Decapitation: Kubikiri Cycle

By NISIOISIN, illustrations by take. Released in Japan as “Kubikiri Cycle: Aoiro Savant to Zaregototsukai” by Kodansha. Released in North America by Vertical, Inc. Translated by Greg Moore.

I had thought that I had reviewed this volume when it first came out almost ten years ago from Del Rey books. But no, I hadn’t quite begun my blog yet, though I have reviewed the second (and sadly last) book in the series. But of course that was almost ten years ago. Since then I’ve gotten obsessed with Medaka Box, and I finally joined the herd in getting obsessed with the Monogatari series. So I was ready to revisit the first in Nisioisin’s Zaregoto series, which is finally getting an anime in Japan after so many years. (It also never had a manga, except for an original story spinoff.) If you’re familiar with Nisio’s later works, you’ll find much here that’s familiar, particularly the idea of what “geniuses” are. But those works lack the most important element of these books, and that’s the narrator, Ii-chan.

Nisio loves to take his main characters and have them disparaged, either by the narration himself or by other characters. But usually it’s the other characters that get all the attention. In Medaka Box Medaka is not remotely the most popular character with fans, and I doubt you’ll find many Monogatari fans saying Koyomi is “best girl” either. Zaregoto is all about Ii-chan, though. His seemingly deadpan narration, his seeming stoicism, his seeming need to not care about anything that happens to him or what anyone thinks of him. Seeming being the repeated word, because it’s pointed out repeatedly by the entire cast just how much nonsense his entire attitude is. Which is, of course, the point: he is the “nonsense user” of the subtitle, and at times he almost seems to utter it like a mantra, usually when it’s becoming too apparent that’s he’s slipping out of character.

Ii-chan (real name never given throughout the series, much like Kyon) is the friend and minder of a technological genius, Tomo Kunagisa, who’s been invited to a remote island by an eccentric ex-heiress who likes surrounding herself with these sorts of types. Of course, if the words “remote island” seem suspicious to you, you’ve probably guessed that someone is murdered while they’re there. Now Ii-chan, who is merely a normal boy among all these geniuses, must solve the crime. And that’s a lie as well, as we’re told that Ii-chan himself went to an exclusive school in America just for geniuses, though he maintains that it doesn’t count because he dropped out. Also, despite professing a bad memory and ignorance of many basic principles, he’s quoting obscure philosophy and literature throughout. He is a lying liar who lies, and by the end of the book you can see why many in the story are disgusted with him. He won’t try. He refuses to strive. He goes with the flow. Except of course that is not completely true either. He just wishes it was.

There is a lot of backstory given here, some of which comes up again later in the series and some of which does not. Ii-chan talks about a child who was not allowed to have any contact with the outside world for the first ten years of their life, but it’s unclear if he means Kunagisa or himself. Certainly Kunagisa seems to suffer from a case of arrested development – she’s supposedly the same age as Ii-chan, who’s about to start college, but looks and acts about eleven years old. She’s also the head of a former cyber-terrorist group that terrified the world while also advancing its tech beyond most people’s wildest dreams. And she and Ii-chan are clearly used to corpses and investigating – one of the funniest parts of the book is their blank disbelief at why Yayoi is so upset and edgy – after all, it’s just a murder.

Honestly, the murder mystery is possibly the least interesting part of the book – again, not uncommon with this author, where frequently you read things for the dialogue or narrative tone rather than what’s actually happening. I’d actually say it’s overly complex, with two too many twists and turns at the very end – I think Nisio agreed with me, as around the 3rd book in the series he simply stopped making the books mysteries at all. That said, I still love and highly recommend the book, if only for its fascinating and frustrating narrator. And I’m hoping it does well enough that Vertical might put out the second in the series, which is even better.

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