#204 : Cipher

Wow, an anime that opens with a Phil Collins song! Against All Odds to be exact, except it’s not Phil’s singing voice, perhaps due to licensing. It really sets the mood during the opening credits and wouldn’t you know it, it closes the film too. Here we have an odd OVA of a shojo manga adaptation that combines 80s era MTV styled music videos, off the cuff interviews and promotional commercials. Interesting and would you believe it’s in English too. What? Like a dub? No no, that was the original audio track. Interesting. All of this combined becomes an exploration into the lives of twin boys that focus into one identity. This was Cipher.

Before diving into Cipher the Video, the proper name for this anime, I had to look into the definition of cipher itself. Basic dictionary definitions point to a secret code and even the number zero. How about a cipher in terms of a person, an individual? I found this description at Quick and Dirty Tips that spoke to me immediately…

A cipher can also be a person, often a fictional character, who is a blank slate—and that’s how I used the word when talking with my husband. A cipher has so little personality—is such a nothing—that the readers or viewers can project their own ideas and values onto the character.

… now we are onto something. I think we can look into the anime now.

Cipher_1What I found interesting about Cipher was how shallow and fake everything appeared. And yet you find a depth within this void of plasticity, which sounds ironic, but then again view this OVA like an art exhibit more so than a piece of entertainment. Everything looks polished, perfect, well dressed and it all comes out very dull and preprogrammed. Listen to the voice acting in particular, is it badly acted or oddly phrased? The English language dialogue is an odd choice, but the story is set in New York, so the creators wanted to be authentic to the native vernacular. And not just the dialogue, even the setting was drawn from scouted photography of New York City for authenticity. Obsession with American culture cannot be questioned as all this is outlined in a documentary that follow the main feature OVA.

Cipher_2Our characters don’t have much back story in the anime and one will have to reference the manga, or some basic research to find out who these twins of Cipher are. Jake and Roy Rang are former child stars who exude blond teenage heartthrob eye candy that lead not a double life, but a life single life in two bodies. A persona of Siva, and at one point see a statue of the Hindu god Shiva, is played by both boys and this role serves as an actor and student in greater society. Yet outside this role, who are these boys? While there is a lot of fun and happiness portrayed, I return back to that opening segment which feels a little lonely and sad. Beyond the man made role, are these boys their own individual, or only a manufactured personality that is split into two? There is often a close bond between twins where we can’t tell one from the other and for one female friend this is the case as she is the only one who seems to know the truth of Siva. Or, is she their girlfriend?

Cipher_3Often who we portray in public may vary greatly from our genuine selves. I question if we are all a cipher to one degree or another? Look at social media, or TV and movies and even anime as well, it’s all a camera angle behind a distorted reality. Some may find Cipher as a bland 80s stream of music plastered on top of unrelated events. Yet I see this as an exploration of identity, or maybe our lack of a genuine sense of self in a world that is mostly unreal. This anime may have been more of a promotion for the manga than an actual story in and of itself, but it spoke to me in a profound fashion. I think the cover of the Phil Collins song Against All Odds says it all…

How can I just let you walk away, just let you leave without a trace
When I stand here taking every breath with you, ooh
You’re the only one who really knew me at all

How can you just walk away from me,
When all I can do is watch you leave
Cause we’ve shared the laughter and the pain and even shared the tears
You’re the only one who really knew me at all

So take a look at me now, oh there’s just an empty space
And there’s nothing left here to remind me,
Just the memory of your face
Ooh take a look at me now, well there’s just an empty space
And you coming back to me is against the odds and that’s what I’ve got to face

I wish I could just make you turn around,
Turn around and see me cry
There’s so much I need to say to you,
So many reasons why
You’re the only one who really knew me at all

So take a look at me now, well there’s just an empty space
And there’s nothing left here to remind me, just the memory of your face
Now take a look at me now, cause there’s just an empty space

But to wait for you, is all I can do and that’s what I’ve got to face
Take a good look at me now, cause I’ll still be standing here
And you coming back to me is against all odds
It’s the chance I’ve gotta take

Take a look at me now

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother

Call it a theme or not, but often times in anime you have a storyline around a protagonist and their fellow sibling. In the case for this outing, a brother. The relationship becomes an intertwined focus into the overarching plot, a microcosm acting in the greater macrocosm. Fullmetal Alchemist’s Edward and Alphonse are a prototypical example that is well known in the circles of fandom. … or am I out of step because I watch older material? Truth be told I finally saw FMA a good decade after it’s initial release, but that’s besides the point. … Sometimes he may be your friend, your rival, or your karmic destiny. He may be righteous or vile, charming or conniving, more respected or revered… but in the end, he is one’s brother and often times love is what bond’s you together, or like the old Joy Division song once said, Love Will Tear Us Apart.

Here are ten examples of brotherhood from the world of classic anime.


Astro Boy… Astro and Atlas

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Fist of the North Star… Kenshiro and Raoh (and don’t forget Toki!)

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Godmars… Takeru Myojin (Mars) and Marg

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GoLion… Takashi and Ryou Shirogane

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Grave of the Fireflies… Seita and Setsuko

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Mobile Suit Gundam… Sayla Mass and Char Aznable

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Saint Seiya… Shun and Ikki

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Space Battleship Yamato… Susumu and Mamoru Kodai

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Touch… Tatsuya and Kazuya Uesugi

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The Wild Swans… Elisa and her six brothers

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