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Tokyo Babylon, Vol. 1 – Manga Review

Tokyo Babylon, Vol. 1 Manga


Art/Story: CLAMP
Publisher: TokyoPop

Tokyo Babylon is one of the first series by the all-female manga-ka team CLAMP, and as such is one of the reasons why they’re as popular as they are. The series tells the story of Subaru Sumeragi, who, at sixteen, is still one of the world’s most powerful onmyoji. These are spirit masters who use the principles of Yin and Yang and the five elements to contact and affect the spirit world. Among other things, young Subaru can exorcise evil spirits, as well as speak to disaffected ghosts, but he’s also capable of much more.

As Tokyo slides further and further down the hole of post-Modernism and spiritual decay, Subaru stands on the front lines, trying to maintain Tokyo as the city he loves. Helping him in this never ending quest is his twin sister, Hokuto, and their benefactor, a deceptively innocent veterinarian, Sakurazuka, who is incidentally also the heir to a clan of shadow assassins and a would-be paramour of Subaru.

[ad#longpost]In this volume, readers are introduced to the main three characters and go with Subaru on a few jobs: the initial job, which we join in medias res, revolves around the ghost of a suicide. Next, we get the usual introductions and explanations–a good piece of exposition. Subaru is then called upon to investigate why a wealthy young woman is acting strangely, as if filled with the spirit of hate. The final “case” deals with a mysterious shaking in Tokyo Tower, which leads into a few mystifying memories from Subaru’s childhood and an odd encounter with a cherry tree and a stranger. The mysteries per se do not take up much of the pages; Subaru knows with his power what is possessing the person or place, though he does not always know why.

The art is vintage CLAMP, which means that it’s lovely; the men are as gorgeous as the women, if not prettier, and the backgrounds are highly detailed, causing Tokyo to come to life before you. If you’ve never longed for the land of temples and neon, then you will after reading Tokyo Babylon, where the city is as much a character as the humans, if not the main character with all the best lines.

The only sour moments are when Sakurazuka hits on Subaru; it just plays false, perhaps because Sakurazuka is nine years older, which would make him pretty creepy if you think about it, a point that Hokuto even makes at one point when she eases up on pandering her brother for a moment. It might also be hard for Americans to follow all the spiritual details in this title at first, given how the authors are throwing around concepts like angry ghosts, oban rituals, and mixing Indian mysticism with Chinese and Japanese. However, if this does prove distracting from the tale, read the handy glossary provided in the back of the book (the front to Westerners) and you’ll be all set.

The story is as angsty and gothy as you would expect from CLAMP, the studio who brought us X and Chobits. As with many of their titles, however, the flash can make you think that there’s no substance; the characters may be decked out in the latest “beautiful person” trend couture, but they have real problems, real powers, and real personalities. Anyone can draw a bishie boy, but not just anyone can make you want to know what he’s thinking. The group pulls it off with Tokyo Babylon. This manga title can be recommended to anyone who likes Cure music, other CLAMP fare, or parapsychological thrillers with a less grisly touch.