of them and lightly whacks them with his croquet mallet.

[cutaway to Yamada’s one-on-one interview]

“We can still win this, even if there are fewer chances now that there are less of us competing. I’m confident we can win.” He smiles at the camera but it looks like he’s having trouble keeping it on his face.

[the camera cuts back to the croquet field where they’re still talking]

“So what did you guys do yesterday after we quit practice?” Yabu asks. He leans on his mallet like it’s a cane.

“We did some research into our competition,” Chinen answers.

“That’s a nice way to say stalking,” Keito mutters, although it’s a moot point by now.

“Oh really?” Yuto looks interested. “How’d you do that?”

“Uh…” All three of them avoid eye contact.

[cutaway to footage of the day before. The camera is positioned far away, but it’s still possible to make out the three blurry figures of Yamada, Chinen, and Keito as they sneak around the field. Keito looks reluctant but Yamada drags him along. The camera footage goes blurry for a moment as the three of them seem to hotwire a golf cart and then hastily drive away]

“Anyway, that’s not really important,” Yamada says, still looking a little shifty.

“Yeah, we didn’t learn much about our opponents anyway,” Chinen adds with a shrug. “Except that guy’s granddaughter is getting married next weekend and we promised we’d send a wedding present.” Chinen waves to an old guy nearby, who smiles and waves back in return.

Keito clears his throat to get everyone’s attention. “Um guys… I think the judges are trying to tell us that we’re disqualified for not playing.” He points over to the judges’ table where they’re all frowning and gesturing at them to get off the playing field. As much as Yamada wants to, he can’t protest since they really had just been standing around talking instead of playing croquet.

“Dammit,” Yamada mutters under his breath. “Who’s left?”

[cutaway to Yamada’s one-on-one interview]

“I’m still certain that we’re going to win,” he says with a force smile. His right eye begins to twitch a little.

***

[cut to the group of disqualified players moving through the various ongoing games of croquet, trying to find their remaining band members]

“So it’s just Hikaru and Takaki left,” Yuto says as they find a spot on the edge of the croquet field to watch the rest of the match. They are surprised to find Inoo already there, resting comfortably in a lawn chair, sipping a fruity drink, and wearing a pair of black sunglasses. He looks like he belongs at the beach instead of at the croquet tournament.

“Hi guys!” Inoo greets them by peering over the top of his sunglasses. “You’re just in time for Hikaru’s turn.”

Everyone turns to watch as Hikaru whacks the plastic yellow ball across the grass, bumping into all the other colored balls like it’s a game of billiards. The rest of the players, including Takaki, frown because they all lost their good positions on the field.

“This looks more exciting than any of our games,” Keito says as he sits down in the grass beside Inoo’s chair. “Maybe one of them will win.”

“They better,” Yamada exclaims and punches his fists together with determination like he’s an anime character.

There are four other players on the field competing too, and Jump watches in anticipation as they all take turns hitting the balls through the wickets. They are silent on the sidelines for a few minutes, mostly because they’re trying to figure out who’s actually winning.

“I still don’t understand this game at all,” Chinen says as he watches Takaki hit the red ball backwards instead of towards the nearest wicket. Takaki frowns and crosses his arms while Hikaru pats him on the shoulder.

“Didn’t anybody read my directions?” Yamada complains.

Inoo shakes his head. “Nah, we recycled those because we care about the environment,” he says between sips of his drink.

“I made mine into an origami crane.” Yabu proudly pulls his creation out of his pocket to show off to everyone.

Annoyed with everyone’s nonchalant attitude, Yamada just shouts “do your best” and “you better not lose” to Hikaru and Takaki. He musters up his most threatening glare but neither of them pay much attention.

“Dude, chill out. It’s just a croquet tournament,” Inoo says. “It’s no big deal.”

“Yeah,” Chinen agrees. “A tournament where seven out of nine of us are already disqualified.”

“Daiki didn’t even show up,” Inoo adds.

Right at that moment, several things happen at once: Keito jumps up from the ground with a yelp of surprise, Yuto sneezes very loudly, and Hikaru gets distracted by all the noise that his mallet slips out of his hands mid-swing and flies towards the judges, narrowly avoiding hitting them.

They, of course, promptly disqualify him.

