Mille viae ducunt homines per saecula Romam
(A thousand roads lead men forever to Rome)
-Alain de Lille, Liber Parabolarum
Nakamaru wakes up early. He’s been waking up earlier and earlier, and he finds the chill soothing. He finds the quiet soothing. As he stares into the pre-dawn light, he can hear Tokyo slowly waking up with him. He opens the window and breathes in the winter chill.
Then, he goes back inside. He checks his messages, refers to his calendar, and then dresses. Jeans, a t-shirt, a sweater over that. He pulls on layers as if girding himself for war.
When the car comes around with his manager and two coffees, Nakamaru smiles into the new year. “Good morning,” he says.
It’s going to be a good year.
Taguchi says, “I’m turning thirty this year.”
Nakamaru has been thirty for two years. In Johnny’s, once you reach your thirties, you stop counting by years and start counting by decades. Thirty. Forty. Fifty.
Nakamaru is an old man in an old band. In a little over a year, KAT-TUN will be 10 years old and officially join the ranks of the decrepit. In a little over a year, Taguchi and Kamenashi will both be thirty. In a little over a year—
Ueda, who has been thirty for two years as well, says, “Welcome to the club. How do you feel to be an old man?”
Taguchi laughs. “I still have months!” He grins at Ueda.
Kamenashi smiles, tightly, and snaps, “Can we focus on the meeting?”
With their Countdown concert, the weeks before the new year had been filled with last-minute preparation on staging and costuming. Their summer costumes had to be modified for the chill of late-night December and early morning January. There were talks to modify the set-list, to do something new, show off their newest releases. With Taguchi and Kame’s schedules, they had barely been able to find time to meet, let along rehearse their paltry changes. Their regularly scheduled end-of-year meeting for them to reflect and plan the new year had been put aside. Now, three days after the new year, Nakamaru stares at the three stapled papers in front of him and tries to mold his face into pleasant attentiveness.
KAT-TUN’s producer says, “We have a lot of activities planned for you, this year.”
Taguchi’s eyes curve behind his sheaf of activities. Nakamaru stares down into the palms of his hands.
Taguchi is turning thirty this year.
Later, Nakamaru will remember this meeting. He will remember it in stark detail—the gray sweater Taguchi had on, the mask on Kamenashi’s face, Ueda’s hair flattened under a hat pulled low. He will remember the way Taguchi cupped his cheek in one hand and slumped in his seat. He will remember Kamenashi sitting upright to snap. He will remember Ueda throwing his head back and sighing. He will remember the coffee mugs in their managers’ hands.
Later, Nakamaru will remember girding himself for disappointment. He will remember how the chill of the morning sent shivers of impending terror up his spine. He will remember tasting burnt coffee and calling it an omen of ill change. He will not remember sitting, placid yet discontent, until his eyes cross and the words blur into dark fog.
Nakamaru spends the first week of February auditioning for dramas. It’s a short week. One of the roles is for an insurance salesman.
His manager says, “Your ratings aren’t the best, but directors like you.”
“Because I have less responsibilities than Taguchi or Kamenashi?”
He looks up. “Nakamaru-kun,” he says, patiently. “You’re boring.”
Nakamaru grimaces, but he can’t argue. Despite his brief foray into shirtlessness as a junior, his ratings are better when he wears fake glasses and adopts a mild-mannered persona. He’s used to being polite, well-mannered Yucchi, but sometimes he wishes he got to be surly like Ueda.
His manager is always patient and always blunt. “You’re thirty.” He says, “You’re boring.” He says, “Taguchi-kun and Kamenashi-kun are young and charismatic. They—”
They change haircuts with the seasons. They’re placed front and center. They belt the high notes, and Taguchi does the harmony like Akanishi did. Taguchi makes dancing look effortless, and Kamenashi flips between sweet and sultry with a twist of the hips.
Nakamaru hasn’t changed his haircut in years.
His hands clench into fists. “Can I get a new haircut?” he tries.
He laughs. “No,” he says with finality. “KAT-TUN is doing well,” he says. “No need to rock a boat that’s sailing smooth.”
Nakamaru does not get the insurance salesman role.
He also doesn’t get the boring elder brother role, or the mild-mannered salesman struggling to help his blind sister role.
Taguchi is offered two dramas and loudly complains to Ueda about having to pick.
“Be more considerate,” Ueda snaps, but it’s friendly. “Some of us don’t have dramas to gloat over.”
Kamenashi flips through his script, memorizing lines. Nakamaru can’t see his lips moving underneath the facemask, but he recognizes the expression in the upper third of Kame’s face. He doesn’t have a drama this upcoming season, since he’s going to be filming a movie instead; Nakamaru remembers the off-handed, vaguely gloating, comment Kamenashi made when Taguchi just happened to have his headphones out.
Taguchi says, “Ah, but you have your music, Uepi,” he says.
The folding chair squeaks as Ueda rocks back. “Music,” he echoes, softly. He stares back at Taguchi, before his eyes slant over to a cameraman in the corner, and then back at Taguchi, and then back at the cameraman. “Are you recording?”
