Tuesday, February 21, 2012


『クビキリサイクル 青色サヴァンと戯言遣い』

I am all alone in this wide world.
But I don't care.
Because I like loneliness.
It's not a bluff.
Even if it is a bluff.
"The Deheading Cycle: The Blue Savant and the Nonsense Talker"

I am still holding out quite well without new books, I think. It's been almost two months now and I still manage to update semi-regularly. For those wondering, this situation will continue for still another couple of weeks. And it will make sense in hindsight.

I'm still not sure whether I'll proceed in Nisioisin's Zaregoto ("nonsense, babbling") series, but I can sure go back! It's been a while since I read the first volume, Kubikiri Cycle: Aoiro Savant to Zaregotozukai ("The Deheading Cycle: The Blue Savant and the Nonsense Talker"), so it was about time to fresh up on this quirky locked room mystery. Wet Crow's Feather Island is the home of Akagami Iria, who has been effectively exiled by her family to the island. As things can get boring on a secluded island, Iria has the custom of inviting geniuses to her island (even paying them to come!) to enjoy their company. Genius artists, genius researchers, genius cooks... she collects geniuses from all fields. This time, the young IT-specialist Kunagisa Tomo is also invited, with her friend the narrator being dragged along too to the island. The narrator has a hard time living with all these geniuses, but the relative peace of the place is disrupted horribly when one day Kanami Ibuki, the genius painter, is found murdered in her room. Decapitated. Iria suggest to wait for the arrival of another guest, Aikawa, who is supposed to be genius in all fields, including detecting, but the narrator and Kunagisa have no intention of staying longer on the island than is needed (mainly because Kunagisa hates to change her schedule), so the two try to solve the murder themselves.

As this novel was originally conceived as a mystery light novel featuring moe characters, I have to admit I find it hard to just recommend this to readers. People familiar with anime, manga (or Japanese popular culture in general)? No problem. People who mostly read classic, traditional mysteries from the Western world without an inkling of Japanese popular culture? This might not be the best first choice for you. You might have trouble keeping up with the outrageous and over-the-top characters, the pop-culture references and the seemingly hyper-active storytelling. The simultaneously immensely dark, but humorous tone of the novel might even seem schizophrenic. As a light novel, this is heavily targeted at (Japanese) adolescents, and some might have trouble getting into that mindset without any background information.

If you manage to get that mindset though, you'll come to the conclusion that Kubikiri Cycle is awesome. The mystery, which features multiple locked room murders (and decapitations!) set at an secluded island is certainly enjoyable, if admittedly not very original. There are some interesting twists and turns in the story though and the reason for the decapitations is pretty horrifying (and therefore memorable). It is a very modern way to look at a reason for a decapitation in a detective story and you'd wonder whether NisiOisiN read critic Kasai Kiyoshi's seminal works on (Japanese) detective fiction to come up with such a reason, but it will stick in your mind. Actually, now that I think about it, there is a tendency visiblewith all of the murders in NisiOisiN's Zaregoto novels I've read until now that builds strongly on this idea. NisiOisiN keeps on exploring the ideas utilized in the murders in Kubikiri Cycle in the subsequent novels in this series.

Spoilers for Kubikiri Cycle, Kubishime Romanticist and Kubitsuri High School!! (Select to read):
The human body is reduced to a pure object (of convenience) in the first three Zaregoto novels, lacking any notions of 'humanity': in Kubikiri Cycle a body is used as a 'step', in Kubishime Romanticist the human body is used as a vessel to carry something around and in Kubitsuri High School part of the human body is used as a simple doorkey.
End Spoilers

But the biggest mystery of Kubikiri Cycle is the narrator. The unnamed narrator (one of his nicknames is Ii-chan, but his name is never made known in the series) transforms a 'normal' mystery story into something amazing. The narrator seems to describe himself as a Watson to Kunagisa's Holmes, but I don't think Watson was as unreliable a narrator as Watson. As a person, the narrator is an exeggaration of what probably what many young adolescents at times feel (I at least do!), being the ultimate passive person who just goes with the flow of everything, who just agrees (or disagrees) with everything if it allows him to avoid a conflict of any kind with other people. The narrator is smart, but in his attempts to avoid conflicts, he will, without even thinking anything of it, feign ignorance and lie to his friends, enemies, the readers and even himself. Imagine such a person narrating the story. A lot of the time, you will be more interested in seeing what makes this guy tick. By which I do not imply that the murders are boring, but as you see everything through his eyes, you will be asking yourself what kind of person the narrator really is. This is as much a character study as a mystery, but that is certainly not a bad thing.