“Correction,” Chinen clarifies. “Eight out of nine are now disqualified.”

“Thanks Captain Obvious,” Yamada huffs before finally giving up with a sigh. He directs his attention to poor Keito who had apparently been sitting on an ant hill. Hikaru joins the group on the sideline and doesn’t look too upset about losing.

“Hey, what a coincidence! I got disqualified the exact same way,” Yabu grins and gives Hikaru a high five.

Now that Takaki is the only one left, he looks increasingly stressed out about trying to win. They all watch him as he wipes sweat away from his forehead and frowns with each swing of the croquet mallet. They all call out encouragement to him, but it doesn’t seem to help at all.

[cut to Chinen’s one-on-one interview]

“I don’t like the look on Yuyan’s face.” His voice is full of worry. “He’s usually so bright and cheerful. He shouldn’t be taking this so seriously.”

[cut to Inoo’s one-on-one interview]

“I’m concerned that Takaki seems so guilty about this. He really shouldn’t be. I mean, it’s just a game. I didn’t even play and nobody cared.” He shrugs, and then winces because of his still sore muscles from cleaning Hikaru’s apartment.

[cut to Yuto’s one-on-one interview]

“This game is about having fun. At least I think so,” he says with a contemplative tilt of his head. “I still am not quite sure about all the rules. But anyway, Takaki doesn’t look happy. And that’s not good because Takaki should always be like a ray of sunshine at the beach.” He nods for emphasis.

[cut to Yamada’s one-on-one interview]

He’s frowning like he’s thinking seriously about something important. His eyebrows are drawn together and his lips are pursed. “I think…” he trails off for a moment. “I think I was wrong to focus too much on winning. It’s better just to have fun. And well, we had fun preparing for the game, but this croquet tournament itself is…” he leans towards the camera and whispers, “kinda lame.”

[camera cuts back to the group on the sidelines still watching Takaki play]

“Guys, we’ve got to do something,” Yamada says, turning to face everyone.

“I don’t think Takaki’s listening to our words of encouragement,” Hikaru replies with a sarcastic eyeroll.

Yamada shakes his head and then waves his arms to make sure everyone is paying attention. “No, no, no. I mean, we’ve got to get Takaki to disqualify himself.”

“Say whaaaat?” Inoo shouts loudly into the closest ear and then dramatically snatches his own sunglasses off of his face.

“Don’t do that,” Yabu complains, having been the closest to Inoo while he shouted.

Chinen’s face lights up as he realizes what Yamada means. “Oh! You’re right. We should be consistent with the disqualifications.”

“Think about it,” Yamada explains. “He’s not having any fun, and we’re not having much fun either. So why hang around here the rest of the day? Let’s help Takaki get out of this.”

It doesn’t take them long to see the merits of Yamada’s idea, and a moment later they were all waving frantically on the sidelines to get Takaki’s attention. He looks up from where he’s leaning on his croquet mallet, his face instantly changing from frustrated to confused at the sudden attention.

“Let’s give Takaki a motivational speech about giving up,” Hikaru says with an evil grin.

“You’re doing that Cheshire Cat thing again,” Inoo points out. Hikaru immediately shudders.

“Takaki,” Yuto calls out, “you don’t need to worry about the tournament anymore. Just get disqualified.” He adds a cheesy thumbs up just for emphasis.

Takaki narrows his eyes and scratches his head.

“Yeah,” Yabu calls out, “do your best to do your worst!”

Keito cups his hands around his mouth so that his voice will carry across the field. “You don’t have to blame yourself for getting us stuck in the tournament. We’re all out now!”

“Think about all the training we didn’t do at all. And then use that non-existent training to disqualify yourself,” Inoo says, waving his arms dramatically. “You can do it! We believe in you!”

Takaki still looks like he doesn’t quite understand what’s going on. “You guys aren’t mad at me about all this? I made a mistake, you know. I always screw things up.”

“So?” Chinen shrugs in response. “Don’t we all make mistakes?”

“I know I do,” Hikaru replies. “You’re not the only one.”

“Think about it,” Yamada adds. “We all screw up.”