“No,” he replies. “Not yet.”
Nakamaru nods, politely, at the cameramen in the room. One of them nods back. Nakamaru vaguely recognizes him as the one who filmed their backstage footage for their last tour. He’s one of the few cameramen capable of keeping the camera steady while laughing at all of Taguchi’s jokes, even the bad ones. The producers love him.
They’re filming a backstage documentary again. They want some scenes of the four of them preparing for Shounen Club Premium, to show how dedicated and hardworking they are. But the producer is running late, and Kamenashi and Taguchi are running early, for once. It’s rare for the four of them to be gathered together and not be working.
“Do you think fans will actually be interested in this?” Taguchi asks. “Today’s meeting is pretty boring. We’re just discussing the schedule for next month’s Shounen Club filming. We usually get those notices in our email.” He looks up, meets his manager’s eyes, and says, in a conspiratorial whisper, “I just go where my manager tells me to go.”
“They’ll edit it so we seem smarter,” Ueda says, who does not look at his manager. “They always do. Just make a thoughtful face and say something like ‘Ah, yes, that works very well.’”
Taguchi laughs. “Do you actually watch our videos? I can’t stand to watch them. It’s so weird to see my face on screen.”
Kamenashi’s mouth twists, and it’s a good thing the camera doesn’t catch the furious slant of Kamenashi’s eyes as he glances at Taguchi. Nakamaru can read the expression: Taguchi gets an inordinately large amount of screen time.
“My mother watches them.” Ueda rocks forward, and the chair squeaks again. Ueda glances at his frowning manager, and then settles in his chair in a series of creaking noises. He then adopts a still pose, and his manager nods, pleased.
Taguchi glances at his manager too. He fixes his fringe.
Nakamaru can’t help it. “You’re always so vain on camera.”
Taguchi’s mouth remains curved in a smile, but his voice is offensively mild. “We can’t all have a boring image like you, Nakamaru-kun.” He laughs.
Kamenashi interrupts, “You aren’t supposed to look polished in backstage documentaries.”
“Who cares?” Ueda adjusts his sweater. “Let Taguchi do what he wants.”
Nakamaru’s supposed to keep the peace. He’s supposed to be the mediator. His voice comes out plaintive and whiny. “It’s just annoying when he shows up all dolled up while the rest of us are in sweats.”
“Ah, but I want our fans to see my best side,” Taguchi says. He stretches out long legs in dark jeans, glances at his manager and then the cameramen. His smile is coolly bright. “Let’s do our best today, alright?”
The producers want to do something special for their nine-year anniversary, a special medley on Shounen Club, and they suggest singing some old songs from when they were juniors.
Nakamaru is assigned to come up with a new, unique, beatbox routine. He’ll beat-box while Taguchi tap dances. It’ll be a throwback to their Kaizokuban concert, except now Taguchi will be even more prominent.
“Questions?” Off camera, Taguchi’s manager gestures.
“Everything looks like it will work out well.” Taguchi doesn’t look up from where he’s thoughtfully studying the papers.
Kamenashi says, “Let’s do our best.”
Ueda nods, and Nakamaru doesn’t need to glance at the cameras to know that they’re going to edit the footage so only Taguchi and Kamenashi’s comments remain. He eyes his own manager in his peripheral vision, but his manager just watches the proceedings with a bland expression.
He tries to look thoughtful and interested, but he’s pretty sure he just looks boring.
“Nine years,” Kamenashi says.
“It’s been a while,” Nakamaru agrees. Nine years since their debut. He glances at the producer behind the camera. He’s holding a cardboard sign. It reads: ask about how much has changed. An assistant producer, next to him, holds a sign that says: don’t mention Akanishi or Tanaka.
“Things really have changed, haven’t they?” Taguchi says, obligingly. He turns to Ueda. “What do you think has changed the most?”
Ueda doesn’t say: “Now I’m stuck behind you in choreography,” which is what Nakamaru would have said. Nakamaru had actually muttered it in rehearsal, which is why Ueda is answering the question now. Instead, Ueda’s eyes flicker towards the producers behind the camera and reads, “We’ve done a lot more concerts.”
Even as the producer switches one sign for another, the one holding don’t mention Akanishi or Tanaka remains stoic and present. Nakamaru doesn’t think it’s necessary anymore—they aren’t juniors. They know how to skirt the subject of their two ex-band members; they’ve been doing it for long enough.
“Concerts!” Taguchi exclaims. “We’ve really shown different sides of ourselves at concerts, don’t you think?” At the brief silence, he says, “Uepi, you’ve really shown your S-side recently.”
Kamenashi says, in a deliberately casual tone, “Remember when you used to see fairies, Tat-chan?”
Ueda hates it whenever people bring that up, but it makes a good segue into discussion their time as juniors and their feelings about getting to debut, so he doesn’t do more then go, “Did I?” Instead, Taguchi takes up the thread of conversation, talking brightly about how they’ve all changed so much. He glances up, past the cameras, and talks about their image during Real Face.
