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From Tokyopop: An introspective, character-driven series, Tokyo Babylon reads like a manga version of The X-Files. Its story -- a modern-day fantasy -- follows a young onmyouji (spiritual medium) on his quest to protect Tokyo from evil spirits. Teenaged Subaru Sumeragi is the 13th head of the Sumeragi clan. Together with his twin sister Hokuto and the mysterious veterinarian Seishirou, Subaru travels around Tokyo, calming the ghosts that threaten the city.
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The Original CLAMP
I am a rabid CLAMP fan. No kidding! I've collected tons of their merchandise from chess sets to figurines and almost all of their works. I love CLAMP! I always have (as one of the first mangakas whose work I read), and probably always will.
What is so great about CLAMP, as compared to the thousands of others out there, is their constant evolution.
Even though they first got popular what...back in the late 80's?...they are still going strong today. And each of their works is creative, innovative, and involves semi-complex philosophies (I do admit, we're not talking Evangelion here -ducks from angry, polarized fans-), but almost right from the start CLAMP has done their best to set themselves aside and make their works truly stand out. Make them MEAN something.
It is for precisely this same reason that, even though I know and love all of CLAMP's series, Tokyo Babylon will ALWAYS be my favorite.
As someone else pointed out, it's very concise. Some of CLAMP's works are absurdly short (The Legend of Chun Hyan got unfairly and prematurely cut off...and Kobato was only five volumes!? I expected more somehow...). Others are absurdly long (X, for one, which still hasn't finished yet ;_; and Tsubasa...damn was that a long series!).
Tokyo Babylon, however, is only 7 volumes. And I think that this creates a perfect, contained amount.
By the way, TB was only CLAMP's THIRD work (not including their doujinshi). And I'll admit that the art in the beginning (specifically the first chapter...yikes...) isn't very appealing, especially when compared with the Mokona of today and even the "legendary" X/1999. But by the second volume the art has greatly improved...and by the third or fourth it's settled into the CLAMP we all know and love, using the same beautiful compositions as X. What is ALWAYS great about the artwork, however, is its tone. The work constantly plays with chiaroscuro, choosing to fade characters into the background or make them appear lighter or darker. CLAMP even made all of the promotional art for TB monochrome, as the covers and inside color pages (if you're lucky to have them ><) attest to. This style gives a perfect sense of 1990's Tokyo, which is really the centerpiece of this masterpiece.
But what is TRULY AMAZING about TB is how it provoked CLAMP's evolution. Before, even with RG Veda and Man of Many Faces (TB's two predecessors), CLAMP had tried to show some depth to their "analysis of humanity," but somehow fell short. They'd talk realistically about things like love and create tragic or sweet characters, but NOTHING compares to what Tokyo Babylon attempts.
I will admit that it's hard to appreciate just how brilliant TB is without some foreknowledge about Japan's culture, especially the strange post-modern era of the 80's and 90'. Japan was a vastly changing country and was ripped apart by many problems such as the growth of terrorism and so-called "new religions" and the "popping" of their bubble economy, ravaging the middle-class. The main focus of TB (at least on the surface) is to discuss each of these issues. There's the responsibility of children to their parents (a confrontation between traditional and modern ideals), stress due to lack of money, the growth of occult obsessions and hikikomoris, and even a chapter about the aforementioned cults (the only one in which the character is condemed as "outright evil"...I wonder why, Aum Shinrikyo? -coughs-). However TB also covers topics that are universal, such as the suffering of those affected by random crime, rape, bullying (Ijime is a serious problem in Japan), and illnesses. These are just to name a few...
And what is great is that the series gives each topic a unique overview, examining it from multiple viewpoints so that (with the exception of the "cult chapter"), there is really no portrayal of "innocent" and "corrupt." This intertwining of morals is only underplayed next to the manga's main plot, the rise and fall of Sumeragi Subaru.
Right from the very first page the story of Tokyo and the Sumeragis is compared to the legendary story of the Tower of Babel. So one could read this somewhat knowing what to expect from the end. That being said...it's a long, heart-wrenching journey to get there.
I know that some on here are complaining about the lack of character depth. I agree that this is the manga's biggest weakness, with Subaru, although being the protagonist, being the least developed character in the series. But there is CERTAINLY depth.