[cutaway to a montage of various Jump members making mistakes and then apologizing: the first is a scene of Yuto running down a hallway and then bursting through a doorway shouting “I’m sorry for being late!!” before he trips over his feet and faceplants on the floor. The next is a scene of Inoo falling asleep in the middle of a photoshoot. He snores loud enough to wake himself up and then gives everyone a nonchalant “whoops” before falling back asleep. The following scene shows Keito attempting to perfect a spinning part of the dance choreography while the rest of the group pauses to watch. He spins and spins and spins until he can’t spin anymore. “I can’t do it,” he slurs out and then slumps over like he’s about to throw up, but the camera cuts to the next scene before it happens. The follow-up is Hikaru simply trying to read a cue card during Itadaki filming. He keeps stumbling over his lines before growling in frustration. “Let’s just start over completely,” he eventually sighs. The next scene is Chinen showing off a set of backflips across the Itadaki set until he runs out of room and knocks over some lighting equipment. “My bad,” he apologizes. That brief scene is followed by Daiki trying to record his parts on the newest album but he can’t stop sneezing long enough to sing. “I’m sorry I put all that pepper on Keito’s food. That prank went horribly wrong,” he explains between sneezes. Yabu’s following scene is a brief shot of him running through a hallway, shouting “Guys, I can’t find my wallet again,” while looking around frantically. And the final scene shows Yamada at a concert rehearsal, accidentally singing the wrong lyrics for a song. “I got mixed up,” he explains. “I’ll get it right next time.”]

[with the montage over, the camera returns back to the croquet field where Takaki is still trying to decide what to do]

“Forget everything I said about winning. This is your chance to be as terrible at croquet as the rest of us are. We’re all cheering for you to lose!” Yamada says earnestly.

The absurdity of the whole situation makes Takaki break into the first smile they’ve seen all day. “This is weird, you guys. Really weird.” He laughs. “Thanks for the inspiration. I know what I have to do.”

It’s Takaki’s turn again and he’s in the perfect position for a perfect shot. One little tap of the mallet would send the blue ball rolling across the grass and through the nearby wicket. Takaki takes a deep breath and slowly adjusts his arms and legs so that’s he’s got perfect aim.

[cutaway to Takaki’s one-on-one interview]

“I think the most important thing I’ve learned from this whole experience is to not dwell on my mistakes. That’s really what’s been throwing me off my game these past few months. Now I know I can do better than that.”

He smiles.

[cut back to the croquet field]

Takaki takes a deep breath, and then swings the croquet mallet like a golf club to smack the ball as hard as he can. The plastic ball flies through the air, and Takaki lets go of the mallet too and watches as it soars across the field as well. The force of the hit is so great that the mallet splits into two pieces mid-way through the motion. Everyone holds their breath as the croquet equipment flies over the judges and then plops straight into the little pond behind them with a large splash.

“Hole in one!” Yuto shouts and begins jumping up and down.

“That’s not the right sport,” Hikaru says but no one hears him through all the cheering.

The judges promptly disqualify Takaki.

He looks satisfied as he joins the rest of the group on the sidelines where they congratulate him on a job well done. With the weight of guilt off of his shoulders, he finally looks like his old happy self again. He asks Yamada if he’s disappointed about losing but Yamada shakes his head.

“What’s more important is fun,” he answers. “I finally realize that.”

“Me too,” Takaki nods.

“So what are we going to do now?” Chinen asks.

The judges are already shooing them away from the tournament site, issuing the whole group a lifetime ban from participating in croquet tournaments ever again. But nobody really seems to mind at all.

“Let’s go eat croquettes,” Takaki suggests. “They’re not free but I saw a place that sells them nearby.”

They happily agree.

“We should buy some for Dai-chan too,” Keito says as they leave.

“Where is Daiki anyway?” Yamada asks.

[cut to a black screen with the words “meanwhile, outside of Tokyo”]

Daiki is running down a deserted road, surrounded only by rice fields as far as anyone can see. He slows down and finally stops, hands resting on his knees as he tries to catch his breath.

“Wow, that energy drink lasted a long time,” he says between deep breaths. “Now how am I going to get back?” He looks at the undisturbed nature that surrounds him.

“Taxi…?” he calls out hopefully. “Taxi? Anyone?”

He glances at the watch on his wrist. “Huh. Did I miss the croquet tournament?”

***

[The End]