The producers say, “OK, play the video.”
They watch Real Face. It’s more embarrassing than watching their recent things. It also makes it really hard to avoid mentioning Akanishi Jin or Tanaka Koki. In post-production, the producers will cut the footage so it focuses only on the four of them; they obediently watch the entire video through. Taguchi laughs a little at the close-up of Kamenashi’s crotch.
“How embarrassing,” Kamenashi mutters.
“It’s very nostalgic to watch this,” Taguchi says, just like he did in rehearsal. The sign behind the cameras says nostalgia. He says, “Even though we sing Real Face at every concert, we’ve really changed since our debut, haven’t we?”
Kamenashi says, “Do you like how we’ve changed?”
Ueda shrugs and nods. Nakamaru nods too, making a vaguely affirmative sound. Kamenashi talks a little bit about how they’ve grown, and their images have matured.
Taguchi drawls, “I think it’s terrible.”
“Eh?” Ueda says.
“Uso uso kawauso,” Taguchi sings. He laughs at his own pun.
Nakamaru forces himself to laugh as well. Ueda looks away, lips twitching as if to hide his smile. Kamenashi chuckles and grits out, “Well, that hasn’t changed at all.”
The producer waves his new sign deliberately. It says Tappuring and Kaizokuban in katakana and permanent marker. Taguchi stares at the sign a little too obviously, before he turns to Nakamaru. “Well, some things shouldn’t change. Do you know what I’d want to do again?”
Nakamaru obediently follows up with a, “What?”
“Tappuring! With Nakamaru-kun’s beat-box.”
Nakamaru says, trying to make it sound like he didn’t memorize the lines, “Ah, yes, Taguchi-kun and I had a collaboration during our Kaizokuban concert.”
The producer puts the sign down.
They play the clip.
“Ah,” Taguchi says. “Tap dancing and juggling at the same time.”
“That’s nostalgic,” Ueda mutters, only a little sarcastic.
Kamenashi says, “We were captured, weren’t we?”
Nakamaru isn’t sure what he can really add to the conversation, “Yeah,” he says. He doesn’t need to look at his manager to know that he’s being boring again.
At the end of the clip, Kamenashi leans back and makes a long noise of appreciation. Nakamaru tries to arrange his face into pleased nostalgia.
Taguchi's smile is sweet. “Let’s collaborate again, Nakamaru-kun.”
The producer shouts, “Cut!” and “Okay, that’s good,” and “Let’s record the other talk parts and go to film the performances.”
They do two takes of the performance. It’s just Nakamaru and Taguchi, on a stage, the lights bright on Taguchi and slightly less bright on Nakamaru. His manager watches from behind the camera, his face flat and expressionless as Nakamaru beatboxes into the microphone and Taguchi taps and dances and juggles. They go through the performance with ease, but Nakamaru can’t help feeling on edge.
Taguchi’s manager doesn’t smirk, but the expression looks a little smug nonetheless.
When they finish, Taguchi’s manager takes Taguchi by the elbow and pulls him away. Nakamaru can barely muster resentment as Taguchi’s given water and a towel and told to change to get ready for drama filming.
His manager says, “Good job today.”
He says, “Was I very boring?”
His manager watches Taguchi leave. “You can’t compare yourself to people like Taguchi-kun,” he says, which is as good as yes.
The episode airs on the week of their anniversary. Nakamaru records it, so his mother won’t have to. But that night, he can’t help but watch it.
Actually, he can’t help but watch Taguchi. His face is set in an expression between joy and concentration, but there’s something odd about it.
He finds his copy of Kaizokuban in the bottom of the dusty box full of their performances and slides it into the DVD player, ignoring the terrible quality of the recording. He skips to their performance, trying to ignore his mediocre beat-boxing and their terrible outfits, and watches it in its entirety.
Fight All Night plays in the background as he sits back and stares at the ceiling, hands resting loosely at his side.
He hasn’t seen Taguchi fake his smiles while dancing before.
He’s a coward, so he doesn’t confront Taguchi. Instead, during their next filming, he finds Ueda and asks, “Have you talked to Taguchi recently?”
Ueda doesn’t look up from his phone. “Sure.”
“Do you think he’s okay?”
“Probably. He doesn’t have a cold,” Ueda says. “Our managers would tell us so we can dose up on vitamin C.”
Nakamaru hesitates. “I mean, is he happy?”
“That, you’d have to ask him yourself.”
Nakamaru goes to another round of auditions. His haircut would work for every single one of the boring roles he doesn’t get.
Ueda has a drama this season as the attractive best friend of a girl who’s struggling with some sort of identity crisis. He dyes his hair a pale brown for the role, and Taguchi spends a good minute cooing over how handsome Ueda is, and another five minutes whining about how all of his fans are going to become Ueda’s fans.
Taguchi doesn’t have a drama this season, but he’s in rehearsals for an autumn stage play. It involves a lot of dancing and very little singing. Taguchi’s eyes light up when he talks about the choreography, which is apparently very tricky but very fun.
