The reasons that I have decided to watch specific anime series, OVAs, and movies in the past are many and various, but the one the drove me to Silent Mobius is perhaps the most unique. See, I went to Nan Desu Kan this year, as I do every year; for those who don’t know, NDK is an anime convention in Denver, CO, and is one of the things I look forward to each year more than almost anything else. While at the con, I love checking out the dealer’s room, and there’s a stand there each year that sells the coolest posters — they’re mostly of anime from the ’80s and ’90s, and generally have really sweet art. As a fan of old-school stuff, I always take time to root through their poster selection to see if anything catches my eye.
This year, I came across this poster, which ticked all of my checkboxes — good use of color, interesting composition, intriguing subject matter, and no huge text running across it. The problem was, I had no idea what anime it was from, and when a friend identified it as Silent Mobius (something I had never even heard of), I waffled on buying it — until I remembered that I had done this in the past with an art book at a previous NDK, and then regretted it the entire following 12 months until next NDK. I decided to part with my $21 upfront this time and not experience that again. Of course, this meant that I had to actually watch the show, as I’m generally not the type of person to put a poster of something on my wall without knowing what it is, so I downloaded the first few episodes that weekend and started watching them on my flight home.
Much like Noein, it’s kind of hard to give a straightforward summary of the anime’s premise, because it’s not entirely clear, even after 26 episodes, but I’ll do my best. In the not-too-distant future, Earth (or at least Tokyo) is under threat from otherworldly beings known as “Lucifer Hawks” — which are, for all intents and purposes, demons — who live in another world (dimension?) known as Nemesis. A gateway to Nemesis was opened in 1999 with good intentions, but tragic results, by a man named Gigelf Liqueur. His surviving daughter Katsumi is the main protagonist of the story; she is recruited to an all-female team known as “AMP” (Attacked Mystification Police, you can start cringing at any time) who are Tokyo’s first line of defense against the Lucifer Hawk threat. There are psychic powers, magic/witchcraft, high technology, a talking sword, romance, a totally evil bad guy, and plenty of other things to keep this story moving in as convoluted fashion as possible, so let’s just get to it.
If the show has one main problem, it’s that it is paced extremely poorly. Its premise isn’t bad, really — maybe a little cliché in its general form, but it has elements going for it (which I’ll get to later) that keep it interesting. As the show progresses, however, we’re ripped from its primary conflict over and over again in the name of character development. AMP is made up of seven members (eight, later in the series), and each one can be considered a “main” character; although Katsumi is the show’s primary protagonist, the other girls all get ample screen time and the writers wanted to make sure that they were each developed to a point where the viewer cares for them as individuals, rather than just members of a core group of characters.
Honestly, this is a pretty cool mindset, but the execution is clunky at best. Most of these characters get their own “development” episode, where the focus of the story is primarily on them and/or their backstory. The problem is that the writers couldn’t integrate these stories smoothly into the overarching, man vs. Lucifer Hawk plot that should be the central pillar of the anime. Instead, we watch these admittedly well-intentioned episodes that, on their own, would be perfectly acceptable mini-stories; near the end of each one though, the central plotline is forced into the remaining time in often awkward and head-scratching ways that always feel contrived. Instead of creating a plot that allows us to discover these characters organically, the plot is twisted around these isolated side-stories and pounded into a mold it was never meant to fit.
The result is twofold; first, these characters aren’t given the treatment they really deserve. I want to stress here that, void of most of the context I just gave above, the characters in this story are actually quite well-developed. They all have distinct personalities, and they interact with one another in generally believable ways. Beyond that, although they can feel somewhat one-dimensional on occasion, none of the characters grated on me, and I actually found myself caring for them, which is more than I expected after the first few episodes. It just kills me, then, that the shoddy integration of these characters’ backstories into the overall plot probably robbed me of quite a bit more of that engagement.
