Omba: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to... the Laughing Man Room!

J.D.: It's kind of a surprise, isn't it, him showing up after six years?

Omba: A true understatement. I'm telling you, this matter's made the blood of Net Master Omba boil!

J.D.: Is everybody here a hardcore Laughing Man freak?

GuruGuru: Maybe, but none of them have the guts to come down and assume the floor.

Kanabi: Oh, now don't talk like that.

Baby Ruth: They'll send a bomb to... your e-mail.

Chroma: I believe I heard there was somebody in this chat room who would have a few interesting things to say about that Laughing Man business. Who'd that be?

J.D.: Basically every person here, you might say.

GuruGuru: And you might say there's some who don't.

J.D.: What's that supposed to mean?

GuruGuru: That's what I say.

C: The Man Who Lurks in the Darkness of the Net; CHAT! CHAT! CHAT!

J.D.: So anyway, what's the deal with the Laughing Man croaking right when he reenters the picture. I thought I could finally become a real-time freak!

Kanabi: Will you stop already? No one gives a hoot about that stuff anymore, you dweeb. It's stupid.

GuruGuru: Speaking of stupid, that getup of yours is the new low in lameness.

J.D.: If you don't like it, why don't you suggest a different topic of discussion, then? Hmph!

Kanabi: Now, what's the reason behind the Laughing Man's sudden reappearance for this recently failed assassination attempt?

GuruGuru: I know, I know! It's all because the world is still full of crap and boring as mud, that's why.

Kanabi: We've known that forever. The point I'm trying to make is that maybe the man behind the event six years ago and the man behind this recent one are two different people.

GuruGuru: Oh, "a man"? We've got no proof to show Laughing Man's really a male.

J.D.: He is! One of my sources informed me that he's definitely a man. And if he was a she, why would he call himself Laughing Man? Huh?

Baby Ruth: Just a minute. You might notice if you go over the assembled information, that he never actually refers to himself as the Laughing Man.

J.D.: Nevertheless, he's still a man! That was a man in the CEO kidnap footage, no two ways about it.

GuruGuru: You sucker. That may have been a prosthetic body.

Kanabi: Stop. We're getting off the subject. His criminal style, well, up until now, was limited to corporate blackmail. But doesn't anyone have any opinions about this whole thing being completely different? Of course, the recent incident also began with a micromachine-related issue, as you must remember, he suddenly threatened to kill the Superintendent-General. Isn't that irrational?

GuruGuru: Hmm. Well, they say his crimes did begin with small stuff -- cyberbrain hacking of a secretary or a family member and sending out e-mails.

J.D.: So, you're saying that this Laughing Man is a fake?

Kanabi: Don't you think it's possible? He vanished six years ago. Am I the only one here who thinks we have an impostor using the Laughing Man craze for a cover?

Baby Ruth: But, what basis do you have for saying the Laughing Man's criminal style is simply corporate blackmail? There's the abduction. Wouldn't that be an act of irrationality?

Kanabi: But I don't believe he's committed any impulsive crimes since the CEO kidnapping.

J.D.: Yeah, you're right. I mean, it's just not cool to manipulate a person and make him kill somebody. The Laughing Man is a super class-A hacker, but the guy never once murdered anybody. Damn. It was getting interesting, but I guess maybe this one is a fake. I guess it's better that way, though.

GuruGuru: And so, you've been already stripped of your real-time freak's title. How sad.

Baby Ruth: But what is it about the Laughing Man that makes him so cool?

J.D.: Cool is his middle name! You're telling me he's not cool after what he pulled? The man just rocks!

Baby Ruth: I'm not implying that he wasn't cool. In fact, if coolness quotient is determined by hacking ability, the modular delayed-action virus used in the assassination attempt was a work of art. It was so sophisticated indeed that they couldn't come up with a vaccine until symptoms started to manifest in the cyberbrains of security police.

Kanabi: That's certainly true. On top of that, rumor has it that police weren't able to find a single trace of the virus afterwards.

GuruGuru: I see. Yes, but their suspect died.

J.D.: That's right! The guy who made the virus was killed by someone, which would have to mean the bogus Laughing Man showed up and he was snuffed out!

Kanabi: Who killed him and why?

GuruGuru: I know. It was a conspiracy by some secret society.

J.D.: Speaking of which, one of my sources gave me an inside story, before the last incident, some of the corporations that were blackmailed apparently had a hitman on payroll.

GuruGuru: What kind of sauce? Hm? Apple? Soy?

Kanabi: Why would the firms wanna kill him themselves?

J.D.: I mean they've been waiting for a chance to nail him. They wanted revenge for the blackmail or the money demands or something. With that recent death threat, he somehow slipped up and left a trail.