Kamenashi ignores Taguchi.
The twenty minutes before filming is unsurprisingly tense. Taguchi isn’t in a mood to be charitable, chatting to Ueda as loudly as possible. Kamenashi has headphones in and is bending over his movie script, which is wrapping up filming soon, pretending that he can’t hear every word Taguchi’s saying.
Nakamaru says, “Can I talk to you for a minute, Taguchi-kun?”
Taguchi looks at Nakamaru. “Right now?” he asks.
Taguchi looks at his manager.
Taguchi’s manager, who’s in the room with them. Sometimes, Nakamaru forgets that it isn’t normal to have somebody follow him around all day, managing his schedule and making sure he has coffee in the morning. Nakamaru glances at his own manager, who’s reading an article on his phone and very deliberately ignoring the conversation Nakamaru has started in front of him.
Taguchi must read something in his manager’s expression, because he says, “If it won’t take long,” and follows Nakamaru out of the room.
In the hallway, Nakamaru says, “I watched our performance.”
Taguchi stares. “Oh,” he says, before he smiles, brightly. “Was it good? My manager said it was very impressive. You did a good job.”
“Stop,” Nakamaru says, hands curling into fists. “Stop. There aren’t any cameras out here. I didn’t call you out for a Shuuichi thing.”
Taguchi’s smile slides off his face.
Nakamaru hurries. “You weren’t smiling in the performance.”
“I must have been concentrating—”
“You don’t fake your smiles when you’re dancing!”
He stares back, unsmiling. “What?”
Nakamaru says, “I watched our performance and you were smiling. But it wasn’t your smile. You’re faking or something.”
“What makes you think you know so much about me?”
He says, “I’ve known you for fifteen years—”
The same painted smile from the performance creeps across his face. “People change, Nakamaru-kun.” He turns around to go back into the green room.
Nakamaru says, “Are you happy?”
Taguchi’s smile is bright and wide. “What do you think, Nakamaru-kun?”
They’re filming a PV two weeks later. Taguchi and Kamenashi laugh and joke whenever the making-of camera is on them. Taguchi makes three puns about turtles and two on pears, and Kamenashi laughs at every single one of them.
They watch as the cameraman goes to film the first round of Ueda’s close-ups. Safely off-camera, Nakamaru whispers to Kamenashi, “Did you actually find any of them funny?”
Kamenashi glares. “What do you think?”
Taguchi eyes them from where he’s in his own, whispered, conversation with his manager. When the camera turns around to watch them, Taguchi’s manager gestures sharply with his chin towards Nakamaru.
Taguchi ambles over to the camera and whispers, “I’ve been beat-boxing.” He does a simple beat-box, and then laughs, turning to wave at Nakamaru. “What do you think, Nakamaru-kun?”
Nakamaru’s own manager gives him an expression that clearly states that he should respond. Nakamaru responds.
They pass PV filming in a state of pleasant banter whenever the making-of camera is on them. After a while, the three of them retreat to the green room, where they sit in frigid silence while the camera films some more of Ueda’s close-ups.
Kamenashi leaves to film his solo cuts and Ueda comes back. Ueda eyes Taguchi, sitting in one corner of the room with his manager, and Nakamaru, whose manager is making a phone call outside, before sitting next to Nakamaru.
“Hey,” Nakamaru says.
Ueda digs his headphones out of his bag and asks, “Are you going to want to make conversation?”
“You can listen to music,” he says. They sit in silence for a while, the only sound the quiet murmur of Taguchi and his manager discussing something. An AD pokes her head in and calls for Taguchi-kun.
Taguchi leaves to film his solo parts. His manager follows him.
Ueda pulls out his headphones after they leave. “I don’t know what you said to Taguchi, but you should apologize.”
“He’s upset, alright?” Ueda sweeps his things into his bag, now that he’s said his piece. “I don’t know why.”
Nakamaru repeats, “What I said?”
Ueda says, “Thank you for your hard work today.”
“Wait.” Nakamaru stands up. “What do you think I did?”
Ueda’s manager knocks on the door. “Drama rehearsal, Ueda-kun.”
Ueda says, again, “Thank you for your hard work today.”
Nakamaru echoes him.
He messages Taguchi later. Sorry, the message says. He throws in a few crying emoticons for effect.
Taguchi doesn’t respond for two days. When he finally does, it’s a pithy message about how he’s been so busy with rehearsal. I haven’t had a weekend to myself in years!
Show off, he types without thinking.
They stop messaging each other after that.
Despite their silence in their private lives, they’re professionals, and rehearsals for their concert tour go smoothly, despite starting at midnight to account for everybody’s—Taguchi's, Kamenashi's—schedules.
Their concert tour also goes smoothly. Taguchi’s smiles look a little more genuine, his laughter a little less practiced. Ueda’s childish joy is contagious, and even Kamenashi relaxes into the sound of pre-teen screaming and cheering, passing Taguchi his towel when they’re backstage and waiting for Ueda’s performance to end.
