Silent Möbius: The Motion Picture Anime Review
サイレント メビウス THE MOTION PICTURE
Silent Möbius The Motion Picture
US Release By
In 2028, a great evil is secretly encroaching on the world of humans--a demonic force known as Lucifer Hawk. Standing in its way is a small, secret group of female police officers: Tokyo's AMP. Gifted with supernatural abilities, they try to defeat the forces of darkness wherever they appear--this time, in a massive new skyscraper under construction. But for one member of AMP, Katsumi Liqueur, this particular battle is personal. As she flashes back to 2024 and her introduction to the world of the supernatural, we discover why.
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Silent Möbius is yet another short theatrical movie based on a long manga series. Like the manga, it serves up supernatural cyberpunk horror-drama with some slick visuals. Although it doesn't completely escape the problems that plague similar films, it successfully mitigates the limited time by focusing on an interesting side story instead of trying to present a jumbled distillation of the whole thing to the unfamiliar. The characters are solid, the plot is confusing but functional, the Japanese version features some impressive emotional drama, and it looks spectacular.
The old Streamline dub does some bad things to the plot, but even that version should be a treat to fans of the original story. Those who aren't won't get much out of the characterization or drama, but there's still plenty of slick action and stylish horror to enjoy if you like that sort of thing.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Silent Möbius is yet another short theatrical movie based on a long manga series. Like the manga, it serves up supernatural cyberpunk horror-drama with some slick visuals. Although it doesn't completely escape the problems that plague similar films, it successfully mitigates the limited time by focusing on an interesting side story instead of trying to present a distillation of the whole thing to the unfamiliar.
I happen to be familiar with (and fond of) the manga, so I'll start with a comparison. All the early members of AMP (Nami, Kiddy, Lebia, Rally, and Yuki) are briefly present, but the movie wisely says focused on a new bit of Katsumi's backstory and only touches on the grander themes. Stylistically, it's everything you could hope for: The visuals are dead-on and every bit as cool as the original. It also feels right--most of the cast are only around for a minute, and the focus is on the darker side of the story, but both are faithful translations.
Not surprisingly, the film's main problem is that the manga tells a long, convoluted, and all-around good yarn. Trying to cram even a chunk of that into 50 minutes of film is a recipe for disaster, so instead it focuses on an origin story for Katsumi Liqueur (something that, when this movie was made, hadn't been thoroughly covered in the manga). Most of the movie takes place in a flashback to before Katsumi was a member of AMP.
Framing the story as a flashback is a smart move. It gives existing fans something original and meaty instead of an oversimplified recap. At the same time, the story makes marginally more sense to a viewer not familiar with the series, and it also allows for a jump forward to a satisfying finale. Of course, the entire plot is still rather vague and hard to follow, and although dropping back out of the flashback makes for a good end, it bypasses a lot of character development and isn't a real conclusion. Given the limited time, however, it does a remarkably good job of offering fans something worthwhile without totally alienating other viewers.
The characterization and drama are in the same situation. It isn't long enough to build much empathy if you aren't already familiar with the cast, but the emotional drama is straightforward enough to follow if you're not. The story focuses on young Katsumi's unpleasant introduction into the world of the supernatural. The violent Kiddy, the more sympathetic Nami, and Katsumi's mother are the only other characters with any significant screen time--a nice limited selection given the large ensemble cast to choose from.
Katsumi's difficulty in accepting the role fate has given her is the heart of the story and the strong point of the characterization. She reacts believably to both the demon-induced trauma and the oft-used "hidden family history of magic powers" situation. Her coming to grips with these things is neither rushed nor overly drawn out. The other characters are distinctive and, in a pleasing change of pace from other stylish horror anime, they're not morose.
All that said, Silent Möbius is primarily a movie about style. It blends the complementary genres of traditional cyberpunk and the subtler side of monster horror into a coherent, well-visualized reality. The sights of Tokyo in the 2020s are rendered in detailed and realistic background art--everything from densely-populated cityscapes, to slightly-alien skylines, to simple hotel rooms. Its cyberpunk world feels more livable than many--there are sunny days, well-lit rooms, and traffic jams in addition to endless seas of skyscrapers and rainy, neon-filled nights.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the monster designs are original and appropriately creepy. The creatures are animated as solid yet ever-mutating things not entirely bound by the laws of this world, regurgitating new limbs, emerging from walls, or vanishing suddenly.
