A Case of Characters – A Review of Kubikiri Cycle: Aoiro Savant to Zaregototsukai (2016-2017)

“Just as the opposite of love is not indifference… The opposite of hope is not despair. Apathy so strong that nothing matters anymore – that’s the opposite of hope. The ability to forgive anything. The ability to say, “Fine,” to anything at all – that is the opposite of hope.”
~Ii-chan

Yeesh! Talk about being a pretentious anthropomorphic chunk of bismuth. If I ever saw someone post this in a forum then I would have immediately commented with a picture of a smug anime girl while telling the person to re-evaluate their life choices.

But…

There I was. Before the laptop screen. Bingeing the anime adaptation of Kubikiri Cycle: Aoiro Savant to Zaregototsukai – or The Beheading Cycle: The Blue Savant and the Nonsense Bearer. Closely watching the beginning of the second last episode of Nisio Isin’s, ahhem, NisiOisiN’s initial light novel series. In fact, his very first light novel. The point where his eccentric genius and love for writing extraordinary (mostly literally) female characters became known to the general Japanese populace. That point was finally projected onto our screens two years ago. Yes, almost 14 years later we got to revel in the craziness of the man’s debut characters on the medium-sized screen. Was the birth of NiSio ISin’s professional career given justice by the animation studio? Well, actually, I don’t know. I haven’t read any of the books from the Zaregoto series – to which Kubikiri Cycle belongs.

Okay, so that’s enough dick-riding for today. I should get back to the quote up above.

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Just as Poe has a hard on for ravens, Nishiishi has a fetish for boardwalk empires.

 

Like I said, I would berate the person who would utter something so lukewarm but, even so, I was still fixated to the words spoken by the protagonist-cum-narrator, Ii-chan. What he had said resonated within me. “Yes, that is right!” is what I had told myself. That’s the power of ISIn’s writing. The guy has this ridiculous talent whereby he can convince you of the most inane zingers as if they were nuggets of unfathomable truth. And that is, surely, a quality that is sorely missing in many writers who attempt character studies.

In a character study, the plot is secondary. As is true NISIo ISIN fashion (in hindsight), the plot of Kubikiri Cycle is itself a character. Layers upon layers of motives and sentiments are analysed over a round table of pizzazz bringing out of the audience unusual thoughts about morality and ambition. This becomes quite evident to the seasoned viewer when identities come into question. Regardless of whether you pick up on the subtleties lying within Kubikiri or just simply enjoy the solid locked-room murder mystery as is, the writing of the show is obviously it’s strongest feature.

Again with the dick-riding… Anyway, seeing as I have done enough praising of the pen and the man, or men, behind it, I should now address what the writing is about.

Kubikiri Cycle starts off with our Ii-chan, whose real name is unknown, and his moe companion Kunagisa Tomo inside an avant garde mansion on an isolated island. They are two of the number of geniuses that have been invited to the mansion by exiled hostess Akagami Iria. You have people who are at the top of their respective fields such as cooking, science, art, etc all living under the same roof mostly minding their own business except for at supper time. Then, one day, artist Ibuki Kanami is brutally decapitated and the liberal arts disrespecting mansion-mate and scientist Sonoyoma Akane is declared a prime suspect. Thus, she is thrown into another locked room so as to deter her or any other possible killer from leveling the heads of the others until ace consultant Aikawa Jun arrives on the scene to dish out some snazzy knowledge.

EPIC RAP BATTLES 2019
EPIC RAP BATTLES 2019
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SONOYAMA AKANEEEEEEEEEE BASASUS IBUKI KANAMIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

 

The set-up is quite simple and the mystery is free from bullshit like withholding information from the viewers or the usage of disgusting deus ex machina. The mystery is solved using the very same clues that our protagonist is presented with so the viewer can tag along for the Sherlock Holmes role-play as well. I’ve mentioned this before in previous reviews: a well written mystery is one in which the author assumes that the reader can be just as smart and capable as the sleuth. While there are some questionable aspects regarding certain events in the story, like the way rigor mortis is handled, the plot is still quite grounded enough for the viewer to partake in the mystery. Considering that this is an adaptation of NISION ISIN’s first published work, there are bound to be a myriad of firsts: you can actually pinpoint from whom he took inspiration for the waifu-of-the-novel extravaganza Monogatari Series.