GuruGuru: But what's the purpose in killing a phony one?

Kanabi: Right. And even if he was the real deal, it's not conceivable that they could track down and kill someone that the police couldn't find.

Baby Ruth: Th-That's the point I'm making. Tracking him wouldn't be easy. The man's too-too cool.

J.D.: What if he was killed by the real Laughing Man?

GuruGuru: No way that happened. Like the cops said, it's logical there were multiple Laughing Men and a dispute arose among them.

Kanabi: Then I think it's safe to say we're back to our first conclusion. Somebody other than the Laughing Man from six years ago was responsible for it.

Baby Ruth: Let me ask you again. Why do you believe corporate blackmail is the Laughing Man's criminal M.O.?

J.D.: Man, drop it! He only committed cool crime!

Baby Ruth: But, but stop and think about it for a second. The pivotal premiere event, was it so cool after all?

J.D.: Eh...!

GuruGuru: Hmm...

Kanabi: ......

Omba: I see! We must research the origin before we can discuss this. OK, let's switch gears and look back at the Laughing Man incident from the very beginning.

Newscaster: Good morning. It's 7:20 on February 3rd. Time for "Drive-time Weather." Well, the weather today, not so perfect. And does everyone remember what today is? This marks the 100th day before the opening of the World's Exposition. So with that in mind, we've come up with the following questionnaire. The topic is the exposi...

Laughing Man: IT'S NOT FAIR!

Newscaster: Aaugh!!

Laughing Man: Look straight into that camera! I demand you tell the world the truth!

Serano: Listen, stop. You won't shoot me.

Laughing Man: Are you sure?

Serano: Augh!!

Omba: I know we're all probably sick to death of seeing this, but we need to since it's the only time that the person thought to be the real Laughing Man ever showed himself.

J.D.: Hey, did you see that? The show's fly-in title got tagged with the Laughing Man logo, too. He sure is thorough, isn't he?

GuruGuru: The local weather forecasts, too. But some rumors say that those graphics were changed after the initial broadcast.

Kanabi: Whatever the case, this was where the first Laughing Man Incident began. The one that shook this country six years ago.

GuruGuru: You know, now that I look back at this, he wasn't cool. His hands, they were shaking like leaves.

J.D.: Oh, please. What are you talking about? That's what's so cool!

Kanabi: But if you compare this with the serial corporate blackmail that followed, then the whole thing seems totally reckless.

Baby Ruth: It's not. Because in spite of his special-A hacker skills he deliberately risked his own neck in this first incident. It was that same reckless performance that captured us and made us love him. He was trying to expose the deception of exploitative corporations.

GuruGuru: That's deep...

J.D.: No, I agree. It'd look like really lousy planning, yet the guy was thorough enough to hack the media channels beforehand. That's his whole attraction.

GuruGuru: Oh-oh, talk about fans. What is this, the "We Love The Laughing Man" club? The Laughing Man never put out any messages about conspiracies.

Reporter 1: Hot on the heels of Serano, Japan Micro Industries has apparently been blackmailed by the notorious Laughing Man.

Reporter 2: This is incredible! What are those? It looks like a warehouse-load of office desks. How in the world were they all moved up here in a single night? The head office of Sagawa Electrics is being blackmailed this time! And I'm pretty sure this qualifies as an unprecedented act of corporate terrorism!

Tamon: This is... the real one, right?

Ohsadaharu: Please call Nanoplant Industries.

Female MC: Satsuma Meditechs is the most powerful corporation in Kyushu, don't you know? Why would you go and plant a murder virus in there for heaven's sake?

Man: I don't know. I'm assuming somebody managed to hack the landscaping robots during the night. Go! Look! It's him!

GuruGuru: Hey. I've got a T-shirt with the MicroTel crop circle on it.

Kanabi: After that, public funds were allocated to the blackmailed companies out of fear that their stocks would plummet. The instant that happened, the Laughing Man called an end to his spree and vanished into the shadows of the net.

GuruGuru: Remember when Kadoya advertised that there was a Laughing Man logo inside a bag of their snacks, and suddenly their stock shot up.

Baby Ruth: What about the rumors that each of those companies had people who secretly made a killing off their stocks?

Kanabi: If you're only judging by that criterion, the Satsuma Meditechs case might be a scam.

GuruGuru: Would that be female intuition, babe?

Kanabi: OK, why not backtrack the fluctuations of the other companies' stock prices and compare them with Satsuma's?

GuruGuru: Wait a second, wasn't Satsuma the only firm that didn't get the funds from the government?

J.D.: Well, look at that.

Kanabi: No one noticed because all six companies were making the same amount when these crime spree stopped.

