Tokyo Babylon is another great story from CLAMP an all female comic book (manga) group that specialize in drawing beautiful men and cute animals. Their works are numerous including the better known Card captors that was aired on Nickelodeon a good decade or so ago or the highly controversial Chobits to some of their hidden gems such as Legal Drug, Clover, Wish and X series.
All of their titles follow some commonalities however being an all female group there target market is shojo or female orientated and thus not unlike other shojo comics/ manga contains gay or homoerotic themes largely between beautiful men or ambiguous incest between twins or family members that look similar. This title also contains homoerotic suggestions between two of our main protagonists.
The manga dives straight into the story we are introduced first to Sumeragi Subaru aged 16 through his exorcism on the first few pages upon picking up the book. He seems to be the more innocent and naive of the group despite his back heritage of sorcery and magic. He definitely is the more thoughtful sibling in comparison to his twin sister ( Sumeragi Hokuto 16) who looks almost identical in comparison seems to be more interested in scandal, romance and setting him up with their good friend and vet (Sakurazuka Seishiro) who is almost a decade older than them by comparison and their mentor/escort. Fortunately Seishiro (also known as Sei-chan) is so laid back and relaxed about the whole situation he is practically horizontal though don't be deceived as although Subaru protests he never seems to struggle when Sei-chan quite literally sweeps him off his feet during various exorcisms and ghost exterminations throughout the first volume. Even despite the fact they are from rival magic organizations or families. This is not uncommon however as there are quite a few Romeo and Juliet themed relationships where their love is tabu.
The characters appearance do vary a little from the other CLAMP comics I have read the usual structure is for all their young male characters from the age of 14 upwards to be tall, slim and usually with dark straight hair. This series diverges a little as the Sumeragi twins look cuter like a mixture between Chi from Chobits and Sakura from Card Captors instead of the tall and elegant look.
The love interest is a little different in appearance also. Typically the older of the males has really harsh looking dark eyes and looks quite scary and intimidating despite the fact they are almost always warm hearted are usually the strong silent type in the case of the king of hell in Wish or Kazuhiko from Clover however in this case the older love interest looks a lot more like Sakura's dad and in general looks a lot more friendly and open.
Not unlike the Hollywood blockbuster Ghost Busters their research on the spirit world is also based on Ancient Mesopotania and Babylon which explains the title of the series. However it is quite on the nose with some of its discussions considering it was originally released in 1991 in Japan as the characters scoff over nuclear power " how long will that last?" and "..monsters are no match for human selfishness! Environmental destruction, nuclear threats..." Which is all pretty deep and in focus with modern day topics and happenings around the world. So I would definitely say that it withstands the test of time. It kind of reminds me of the discussion Ray and Winston are having in the Ecto 1 about the end of the world and biblical Armageddon right before the final battle with Zuel.
Though the first volume doesn't have any severe happenings that would jeopardize the lives of the protagonist, it does leave off and sort of a cliff hanger so I would say the rating of teen 13+ is about right for it, there is no real gore or nudity to it or scantily clad beautiful boys or ladies as of yet and even the suggested sex scenes are subtle and tasteful so there is nothing overly objectionable. It may be a good start off point to start reading the more adult CLAMP series such as Chobits or Clover after you have finished with the fairly innocent in comparison Card Captors.
The RRP for vol1 is £6.99 but you can get it on amazon for a few pounds cheaper postage included. The Tokyopop volumes are now out of print unfortunately like the other CLAMP comics but if you don't mind buying second hand you can pick them up for pretty cheap. My older volume 1 even has a full colour insert at the from of the book which is quite pleasant that could be used as a poster but I don't want to risk damaging the book by taking it out.
"Love is just a blood-match, to see who can endure lash, after lash..." - St Vincent
Though the title evokes a contrast between the urban sprawl of 1980s cityscape and the ancient city of desolation, perhaps Sodom and Gomorrah would be a better allegory for the cold and corrupt city that lends itself to the scenery of Tokyo Babylon.
The city's influence on our main character, Subaru Sumeragi, is undeniable. Thirteenth in the long line of onmyouji (spell-casters, mediums, or exorcists), he is employed as a kind of spiritual psychiatrist to relieve Tokyo's residents, past and present, of their emotional baggage. Despite his obvious power he has a passive, neurasthenic personality, as soft as wax and as wavering as candlelight. Ultimately a kind and selfless sixteen-year-old boy, the pressure and grime of city life slowly weighs down on his soul.
Not that Subaru's life is one of introversion and agony - at least not at first. His twin sister Hotoru ensures that. Aggressively cheerful, her personality likely an unconscious front put on to support Subaru's weaknesses. Her idiosyncrasies are a source of humour and warmth throughout, especially her endevours to push her brother together with their mutual friend Seishiro Sakurazuka. "I wanted you to have something you would love so much, that you wouldn't care what others thought. Something you wouldn't change your mind about. It didn't matter what it was. I just wanted you to have something like that," she explains to her brother. Seishiro, despite his surname having distinctly sinister connotations with death, is a mild-mannered and chirpy vet who couldn't possibly be anything more than he first seems.
Starting in a generic monster-of-the-week format, Tokyo Babylon gradually reveals more and more of the characters' backstories and the tangled web woven between fate and free will.
This is something of a hallmark of CLAMP: the notion of "inevitability", though it may not be as evident here as in their other work. Tokyo Babylon could be thought of as the encapsulation of their various themes and tropes: the occult, good and evil, self-sacrifice, sexuality. While some may view this as nothing but talentless repetition or ego masturbation, despite being somewhat cliche due to the context of CLAMP's subsequent fame, Tokyo Babylon is what I consider the pinnacle of CLAMP's craft: being both emotionally and mentally engaging.
Stylistically, the art in Tokyo Babylon gradually improves throughout the seven volumes. Subaru is drawn effeminately and with an elegance that belies his innocence. CLAMP in true form take great pains exploring extremely detailed fashion and distinctive character designs, replete with standard 90s CLAMP anatomical proportions. This is particularly prominent in Subaru's dress-sense, with his trade-mark gloves and meticulously rendered coats with buttons, zips, lapels, pleats et al. Whether this is truly the style of a sixteen-year-old boy is up for debate, but it is certainly stunning to look at, especially on the full-colour covers and the small posters inside the front cover of each volume.
While Tokyo Babylon may seem like fluff, even in the earlier stories its use of Shinto ideology to present didactic inquests into social issues is scathing. Subaru's power leads him to help many people, from the murderous and to the lonely, and very few sections of society escape without commentary. As Subaru's clients become more and more desperate, the inevitable pull of reality, where Tokyo Babylon's true intentions lie, starts to slip from beneath Subaru's feet.
In a recurring dream, a man tells the child Subaru, "Did you know? They say buried underneath every cherry tree is a corpse. [...] The reason the cherry blossoms bloom so beautifully every year is because of the corpse buried underneath."
Just as the true form of beauty is seen to be one of ugliness, everything we know about the characters is perceived a different shade in the light of truth. As we saw through the relentless critique of society, so we see more starkly the juxtapositions of obligations and choices, industrialisation and sorcery, love and death, and ultimately the selfishness inherent in selflessness.
We see how the catalyst of despair that ultimately manifests as malevolence in the last volume began as an undercurrent that has rippled in every page, panel and brushstroke since the very beginning. Perhaps it is this that gives Tokyo Babylon its unusual allure, palpable tension and lurking melancholy that has endured the 23 years since its first printing.
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Tokyopop (15 July 2004)
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