The story of Tokyo Babylon, as I see it, is the story of a perfect tragedy. Hec, it even falls under most (if not all) of Aristotle's "recipe for a tragedy" which Shakespeare and many other famous writers have used and still use to this day. The characters are doomed by destiny, just like Tokyo itself, and just like the Tower of Babel, and so it's painful to watch them run towards their destruction.
In fact, the most painful (and deliciously yandere-istic) character in the whole thing is Seishirou. Talk about an idiot! Someone who basically ruins his own chance for happiness.
And that is where character development comes into play.
Perhaps on the first read through or two, it's not noticeable, but the characters of Hokuto and Seishirou have immense amounts of depth...Even Subaru, especially when he has his epiphany, shows the hollowness of his ideals. Is there such a thing as true purity? Seishirou intertwines the two, corruption and purity, ultimately showing that both exist inside of us, just like in Tokyo itself. Because it's CLAMP, even the slightest nod can give so much away about the characters' insights. Hokuto a helpless co-dependant who is, at the same time, a strong individual trying to find her small place in the world. Subaru who tries so hard to be good, letting this be his downfall. And Seishirou, the most interesting character (even though Subaru is my favorite by far! Gawd I love that kid!), well, he's just interesting, is all.
For those unsatisfied by the ending, it is true that their story is actually continued in X.
WARNING: This is a painful case. The juxtaposition of Subaru and Seishirou's feelings is jarring...the truth about Seishirou (I mean his personality...trying not to give too much away here) is so cold that it hurts. And X just makes all of that worse. You can truly feel the characters' pain and the suffering they have endured... SECOND WARNING: X is incomplete. Ageha, the main writer for CLAMP, has said that someday she will tell the fans the end, somehow, but that might not be for a while...at least with Legal Drug starting up again there may be hope...:3
In any case, this is an amazing example of CLAMP's work. Philosophical, great, iconic characters, beautiful artwork (as it develops ><), and a true insight into society as well as a painful tragedy about three ridiculously stubborn individuals...Don't just pass it up because of the age! TB carries well!
... Last updated on December 6th, 2011, 8:50pm
Beware of cliffhangers
Tokyo Babylon starts out with a rather simple, unoriginal premise: the main character, Subaru, works as a sort of exorcist and is hired to do random jobs that involve the supernatural. Most of this series involves randomised jobs, each of which delve into the nature of humanity and emotions. This randomness keeps a steady plot from developing, which might turn some people off of the series, but little hints, flashbacks, and the use of foreshadowing evoke a curiosity in the character Seishirou. These hints eventually culminate into the nail-biting ending of the series, which is both emotional and well-done. The ending could be called bad for its cliffhanger features, but the fact that this has a sequel keeps that from becoming an issue.
Art-wise, it's not particularly bad, but it's much different from CLAMP's later art styles (seen in Gohou Drug, XxXHolic, and Tsubasa Chronicles). Then again, this is only to be expected, given the fact that this was drawn a good seventeen years ago. Fans of CLAMP's newer works may not like the style as much, but the only difference to it is that it's a bit more old-fashioned. The biggest difference is probably the eye style.
The biggest problem with this series is just the randomness of its beginning. Since each chapter involves a different "job," with little or no interconnected features between chapters, it's very difficult to get a feel of the characters since characterisation in such a manner is nearly impossible. However, if you stick around long enough, the characterisation does progress, and characters do become deeper. As mentioned earlier, foreshadowing also emerges, and the ending does a great job of explaining the past and creating a revenge theme for the sequel.
In short, this series is very good if you give it a chance. The beginning might seem unoriginal with common themes of the complexities of humanity and whatnot, but these issues are eventually fixed as the series progresses.
CLAMP's best work
Unlike the mess that X is, there's only three main characters, Subaru, Hokuto, and Seishirou. They are all already acquainted from right from the beginning so as the story progresses (sort of episodically following along Subaru's jobs) you become invested in the relationships between them. What elevates this from the typical shoujo (err, shonen-ai) series is that it delves deeply into the nature of human feelings. It deals with themes of sacrifice, hatred that comes from love, betrayal, etc. Both good and bad sides of human nature. And at the end CLAMP pulls out the rug from under you with a cliffhanger that at the same time feels like a good ending. P.S. - the art is a little rough but very charming. X is definitely more polished illustration-wise but I like TB's better.
