‘Scales ... Scales... Scales...’
The melodic tune of the grand piano filled the living hall as Ryusei maneuvered his fingers across its keys.
It was that time of the year again. The job promotion examinations were commencing in a week. While it was common for first-year associates and even Seniors to cram frantically for their field examinations, Ryusei approached them with disinterest.
As he gazed upwards toward the exquisite chandelier hanging down from the ceiling, Ryusei sighed. On his left, portraits of world-renowned composers adorn the wall. On the right side of the living hall, a myriad of trophies crowded the mantlepiece. Guilt enveloped him as he shifted his eyes to the family portrait.
For generations, the Kaizen family was revered for their musical prowess and talent. Scores of composers, virtuosos, and chart-topping musicians bore the family name. So it was no surprise that Ryusei found himself expected to carry on in their footsteps.
For as long as he could remember, his parents spared no expense in developing his musical foundations. It was the ideal existence: an eventual position in higher society, never a lack of want, and a very generous $ANIMA allowance.
Alas, a sense of unfulfillment nagged at him. It started as an insignificant afterthought. However, after hundreds of hours of enrichment and practical music lessons, Ryusei found this sentiment increasingly harder to suppress.
Day by day, he faced a growing sense of unsettledness. Topping his class ranking meant little to him. Assignments and university examinations slowly degraded to chores. Unlike his classmates who shed tears of joy, all Ryusei could think of when receiving his Musician bachelor's degree was: 'That's it?'
Unlike his parents, the life-changing and passionate moments of engaging with music never appeared to Ryusei. Shaking his head, he realized that he had completed 3 hours of piano practice with minimal recollection.
'This is really becoming a drag..'
Sighing in exasperation, he left the living hall and retreated to his room.
"Baste it till you see a shade of golden brown..." a decisive voice instructed.
"Just look at that glaze! Smell it! Mmmmm..." the chef cooed as the camera zoomed in on the glistening steak.
Ryusei found himself fixated on the television screen. Food cuisines had always fascinated him and cooking techniques. From fast food to high-end restaurants, Ryusei would be peering inquisitively at the food on his plate. A string of hand movements would follow as he mentally dissected their preparation and cooking process.
Sharp rapping on the door interrupted his thoughts.
"Son, why are you not practicing?" His mother questioned.
"I just did. For three straight hours." Ryusei replied monotonously.
"Oh, do you suppose that's enough? Do you think the other families just practice for three hours a day and spend the rest idling around? Why can't you ....."
Being born into a family with social prestige and capable members had its drawbacks too. The constant pressure to perform and excessive restrictions by his parents had often led Ryusei to the brink of mental exhaustion.
Her words faded off as he closed his eyes and retreated into the recesses of his mind.
-A series of flashbacks replayed in his mind-
The sheer joy and excitement he experienced upon his successful replication of the famous Rikka's Maple Pancakes.
The amusement of the chefs when young Ryusei implored them to share their techniques.
Ryusei's panic upon triggering the smoke alarm as he burnt his first attempt at Omu-rice dish.
'Heh, I sure got into lots of trouble for that one.' He chuckled to himself but winced at the memory of the repercussions that followed.
"Ryusei Kaizen. You did well. Do not forget the significance of your family name. You are meant for greatness. This is only the beginning of your journey. Always remember your purpose." Thinking back, his father's congratulatory words at his Bachelor's degree ceremony felt more like a warning.
'Ugh. This is all so annoying!' Ryusei groused and buried his face into his pillow.
'To live a life that is expected of me and not for myself?'
'Greatness my ***!
-One week later-
Dragging his feet into AniMeta University's music hall, Ryusei plopped himself onto the piano stool.
'Let's get this over with already.'
‘System Notice: Senior Musician job promotion initialized.’ '
Scales and Arpeggios....CLEAR!'
'Pieces... J. S. Bach: Prelude and Fugue in G....CLEAR!'
'Pieces... Beethoven: Allegro (1st movt from Sonata in E, Op. 14 No. 1) ... CLEAR!'
‘Congratulations! Education Score: WELL!’
‘$ANIMA Credited +’
'Magister Degree Obtained'
The holographic words floating above the piano towered over him.
'Initiate Job Promotion to Senior Musician X?
Time froze for a moment. With a shaking hand, he slowly reached for the 'Cancel' option.
‘System Notice: Job transfer initialized.’
'Initiate job transfer to Associate Chef?' Warning, this will require 1x Bachelor's degree.'
'This is it. No turning back now. My life, my rules.'
Life as Ryusei knew it was never going to be the same again.
-Two weeks later-
Ryusei woke up with a start.
‘Was that all a dream…?’
He rubbed his eyes and took a good look at his surroundings. The economic dorm room offered by the university was a far cry from the mansion that he used to stay in, but it’ll do just fine. No fancy chandeliers, grandiose portraits, and intimidating trophies and awards.
As Ryusei had predicted, his actions during the job promotion examinations had massive consequences, not solely for himself but for the rest of his family.
Unfortunately, news of his actions sent ripples across the fine arts society. In less than forty-eight hours after his job transfer process, clickbaity headlines were plastered across various news and social media channels :
“KAIZEN FAMILY HEIR DISHONORED” “BREAKING NEWS: RENOWNED COMPOSER FAMILY FACES INTERNAL TURMOIL”
What was truly heartbreaking though, was his parents’ reactions to these events. After hours of chastisement, they banished him from the family mansion and told him never to return.
Did he exist solely to maintain the prestige of the Kaizen family? Ryusei couldn’t help but notice that his parents seemed more preoccupied with preparing for a press conference after exiling their son. In contrast to the flurry of calls and lawyer meetings in the family study, Ryusei’s departure was short and muted. Besides a teary-eyed robot family helper, no one else came to send him off.
Back in the present, the chime of the calendar alert brought Ryusei to full attention.
Reminder! 10:00 AM - 11:00 AM
AniMeta University: Food design theory 11:00 AM - 1:00 PM
AniMeta University: Sous Vide practical class 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM
AniMeta University: The art of Dessert design
‘At least I won’t ever go hungry now!’ Ryusei chuckled as he got out of bed.
After changing into his uniform and grabbing his chef’s hat, he surveyed the dorm room one last time.
‘That should be everything I need now.’ He noted and stepped out.
A rustling of keys and hurried footsteps later, Ryusei re-entered the room and picked up a framed Polaroid photo on his bedside table. A young Ryusei stood in the center of the picture, holding his first-ever successful Omu-rice dish. To his sides were a pair of chefs beaming with pride.
A faded handwritten message on the back of the polaroid photo read:
“To our future Masterchef, Ryusei. Live for yourself and never stop!”
He sighed in relief and slid it securely into his trouser pocket.
‘Let’s do this!’