GuruGuru: Well, even that talk show they set up to make the announcement was pretty bad. I think it's just B.S. that's written and put out by the station.

Kanabi: Looking back like this at the first incident, we can see it was full of inconsistencies. Maybe it's a stretch to say that everything was carried out by the same person. What are your thoughts?

GuruGuru: Perhaps, we should settle on multiple criminals. A lot of critics point out the differences in style between the kidnapping and all the following occurrences.

J.D.: Personally, I'm for the "single Laughing Man" theory.

Kanabi: But don't you think it's implausible?

Chroma: Any new speculation as to who is behind this affair and the one 6 years ago is a waste of time. I've got a feeling that the key to unlocking the mystery can be found when we ask ourselves what factor gave rise to the event in the past and the string of phenomena which occurred immediately after this recent death threat.

Omba: Hm, that's pretty slick, miss.

Baby Ruth: I think so, too.

Omba: All right. On that note we'll examine the question as we look at some old footage I happened to have. But however, before we do, I must delete the backup cache data that's built up in the server, so let's take a quick break!

GuruGuru: Hey, remember when that designer named Paul who came up with the trade mark turned himself in to the investigators while the crimes were being committed?

Kanabi: Didn't he keep saying that the logo had been stolen when his database was hacked?

J.D.: But the fact is, his design career took off thanks to this. I respect the guy, too.

Kanabi: Still, what do you suppose turned this whole thing at the time into such a tremendous fad?

J.D.: Just when you think you've got it solved, you don't, it's a sensation fed to us with clever timing.

GuruGuru: Sometimes you make a point. That Serano CEO wouldn't work with investigators is stimulating, too.

Baby Ruth: Even today, people suspect he cut a deal with the Laughing Man. But what attracted me most to the situation was the chivalrous "lone-wolf hero" image he illustrated in the first incident, I was really rooting for him.

J.D.: Yep, same here.

Kanabi: Don't forget that the last one began during a press conference concerning unlawful use of Interceptors. So was that chivalrous?

GuruGuru: And it was none other than Serano Genomics that developed those Interceptors.

Baby Ruth: But behind this, don't you sense greater power?

J.D.: Interesting angle! It's like everyone's been brainwashed into thinking they're detectives and can crack the case.

Kanabi: What if the Laughing Man turns out to be a program that the entire micromachine industry wrote and staged, so they could manipulate their own stock market prices?

J.D.: Where's the fun in that? I know there's a real Laughing Man.

GuruGuru: Sounds to me like you simply want the guy to be real.

J.D.: Per information from one of my sources...

GuruGuru: Tut, another source?

J.D.: ...the financial boom caused by this event comes to about 20 trillion yen. Doesn't this fact alone show that he needs to exist?

Baby Ruth: All right. Since none of you seem interested in what I'm trying to say, I'll put some of my best info on the table. Stuff I got from an independent source. The official police statement said that the recent multiple, simultaneous assassination attempts were caused by the virus spread by Nanao Ei. But it's a complete lie.

Kanabi: Based on what?

J.D.: Yeah, dude. You got any sources on that?

GuruGuru: Again sources? Out of curiosity, how many times has J.D. mentioned the word "source" while he's been in this room?

Chroma:I'd like to know where you learned that, too.

Baby Ruth: Actually, truth is, I hacked into the crime scene when it happened.

J.D.:You, what!? You don't mean you were trying to assassinate him as well?

Baby Ruth: No, it's nothing like that. I was only peeping the system because I wanted to see how it would turn out. That's what led me to believe that the 39 would-be assassins were also there of their own free will, not because they were being controlled by any virus. Lots of other hackers like me were there, and I suspect that some members of our audience probably tried to crack their way in, too. But for some reason, every one of them failed in their attempt.

Chroma: (Wait, you saw that?)

Baby Ruth: Uh...!?

Kanabi: Boy, that's front page news if it's true.

GuruGuru: Nothing can be trusted anymore.

J.D.: You're kidding! I thought about going to the hall that day, too! Why'd I go and change my mind?! Man, that sucks!

Kanabi: Hold it. Then couldn't this mean that the real Laughing Man was one of the 39 who were arrested that day?

Baby Ruth: It isn't probable. Those that got arrested are just copycats or obsessive fans who don't have lives, like us.

GuruGuru: Are you telling us that they were there in response to the threat by Nanao Ei?

Baby Ruth: Not quite what I meant, either. Actually, there's one other thing I have to mention. After the event, I-I was diving around in the net, and I found the server that Nanao had altered. It was registered under his own name. That's it, there.

Kanabi: You're right.

