To step foot into Sakura Hall is to step into a bizarre world in which the rules of common sense do not apply. Strings of cabbage line the floors, women walk around without their underwear and one of the residents exists only on the aether we call the Internet. Though the tenants of Sakura Hall seem strange, they are also geniuses: those blessed few, gifted with greater talents than the average man. Or are they?
Everything Through Effort
Sakurasou no Petto na Kanojo raises objections against the very idea of genius. Genius is nothing more than all-consuming passion and years of hard work. Though I hesitate to cite Malcolm Gladwell, his “10,000 hours rule” summarizes Sakurasou‘s position: if one practices a craft or a task for 10,000 hours, one will probably emerge as an expert in one’s field.
To illustrate this point, let me recount an old story about Pablo Picasso. Once, he charged a woman $1,000 for a quick sketch he made in 10 minutes. Angered, the woman said to him, “How can you charge me that much money for something you made in 10 minutes?” Picasso looked at the woman and said, “Madam, I’ve been working my whole life on this sketch.”
“Genius” is no more than the manifestation of countless hours of hard work. From Sorata’s perspective, the residents of Sakura Hall are more “talented” and “gifted” than he, yet he forgets that while he whittles away his hours pondering life and taking care of cats, his housemates are hard at work― Mashiro on her manga, Ryuunosuke on his programming, and so on and so forth. Sorata thinks of his housemates as geniuses because they possess talents he does not― yet, to them, their craft is nothing special. Mashiro thinks of art as her life. Drawing pictures is as normal to her as breathing, or eating, or sleeping (one might even say that art comes even more naturally to her than all of those other things).
“I drew pictures.”
The core “gimmick” of Sakurasou no Petto na Kanojo is Mashiro’s inability to manage her own life, to the point where she willingly places herself in a pet-and-owner relationship with Sorata. (Of course, this is problematic for many reasons, but I’ll leave the experts to sort out the implications.) Why is it that Mashiro can not live her own life? It is because she is so consumed by her love for art that she has simply decided that nothing else in her life matters. Her disregard for her own quality of life is readily apparent, as is her lack of concern for self-improvement in all non-artistic areas. When asked by an exasperated Sorata what she’s done with her life up to this point, she says, “I drew pictures.” When pressed, she echoes, “I drew pictures.”
Her response is played off as a cheap gag, but it reveals an important fact about her: she cares about almost nothing else other than art. Every waking moment of her life is spent thinking about art or creating art. She lives and breathes her passion, which has allowed her to surpass her peers and become a rising star in the art world. Though critics and those around her hail her “genius”, she does not think of herself as such. She is not a diva, just a girl who is incredibly self-aware and knows exactly what she wants to get out of life.
Insanity is in the Eye of the Beholder
Is Mashiro insane for disregarding every other facet of her life so she can draw?
The rest of the world seems to think so. But is this evaluation relevant?
Hardly. Though Sorata is exasperated at first with Mashiro’s lack of common sense, he comes to understand that she has sacrificed it for her dreams. The key to “genius”, to success, lies in one’s ability to prioritize. We often think of the highly gifted as somewhat insane because they do not worry about the same kind of things that the “regular” person might, but in reality, it is simply a matter of prioritization.
Take a look at Sakurasou‘s negative example― Aoyama Nanami. She is unable or unwilling (still unsure which) to prioritize. She does not sacrifice any portion of her life in order to pursue her dreams. Every part of her life is integral. While this may seem “normal” at first― after all, she must be at once a good student, financially independent and an aspiring voice actress― her project is doomed to failure. She overreaches, pushes herself too hard in an attempt to prove both to herself and to her friends that she is competent and capable, resulting in a catastrophic crash which jeopardizes her career and her health.
I’ve got friends who exhibit this kind of behavior. In order to prove to themselves that they are capable, they pile responsibilities upon themselves in an attempt to force themselves into developing good time management skills. This behavior is akin to attempting a marathon without training. Inevitably, their plan backfires, leaving them stressed, dejected and in self-doubt. It’s a vicious cycle and heartbreaking to watch.
In contrast, people like Mashiro, Misaki and Ryuunosuke don’t have these kinds of problems because they are confident in the path that they have taken. They have elected to prioritize certain facets of their life (art, anime, programming) over others (being sociable, doing their laundry, eating) and have freed up time as a result. Unlike Nanami or (especially) Sorata, they know where they are going in life. They have a strong mental map which guides and controls their actions, and they are aware of their own limits. They are simply more effective people than those around them, and that, not any kind of inborn talent, is what differentiates them from the rest.
Perhaps, then, the secret of genius is much more mundane, yet much more attainable, than God-given talent. “Genius” is the product of iron-hard discipline, clear-eyed vision and all-consuming passion.