The action mixes real and occult, ranging from guns and swords to wards painted in blood and those ever-popular paper talismans. While the magic isn't notably creative and the settings are cliche, it more than makes up for the lack of creativity in the execution: Solid, gory, beautifully animated combat that stops short of gratuitous. The character animation elsewhere isn't quite as expensive-looking, but still on par with the consistently great art. The distinctive character designs are attractive, faithful adaptations of Kia Asamiya's refined work in the later parts of the manga.
There is now a proper English release and a new dub by Ocean Studios, but for quite some time it was only available as an early dub by the long-gone Streamline Pictures. Like much of Streamline's work, that dub sounds good but plays fast and loose with the story. The acting is solid and believable all around; my only complaint is that Iona Morris is a little weak in Katsumi's most emotional scenes. Melora Harte sounds a bit old as Rally, and Julie Donald's voice is much too deep for Yuki, but neither is onscreen for more than a moment and the casting is otherwise good.
The writing is another story. The dialogue is acceptable (a few nice lines, some awkward ones), but the script makes significant changes to the backstory of Katsumi's predicament and the way in which it plays out. I'd complain on principle even if the changes worked, but it's unarguably bad here since the Streamline version of the story doesn't make as much sense and is less dramatically effective. Several scenes are toned down, and while the end flows a little better it's also less satisfying and injected with a cheesy message about "love being the key."
In comparison, the original Japanese is better written and the story is much smoother. The casting is a little better than the Streamline dub, with the exception of Kiddy--as much as I like Hiromi Tsuru, her voice isn't quite gruff enough. The acting is a notch up. In particular, Naoko Matsui is almost perfect as Katsumi--several powerful emotional scenes make for meatier characterization and a much more enjoyable experience.
The music, scored by the usually-outstanding Kaoru Wada, is dramatic and expensive, but doesn't know when to hold back. There are plenty of dark orchestral pieces and grand, evil choral themes at the climax, but some of the non-action scenes are backed by annoyingly overblown or downright cheesy tunes. Interestingly, Streamline turned down the volume relative to the dialogue on the worst of it, so a couple of scenes are noticeably better in their dub--an interrogation and a scene with Rally and Katsumi's mother in particular, though the former would have been most effective with no music at all. The end theme, by Tokyo Shounen, is an interesting song--slightly upbeat and rather mellow considering the movie, but pretty and anchored by an appropriately chaotic piano solo.
As a fan of cool art, attractive animation, and the original story, Silent Möbius was a treat for me. The characters are solid, the plot is confusing but functional, the Japanese version features some impressive emotional drama, and it looks spectacular. Streamline's dub does some bad things to the plot, but I still wouldn't hesitate to recommend that version to fans of the manga. As for those not already familiar with the characters in this manga-turned-movie, it stands on its own well enough to enjoy as stylish horror.
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There isn't a whole lot of cyberpunk action-horror anime, but if you're into stylish demon action-horror, then there are lots of things along the lines of Silent Möbius: Wicked City is the pinnacle of the genre, but others include Twilight of the Dark Master, Bio Hunter, and Demon City Shinjuku (more action-oriented), to name a few. Note, though, that Silent Möbius is much less gory than most others in the genre. On the cyberpunk end, AD Police Files (the OAV, not the lame TV series) shares a lot with this stylistically. Finally, there is also the sequel movie, which is all-around similar to this one, and the TV series, which covers a somewhat altered version of the story and, while decent, is much less visually impressive.
Notes and Trivia
Silent Möbius is based on a long running (over 10 years) manga series by Kia Asamiya (available in English from VIZ). There's also a newer TV series covering the larger story (available from Bandai), and a direct movie sequel to this one, Silent Möbius 2. Other adaptations include a number of video games: 1990 and 1991 releases for the little-known Japanese PC-98 and FM TOWNS gaming computers, the 1996 Windows/Mac game "Ice Riddle," and most recently two Playstation games in 1998, "Case:Titanic" and "The Phantom Demon."
Interestingly, Kia Asamiya--credited by his real name, Michitaka Kikuchi--was the chief director on this film; he also co-scripted it and did the storyboards. It is the only time to date he has ever directed. Kikuchi was backed up in directing by Kazuo Tomizawa, a veteran animation director who also never helmed a project before or since.
In Japan this film was shown in theaters as a double feature with the first Heroic Legend of Arslan movie. Streamline also showed it as a double feature in US theaters, though in that case it was paired with the somewhat more logical choice of Neo Tokyo. The sequel didn't make it to the US until the late '00s, but was shown in Japanese theaters as a triple bill with the 2nd Arslan movie and Weathering Continent.