Kubikiri Cycle also shows what a master of words and thought the writer NisiOisiN is. Most of the story consists of direct dialogue and the way NisiOisiN plays with words and allows dialogues to change from serious investigation to philosophy and other topics in such a free and natural (but often confronting) way is really impressive. I have to admit thought that a lot of the natural feeling to NisiOisiN's writings disappears when read in English. Rereading Kubikiri Cycle in English made me realize that the distinctive switching between dialogue and inner monologue that NisiOisiN utilizes so much is just distracting in English, as well as the fact that whereas speakers of dialogue in Japanese can be made clear through character-specific speech-patterns (i.e. with the help of speech markers, sentence ending particles etcetera), this is hard to accomplish in English and it results in some very confusing dialogue at times as you don't know who is supposed to be talking. Yes, I like writing about role language in translation.

The mystery element of the Zaregoto series weakens as it continues. The second volume, Kubishime Romanticist, moves away from the closed circle situation on an island and replaces it for a story set in the city of Kyoto, but I find Kubishime Romanticist overall the better experience, as the story is much better suited to NisiOisiN's style of storytelling and it also involves a (relatively) more personal story for the narrator. Heck, I consider it one of the most amusing books I read last year! I wasn't too big a fan of the third volume, Kubitsuri High School, but even with the lesser detective plot, it was a good showcase of NisiOisiN writing talent.

So Kubikiri Cycle is an entertaining locked room mystery, that can become really addictive if you happen to like the narrator, but it might be hard to get into for people with no knowledge at all of Japanese popular culture. And for people who compulsively use quotes from books to for post introductions, it is also a treasure chest of highly quotable material. But now I am just talking nonsense.

Original Japanese title(s): 西尾維新 『クビキリサイクル 青色サヴァンと戯言遣い』


  1. A spoiler part... what a coincidence :P
    You made me remember that similarity over the course of the novels and it actually comes up again in the fourth story as well (hope you don't consider this a spoiler as it's rather vague). The murder does not happen until the end of the first volume, but the unique narration you pointed out and the (new) characters make up for that, or at least I think they do.

    If you like サイコロジカル or クビキリサイクル for that matter, you should really check out Mori Hiroshi's すべてがFになる. Not only did it have a significant impact on later novels in that field, but it's also an awesome puzzler (recommended by Abiko, Arisugawa, Ayatsuji and Norizuki) and novel considering how it reflects the time it was written.

    1. Heh, the thing in the spoiler tags was something I just happened to notice as I was writing the text, and I thought it better to write it down (or else I would definitely forget it). And then I remembered seeing a spoiler part in another review recently, so... ;P

  2. hello mr ho-ling.

    i just finished zaregoto decapitation cycle and was wondering if you thought the ending trick was technically feasible irl?

    reverse text: ?ydob daed yltnecer a otni elttes ot kciuq os saw ti woh driew ti kniht yeht t'ndid yhw desu ydob eht otni tes sitrom rogir ecnis osla

    ?hcum taht yb pmuj eht pu ssem tonnac kcen fo tib a ?sredluohs eht morf yddob eht gnittuc reve russerp eht ywh neht neve dna ?thgieh llat a hcus rof edam eb nac taht ekil pmuj a kniht yllaer uoy od

    i think the solution was neatly tied into the overall story, especially a callback to the introduction which didn't make sense at first (just philosophical ramblings) but then you go...ooooh i see what you did there! hence the nonsensical making sense. i quite liked that touch

    1. I don't remember all the details/timing of the events, so just about what I remember:

      Reverse text: .trohs ylriaf si trap redluohs etarepes hcae dna )kcen eht( no dnats ot hguone elbats eb t'ndluow daeh eht sa ,hguoht ffo teg ot dedeen daeh eht yhw s'tahT .wodniw eht ot pu flesruoy llup ot elba eb ot hguone hgih teg ot deen ylno uoy dna ,nwo reh no ydob eht pu bmilc ot deen t'ndid tirpluc ehT .troppus sa rehto hcae gnisu yb sllaw hgih repus pu gnibmilc sreidlos htiw ,gniniart yratilim ni ees uoy tahw ekil adniK .si eno citehta woh no gnidneped elbissop eb dluohs tI ?thgir 'pets' dnoces eht sa desu gnieb ydob detatipaced eht neht dna ,pets rellams eno saw ereht taht saw aedi eht kniht I

    2. hehe you DEFINITELY remember all of it! i am am convinced! i know that there's always an element of gotcha! in these novels as authors want to surpass each other with novely and creativity. but i also prefer when things can be technically replicated irl.

      anyways it was bothering me a bit, but i think your explanation makes a bit more sense.