Baby Ruth: Be careful. The thing's crawling with attack barriers. When you dive to level 6, you'll find several plans that had been simulated. They plot out ideas for blackmailing major micromachine manufactures again, and even offer strategies for the targeting of big cyborg food corporations for next time. Every plan is thoroughly detailed from start to finish. And they have something in common, a modular delayed-action virus is the key to their success. However, the assassination attempt that Nanao actually did carry out isn't among any of the simulations. So the question is, why did he suddenly turn hit man at the last minute after he meticulously devised all those other plans?

Chroma: That's impressive work.

Baby Ruth: It's the only work I ever do.

J.D.: Yeah, but why? Why did he do it? I mean you think Nanao was a copycat too under the spell of that death threat?

Baby Ruth: I can't think of any other reason why he would ditch his carefully honed plans and use his modular virus wild card on an unplanned attempt to eliminate someone.

GuruGuru: Then, who threatened the Superintendent-General? You read too much into things. Let's focus on interpreting only what really happened.

Kanabi: But didn't showing us that server make his story seem credible?

GuruGuru: Let me ask you something, in spite of the large number of crimes committed that day, why is it there were no cases of cybercrime reported aside from Nanao's?

Baby Ruth: Maybe someone wanted only Nanao to commit that crime that day. His failure was also determined ahead of time. Which set Nanao up as the guilty party behind the Laughing Man incident, that shook our world 6 years ago.

Kanabi: Well, somebody's gotta be profiting from this scheme, who?

Baby Ruth: It's not hard to guess. Ah, aaaaaaaa....

Omba: Wooow!

J.D.: Oh, dude...

Chroma: You certainly have been dishing out a lot of roundabout explanations, but I think you're on the right track. Don't you?

Baby Ruth: ...Huh?

Chroma: Tell me. Did you happen to see my dummy barrier get blown away at the hall that day?

Baby Ruth: Uh? W-Wait, aren't you the lady who pinned down that security guy back at the crime scene?

Chroma: Did you?

Baby Ruth: Yes, I saw it. And that barrier was a nasty piece of work.

Chroma: Was there anything left of it? Some fragments?

Baby Ruth: Yes. Here it is.

Chroma: Thank you.

Baby Ruth: You're welcome. Um, uh, could I ask you a question? First I thought... the police themselves were responsible for this entire affair. However, that barrier I saw was clearly different from the ones the police had deployed out along the perimeter. I've never seen one that was similar to it. God, was that the real Laugh...

Chroma: Shh. Here's a word of warning in return for the fragment: If you find out too much, you won't have a body to go back to in the physical world.

Baby Ruth: Uh......

J.D.: Hey, did you go link dead or something?

Baby Ruth: I'm back to normal, I'm fine. I've had enough for now, though. I'm gonna call it quits for today. I'm sorry.

Kanabi: What? But you never finished what you were saying.

Baby Ruth: Sorry for the disruption.

Kanabi: Uh...

J.D.: Oh, man. It sure got dead in here suddenly.

GuruGuru: Face it. We can scrutinize and debate this here till doomsday, but that doesn't mean we'll ever learn the truth.

Kanabi: I wouldn't be so sure and cynical about that. The real Laughing Man might be watching right now.

GuruGuru: The minute you begin to think that way, it's over with. Or more to the point, the matter is just too complicated. We'll get bored with it eventually.

Kanabi: I for one have to speculate if the Laughing Man could be merely a social symbolic phenomenon that was in someway created in a world of corruption by some freak of nature.

J.D.: I would say we're already copycats. We've been swaying to his tune.

Kanabi: But even if all the events were a collective phenomenon, you can't help but feel that there's some sort of common thread connecting the kidnapping and the incidents that were triggered by this death threat 6 years later, just like Baby Ruth said.

Chroma: In my opinion, those two situations alone were caused by the same talented perpetrator. All the other occasions, regardless of scale, objective, or rationale of the crimes, were copies, and they were carried out by imitators in the absence of their hero. It's even doubtful that the one responsible for the two events, the motivator for all the rest was an original.

Omba: Not bad, miss. Sweet!

Chroma: Uh!?

Chroma: It's a forced transfer? Now what?

Omba: Aw, why now? It was just getting good! Can I stay online a little longer? Aaaw, no fair!

Chroma: Huh...!

Batou: ...and that's the whole story. What do you think?

Motoko: Tut, couldn't trace it...

Batou: Hey!

Motoko: Huh? What did you say?

Batou: Don't tell me you've...been diving this whole time? Damn, you're nuts!

Motoko: Come on, I could be asleep and still drive in this part of town. Anyway, what were you saying?

Batou: Hm! Forget it! I'm not gonna repeat myself.

Motoko: Phenomenon created by copycats with no original... Two pieces aren't fitting the puzzle...

Batou: Eh... What did you say?

Motoko: Forget it.

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