Streamline's old VHS release looks nice, but the video is cropped from the movie's original slightly widescreen format, a pity for something this pretty. The newer Bandai release, which also includes a new English dub, does a drastically better job.
A note on the title: Möbius can (according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica) be pronounced as either may-bee-us or moe-bee-us (like "maybe" or "Moby" Dick, respectively), and while Streamline used the latter, the transliteration used on the Japanese version is "Sairento Mebiusu," meaning that it was intended as the former; you can hear this on the voiceover on the original Japanese trailer (which is in English, interestingly). It doesn't really matter, though I personally think the "oh" version sounds cooler (Streamline must have as well--the announcer in their trailer pronounces it that way).
Incidentally, the word Möbius doesn't mean anything by itself. It is a German family name made famous by August Möbius, creator of the Möbius strip. That association has given it vague connotations of "infinity," though not strong enough that it's in the dictionary.
Also on the topic of names, there is confusion over whether the name of the demon group "Rushifaa Hooku" is more accurately translated into English as "Lucifer Hawk" (which Streamline used), or the "Lucifer Folk," which sounds less cool but probably makes a little more sense in context.
Finally, as mentioned above, Streamline's translation, aside from generally making less sense, makes a few specific and notable changes. The small things, though quite a bit different from the original, are forgivable in the interest of smoother dialogue. As for the big stuff, there are spoilers from here on down, but if you're interested:
- The dub implies that Katsumi's mother hoped her psychic powers would never come to the fore, while the original seemed to say that they had only been hidden to protect her from Lucifer Hawk during her childhood.
- The reason that the AMP team (even the ones who didn't know her history) were so interested in Katsumi was changed. In the dub, she had intentionally entered an area marked "restricted" on her map (which didn't make a lot of sense anyway, since it was only "restricted" because AMP was there hunting for a demon). The original dialogue made it clear that Katsumi had no idea the alley was anything but a normal alley, but the wards at the entrance were supposed to prevent normal humans from entering at all.
- Most detrimental, in my opinion, are the changes at the end. The dub implies that Katsumi's mother tragically sacrifices herself to oblivion to keep Katsumi safe, and that it was Katsumi's fault. In the original the implication is that she is only sacrificing her body (she even makes a comment like "I'll watch over you with your dad"), and that it was sort of inevitable. The dub also adds a cheesy reference to love being the way to unlock Katsumi's power and makes Katsumi's reaction to her mother's death a little more accepting.
That last change may have been beneficial in terms of making the segue between the flashback and the very end a little smoother, and perhaps some of the other changes were intended to make Katsumi's abilities a bit more ambiguous, but several of the most powerful emotional scenes (including the one at the end of the flashback) are significantly toned down, and the overall effect is negative.
US DVD Review
Bandai's DVD release includes Japanese and English dialogue, plus a promo video and theatrical trailer as special features. It's also available in a limited edition version that has a fancier metal case and includes the soundtrack CD.
One shower scene and some bloody violence got this an R rating when Streamline released it theatrically, and it's fair to call it 16-up.
Violence: 3 - While not gratuitous, a few demons get ripped up, and there is enough blood to go around.
Nudity: 3 - One mid-length scene in a shower.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - Nothing at all.
Language: 1 - Fairly clean language in the dub.
Staff & Cast
English Dub Cast (original Streamline dub)
Katsumi: Iona Morris
Miyuka: Alexandra Kenworthy
Kiddy: Joyce Kurtz
Lucifer Hawk: Jeff Winkless
Nami: Wendy Lee
Rally: Melora Harte
Lebia: Barbara Goodson
Yuki: Julie Donald
Director: Kazuo Tomizawa
Producer: Keishi Yamazaki, Toru Miura
Script: Kei Shigema, Michitaka Kikuchi
Story: Kiy Asamiya
Music: Kaoru Wada
End Theme: "Silent Mobius - Sailing"
Lyrics: Michiru Sasano
Composer: Hideo Nakamura
Vocalist: Tokyo Shounen
"Nougiri - None"
Lyrics: Chiaki Ogasawara
Composer: Kaoru Wada
Vocalist: Naoko Matsui
Produced by Haruki Kadokawa
Available in North America from Bandai on bilingual DVD, in regular and limited edition versions; the special edition includes the soundtrack CD and comes in a metal case. Was once available from Streamline on dubbed VHS, now long out of print; this version also had a run in theaters.