Tokyo Babylon is the beautiful, classic manga from Clamp that lures you into the false sense of security that everything will be okay and perfect at the end – when it is anything but, and much, much worse. It’s been about 20 years since this manga was written, and it is still one of Clamp’s greatest and most memorable works; and the work that spawned such beloved characters, and the somewhat sequel, the gorgeous X (X/1999) where Subaru and Seishirou appear nine years later.
★ Story (10) – Tokyo of the 90’s– a modern, powerful cityscape, a glorious empire of sprawling lights and commercial skyscrapers; a bitter world hurling itself evermore into a state of Babylon, and eventually utter destruction. Dark, sinister, and brooding, this manga focuses on the problems of this modern society by following the life of young Subaru Sumeragi; a 16 year old onmyouji – a powerful exorcist and the head of the powerful Sumeragi family. The premise of this manga sounds so simple, so very dull; so very overdone. I can assure you, it is anything but. Subaru goes through the manga solving different cases, each of which focus on different social problems and issues that run amok in the world. Every story does not have a happy ending, yet the readers eyes are opened to the different points of view surrounding the problem, and are asked some hard, insightful questions directed to solving the issue. Tokyo Babylon is far more than a fantasy story; it is a social outcry and a voice for the problems of a modern world which still exist today.
Though it is a dark story, Tokyo Babylon is nonetheless supplied with plenty of lighthearted scenes. The humor is laced in-between the darkness and balances it out nicely. The mile-long speeches of Hokuto, the suave and silly flirting of Seishirou towards Subaru, and of course Subaru’s adorable embarrassment at the hands of the other two partners in crime is very adorable and fun. The humor is a very sharp contrast to the ever evolving tragedy and drama that in fact lures the reader into a false safety net of “everything will be okay in the end”. Which is exactly what Tokyo Babylon sets out to do, and succeeds. Whatever tragedy you expect to happen will happen, but it will be far, far more horrific than expected.
Throughout the tale, young, shy and sweet Subaru is flanked by his two companions – his energetic and witty twin sister Hokuto, and the charming, flirtatious but mysterious Seishirou Sakurazuka, a 25 year old veterinarian and head of the Sakurazuka clan; the age-old rivals of the Sumeragi. Throughout the manga, innocent and gentle Subaru becomes more and more worldly wise in his job and his duties as he is exposed to a darker and darker world; the pinnacle of his heartbreaking change from an innocent child into the brooding, tragic young man of X (X/1999) is brought about at the end of this series through a shocking, brutal betrayal that destroys and breaks him down entirely. In the end, Subaru’s childlike faith and trust in people, and the belief that they will not betray him is utterly destroyed, and he stands alone; a bitter figure amidst a world heading towards to inevitable Apocalypse; a person left in ruins among the towering skyscrapers of Babylon.
★ Art (8) – An older series, the art style has a distinctive late 80’s early 90’s touch that makes it very nostalgic and stylish in a retro way. The art is beautifully drawn nonetheless, in Clamp’s detailed but neat style, reminiscent of their older, far more lavish works. Slender, long-limbed good looking characters and whimsical clothing are supplied in all their attractive glory; a handsome, seductive older man, a very pretty boy and an adorable, stylish girl all become eye candy at the hands of Clamp. I did not give the art a perfect score, because at times, some of the bodies look a bit awkward, the positioning is rather off and the proportions can be odd. Overall though, while Clamp’s artwork may be an acquired taste for some, Tokyo Babylon is still very appealing to look at, especially in the later and final volumes where everyone looks their best, and the style is perfected.
★ Character (10) – A series with only three main characters? How will that work? But it does, and very well. With only three characters, the story becomes very intimate and close-knit (which of course, further goes to hike up the sheer tragedy of the ending).
There is a reason that Subaru is one of Clamp's most popular characters even after 20 years; he is a completely endearing, loveable, innocent person, and utterly adorable. His gentleness, kindness and sweetness are constantly at odds with the dark work he is destined to do; yet they all remain with him -though much more subtle- even when he loses so much at the end. In all my years of keeping up with Clamp, I can honestly say that I've never come across even one person who disliked Subaru.
Hokuto is the comforting, encouraging and bubbly twin of Subaru's - she the loud to his soft, the friendly to his shy and his number one supporter (especially when it comes to Seishirou). On her own, Hokuto is extremely likable, loving and very self-sacrificing; everything she does is for her brother's happiness, and she's willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that...
And last but anything but least, there is Seishirou who is the enigma of the group. By day he is a friendly, flirty veterinarian; friend -and more- of Subaru's, and Hokuto's partner in crime. And yet, his real personality and true agendas are incredibly shocking and sinister; giving out anymore would ruin the secret of the story, but however sinister you think Seishirou is...When it is truly revealed, he is far, far worse, and the results of his true personality are utterly devastating.
★ Enjoyment (10)- While some may be turned off by the light shonen-ai, there really is nothing NOT to enjoy with this little gem. Don't just sit there reading my review; go and read this yourself.
★ Overall (10) - Everything from the cases, to the art and the wonderful characters are all very worth a read and more. This story has the humor, the darkness and the overwhelming shock of brutal tragedy all wrapped up in a highly appealing package. This is an absolute classic from Clamp, that delivers far more than expected in the 7 volumes that this story spans. And afterwards, when you're done, and the final volume is finished leaving you saddened and shocked with more questions that answers...Turn to Clamp's X, the somewhat sequel of this manga. There, you'll find the answers to what happened, and IS happening to Seishirou and Subaru nine tragic years later. Don't expect a happy ending for them though; after all, how could there be? There can never be a perfect ending for those who lived and were victims in the crumbling world of Tokyo Babylon.