The other part of this, though, is that the narrative suffers from this lack of finesse. I’ll be honest in that the anime’s main story was actually of very little interest to me, and as the anime went on that became even more pronounced, but it’s worth explaining that this jagged edge between the plot and its characters made things much worse. The plot undergoes these weird, extreme transitions between hot and cold, where things intensify and then immediately and inexplicably resolve. One can’t help but wonder if the reason for this was to make room for these more innocuous development episodes, but no matter how I slice it I just can’t get around the fact that the plot’s unsteady, inconsistent clip is due in large part to the insertion of such tangents.
That hot/cold dynamic is a huge issue that’s worth talking about on its own, because this was the main thing that repeatedly tore me from the anime’s world. Often, the characters would be involved in a fight against a major opponent, only to have that opponent (who could probably have won) suddenly and without any convincing explanation stop the fight and teleport away. In other situations, characters are subject to injuries that should absolutely kill them, only to survive because of their unbreakable plot armor. In the last episode, for example, one of the girls is in a vehicle with another, minor character. The vehicle crashes and her companion is mortally wounded; she, of course, is 100% unscathed (and did I mention that she had just recently gotten out of the hospital due to another situation in which she almost died?). Conveniently, we viewers don’t actually see the crash itself, we just see their terrified faces as they’re about to crash, then a cut to another scene, and then a cut back to the aftermath as they say their final goodbyes.
These kinds of situations are literally rampant throughout Silent Mobius. It’s a series that lives by rules it seemingly creates on the fly, with no real logic behind them besides preserving characters for specific plot points. As a result it feels entirely haphazard. The story seems to be made up on the go, rather than planned in a way where everything fits together. There’s this sense that the writers wrote themselves into corners over and over, with the only solution being reliance on that vilest of all plot devices, the deus ex machina. To illustrate, that same character that I mentioned above, after her companion dies, runs off to where the other characters are fighting the Big Bad Guy and uses powers that she conveniently just realized she had to save them all from complete destruction, unannounced and without explanation. If you love suspending your disbelief, Silent Mobius is like a buffet of all the most ridiculous contrivances imaginable.
One other thing that I want to touch on is the series’ prevalence of plot holes — and I don’t use that phrase in the way most people think of it, namely as inconsistencies in the story. I mean it in a more literal sense — the plot has holes, information that is missing in order to fully understand what’s going on. There’s a right way to do this (i.e. Texhnolyze), but Silent Mobius doesn’t do the whole deft/intelligent storytelling thing, so the plot constantly feels incomplete. Important details either aren’t emphasized or aren’t explained outright, and combined with the poor pacing that I’ve already beaten to death, things that happen in the story are often perplexing if not straight-up unintelligible.
Still, while this all sounds pretty bad, and depending on your disposition, Silent Mobius may still be worth checking out. I haven’t yet talked about the thing that ultimately drew me to the anime in the first place — the artistic direction — and this is one way I feel that the anime (mostly) excels.
Silent Mobius was released in 1998, right on the cusp of a very generic time period in terms of animation style for the medium. Luckily, it avoided many of the pitfalls that the following years wrought on the medium, and although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that its animation is “brilliant” or even approaching it, it’s generally very good and for those who enjoy anime from the ’90s, there’s a lot to love here. Its setting helps with this — it takes place in a futuristic Tokyo, not quite cyberpunk but definitely in that direction. Most of the anime takes place at night, so there are a lot of deep blues that permeate the animation. It’s very mood-heavy, rain-soaked, and derelict. Backgrounds are striking, and it was very easy for me to get lost in the city over and over again. On top of this, some of the Lucifer Hawks had really cool creature designs, and each one was different from the others. Honestly, the aesthetic was the main thing that kept me watching, and it did so against a laundry list of issues that would normally take precedence. I hope I’m not overselling it, but I absolutely loved the art style and that alone kept it from being a total waste of time.
