Shoujo – Supernatural, boys’ love, mystery, psychological, tragedy
7 Volumes / 2 Omnibuses (complete)
Tokyopop / Dark Horse
Despite being only 16, Subaru is the head of his clan of onmyoji users. He uses his abilities to defeat and heal the evil spirits haunting Tokyo. Subaru is supported by his twin sister Hokuto as well as Seishirou, a veterinarian and heir to a rival clan who proclaims to be in love with Subaru.
While having a sequel in X and a spiritual sequel in xxxHolic, Tokyo Babylon can easily stand alone as one of CLAMP’s best works.
What is the first title you think of when you hear the name CLAMP? Like many other people, I automatically think of Cardcaptor Sakura. However, if someone were to ask me which CLAMP series made the biggest impact or impression on me, I’d answer with Tokyo Babylon.
Like their later series xxxHolic, Tokyo Babylon is about the mysteries surrounding the protagonist while he and the people around him discuss the darkness in the world. xxxHolic‘s Watanuki and Tokyo Babylon‘s Subaru are both surrounded by eccentric characters, and both have some memory gaps. The two series even use some of same mythos for chapters, such as as the legend of the pink cherry blossoms. The deuteragonists in these two series are not as happy-go-lucky as they first appear. And, of course, there’s the BL undertones (more on that later). So if you liked xxxHolic, then Tokyo Babylon should be on your reading list.
So what is different between these two CLAMP works? Watanuki starts off as the quick-tempered assistant with no known powers, but Subaru is the calm, kind, powerful onmyoji. Tokyo Babylon is also significantly shorter, skipping any “discover your powers” scenes. In addition, while the Watanuki x Domeki is a popular pairing, it’s still just a fan pairing. Subaru x Seishirou may not be the crux of Tokyo Babylon, but their relationship is an important part of the story (and more explicit). While both manga have sequels, Tokyo Babylon can stand alone since with its much more defined ending.
But those of you who haven’t read xxxHolic are probably lost right now. Moving on.
Subaru’s story is a combination of psychological analysis and mystery. As an onmyoji, he goes on jobs to deal with supernatural phenomena and spirits. Sometimes he just runs into people who are suffering. Being the kind soul he is, he wants to learn about those he interacts with. Why does only one level of Tokyo Tower shake? Why hasn’t this woman passed on? During or after each case, Subaru and company analyze human behavior, especially people in the bustling metropolis known as Tokyo. The way I’m describing Tokyo Babylon may seem boring, but the morals of each chapter still ring eerily true 25 years later. The chapter in volume four about the mother and her young daughter is one has stuck with me for years. Grief, revenge, peace, justice, hate, love…there’s so much here. Seriously, a book club could have long debates on what [insert character here] should have done and what you would do. In the aforementioned chapter, was the ultimate resolution right or wrong? The narratives are so beautifully haunting.
Although this series is classified as BL, it is pretty mild. There’s really no physical affection since Subaru keeps turning down or passing off Seishirou’s advances. It’s not a subtle romance, but there’s also not a lot of fanservice or fluff either. The Subaru x Seishirou pairing is more like a springboard for readers’ imaginations rather than in-your-face moe LOVE. So this might be a good series for those new to the BL genre who want a tame (romance-wise) entrance to the genre. There’s still enough fodder fujoshi. (It is CLAMP after all.)
While Subaru has many clients and meets many spirits, the series is really about three characters. Subaru is a wonderful protagonist. He’s very three-dimensional. He gets embarrassed by Hokuto and Seishirou, but he doesn’t lose his temper. He is neither overly confident or a pushover. He second-guesses himself and has regrets that weigh heavily on him. Over the course of the series, Subaru really develops as he matures from teenager to young adult. He also has a nice ying-yang (pun intended) balance with both Hokuto and Seishirou. Hokuto is confident, a bit selfish, and short-tempered. She truly cares for Subaru, and she is pretty funny in the role of BL fangirl. Seishirou is…mysterious. Not much else I can say. He is constantly confessing and asking Subaru questions like, “Do you find me sexy?” However, even Subaru senses there’s more to Seishirou.
Artistically, this series shares a lot with their then recently completed manga Man of Many Faces. Subaru looks a lot like Akira, the protagonist of that series. (No surprise that Yamaguchi Kappei played both Akira in the Man of Many Faces drama CD and Subaru in the Tokyo Babylon OVA.) Their art is a lot sharper here than in RG Veda. By the end, it becomes even more refined as they prepare to start X and later Magic Knight Rayearth. All their early trademarks are hear: large sophisticated eyes, sharp eyelids, flowing hair, and plenty of inking an screentones. (Sometimes the manga looks more black and gray than black and white.) The two male leads are both visually appealing (not surprising for BL or CLAMP), and the twins both dress in some wild outfits. Hokuto, although female, is more like Subaru’s identical twin brother. It’s ironic since everyone thinks Subaru is a girl. It’s part of the manga style from this time period. Her outfits and Subaru’s penchant for hats mean there’s little confusion between them. What is most visually impressive about Tokyo Babylon is the scenery: Tokyo Tower stands high in the night sky, the cherry blossoms float in Subaru’s dream, and the bustling streets. Even Subaru’s shikigami (a two-headed crow) adds a nice visual touch.
I am reviewing the Tokyopop version of Tokyo Babylon, so there may be differences in Dark Horse’s release. However, most of Dark Horse’s Tokyopop rescues have featured few changes.
Honorifics are used as well as Japanese name order. Terms like “onmyoji” are kept, and most of the Japanese references to pop culture are kept. Strangely, the volumes alternate between having translation notes at the back of the books and using footnotes. Some terms are not given a note, like “gaijin”. While most Tokyopop releases left sound effects untouched, for this series, Tokyopop included a sound effects guide at the end of the book. The series is mostly void of the errors that often plagued the company’s releases. Quite frankly, Tokyopop’s version is one of their best releases.
Both Tokyopop and Dark Horse versions include color pages. I know the Tokyopop version includes pull-outs, but I don’t know if Dark Horse also has these. I do like how the individual volumes are all of different colors, making the series look very attractive on my shelf. The original release’s volumes are on the thinner side, but it’s up to you whether you prefer smaller volumes or Dark Horse’s 560 pages per omnibus. eBay prices for Tokyopop’s version varies a great deal. The Dark Horse release can be found at all major outlets for MSRP $19.99 per volume, making it the easier version to acquire. If you find a good deal on the Tokyopop volumes (or already own them), don’t feel like you’re getting an inferior release.
Buy it. Although many of their other manga is more popular, Tokyo Babylon is top-tier CLAMP in both art and story. Even if you pay MSRP (whyyyyy?!?!), that’s still less than $6 a volume for a great series.
The two episode OVA series was released years ago from US Manga Corps. Neither the artbook nor the live-action movie has not been released here.
The manga X, available from Viz Media, is a direct sequel to Tokyo Babylon. Subaru is not the main character, and X has been in hiatus for years. X does have an anime series and film with their own versions of the story. Like many other CLAMP characters, some Tokyo Babylon characters are featured in xxxHolic/Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle.
Most of CLAMP’s titles are available in the U.S. from Dark Horse and Kodansha Comics USA.