The year is 1990. The city is Tokyo, a busy megalopolis where people are caught in dreams, anonymity, loneliness, sadness and crushed hopes underneath the fevered rush for success and wealth. Sometimes the high-pitched emotions and acute despair manifest themselves into ghosts and curses.
Enter Sumeragi Subaru, 13th head of the Sumeragi clan and a 16-year-old onmyouji. He uses his spiritual power and genuine compassion to help people, exorcise trapped spirits and undo maledictions. In this modern world, where nothing is truly black and white, this is hardly easy, especially because of Subaru’s tendency to care too much for people. His twin sister Hokuto is there to help him, to cheer him up, and to make him wear eccentrically fashionable clothing. Sakurazuka Seishirou is a (male) 25-year-old gentle veterinarian friend of the twins, who professes to love Subaru.
Hokuto thinks that making them a couple would be a marvelous idea, even though – or maybe because – she believes that Seishirou is the mysterious Sakurazukamori, an assassin onmyouji said to protect Japan from the shadows.
“We were young, so I think we had a lot more complaints back then (laughs). We didn’t want to focus just on the occult, but rather give the series a grounding in reality”
Tokyo Babylon is called often Japanese mystery X-files. It’s a supernatural psychological story that comments on issues such as hostility towards ‘gaijins’ (=outsiders), behavior towards the elderly people, rising occult groups based on the inability of adolescents to cope with bullying and other problems, etc. The series mixes a mood of upbeat cheerfulness with dark social commentary and a deceptively naive tone. ‘No one knows what’s in the heart of people and no one can judge other’s pain and suffering’ is the key concept. What is remarkable is that CLAMP supports individuality against social values and control.
Their stories in Tokyo Babylon empower people and touch their hearts. Storytelling is really good. Except the first and last volume, where we have big chunks of story concerning the protagonists, the rest of the manga has an episodic nature. But both the episodes and the Sakurazukamori-Subaru-Hokuto arc are of top-notch quality. There are episodes better than others, but that’s taste and it doesn’t mean there’s a single bad story. My personal favorites are Dream, Smile, Crime, Save, Old and Rebirth. As for the art, it’s gorgeous, with extensive use of black to produce a dark atmosphere. The fashion sense is on the crazy side most of the times, though, to put it kindly. The era I guess?
Atop of the story, characters are well-written. Seishiro is chilling, a cold-blooded assassin, yet at the end of the day he was able to develop feelings of interest and possession for Subaru, and no matter how much he denies he is in ‘love’, his actions show otherwise. Hokuto is cunning and bubbly in a very enjoyable way. She is the comic relief in the series but not in a demeaning way and that’s rare. She’s also very caring; she loves her brother very much to the point of sacrificing herself. Thankfully, she isn’t motivated from a brother complex. She loves life and giving it up says a lot. Lastly, Subaru is very kind for his own good. In contrast to Kino from Kino no Tabi, he can’t stay just a spectator. He is a sensitive soul that turns into a masochist…
The interrelationships can be characterized as disturbing, but there’s a certain beauty and naturality in them. And that is said by me who at first had freaked out and saw the twisted association between Eros and Thanatos as abnormality (actually, I still can’t call Sakurazuka’s and Subaru’s sadomasochistic relationship normal or healthy, but I have accepted it as it is). For those who reach the end of the manga and panic: cool off! Such a lovers’ story couldn’t end that easily. We get to see more of their personality and the changes it passed through the years in X/1999.
There’s a 2-part OVA that is focused on the creepiness and the supernatural rather than the social commentary and the execution is splendid. It’s not an adaption- the stories are not included in the manga, they are original and are placed somewhere between the beginning and the middle of the manga.
I recommend the manga and the OVA 100%. Slice-of-life fans will be more excited with the manga and ‘thriller’ fans will prefer the OVA.