Nakamaru lets the adrenaline hum under his skin, and then—
Through the ear monitor, Nakamaru can hear Taguchi’s voice crack. He doesn’t respond, doesn’t look at him. Taguchi isn’t prone to emotional outbursts on stage beyond shouts of ebullient joy.
Afterwards, as they’re stripping, Kamenashi demands, “What was with that?”
Taguchi looks at him, and something behind his eyes is still fractured. “We still have the encore,” he says as he peels off his shirt. He pulls the concert T-shirt over his head, adjusts his bangs in the mirror, drinks two long gulps of water.
Ueda says, “You alright?”
Nakamaru doesn’t ask.
They go out for drinks afterwards to celebrate a good tour. Their concert staff are loud and boisterous, clinking glasses with Taguchi and Kamenashi as the two of them make their rounds, thanking people.
Nakamaru ends up next to Ueda, having made a brief, unpopular, round of the staff of the room, thanking them. Their otsukare had been brief. Perfunctory. Nobody cared to talk to either of them.
Ueda says, “I wonder what’s up with Taguchi.”
Nakamaru doesn’t say, “He could have waited until we were offstage.”
Taguchi isn’t crying now. He’s smiling, bright and cheery, thanking everybody, otsukare dripping from his lips, from his tongue. Every other phrase out of his mouth is thank you for your hard work. He and Kamenashi started on opposite ends of the room, working their way around through the throngs of back-dancers and production staff. The production staff clap Kamenashi on the back and refill his glass of beer. The back-dancers spend several long moments going over some of the complex footwork in Taguchi’s solo, slapping each other when they drunkenly trip over their feet.
Taguchi looks over to meet Ueda’s eyes and smile. He glances at Nakamaru and raises his glass in a toast. Nakamaru looks away. “It was pretty surprising,” he finally responds.
Ueda drinks a long gulp of the beer, refilling his glass with the pitcher. “We’re getting old,” he says, and Nakamaru isn’t sure if Ueda is talking about the two of them, well into their thirties, or KAT-TUN.
Kamenashi messages Nakamaru early the next morning. He didn’t have to upstage me.
Nakamaru stares, blearily, at his phone. It’s 4:26. He responds, Thank you for your had work today, and goes back to bed.
Nakamaru arrives to Shounen Club Premium filming early, and he curls up on the couch, closing his eyes. His manager leaves to make some phone calls and deal with Nakamaru’s non-existent dramas. Earlier, Nakamaru suggested that he could maybe audition for something more exciting, and his manager laughed at him.
He’s dozing off when the door opens. Taguchi’s voice says, “I’m turning thirty this year.”
His manager says, “What does that have to do with anything?”
Taguchi asks, “Are you ever going to let me choose my own drama roles?”
Nakamaru blinks, suddenly more awake. This couch is angled away from the door, and he's curled deep into the plush cushions. He hadn't expected for Taguchi and his manager to come in and start a conversation.
Taguchi’s manager says, “Are you having regrets?”
Taguchi says, too quickly to be anything but practiced, “I try to live life with no regrets.”
“How long has it been, since you came to me and asked me to make you a star?”
Taguchi doesn’t say anything.
“Do you remember, Taguchi-kun?”
Taguchi says, finally, “Eight years.”
“Eight years,” he says. “And what did you do before that?”
He’s quiet again.
“All of these years, I’ve done my best for you.”
“I know,” he says.
“I found you your drama roles. I negotiated your stage plays. I talked to the producers.”
“I made you into who you are now!”
Taguchi’s voice is quiet. “I know.”
He demands, “So what's the problem?”
Taguchi asks, later, after they’re done filming, the two of them lingering over their bags, Taguchi’s manager tapping his foot impatiently, Nakamaru’s manager out getting a van—he asks, “Did you want anything, Nakamaru-kun?”
Nakamaru looks straight into his eyes and says, “No.”
Summers in Tokyo are muggy, but the early mornings are still refreshingly cool. Nakamaru opens the window and breaths in the pre-dawn air.
The year is half over. Nakamaru’s schedule has been slow, so far, with just Shounen Club Premium and his TV show hosting. Nakamaru likes the seasons where things are light, but at this point, even a minor role in a drama would be nice.
When his manager pulls up in the van, Nakamaru mutters, “What’s the schedule, today?” into the travel mug.
His manager says, “Not going to ask for a drama audition?”
Nakamaru sniffs at the cup, more out of habit than to identify the drink. It's been coffee since he turned thirty. “You’re an old man now,” his manager said, years ago on his thirtieth birthday when he had shoved the reusable travel mug into Nakamaru's groping hands. “You’ll need it.”
He started drinking coffee every morning, since that first cup. He didn’t have the energy to argue then, and he doesn’t have the energy to argue now. Now, it’s habit. He drinks coffee whether his manager brings it or not.
“No,” he finally says. “It’ll come when it comes.”
His manager says, “That’s not how the industry works, Nakamaru-kun, but it’s a philosophical enough statement. Try to use that in your next interview, will you?”
