Cipher Volume 1
This is a CMX book? What happened to the trade dress with the white backgrounds and the bright-colored corners? Where’s the heavy type set on a slant? Cipher is missing any identifying imprint information at all on the cover, leaving only the title, volume number, author’s name (Minako Narita), and a nondescript picture of a couple in winter.
Looking at the spine — always a problem for these titles, since the CMX letters were as big as the title, causing all the books to be shelved under “C” in many bookstores — there are other changes, as well. The logo has shrunk and gained some swirls, so the whole thing resembles a take on the CBS eye. It’s now able to be printed horizontally across the spine, making it look more like a bullet logo and less like a title.
The title typeface seems to be individually chosen for the book instead of the heavy black block caps previously used across the line. The outline letters have more of an old-fashioned, antique feel, less like a cut-rate product for a grocery store shelf and more in keeping with the slightly outdated story (copyright 1984).
Also on the spine, the small reproduction of the cover picture has become bigger and switched places with the author’s name, suggesting an emphasis on content over creator. The straight line delineating the volume number has been curved for a softer feel.
These are all improvements on the line’s previous trade dress, although I think they err too far on the side of making the book look generic. The CMX name, after the Tenjho Tenge editing controversy, may have become a liability, and I can understand if they want to downplay it in favor of giving titles their own identities… but what’s left here has little identity of its own. It resembles the publication of a cheap bandwagon-jumper instead of a future-facing intiative of one of the biggest American comic companies.
So, what’s inside? The first page replaces the Japanese vertical text with English lettering, also written horizontally. Being confronted with a page that resembles this:
S H A S
H I N I
A S D N
L D U L
E N I
R S T E
U I O S
E E Y A
O A U
V N T
E D S H
R H E
H O L D
I U L O
. B R
is immediately off-putting. There’s 17 more lines like this, and it’s only page one, so I skipped it. (It wasn’t until I had to type it in here that I read it for the first time.) There’s faithfulness, and then there’s unreadability.
Unfortunately, that approach continues in the dialogue. When a word balloon isn’t the right shape for lines of English dialogue, they simply run the words vertically, splitting them if necessary, so a one-word greeting becomes
It’s very disruptive to have to switch back-and-forth between horizontal and vertical text even within one panel.
The art style is what most people think of when you say “manga for girls” — a cute, all-eyes heroine with long flowing hair who looks about eight years old, and a pouty older boy with a banged puffball for hair. I was already disclined to continue with this book, given the readability problems, and the cutesy art began setting my teeth on edge. The paper stock has been downgraded to something closer to newsprint, and the book’s ink coming off on my fingers wasn’t impressive, either.
It was a shame, because I thought the story might have potential. Former child star Siva is approached by spunky girl Anise, who demands to be his friend (because she has a mole the same place on her forehead where he wears a bindi — she’s not very bright, apparently). She soon finds out that he and his twin brother, Cipher, switch places frequently, sharing one life.
Continued reading revealed a clunky, leaden translation, with the characters talking in flat exposition, so I gave up. I flipped a bit later and saw that she apparently moves in with the twins, but I didn’t care enough to wonder why.