Warm Blood: Girls Mode
Penny, Eve, and Penny’s mother arrived late in Akihabara, Tokyo, the three entering their 20th floor hotel room at around 6:30PM. Penny’s mother was in Akihabara – or “Akiba”, after the deity of a shrine – on business; Penny had convinced her mother to let her come with her, and Eve had convinced Penny to convince her mother to let her come as well.
Why? Because Akihabara was the mecca for the coolest stuff ever: anime, manga, and videogame central. Penny and Eve had started a YouTube gaming channel called Girls Mode when they were 14 and 15, though it had long been on hiatus. They decided this would be the perfect opportunity to do a full reboot, by recording as much footage as possible in the two weeks they would be staying there.
Penny was now 15, and Eve was 16. They had been best friends for nearly two years, having met at a programming class in Greenwood High, a high school in Southwestern Ontario, Canada. Penny was short with long black hair and glasses, and Eve was tall with long blonde hair and freckles. Penny liked to wear clothing with references to her favourite games on it, and Eve liked to wear clothing that Disney princesses might wear in the opening sections of their movies.
Penny’s mother’s work involved a lot of paperwork and meetings. Penny, for whatever reason, never quite knew what it was her mother did, and never thought to ask. That her work had taken her all the way to Akihabara was an even greater mystery. Still, it wasn’t an interesting enough mystery for Penny to feel the need to solve it.
The trip lined up perfectly with March break. And although it was still winter back in Ontario, where the ground was covered in thick blanket of snow, it wasn’t anywhere near as cold in Japan.
“Okay, girls, time to rest and unpack,” Penny’s mother said while reading papers held close to her face. It was impressive how Penny’s mother had managed to open the hotel room door, roll in her wheeled luggage, and read the papers all at once.
Penny entered with only a duffel bag, having packed light, while Eve rolled in her own luggage, which was only slightly smaller than Penny’s mother’s. Penny’s mother’s luggage was black, while Eve’s was a pale robin’s egg blue.
The hotel room was large enough to have a living room separate from the bedroom, which had two Western-style beds. The décor was tasteful, with contemporary abstract art on canvasses throughout.
The balcony was by the living room, and the entire wall facing the balcony was made of glass. Outside were the other tall buildings of Akihabara, some lit with neon signs, some covered in anime billboards. It was quite a sight, and the girls wanted to rush over to take a look, so they did.
Penny slid open the large glass door and the girls stepped out onto the balcony, the warm June air greeting them. The sky was overcast, though it didn’t dampen the mood – if anything, it enhanced it.
“This is where dreams are made,” Penny said, looking over the city in awe.
“Definitely your dreams,” Eve said, smiling sincerely as she looked down below.
Down, down, down were the many pedestrians of Akiba, most of them ignoring the stylish girls lined up neatly on the sidewalks, the girls doing their best to hand out flyers for a wide range of maid cafes.
Eve neatly hung up her dresses in the closet. Penny left her belongings in her duffel bag, which she kept at the side of their bed. The hotel room came equipped with an ironing board and iron, but Penny didn’t care if her graphic tees were a little bit wrinkled.
“Can we go down now?” Penny asked her mother, who had already set up a makeshift office in the living room. Papers covered the large coffee table as Penny’s mother sat in a comfy matcha-coloured chair, comparing a pastel pink sheet with a pastel blue one.
“If you’re ready, go ahead,” Penny’s mother responded without looking at her daughter. “You have the translation apps, you have the GPS . . . If you do get stuck somewhere, just message me.
“Oh, and pick me up some melon bread,” she continued. “You can get it from any konbini.”
“Konbini” was the Japanese term for a convenience store. But Penny and Eve didn’t know that, so they had to ask her what she meant.
With that bit of info acquired, the girls excitedly left the hotel room, their hearts pounding as huge grins spread across their faces. Despite being 20 floors up, the elevator ride down to street-level lasted all of a few seconds.
The hotel lobby was massive while also being surprisingly empty, with only a single businesswoman cutting through it. An aging security guard sat behind a glassless window, gazing into the lobby from a small security office. There was no concierge or reception desk, with bookings being handled entirely online.
Like the hotel room, the only decorations in the lobby were abstract art. But Penny didn’t want to see abstract art – she wanted to see anime.
Penny wasn’t necessarily a fan of anime on its own, but did like the aesthetic when applied to games. Her main experience with anime was watching whatever shows her friends back home recommended to her, and those recommendations often leaned into BL elements.
Penny personally wished there was an aged-up Pokémon anime for her to watch, as even she had to admit she had outgrown the current series. But that didn’t stop her from playing the games themselves, and collecting stuffed animals based on her favourite creatures.
Eve didn’t watch anime, but she knew it existed. She thought the girls in some of the shows Penny watched were pretty. Her heart belonged to Disney, and she kept up with the CG princess movies, though she missed when the princesses wore nice dresses.
Penny and Eve exited the hotel, and were so overwhelmed by the number of pedestrians, flashy anime signs and distracting sounds (including the Final Fantasy IX ending theme played on a saxophone in the distance) that they failed to notice the stray raindrops falling here and there. When Eve looked at Penny with an enthusiastic smile, she thought the raindrop on Penny’s cheek was a happy tear.
“Where do you want to go first?” Eve asked.
Penny looked around them, seeing points of interest in every direction.
“We could just walk around?”
Penny and Eve headed right on the sidewalk, and only a second later passed one of the girls handing out flyers for a nearby café, which Penny ignored out of shyness and Eve accepted out of politeness. Penny and Eve then stopped by a lamppost to look at the flyer.
