Nietzsche’s portrayal of what a genius is and how people treat them has been one of the fundamental conceptual building blocks of Author NISIOISIN, who has established himself as one of the best light novel authors of recent times. His most popular work, the Monogatari Series, has been adapted into one of the most critically acclaimed animated series of all time. Fans of NISIOISIN likely know how “dialogue driven” his shows are. Monogatari Series, again, features wordplay after wordplay which would be better consumed as a novel if not the fascinating visual textures presented by Akiyuki Shinbou’s Shaft studio, which is synonymous with NISIOISIN’s works at this point.
Although the writing in the Monogatari series is unarguably entertaining, I do not believe that the writing in the Monogatari series reaches further than surface level presentation of the idea of impossible to understand geniuses with Hitagi Senjougahara. There is, however, one work by this author that far surpasses the Monogatari series in terms of conceptuality and intrigue — Zaregoto Series, the predecessor of the Monogatari Series. Here I wish to dive deeply into Shaft’s Kubikiri Cycle and the conceptual intrigues that it brings to its presentation.
The show begins very appropriately with reference to Nietzche’s quote “It is more dangerous to have one talent too many than one talent a few.” Nietzsche’s fundamental ideas within his book Human all too Human explains that most warship genius in order to feel complacent of general mediocrity. As I will further explain throughout the post, it is this dichotomy of the mediocre protagonists and the geniuses that fuel this show as a whole.
Continuing with the opening scene, the mysterious woman states that there are two ways to live: to “live mindful how little you matter or live mindful how little the world matters.” Both ways would involve striving for improvement either by being critical of yourself and intaking from others or not minding others and going their own way. This naturally reflects the discussion of geniuses within this scene in the broader picture that Nisioisin attempts to answer.
This is where the fundamental differences between Nietzsche and Nisioisin lies. Whereas Nietzsche believes that the geniuses are shaped through experience, Nisioisin compares geniuses who are inherently born and shaped by experiences. The commonality, however, is there criticism of those who are medicare in society.
And from this discussion Nisioisin asks in Kubikiri Cycle: what determines Geniuses? What if geniuses are born the way they are? What if there is, in fact, nothing we can do about our mediocrity? Does that change our perception of what a genius is? If so, how do we address them? And in the first place, what determines what a genius is?
This takes us to the introduction of the characters: the geniuses. There are a few geniuses within the island. The genius psychic, the genius engineer, the genius cook, the genius artist, the genius scholar. There are geniuses of basically every field within this island. The ideas that are tossed around these geniuses are truly fascinating.
Throughout the show, we are never really given a full picture of what exactly these geniuses can do. This is specifically the case for Maki, the genius psychic. In fact, we are not even sure that Maki really is a psychic. We see her reading Ii-chan’s mind from time to time but this seems to be in the realm of those who are able to read humans easily though different actions. When asked questions by the host, she usually never gives a definite answer. Regardless of whether or not Maki truly is a psychic, through her, Nisioisin was most likely addressing the unpredictability of geniuses that can be read by normal people.
One of my favorite scenes from this show comes from the conversations between the geniuses at the round table, specifically Akane and Kanami. Their conversation rises from how they think philosophically about actions they take which rises from fields where they are geniuses in. Kanami is one who thinks that allowing others to influence you shows that you are mediocre whereas Kanami, as a person who has been around one other geniuses of the world in the ER3 system, believes that being influenced by others is completely okay. This sets up the question of what these two geniuses believe classifies a genius. Kanami is a symbol for born geniuses whereas Akane is a symbol for geniuses born through experience. One of the things that make this very interesting is from the end of the series. We find that both are more alike than not as it was their choices that initiated the murders. It seems that through actions in which the viewers can not comprehend normally, actions that are merely done for fun, Nisioisin is trying to paint a picture of geniuses as unreachable for the normal, mediocre humans.
This brings us to our main character, Ii-chan as he is called, who is part of this mediocre group — inferior yet frustrated. While it is undeniably true that the protagonist is an established person who is still relatively intelligent compared to a normal person, he falls incredibly short in comparison to those around in the island. This idea of inferiority is further created because he is always around Kunagisa, a genius savant. It’s very interesting that Nisioisin decided to write the main character without an actual name. This is because, at best, the protagonist is like most of the viewers, less competent yet willing to take charge. Of course, even within the mystery, Ii-chan isn’t a person who knows too much about mystery. He has read a few mystery novels, but he is not completely familiar with how real mysteries work. This is the exact type of people who Nietzsche critiques in his books. Though who are afraid to dive deeper into areas of interest, being complacent with keeping the interest a “hobby.”
To the geniuses, this murder doesn’t matter as much; they are busy doing their own activities. Kunagisa really only gets involved at the latter part of the show when her computer breaks. Before this, she was only passively listening to the protagonist’s questions, pointing out different information bit by bit, whereas she takes charge after this. From the way that it is portrayed, Kunigaisa only follows around Ii-chan in the first parts of the episode purely for entertainment reasons. Others such as the Maki, who is supposed to be a literal psychic, pretty much does nothing to solve the mystery (though this is another part of contention for why Maki didn’t actually have psychic powers).
The most ironic part in this, however, is that while Ii-chan takes charge in the whole mystery, Ii-chan never really figures anything out for himself; consistently, those around him are pointing different aspects around him. Even though these geniuses do not give all of their focus in to this murder, they are still able to see what Ii-chan is not. However, what makes this fascinating is that while being the narrator of the story, Ii-chan makes it look as though he is solving the mystery. He takes in the information around others and presents them in summaries almost like he figures it out for himself. He presents himself to be like the geniuses around him to remove his infuriety that he has. However, at the same time, he is getting help from the geniuses that he so much feels jealous of.
Most of this comes from the visual aspects that come from the presentation of the mysteries. With the first scene in the location of the corpse, we see a large, wide angle shot of the whole room with Ii-chan approaching the corpse. Interestingly, everyone else, the other geniuses, are at the back of the shot, smaller than Ii-chan. In the following shot, we get Ii-chan being in the center of the room, being the sole percent in the stage of the crime.
In the following scenes in the dinner table, we see Ii-chan stand up to explain the case to everyone. We get a presentation of his speech in a very dramatic fashion. Camera would spin and zoom towards his body, eyes in different scenes to give all the focus to him. Kunagisa, although she already knew everything that would happen, sat while Ii-chan took center stage.
These interpretations, again, if seen from the perspective of Ii-chan, almost seems as though he is making himself grander than he actually is in front of all these geniuses in a futile attempt to make himself seem bigger than he actually is.
The catch is, however, that Aikawa Jun, the genius detective, is able to solve the mystery without even being there when it happened at a more accurate and faster rate. The idea of genius that Nisioisin presents is that of unreachable heights. Within this episode, Aikawa is literally driving, taking full control of where the two are going. Symbolically showing that Ii-chan belongs at the side, as support of geniuses like Kunagisa rather than being an actual driver of ideas himself.
In the first place, the Kubikiri Cycle is a story of the inferiority of our main character caused by these geniuses. Already from episode two, we are set with this idea as Maki explains that he is only around Kunagisa to make himself feel better. He envies her abilities yet by seeing Kunagisa unhappy, he feels better about himself. This idea rounds out my whole post by addressing ideas similar to Nietzsche’s idea of mediocrity, those who find ways to be complacent in their own mediocrity to make themselves feel better about being mediocre.
Did Nisioisn want to address the helplessness of those who are mediocre or was he merely interested with the dichotomy of geniuses and those who are mediocre? Regardless, I believe that the discussion that he brings about geniuses and the helplessness of our main character is intriguing.
Thanks for reading!