Subaru Sumeragi is a 16-year-old, cheerful and extremely caring Onmyou medium (the head of his family, the Sumeragi clan) who confronts and helps take care of ghosts and spirits with the help of his twin sister, Hokuto, and his gentleman friend, Seishiro. Subaru does his best to help anyone he meets, but the entire atmosphere of the polluted city of Tokyo in the 90s, brings about a feeling of desperation that threatens to drag Subaru's spirit down.
Tokyo Babylon was published in English by Tokyopop from May 11, 2004 to May 10, 2005. Dark Horse gained publishing rights to the series after Tokyopop was dissolved and republished the series in two omnibus volumes published on March 26 and July 23, 2013, respectively. It has also been published in Spanish in Aizoban format by Editorial Kamite since September 23, 2016.
My love of CLAMP spills out again. Tokyo Babylon is another beautiful tragedy that every CLAMP follower, and manga reader should try.
Story: Find yourself in Tokyo, the 90s, following Subaru, a young progeny onmyouji. Exorcist for all who don't know what that is. Sounds so ordinary, so very relative. You can't even begin to understand how absolutely tragic and emotional this manga is. Subaru's companions, Seishirou and twin sister Hokuto accompany him as he travels throughout Tokyo and what is ultimately the setting for X/1999. There's plenty of humor here, parallel with tragedy and drama.
If you're uncomfortable with shounen ai, you may not
like this as well, although nothing outright is done. But there is always something alluded to it in Tokyo Babylon. Personally, I love CLAMP most for this fact alone. Their mantra, of someone's most precious person, no matter what gender, age or color has always been a redeeming quality. I support them alone for this factor in all of their work.
There isn't really much I can say without revealing spoilers for the manga and I can't ruin this beauty. The story will truly bring you in and you'll want to know just why Seishirou is always there for Subaru and you'll want to see more of Hokuto's deliciously charming fashion. This is certainly a twist of a story and you'll never guess it. Enthralling and completely CLAMPesque.
Art: It's a CLAMP classic and I love their older works. The artwork of their older ones is so beautiful and so rich in texture, I always feel like I'm watching it move. There's a sensual feeling to the older works of CLAMP and this one definitely has it. Especially when you see Hokuto's outfits that she makes for her and Subaru. It's highly detailed and dark, which adds to the effect of the dark tones to the story. It's so elegant that it amplifies that tragic atmosphere to the story, making it all so much more impacting.
Character: I love Subaru and Hokuto. Hell, I even loved Seishirou despite certain things. There's certain character development that happens, that is significant to the story and what happens after the story that makes it all so...tragic. God how many times have I used that word in this review? Subaru is the absolute representation of purity and good. Watching how he changes throughout the manga is wonderful (which means you must then read X/1999-you really must. I've written a review for that as well so check it out), and Hokuto is the sweetest sister ever. She's fiercely protective of Subaru and I loved that about her. And Seishirou is like an enigma. Their interactions throughout the story are what make it all and how everything comes together in the end makes it all so much more...
Just read it guys.
Enjoyment: If you can't see it now, you're blind. I love Tokyo Babylon. I fell in love with it in volume 1. Something about self-sacrificing Subaru just made me want to love him. I think, as humans, we can identify with tragedy because we all experience it in one way or another. And this is what makes us connect to what we read or watch. I can feel these characters and I can connect with the story and I love that I am pulled into this story not of my own volition. There wasn't one second where I thought, "Nah, I'm just going to put this book down and go wash dishes or something." This book gripped me by the heart and squeezed me for every tear that I had.
“Love is just a blood-match, to see who can endure lash, after lash…” – St Vincent
Though the title "Tokyo Babylon" 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 in this 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.
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 to the lonely, and very few sections of society escape without commentary.
It’s this pull of inevitable reality where Tokyo Babylon’s true intentions start to unfurl.
In a 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 Tokyo Babylon’s first printing.
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Tokyopop (15 July 2004)
Originally posted on my blog http://marusamarento.wordpress.com/
This is not the kind of manga a read every day. I typically read adventure shounen or horror/ mystery type of stuff and Tokyo Babylon is pretty much on the other end of the scale HOWEVER it is worth the read, surprisingly, and here's why;
(PS. If you just want the short version of it skip to Overall :p)
I was extremely confused at the beginning. Not only was the wording terrible but what was happening in the story made no sense. I really have no idea why I kept reading because I felt like dropping t right there HOWEVER I am grateful I kept
reading on. It went from "is this series a joke/I seriously don't expect anything out of this series" to "well damn me....".
If you have read some of Tokyo B. and thought what a joke I order that you go back and keep reading. It will get better as the story goes on; trust me.
I'm not very familiar with the shoujo typical kind of art so I'm not sure how it would score if you take that into consideration but overall it wasn't that bad. It is better than what I can draw so I can't really complain haha. At first I thought that the author would use the same face for all the characters but once you keep reading you see that all the characters have different facial characteristics and I appreciate that.
You may think Subaru should just man up and stop being such a wimp but as you go on you appreciate his character and personality. You also begin to appreciate the characters and how they go on throughout the story and I really like Sei's development too. If you're a character development kind of person, this may be something you should add to your reading list.
To be honest with you, when I started reading I was prepared to spend the whole time laughing at the artwork and the characters and how terrible it was but as I kept reading I kept getting sucked in until I finished. I enjoyed that. I have really never had this kind of experience before so I applaud it for fooling me like this. After finishing it I wanted more ;n;. It seems like X is the sequel but I see no Subaru in it ;A;.
I did give an 8 for the art but that is just me being picky, therefore I give11/11 7s for this. If this ends up in your list because of some kind of randomizing tool, read it. If you like this genre, read it. If you don't like this genre, read it (ok maybe don't but just give it it try >83), If you don't like shounen ai, read it. The is no ai in there what so ever apart from Sei being odd with his 'I love you' teases. I surprisingly enjoyed it and I bet you will too. It is not a long series and worth if you have the time to spare. My final comment on Tokyo B. is "damn that ending though"
Tokyo Babylon was one of the first few mangas that I started reading years ago and up till today, I still think it is one of the best mangas CLAMP has produced.
Warning, this manga does contain some elements of shounen ai (boy love).
Looking at the summary one would think that che, it's your typical magical boy running around Tokyo exorcising your ghost for the day. I must say, the story line reflects more than that and it addresses some of the issues society is facing from the aging population to bullying. There are some really cute moments (a big hug for Hokuto-chan and
her very loud fashion!!) in the story but overall it has a pretty dark storyline with a tragedy for its ending. Great story twist and sob!!
It's CLAMP, so safe to say the art it really detailed and beautiful. Of course it is pretty outdated now (it being drawn in the 90's so the clothes were quite old fashion).
I love the three main characters!!! Each of them have a complex personality, all contrasting each other. Even some of the supporting characters are pretty interesting. My personal fav is Seishirou.
Enjoyed it to the max!!!
I give it a 9 due to the artwork (and I'm stingy w/ marks). And when you are done with this manga, move on to X to watch the conclusion of Subaru and Seishirou's twisted, twisted relationship.