... Last updated on December 28th, 2006, 5:06pm
If you want to find out what happens to those two people in the end, read Volume 16 of X/1999. You don't have to read the whole X/1999 series if you don't particular love it. Those two people don't show up much in the whole series anyway.
A grear work from CLAMP
I think this is a very good manga, with a slow but steady increase in character development. Like already mentioned the story seems to be random since it is told from the perspective of Subaru's jobs, but definitely since almost the beginning the reader is left with the idea that there is more (Seichiro's powers).
To aid in the slow evolution of the main theme of the manga, each job deals with issues of humanity and morale, making the individual stories interesting by themselves. The drawing is fine, with a few excellent drawn scenes. Even that the ending is a cliffhanger, it is very good and its continued as part of the X/1999 manga.
... Last updated on November 2nd, 2008, 2:59am
A simple sentence or two in this manga changed my overall perspective of humans (in a good way) That's how good this manga is. If you don't mind a tragic ending (but it's still an awesome story) than this manga is for you
... Last updated on June 23rd, 2007, 5:02pm
what turned me into a fujoshi
Of course this story is far from one of the bests if you look at it right now, but at that time I really felt this was legendary. Don't mind the cliches... that time, cliches hadn't been really cliches. I read this when I was abut 8-9 years old, and for me that age, it's not explicit enough to make me realize "OMG homo", but not implicit enough to make me not realize how I prefer boy x boy love rather than the normal one. until now, I think Subaru x Sakurazuka still remain one of my favourite couples. Rather than love, I think it's more suitable to say that they're obsessed in each other like a selfish kid who wants their toys.
As for the story, one of the most memorable one to me is that arc of a mother whose daughter was killed by a crazy man learned Inugami to kill the crazy man (because the man was freed by the court for being crazy). Subaru tried to stop her, saying bold things like "Your daughter doesn't want this" "she wants you to forgive" etc etc just like a naive boy subaru was. He naively called the daughter's spirit to "prove" that he was right, but then what came out was a horrible looking, grudgeful little girl, asking the mother for revenge because she was murdered. Of course the mother couldn't hear her, and Subaru lied, saying that the spirit indeed asked her to forgive. That's one of the greatest scenes in this manga IMO
Many Fascinating Thoughts
"There is no such thing as 'everybody.' We all have our own understanding of pain, for example, and no one truly knows what we are going through." "Maybe people who do terrible things are really, truly and terribly lonely."
The two above thoughts are a mere tip of the proverbial ice berg of insights and unique perspectives that CLAMP offers it's readers in Tokyo Babylon. This journey through 7 tankobons was a wonderful one full of balance: tragedy, humour, profound insights, moments of love and hate and everyday life.
I found the artwork beautiful and compelling. The words, also, were perfectly placed and timed to be poignant with the art.
Spoiler (highlight to view)
One complaint I had was I wanted the story to have more shounen-ai! That would have powerfully affected me - if Subaru and Seishiro could have kissed at least once! Or if there was a scene where Seishiro was affected by a realization that Subaru loved him. *Sigh* I'm such a BL fanantic.
All of the individual (Think: X-files) stories are well-placed with their themes and messages to add a tidbit for the continuing depth of the relationship of the three main characters.
I didn't quite understand volume 7. Please see my forum discussion request here.
Read on! Clamp rocks. Now if only they'd get back to Legal Drug. . .(with OODLES of freakin' BL!! Pretty pretty please?)
... Last updated on July 23rd, 2008, 7:24pm
Okay, nice so far...
Upon completing the first book, I must admit it's alright. I received RAVE reviews from a friend, and it was dissappointing to read the first volume and come across this story. Personally, a MAJOR selling point for me- especially when it comes to CLAMP- is the artwork. Supposedly this is one of their masterpieces in that department. It was pretty good, but still rather rough-seeming. The premise is interesting. I wouldn't be in a mad panic to get the rest of the series, but I would look for them, certainly.
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