Taguchi says, “I’m turning thirty this year.”
“Isn’t it a little early to be planning your birthday?” Ueda asks. “It’s July. Your birthday is in November.”
“You remember!” Taguchi exclaims.
“We’ve known each other for fifteen years.”
“And,” Ueda adds, “you make such a big fuss when people don’t give you presents.”
Kamenashi doesn’t say anything. Nakamaru pretends to be asleep, closing his eyes and tilting his head back.
Taguchi laughs. “It’s a big year,” he says.
Ueda shrugs. “It’s no different from any other year.”
Taguchi doesn’t disagree, but he doesn’t agree either. “Thirty,” he says. “When you joined Johnny’s, did you think you’d be doing this when you’re thirty?”
“When I joined Johnny’s,” Ueda says, “My mother signed the paperwork and told me that I’d receive an advance on my allowance if I didn’t put up a fuss.”
His manager’s new plan is to promote him as the intelligent one.
“I thought I already was the smart one in the group,” Nakamaru says as he studies the fashion glasses before him. He gets to pick which one he wants for his next performance on Shounen Club. They all look the same, with thick dark frames. One of them is brown instead of black. Nakamaru picks it up.
His manager makes a note in his phone. “Well behaved,” he corrects.
“I got a degree in environmental sciences,” Nakamaru says, a little peeved. “Not even a bludge subject like English or Classical literature.” Or dance performance, which Taguchi had thought about before his schedule had gotten too packed. Nakamaru didn’t even know it was possible to do correspondence courses in dance performance, but apparently some schools were willing to make an exception for Taguchi Junnosuke of KAT-TUN.
“Well, now,” his manager says rather cheerily, without looking up. “You’ve got the superiority complex part of the image down already.”
“So what’s changing?” Nakamaru asks. He puts down the dark brown frames and switches to the black but otherwise identical pair. “I make more philosophical statements on camera?”
“You don’t do that yet,” his manager corrects, typing away. “You steer everybody on the right track and make sure everybody is on task—not that it’s hard, with Tanaka-kun gone—”
Nakamaru can’t help the guilty twist in his chest at that.
“But yes, try to be a little more philosophical. I’ll talk to the Shounen Club Premium producers, give you a cue to say something deep.”
“Won’t it be showing up Taguchi-kun or Kamenashi-kun?”
He laughs, a little. “Neither of them are going for the smart image, Nakamaru-kun.” He looks up from his phone, at last. “Taguchi-kun is the charming prince, and Kamenashi is the charismatic bad boy.”
Nakamaru’s incredulous. “Charismatic bad boy? Is that how you’re selling skank?”
“Doing great already, Nakamaru-kun. Keep that up and you’ll be the well-mannered, intelligent one any girl would be proud to bring back to her parents in no time.” His manager slides his phone into a pocket. “Have you picked a pair yet?”
Nakamaru rolls his eyes and points at a random pair. It’s dark gray.
His manager scoops it up and hands it to him with an imperiously raised eyebrow. Nakamaru obediently puts it on.
“Good,” he says, eyeing him from crown to toe. “You don’t even have to change your haircut.”
Nakamaru wears the glasses to the next production meeting.
Taguchi gives him a strange look. Kamenashi says, “Are those fashion glasses? In a production meeting?”
Nakamaru doesn’t look at his manager. “I’m trying out a new image.”
“Is it Math Nerd?” Ueda asks. “Because I can always revisit Violent Dictator again.”
Nakamaru grimaces. Last year, Ueda had been a little too excited about smashing wine bottles into his backdancers’ faces.
Taguchi says, finally, “You look nice,” but he sounds bewildered, still. He eyes Nakamaru’s dingy sweats and ratty old tour T-shirt before staring, blatantly, at the gray fashion glasses. “What’s your new image?”
“Graduated University,” he says.
Taguchi cackles, as if it’s the best joke he’s heard all year. Even Ueda smirks a little. Kamenashi snorts, and then looks a little annoyed that he found it funny.
Their producer says, “If we can get started?”
As a unit, they turn back to their papers and focus. Nakamaru ignores the sharp gaze of the managers on his back.
Three hours later, Nakamaru manages to spill salad dressing all over himself while trying to pour some on the wilted lettuce in his bento. He glances sheepishly at his manager, who stares back with a longsuffering expression. His manager is probably already regretting trying to sell Nakamaru as an intelligent adult. Luckily none of the producers are in the room at the moment.
Nakamaru goes to wash his hands. Taguchi’s standing at the sinks.
“Taguchi-kun,” he greets.
Taguchi’s head jerks away, startled. Nakamaru recognizes the expression distantly, as if he were gazing back into an old memory, before Taguchi recovers and his face eases into the eerie, practiced smile he displays on all of his talk shows.
“Nakamaru-kun,” Taguchi replies, genially.
Nakamaru washes his hands, scrubbing the sticky residue off of his fingers. He avoids looking at Taguchi, focusing down on his hands.
Taguchi isn’t washing his hands. He’s just staring at himself in the mirror, his muscles slowly moving through different expressions.
