Mothballs: Interview with a Cipher

This Week: Cipher

I was snowed in for part of the week, and it is about to happen again, so let’s talk about… America.

I feel like I want to break out an old timey radio for a fireside chat or something. Or maybe just a 1980’s boom box.

Cipher OVA



My notes for this manga adaptation from 1989 are a right royal train wreck of bullet point stream of consciousness jaw dropped nonsense. It may be one of single most confused media productions I have ever seen.

Japan may have had boatloads of money in the 1980’s for things like this, and goodness was it in a phase where there was a market for it wanting to show off Cool America. Red convertibles, movie stars, New York City landmarks with all the trimmings, the moon landing, the music, the sports, diners, high school teen dramas, the big city avenue holiday parades, and all the rest and so much more. As near as I can tell, it was only ever recorded in English with subtitled Japanese, because that is how dedicated they were to this concept. America or bust.

 Cipher OVA Siva Jake Dance Multiple Screens


Ostensibly, the crash course storyline is thus: Siva (real name Jake) is a young high school student and actor / model, a tomboyish girl named Anise Murphy thinks he is pretty keen, and Siva routinely switches places with his twin brother Cipher (real name Roy) so as to keep up appearances and other personal mysterious tragic backstory reasons. Good luck decoding even that much out of this attempt to bring the narrative to the small screen, however. Jason Thompson does a far more rigorous breakdown of what actually all goes down in the manga here.

The soundtrack for this animated affair consists of folks like Phil Collins (Against All Odds), Denise Williams (Let’s Hear it For The Boy), among other 1980’s anthems. Much of this OVA consists of wildly assembled montages for characters we are barely introduced to, cut with additional footage of excerpts from interviews of characters in the production talking about a football movie they are involved in making in-universe (entitled Winning Touch), interspersed with further film stock going to random “on the street” questions to assorted people. The objective was to create a production in a sort of era MTV documentary or person of interest style, and I can see what they were attempting in trying to replicate the effect.

The thing is though, it is not like any of the songs are actually performed by the characters in this anime, which would usually be the case if we were following a musician (which one of the two twin brothers does happen to be, incidentally) in a genuine television special akin to this. On the in-world film end, well, it is a case where our leading man is a popular dude and rising actor in the world of the show, but with such a short running time made even shorter for character development due to all the montages and other shenanigans, we don’t really get a sense of who or why or how or where or much of anything really related to their career or why anyone cares about them.

There is a fully animated fake cake commercial brand in this short, and the actual run time is barely even twenty minutes. We do not even really get a line of dialogue until around the eight minute mark.


Cipher OVA Siva Jake Football Film Set Crew Spin Hands Up


Even then, when the dialogue consists of folks like the Director of Wining Touch talking about “experiencing the pain of football” in regards to Siva’s performance in a film we have barely seen more than a handful of short clips of, it is difficult to keep everything connected. It is like watching a television recording of a full length making of documentary for a film one has not seen, and then fast forwarding through large portions of it, where the segments you randomly stop on then have little to do with or transition from the previous bit you saw. Also much like watching a production like that for a movie you have not seen, none of the clips or what the folks are actually talking about has any real connection to the viewer. Pretty much everything, by default, in then out of context. To that end, those who worked on this likely rapidly realized there was no way this was going to hold together for three quarters of an hour or so.

Now, folks who maybe got a little ahead of themselves and looked Cipher up already may have seen it does flaunt a runtime of about forty minutes. Technically, this is correct, in that once the credits roll to the tune of more Phil Collins, it then transitions into the form of a CNN Video Special which is just about as long as the actual anime. Here, the voice actor who plays the anime actor who is an anime character in the OVA narrates over a collection of behind the scenes production footage. This includes everything from some pretty rough voice acting auditions to the borderline personal vacation film level on location stock recordings taken for New York City location research purposes.

There is a point during this whole segment where a fake intro for a fake television show the anime actor was supposed to be in that is better animated than anything in the “actual” OAV portion, which at this point one can not be sure if that was intentional commentary or just an aborted early conception piece repurposed for this section. The voice actor who is narrating this entire portion swings wildly from speaking as himself and speaking as the anime actor with no rhyme or reason, and because they have the same speaking voice either way keeping up with what he is actually talking about is a real loop.


Cipher OVA Siva Jake Roy Sunglasses Brothers Outside


This anime is an audio visual disaster on every conceivable level, and yet it was clearly made by folks who were really excited and about what they were doing. They wanted to do so much even, and the manga it is based on is acclaimed and notable for how much attention to 1980’s America worldbuilding it actually does within the confines of its story.

The team here just had not the foggiest idea of what they were really doing when it came to translating that into an OVA, so we just end up with splattered AMERICA all over the walls.

As always, I think that is what makes the difference when it comes to these kinds of productions: it was objectively terrible, but there was a degree of gumption and a sense of drive in their flailing, and that made it actually fun rather than just bad.

At the end of the day, this anime has things like a Footloose montage. I can not in good faith deny that you should probably experience this anime.


Mothballs is a weekly write-up of already completed anime series I have either removed from my backlog or have recently revisited. A crash space for my immediate thoughts and personal processing, these are not intended as full reviews.

One thought on “Mothballs: Interview with a Cipher

  1. Having just completed my fourth ritual re-watching of Cipher, I thought I ought to let you know that this article is and likely always will be the best thing ever written about the show.

    Thank you.

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