I say this all with an asterisk, though, because it’s not perfect. I don’t know if it was my fatigue with other aspects of the show, but the last several episodes seemed to have a markedly lower quality in the fight scenes, and any kind of character motion in general. The fights near the end which were supposed to be more intense felt a lot lazier than stuff earlier in the series. Also, in the last couple episodes we’re treated to some (mercifully brief) 3D shots of a giant monster that is taking over AMP’s headquarters, which are vaguely reminiscent of scenes from The Langoliers. Despite these more or less minor hiccups, Silent Mobius is a generally beautiful series, but keep in mind too that I have a preference for this style so your mileage may vary.
I also appreciated the series for certain things it didn’t do. For example, given the show’s female-centric cast and the type of show it is (cyberpunk-esque sci-fi), the demographic it’s marketed to is pretty clear — males in their teens and 20s. It would have been extremely easy — and no one would have batted an eye, except perhaps in retrospect — for the show’s producers to over-sexualize the protagonists, as tends to happen in situations like this. I applaud the team behind Silent Mobius for resisting this at every single opportunity. The sex that is in the show is implied, rather than shown. There’s pretty much no skin, no fanservice, nothing that more profit-minded studios wouldn’t hesitate to throw in at every other turn. The show doesn’t relegate its female cast to the sidelines in any way, or objectify them. They are genuinely strong characters, deserving of respect, and yet the reason for the all-female team as revealed later in the series rests on one of the fundamental differences between men and women. I’m not about to get into the politics of feminism here, but I felt like the series trod a thin line on the subject very gracefully, and was ahead of its time in that respect.
I think the show is also to be commended, in a way at least, for the sheer number of different things it tries to do. To be clear, many of these things didn’t really work and contributed to the general feeling that the story was a mess. However, there’s this sense that I got while watching that the creators (or mangaka or whoever is responsible for the story) weren’t throwing all these things at the anime in deference to trends or for any reason other than because they genuinely thought it was a good idea, and simply had no one to tell them “No.” There are multiple romances, sibling rivalry, time travel, pseudo-religious imagery, and cyborgs, to name a few. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t, but part of the show’s charm (yes, it does have charm) comes from all these crazy things being put into this giant blender of questionable taste.
I do also feel that the anime’s soundtrack is worth praising, as it’s done very well — heavy, moody gothic synth/organ pieces fill the background, and capture Silent Mobius’ tense, urban setting perfectly. The opening track isn’t bad, and the song’s closing track — at least, the one used for the first 2/3 of the series — is really good. Voice acting is pretty fine too. Good sound design may not be able to save a bad series from the scrap heap, but in this case it helped to accentuate all the little things about the anime that I felt were done right.
So do I regret purchasing that poster? Heck no. That single image captures most of what I did actually like about the series — the aesthetic, the art, the ridiculousness (look at the size of that sword!). Still, if I were to recommend this to anyone, I think it would be a hard sell no matter who I was talking to. It’s a show that finds itself in a strange, sparsely-populated no-man’s land between cop drama, serious romance, and sci-fi horror, and fails to do any one of those genres completely right. It’s convoluted, messily-paced and lacking cohesion and rhythm. It’s beautiful and ambitious and full of likable characters who are subject to horrible writing and manufactured immortality. In 2018, it’s a mostly-forgotten title that I have little reason to try and convince people is something worth remembering.
Still, for all its flaws, it’s an anime that I found surprisingly difficult to truly hate, or even really dislike. In fact, thinking back on it brings a feeling of odd fondness. It’s probably not something I’ll ever rewatch, and it’s not something I’m going to tell you is necessarily worth your time. But its sins are inoffensive at worst, and as a mood piece it works surprisingly well. Subjecting yourself to 26 episodes just to experience a “mood” is probably not most peoples’ cup of tea, though. For most of you, you can move on with your lives and not lose sleep over feeling you’ve missed out on some hidden gem from the ’90s that everyone else somehow overlooked — thanks for reading the review, I hope you have a good day. For the few remaining, it might be worth a look if you’re in the right headspace — just keep your expectations low and pay attention to the scenery.
Personal value: 6/10
For a detailed explanation of the above scores, please read this post.