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REVIEW: Manga Review: Cipher by Narita Minako

Cipher coverCipher by Narita Minako. Published by CMX. Retail $9.99. Rating: Teen (some heavy issues, but little to no sex or violence; I’d say high school age personally). 7/12 volumes released in English, complete in Japan.

Dear CMX,

I think you are my favorite shoujo manga publisher. I’ve only tried a few of your series, and I love Emma and Seimaden, but even your average ones are better than everyone else’s. Cipher is a case in point.

The series initially interested me for a couple of reasons. One is that it was written in 1985, which I’m told is often considered the Golden Age of Manga. I’ve not read much from the period and wanted to try more. I thought the artwork looked pretty. It reminded me of paintings of children from the early 20th century, despite the new clothing, and I thought I might enjoy the change of pace. Also, it was set in New York City, and I always find manga set in NYC to be amusing for all they get wrong, though in this case the mangaka wasn’t that far off even though she drew a kinder, gentler NYC.

I expected the series to be like the few other shoujo I’d read that were decades old. They’re often like Barbara Cartland romances, though some are at least good at what they do and enjoyable. Cipher’s first volume surprised me though by throwing in some dark things many of those manga wouldn’t have touched. The possible dark side of it intrigued me enough that I bought volumes 2-6 (and just snapped up vol 7 when I saw it was out today).

The series, for all that it’s dated by the author’s worship and homage to the Thompson Twins LOL and 80s fashion, addresses issues I wasn’t used to seeing in an older shoujo manga: the heroine’s puberty, which we experience in detail through her periods, and tampons, and wanting to wear a bra, and the darker things hinted at: the 2 heroes’ sexual proclivity, cocaine use that leads to addiction, child abuse, the death of loved ones, depression, parental divorce. It’s strange, seeing these beautiful characters having to deal with some harsh realities. But the story doesn’t stay harsh too long. There’s an undercurrent of sadness, but much of the story is standard shoujo in its positive outlook and humor. Still, it is different, and I can see why you decided to publish this.

There is one annoying thing in the first book that you did, and that’s write words vertically, letters in upright position stacked on top of each other. It works in Japanese but in English it’s very hard to read. Please never do it again. I understand a lack of space, but that wasn’t the case in most bubbles. Smaller fonts would have worked. I’ve not noticed the problem with subsequent volumes, but the first one gave me a headache. It is, however, the only complaint I have about the English production of this.

The story, for those reading, is about Anise, and the identical twins Siva and Cipher (stage names). Siva and Cipher have a secret (several actually), but Anise finds out straight off that they switch off going to high school, and they’re spooked enough about it to have a contest with her. If she can tell them apart after a month, they’ll tell her why they do it. If she can’t she’ll never tell anyone that they do it. But she comes to realize that there’s a lot of pain behind the secret, and is content with becoming their friend. And they’re surprised into liking her honesty and positive outlook. After the contest, the story turns to how the friendships develop, then love, and we see all three grow up into adulthood and face all the consequences, including some painful ones, of their actions.

I don’t know where the series is going. I have no clue. I think I know which of the twins the heroine ends up with. But to be honest, I’m not entirely sure she’ll end up with either. It’s pleasant, reading a romance that keeps me guessing.

I can’t say the series has blown me away. It’s good, but not great. Not yet at least. I think it has to potential to. I think perhaps in the 80s the series might have shocked me. But right now in 2007, at the halfway point, it’s more a case of having something enjoyable to look forward to every few months when the next is released.

I think you chose a good series though. Teenage girls seem to love this one, and I think most intelligent teenagers would enjoy this if their parents are comfortable with them reading about some darker issues which aren’t glorified at all. There’s no sex in the series to date, just some talk about it. Anise is a young girl at heart and doesn’t even feel the inclination for romance for a while, and now she’s falling in love and wanting kisses. The guys are no strangers to sex, but we don’t see it. They keep their wickedness reined in around her, because they like the way she sees them. The story is more about developing honest relationships, growing into yourself, being happy with yourself, all while struggling to grow up.

So, in the end, for whom I recommend this? I recommend it for romance manga fans, after they buy up all the Emmas and Paradise Kisses and Ichigenmes and they still want more. Grade A series are hard to come by, so between volumes, they’ll be wanting the next best thing. I think that would be Cipher. Teenagers will enjoy the angst and humor and some relevance to their lives, and if readers remember the 80s like I do, they’ll giggle at how silly we all looked, even those cute Thompson Twins. ;P

CMX, the series you choose always seem to draw me in. They aren’t all great, but they are all interesting. I’m looking forward to trying another. B.


à£Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚ ¸Ãƒ £Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚ §Ãƒ £Ã†’ ¼Ãƒ £Ã†’ ³

(JÄ n)



reads any genre as long as the books aren't depressing. Her preferred reads these days are in manga format and come from all manga genres, but she especially likes romance, doubly so when there are beautiful men involved. With each other. Her favorites among currently-running English-translated manga series include NANA, Ze, Ouran High School Host Club, Junjou Romantica, Blood Alone, Vampire Knight, Skip Beat, Silver Diamond and anything by the holy triumvirate of BL: Ayano Yamane, Kazuma Kodaka and Youka Nitta, including any scribbles they might do on the backs of napkins.


  1. Teddy Pig
    May 22, 2007 @ 12:49:13

    Thompson Twins rocked I even like their later stuff… remember the Cool World soundtrack? They were there.

  2. Jan
    May 22, 2007 @ 13:22:12

    *laughs* I barely remember them, except of an icon of those days. Her adoration of them is cute, and she little side columns on them throughout the series.

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