The acclaimed author of the Monogatari series makes his Jump debut with Cipher Academy, the story of a student at a fiercely competitive military intelligence school. Brain food (and some headaches) guaranteed
The young man Iroha he signed up for Cipher Academy, without however inquiring much about it first. Evaluating it as a progressive school due to the unisex uniforms, he discovers that it is a militarized and extremely strict institution. Above all, the theme is ciphers and their decryption, and Iroha has never even solved a crossword puzzle.
While racking his brain to solve the first task assigned to him, the protagonist runs into Kogoeof the mysterious M section. Ella is on the run from a classmate of Iroha, and in exchange for help, she gives him a pair of smart glasses able to help him solve puzzles.
Nisio Isin, known in Italy for the Monogatari novels, is a prolific and legendary writer in his homeland. Cipher Academy is his manga proposition for Weekly Shonen Jumpin collaboration with the designer Yuji Iwasaki, active for a few years but showing great talent. As always, for us Westerners it is available on MangaPlus.
First impressions of Cipher Academy
The work has the ambitious goal of combining a engaging story ad puzzles that can be solved by readers. As for the first part, Nisin is a guarantee: already from the first chapter we are introduced to characters who suggest a three-dimensionality of purposes and motivations. The Cipher Academy, by its definition, is the guardian of mysteries to be deciphered, among which the M section in which Kogoe studies stands out.
The interactive part is less guaranteed and immediate, especially due to the translation problems inherent in it. Viz does a good job of translating the puzzles into English, however as long as their nature remains closely tied to the country (the second puzzle uses Japanese prefectures as a code), the effect will never be the same. It goes without saying that the work is reserved for an audience stimulated by this kind of thing, which, in Jump’s range, could represent a minority.
Some baloons are censored for various reasons, creating a certain type of atmosphere but also betraying the novelist nature of Nisin. In novels, it is easier to insert the “unsaid”. Even the character of Iroha contains a revelation in her nature that would work better in the written medium: at first we assume she is a girl in a girl’s class, but then we discover that she is a boy. In the manga, the surprise is made possible only because Iroha is so androgynous as to appear almost unrealistic.
Cipher Academy is a intriguing project, which features all the media appeal Jump requires for its characters. The challenge of making ciphers and decryption interesting is open and for now all to be played. But Isin appears fitter than ever, and capable of overcoming that challenge.