The flyer had a mix of Japanese and English, and a tiny map of the immediate area, beside which was a photo of a girl cosplaying in a frilly black-and-pink maid outfit. Penny and Eve looked at it in wide-eyed silence, as if trying to make sense of it.
The girl who had handed them the flyer then walked over to them and spoke Japanese with a trained smile. She appeared to be about 17, and was dressed in stylish black clothing, including platform shoes designed to increase her visibility in a crowd.
Penny and Eve looked at her with the same wide-eyed silence. The girl repeated herself in English:
“This café is around the corner, on the third floor,” she told them. “Show them the flyer for a 10% discount.”
“What kind of café is it?” Eve asked, genuinely curious.
“It’s a maid café,” the girl explained. “The maids serve you cakes.”
“Do you want to go to the maid café?” Eve asked Penny.
Penny looked at Eve in embarrassment, surprised that they were even having this conversation.
Eve thanked the girl in Japanese, using one of the simple phrases she had been practicing, and they continued on the sidewalk, not knowing where they were heading. The girl watched them with a curious smile before returning to her post.
The girls walked past various anime, manga, videogame and toy stores, resisting the urge to go into every single one – otherwise they wouldn’t be able to explore beyond the block. A distinct red-and-grey building did get Penny to stop in her tracks, however: the Taito Station, with GAME in massive letters on the front of the building, and an equally-massive space invader above those.
Penny and Eve had walked past UFO catcher centers, which were cool enough, but here was a full-on arcade, with a mix of old and new games. Penny didn’t just love playing games, but dreamed of becoming a game developer herself, and had in fact already made several apps both for school and as a hobby. She mainly made corridor horror games and slice-of-life visual novellas, though she did sometimes imagine how cool it would be if one of her games ended up in a Tokyo arcade.
“Okay, let’s go here,” Penny said determinedly yet somewhat quietly under her breath.
“Have you heard of this place before?” Eve asked.
“No, but, like, look at it.”
Eve tried to look at the building through Penny’s eyes, not quite understanding what separated this building from some of the others, but excited to finally be entering one.
The girls entered the arcade, which was so cacophonous that Eve instinctively covered her ears, every machine seemingly stuck on the maximum audio setting. Eve managed to force her hands away and tried to smile enthusiastically for Penny, not wanting to tarnish the moment for her.
But Penny wasn’t looking at Eve. She was looking at all the games. And not just the games, but the people playing them, everyone from high school students in uniform dancing at rhythm game machines to a very short, very old lady getting a perfect score at Taiko no Tatsujin, hitting the taiko drum with expert precision.
They climbed the stairs up several floors, having to cut across each new floor to reach a different set of stairs, their eyes shining with the reflections of dozens of flashing screens.
Finally, they made it close to the top, where the retro cabinets were, including popular titles like Street Fighter II and lesser-known games like Shock Troopers. Penny had one of the biggest smiles Eve had ever seen on her.
“Oh my god, I don’t know what to play first,” Penny muttered to herself.
“I know that one,” Eve said, pointing at the Street Fighter II cabinet. “It’s the game Sebastian played, right?”
Sebastian had been Penny’s friend, a boy who got into esports and became so successful that he and his family ended up moving to the States to be closer to major tournaments. Not long afterwards they lost touch, with Sebastian replacing his Canadian high school friends with those from the American fighting game community.
“He played 6,” Penny corrected, though she didn’t particularly care to remember him. “This is II, which is the original.”
“The second game is the original?” Eve asked, confused.
“It’s the one that all other fighting games are based on,” Penny explained. “The first game is . . . weird. Like, you can only pick one character, and there’s just this big button that you punch.”
“That sounds fun,” Eve said with a smile. “I want to play the one with the big button!”
Penny looked around as if trying to spy it, though she knew she’d never see it anywhere. She wondered what happened to the ancient cabinets that nobody played.
“It’s a rarity,” Penny said charitably. “There are other games where you have to punch things, though – like that one!”
Penny pointed at a cabinet with boxing gloves attached to it. A big red punching bag was set in the middle of the cabinet, which players were supposed to punch as hard as they could.
“Oh, I’ll do that!” Eve said excitedly while reaching into her pocket for some change.
Eve slotted her 100-yen coin into the machine and put on the boxing gloves with a huge smile. Penny pulled out her phone to record her. Despite having been best friends for two years, the things Eve was excited by still managed to surprise Penny.
“Stop talkin’ and start punchin’!” commanded the cabinet’s painting of a boxer in a tinny voice.
Eve held her gloved fists straight up in front of her face, looking at the punching bag between them with playful seriousness before punching the bag as hard as she could.
“OOF!” cried the boxer, as if Eve had knocked the wind out of him.
The girls looked at the scoreboard expectantly as the pixelated numbers shuffled randomly before landing on 0108380.
“Not bad, sucker!” the boxer said, and the girls couldn’t tell if he was praising or insulting the punch.
“I rock!” Eve said as she removed the gloves with tremendous satisfaction.
“Whoa!” Penny gasped, though she wasn’t gasping at Eve – she had, in fact, just spotted an arcade cabinet that she didn’t know existed. She switched from recording Eve to recording her sighting.
In the back-left row of cabinets was a black machine. A closed black curtain was wrapped around its front and sides, in stark contrast to the bright, white plastic of the other cabinets.
The only design element on it was its logo: METROID 7, rendered in the same bold style and cosmic blue of the NES original’s title screen.