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It’s rare to have mental disabilities in anime at all, but this anime takes a bold leap by making its heroine have savant syndrome.

NisiOisiN–a popular Japanese author known for his novels that started the Bakemonogatari and Katanagatari franchises–published the first volume of his Zaregoto series titled Kubikiri Cycle in 2002. After fourteen years, the author’s debut work is being animated into a series of eight original video anime (OVA) volumes under the title Kubikiri Cycle: Aoiro Savant to Zaregoto Tsukai (lit. Decaptiation Cycle: The Blue Savant and the Prankster), with the first being released earlier this month.

I read the first two Zaregoto novels when they were published by Del Rey (rest in peace) a very long time ago, but the one thing that stuck out to me the most when I flipped through the pages was the fact that the heroine Tomo Kunagisa is not a “normal” girl–she was a girl with savant syndrome.

Savant syndrome is a rare condition found in humans born with mental disabilities–especially those on the autism spectrum–or is acquired through brain injuries or diseases. Sufferers of this condition excel in a certain area to an extraordinary degree. These abilities can range from language to math to music (like the savant in the video below) to art. In the case of Kunagisa, she is clearly stated as a savant for her skill with computers.

Although not all savants are necessarily autistic, psychiatrist Darold Treffert states in his report “The savant syndrome: an extraordinary condition. A synopsis: past, present, future” that fifty percent of savants are autistic, with the remaining fifty percent having “some other forms of CNS injury or disease.”

Tomo seems to be very healthy and uninjured, so there is a high chance that–while not stated outright–Tomo may indeed be autistic. More specifically, she may have Asperger’s Syndrome, a diagnosis that was once given to people who are high-functioning autistics.

There are more subtle hints NisiOisiN put into his original work that have been adapted into animation that suggest that Tomo is on the spectrum. While it doesn’t stand out, the first hint is what Tomo wears. Autistic persons often have hypersensitive senses, including hearing, sight, and touch. The heightened sense of touch can sometimes lead those with autism to preferring to wear loose clothing. Clothes of certain tightness and made of certain materials can cause discomfort for those with hypersensitivity. This may be why Tomo wears a large, black, and very loose dress and is never seen in anything else.

Many autistics also struggle with personal hygiene, which is directly related to this hypersensitivity. The sensation and temperature of the water in the shower or bath, among other things, leads some to go so far as to avoid taking them. In the first episode of Kubikiri Cycle, our unnamed protagonist (and Tomo’s companion) comments when braiding her hair that she hasn’t taken a shower in so long that the oil is building up.

In terms of the social aspect–something which people with autism struggle with–Tomo chooses to remain isolated in her room in the manor on Wet Crow’s Feather Island, where the anime takes place. This is despite the fact that she has the honor to be one of the few geniuses called to the island by its master, Iria. Although the other geniuses wander the paradise-like island and mingle with each other, Tomo chooses to stay in her room and use her computer, only ever interacting with her protagonist companion.

Autistic people also have a tendency to have an obsession with a particular subject. In the case of Tomo, she shows that she has no interest in people besides the protagonist, and otherwise, she is completely satisfied doing nothing but fiddling with her computer.

Mental health is often something ignored in Japan, and is seldom mentioned in anime. While it’s not set in stone that Tomo is necessarily autistic, it’s reassuring to know that popular media–or, at least, in Kubikiri Cycle–those with mental disabilities are portrayed realistically and respectfully.

Kubikiri Cycle: Aoiro Savant to Zaregoto Tsukai‘s second volume will be released in Japan on December 28. Del Rey published the first two volumes of the original Zaregoto novel series in North America, but Vertical will be taking over publishing duties of the series. The first volume–titled Decapitation: Kubikiri Cycle–will be reproduced in English and be released on January 24, 2017. No streaming outside of Japan has been announced for now, but the anime of NisiOisiN’s other series, Bakemonogatari, is available on Crunchyroll.

Sources: National Center for Biotechnology (Darold Treffert), Raising Children Network, My Aspergers Child, The National Autistic Society, Autism Speaks

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