Cipher 8

November 24, 2011

Minako Narita – CMX – 2007 – 11 volumes

There’s not really any good manga to review on Thanksgiving, for good reason. But Cipher is the only manga I’ve ever read where the characters celebrated the holiday, and I haven’t read it in awhile, so here we are.

It really is great. I’m reading Mars right now as well, and the two are very similar in that they both put a lot of work into character development. Both build their characters through conversations with others rather than events and monologues, which is a refreshing change of pace, and both feature some fairly complicated and worthwhile relationships.

There’s a strangely ambiguous one in this series between Jake and his roommate, Levi. With a lot of quiet, awkward moments and all-but-moving in together, combined with ambiguous ass-grabbing and Levi’s feminine looks, all the signs are there for the two as a couple. Except I don’t think that’s the case. Commentary from other characters suggests that Jake is simply being himself with Levi, and acting the same with him as he would with Roy. I think it is a friendship, plain and simple, but it’s a strangely… “sensitive” one.

Both Roy and Jake are doing well apart in this volume, but Anise is the one who’s most affected by the split in this volume. She still lives in New York and is close with Jake, but being close isn’t good for either Jake or Anise, since it only reminds them that Roy is gone. She can’t make her peace with Levi, the new friend in Jake’s life, and she can’t stop thinking about Roy.

Roy, on the other hand, is doing quite well. As is Jake, for that matter. The two extremely shy and introverted celebrities are learning to make friends, and the nuances of their mood and interaction with others is what makes this a great volume, and a great series in general. Seeing Jake and Roy apart is heartbreaking, but both are learning new skills, and about being apart, and it’s better for them.

I’m not really doing the series justice. At this point, it’s not really a romance comic, but seeing the angsty Jake and Roy learn and grow as people throughout the course of the series is wonderful, and Narita really knows how to write characters. She does a really good job with the setting, too. Manga set in the US is usually at least a little distracting with small inaccuracies, and the older the series is, the more hilariously wrong such things are. But Narita makes the characters interact with New York City quite well, and even in this volume, the city is used towards the end when the characters relive a tour from earlier in the series, then search for a lost person. Narita also pays close attention to US holidays. I mentioned Thanksgiving earlier, but Anise also discusses St. Patrick’s Day offhandedly here, as well.

Then again, there’s a really hilarious scene where people go skiing in t-shirts and bathing suits and things. Narita’s usually pretty good, though. And since I’ve never been skiing in California, maybe people actually do dress like that. Roy lives in Los Angeles, and maybe there’s some confusion there about what to wear when it’s cold. I’m told that winter wear in LA includes wearing a scarf over your tank top.

Also, Narita’s author notes continue to be a high point for me. She really loves the Thompson Twins.

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