Spoiler alert: Saori Kumi thinks Jeff is a cutie.
Jeff was staring intensely at the dark ceiling with his curled, thick eyelashes and big round eyes. A single strand of his straight, light brown, silky hair stuck to his forehead, vaguely covered in a thin trace of sweat. The freckles scattered along his cheekbones and button nose, pouty lips and attractive, vaguely girlish face seemed perfectly set. This is just between you and me, but Snow Wood Boarding School has its fair share of good-looking students.
This is just between you and me, but my heart is going pitter-patter! I think, as an English major who’s required to think things like this, no matter how plausible, that this passage is a good illustration of a cultural difference between Japan and the United States, one that would have a lot to do with how we played EarthBound and they played MOTHER 2.
In America, nerds are nerds. Most of them play videogames. I named Ness after myself, because that’s what you’re supposed to do, but as someone who substituted a nice, smug sense of superiority for actual friends and contact with girls I had way more in common with Jeff, whose IQ you have to manipulate, who creates all kinds of cool things instead of learning psychic powers. Jeff probably throws like a girl, like I did, and acts in an awkward, generally uncool way. I empathized with him because he was not heroic, and possessed no leading man qualities.
In Japan, Jeff looks like a girl, and that’s totally hot. God save the man in Japan[ese cultural products] who presents as neither overly masculine nor overly effeminate. The myth of the Cute Nerd is totally ingrained there.
Oh, also, Jeff can’t use his legs. Did I mention that?
Jeff pushed his covers aside and placed his feet flat on the cold floor. Peeking out from the bottom of his pajama pants was a support harness made of aluminum, steel, and leather, wrapped around each of his shins. The noise echoed horribly in the depth of the darkness, and just as he always did, Jeff scorned his own unpleasant body—Frankenstein’s modern-day monster. An unshapely, pitiful monster dragging around a ball and chain the weight of a bowling ball around his ankles.
Yeah, he’s kind of paralyzed. Not sure how that didn’t come up.
How he’s paralyzed is one of Saori Kumi’s biggest divergences from the source, and one I’d hate to give away out of the context of the novel. But suffice it to say that he can kind of stumble around by himself, but putting his pants on standing up is an ordeal.
As for the other people of Winters, Maxwell Labs, always a bit of an enigmatic character, is here a star upperclassman—
“Warriors who save the world, huh?” Maxwell was in the research lab, deep in the middle of some experiment. He was the top upperclassman, head of the dorms, and held an unbeatable record of five consecutive wins at the World Math Meet. He held special privileges at the school: no matter when it was—the middle of the night, the middle of class—if Maxwell said he wanted to work on an experiment, he could go work on an experiment. “So what you’re saying is, you’re the warrior who goes to save the warriors who save the world.”
“Yes. And you’ll be the warrior who saves the warrior who goes to save the warriors who save the world.”
“Well, it’s not much to just sneak a kid outside,” Maxwell smirked.
As for Tony, well, he’s a little more daring than he is in the game, but not a lot more daring.
“Wahhh, Jeeeff!” Tony wrapped his arms around Jeff’s neck. “Ahhh, if it’s come to this I’ve got to tell you now. To tell you the truth—to tell you the truth—I like you, Jeff! Like, um… in that way! I really really like you!”
“Yeah.” Jeff ran his fingers through Tony’s messy hair and ruffled it up. “I like you too. Just not in that way.”
“Really? Yeah—yeah, I figured. Oh well.” Tony rubbed the tears from his eyes. “But we’ll always be friends! Best friends!”
I have to say it—hunky Jeff is kind of a tease. In any case, he and Tony don’t share their last moment together; in the novel the entire boarding school is there to see Jeff off, putting aside their “secret, burning rivalries” and getting past their quiet classmate’s “dark, lonely wall” to wish him the best. And instead of giving our crippled genius a leg up, which would be kind of mean, Jeff gets out with the help of a “hyper wheelchair” Maxwell has used his special privileges to steal.
Four students hi-ho’d as they pushed forward a large silver object. It was like some mix between a snowmobile, an off-road bike, and a transforming mecha from some robot anime.
“Yep. The headmaster’s predecessor’s predecessor’s predecessor Dr. Hawking’s beloved Hyper Wheelchair! I snatched it from the Memorial Hall—it’s a shame to let such a treasure sit and rot like some kind of showcase item. I’m sure you’ll make great use of it.”
Jeff climbed onto the vehicle. The red leather seat adjusted through air pressure. It was six-wheel drive and solar-powered, and steered through a joystick. The cockpit was lined with meters and switches. The glove compartment was impressively stocked with a first-aid kit, a kettle, some snacks and meat pies, and a cluster of bananas.
One of the boys let out a whistle. “Aren’t you lookin’ hot!”
Yeah, sure. One of the boys.
Jeff meets some cavemen, and his father, and sets off in the Super Nintendo-cum-SkyRunner that I brought up yesterday, ready to join the party. And that brings us to Chapter Five.