Nakamaru asks, “What are you doing?”
He jerks again. “Nothing,” he says, hastily. “What are you doing, Nakamaru-kun?”
Nakamaru turns off the tap. “Washing my hands,” he says, blandly.
“Right,” he says, chuckling to himself. “Right. Of course.” He moves to turn on the tap, but his hand stops halfway there, and drops to his side.
Nakamaru lifts his head and meets Taguchi’s gaze in the mirror through his fashion glasses.
Taguchi stares back at him. “You look the same,” he says, finally.
Nakamaru snorts. “Is that supposed to be an insult?”
“No!” and then, more quietly, “No.” His gaze sweeps from Nakamaru’s boring haircut to the plain T-shirt and sweats. It lingers on his nose, for a second, then the round gray frames, and then back to his hair. “I mean, you haven’t changed.”
Nakamaru glances at him. Taguchi has a new haircut, since he’s starting his stage play soon. His eyes are lined with brown liner, to make them appear bigger. He can see where the bronzer has been applied to adjust his jawline, emphasize it a little more.
“You’ve changed a lot,” Nakamaru finally says, under the fluorescent lights of the bathroom.
Taguchi laughs a little, in his throat. His mouth curves slowly, but his eyes don’t crinkle except a little along the bottom lid, as his cheeks rise with his lips. Nakamaru’s used to seeing this smile on Kamenashi, because it keeps his eyeliner from smudging. It takes him a second to realize that he’s been seeing it on Taguchi more and more often.
Taguchi touches his reflection. Kimura Takuya’s smile stares out at them. “I don’t recognize myself anymore.”
The weather report broadcasts a tropical storm warning. More news as it develops, the newscaster says, smiling prettily.
Nakamaru opens the window and breathes in the morning air. The skies are clear. Not a cloud is in sight.
Nakamaru closes the windows, and locks them for good measure.
Taguchi says, “I’m turning thirty this year.”
Nakamaru doesn’t look up from where he’s fiddling with his fashion glasses. “Good for you.”
He says, “I’m thinking of quitting.”
Nakamaru laughs. He stops when he realizes Taguchi isn’t smiling. Taguchi isn’t smiling—he’s not even looking at Nakamaru. He’s looking away, almost ashamed.
Nakamaru says, “You aren’t joking.”
Taguchi says, again, as if that will explain things, “I’m turning thirty this year.”
Maybe it does. KAT-TUN has been doing well, but they aren’t getting any younger. While their older fans have remained loyal in the usual unflinching way of Johnny’s fans, there are other groups, younger groups, debuting with younger, more enthusiastic fans. With all of the temporary groups, Nakamaru can’t even keep track of all of the debuted groups, let alone the junior groups. He knows there’s a group with six members; Koki’s brother is in it.
KAT-TUN is old.
Nakamaru says, finally, “Have you talked to the others about this?”
“I talked to my manager.”
He says, slowly, “Am I the first of KAT-TUN?”
Taguchi looks down. His hair, lank and unstyled, falls into his face. He doesn’t brush it out of his eyes. “Ueda would convince me not to quit.”
“You should.” Then, ashamed, he says, “I mean—”
Taguchi doesn’t laugh. He should. Nakamaru should laugh, turn it into a joke. But that’s Taguchi’s specialty, not his. Nakamaru is boring.
Taguchi says, very quietly, “If that’s what you say then I don’t want to know what Kame would say.”
He’d tell you to quit. Nakamaru stares at his empty hands. Kamenashi Kazuya would be ecstatic at the thought of Taguchi leaving the band. This year alone, Nakamaru has woken up at least thirty times from Kame calling him to complain about Taguchi.
Taguchi says, “Yucchi,” softly. Nakamaru looks up. Taguchi is always smiling. Wide ragged smiles as a junior. Cool confident smiles as KAT-TUN’s front man.
This Taguchi grieves. “I promised him 200%.”
The storm has been upgraded to a typhoon.
Nakamaru stares at the blue skies. Not a cloud is in sight.
There are never any clouds the day before a typhoon.
Filming runs long. Ueda’s dancing is more terrible than usual, and finally the producers stop making them do retakes. Their expression says that they’re going to just cut bits and pieces of what they have to make it look like KAT-TUN are actually competent. Taguchi says something cheerful, Kamenashi says something mollifying, and Ueda says otsukare as if it wasn’t his fault that they used up all of their allotted time and then some.
Nakamaru says, “Thanks for your hard work today,” and tries to keep it from being sarcastic.
He must have succeeded, because Ueda says, “Let’s do dinner.”
Nakamaru hesitates. Taguchi and Kame bow out, rushing to other activities. Ueda watches them leave and doesn’t say anything. Instead, he turns to Nakamaru and stares, expectantly.
Nakamaru says, “Sure.”
Over dinner, Ueda says, “Did you know about Taguchi?”
“That he’s turning 30 this year?”
“That he’s quitting.”