Now while the plot is your standard mystery aficionado fare with nisio isin’s own creative twist, the characters surely are not. The most interesting thing about Kubikiri Cycle is that the characters, while outlandish, still feel real to an extent. Despite having rather messed up personalities and outlooks on life, the colorful cast of geniuses function like actual human beings who are accustomed to a non-normal worldview. I have to specifically make note of this here as characters of such depth are, sadly, uncommon in modern thrillers. Honestly, even in the early mystery novels, not all characters come to this close a level. Save for one or two, each person in Kubikiri Cycle has their own role to play following unscrupulous lines of thought. Still, it should be said that not everyone prefers their mysteries to be like this. Some folks want more focus on the plot. Think of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. I’m not saying that it steers parallel to Kubikiri Cycle but it is the closest novel I can recall at the moment to clarify my point a little. Well, there’s also the anime Un-Go but that was just trash.

As heavily implied above, the characters are the crux of Kubikiri Cycle. Ii-chan, who claims to be devoid of personality, is the one with the most complex head of them all. His relationship, of love and hate soaked in envy, with the childish engineer Kunagisa Tomo is quite intriguing to observe. The way those two play off of each other is reminiscent of the power couple Araragi Koyomi and Senjougahara Hitagi from Monogatari Series. It’s quite clear the relationship in Kubikiri Cycle served as a prototype for the foundation of the one in Monogatari Series – especially when you consider that nISIO ISIn had divulged that he had done all that he could with Ii-chan’s character when he stopped writing the Zaregoto novels.

 

Then there are the interactions between Ii-chan and the rest of the characters. The most captivating, and heated, conversations take place whenever the psychic Himena Maki appears on screen to tease our nameless hero. The use of Maki as a pseudo-observer was a nice touch as well. Knowing full well what happened and how it did but letting others sort it out due to just pure amusement.

I could go much deeper into these guys and the rest of the rest of the survival crew but that isn’t my job. After all, it is the purpose of the show. My job is to simply tell you what I like or hate about things so that you can become subservient to the opinions of a random stranger. That you’ve grown to love! Abandon the Pewds.

Uh, anyway, as expected of studio Shaft, directors Shinbou Akiyuki and Yase Yuki have done a fine job of bringing print to life. The Shaft repertoire of head tilts, bizarre landscape shots, and unconventional angles is put to good use Kubikiri Cycle. Every knows what Shaft stuff usually look and feel like so I don’t think there’s a need to delve into that pinhole. Well, the landscape shots in Kubikiri Cycle seemed a little less haphazard as compared to the Monogatari Series adaptations.

 

The voice acting is standard as well. The voice actors have done a good job with their roles. The voice actors for Akagami Iria and Ii-chan, played by Ise Mariya and Kaji Yuki, put up an especially great performance. The sound was mostly headed by the ever enchanting Kajiura Yuki of Kara no Kyoukai (Garden of Sinners) fame. Her oblique vocals compliment the mystery genre nicely. Gives it that haunting atmosphere. The performance by her band Kalafina for the ending themes was, in a word, dank.

While I was entranced by some of the dialogue and most of the smarts in Kubikiri Cycle; the unsurprising high quality, to be honest, has turned me off somewhat. Kubikiri Cycle is quite a unique work. The problem is that it is not a unique niSio iSin work. It feels much too similar to Monogatari Series. Yes, I understand that the author is the same and his ideas shouldn’t be that different from each work but there is a certain lack of… evolution, you could say.  There isn’t any of that raw ‘beginner’ style in Kubikiri Cycle. Maybe it is more present in the actual novel instead of this anime seeing as how the directors and folks are the same ones who’ve worked on most of the Monogatari Series. I think it would have been better that another studio had animated Kubikiri Cycle. Just my weird two cents. This won’t affect the final score, though.

Without further dick-riding, I proclaim Kubikiri Cycle to be an 8/10 anime. It’s a must-see for all nISIoISIn fans. Mystery junkies should be able to get a hefty kick out of it too.

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