“Oh. Yeah,” he admits. He’s not sure why he hadn’t said anything before. He’s gotten dinner with Ueda at least three times since Taguchi’s confession. Somehow, he hasn’t been able to face it.
“Damn it!” he shouts. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Taguchi wouldn’t listen to me,” he says, defensively. “Taguchi doesn’t. He never does.”
“He would have listened if you asked him to stay!”
Nakamaru suddenly thinks—Taguchi would have listened if Kame had asked him to stay.
“This is Akanishi all over again,” Ueda snaps. “And this time Taguchi isn’t going to say that we need his voice.”
“We don’t need his voice,” Nakamaru manages. “This isn’t like Akanishi at all.”
“If you’re going to say it’s like Koki—”
“It’s not.” Nakamaru sets aside his chopsticks aside to clench empty fists. “It’s not. It’s not like either of them at all.” They had chosen to kick Akanishi out of the band. Koki had left of his own accord… but how much of that had been his manager driving him out for bad behavior?
Ueda says, “What did you tell him? When he talked to you.”
His hands shake. “I told him he should leave.”
Ueda doesn’t talk to him for the next two weeks.
Kamenashi says, “I don’t know what you said to Ueda, but KAT-TUN is more important than your petty arguments.”
Taguchi whispers, “We’ll cover for you while you fix this.”
Somehow, despite Ueda’s frigid silence, they make it through Shounen Club filming and rehearsals for their upcoming single. One of their producers says, coldly, “Is KAT-TUN-san fighting again?” and Nakamaru and Ueda both assure her that they are on good terms.
In the end, Ueda says, “I thought KAT-TUN meant more to you than this.”
Nakamaru says, “This isn’t the KAT-TUN I joined.”
Kamenashi is the last to find out.
Taguchi says, “I’m sorry.”
“What are you sorry for?” Kamenashi asks, dismissive.
“I promised you 200%,” he says. He reaches, across an impossible distance, and Kamenashi pulls his hand away. Taguchi's hand drops back to his side, empty. “I promised you—”
“I don’t care,” Kamenashi begins.
“I’m going to leave KAT-TUN,” he says. “I’m going to leave the agency.”
Nakamaru isn’t supposed to be here. He isn’t even supposed to be in the NTV broadcasting offices, but there was a talk about a cameo, so he had convinced his manager to take him into the offices. He thought he’d stop by the dressing room for Going!, say hello to Kamenashi while his manager wrangled a meeting from the producers, and then move on to making sweet-talk. Instead—
Taguchi had filming today as well, but he’s in street clothes now, well-worn jeans and his phone in his back pocket. Kamenashi’s half dressed for his show, jacket slung against a chair. Nobody else is in the room, and Nakamaru can’t help but continue to watch through the slightly ajar door.
He should go.
Kamenashi says, “What?”
Taguchi rushes. “I’ve been thinking about it all year. I’m turning thirty this year. I—”
“Alright,” Kamenashi says, dismissively.
A pause. “Just like that?”
He says, “Just like that.”
Taguchi slumps, just a little. “Alright.”
They stare at each other for a long time. Taguchi straightens, a little, as if he’s going to leave. Nakamaru steels himself to feign ignorance.
Then, Kamenashi says, “Taguchi.” This time, he reaches forward.
They meet halfway. With deliberate slowness, Taguchi twines their fingers together. His voice is soft as he replies, “Kazuya.”
Nakamaru’s manager says, “I guess we didn’t need to try to find a new image for you.”
The last typhoon of the season passes through Japan. Nakamaru barely notices it.
They’re waiting backstage. The microphone is slick in his damp hands. Taguchi looks at them, briefly, through his bangs. He doesn’t apologize.
Nakamaru doesn’t want an apology. He’s heard the apology already. He’s heard the explanations.
He wants Jin’s smile, the one that he crept out when he was talking music. He wants Koki’s raps. He wants chime of Kame’s laughter and the sardonic rasp of Ueda’s voice. He wants Taguchi—Junno—eyes crinkled and mouth gapingly wide as he shouts a terrible gag.
He wants something real within his grasp.
His face feels like a mask, set in a permanent expression of somber pleasantness as he follows Kamenashi and Taguchi. This time will be different, he thinks. This time—
Taguchi lifts the microphone. “I’m sorry for this sudden announcement.”
Nakamaru looks down. He stares at his hands until it ends.
To all fans,
Thank you for continuously supporting KAT-TUN.
I apologize for the sudden announcement.
I, Taguchi Junnosuke, will be terminating my contract with Johnny & Associates for personal reasons.
I am grateful to all of you for having been supportive at all times up until now.
I have enjoyed the privilege of giving concerts and taking part in TV programs, among many other experiences, as a member of KAT-TUN.
I was able to reach out to everyone through such activities, and I will never forget those memories.
KAT-TUN will be celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2016, and I will also be turning 30 very soon. I feel that this is an important time in my life to consider where I will be going from here on.
My conclusion has resulted in parting ways with KAT-TUN, but until the last day of my activities as a member of KAT-TUN, I intend to give my very best.
Thank you very much for everything.