Wednesday, 18 April 2018


Tokyo Babylon Vol: 1
Artist: Clamp
Publisher: Tokyopop
Pages: 140
Reviewed By: Sandra Scholes

I remember reading this a few years back, thinking it was a fresh, new series of novels on young love and what can come out of it, but it's also about deception, hatred, violence and the supernatural.

Young brother and sister, Subaru Sumeragi and his sister, Hokuto enjoy spending their time with older vetinary surgeon, Seishiro, but nothing is what it seems. Subaru is from a clan of yin/yang sorcerors who help humans rid themselves of ghosts and spirits who haunt them.

Seishiro might seem the good guy who has an interest in the younger twin Subaru, but he is from a rival clan, the Sakurazukamori's who are more about the black arts than the good. As one of Clamp's most famous manga series, it deserves an introduction to it explaining some of Clamp's early works and what most grips fans of the four manga-ka.

This is more of a month in the life of the Sumeragi's, twin brother and sister who travel Japan to exorcise spirits, ghosts and demons from people. Starting in Roppongi, we see first hand how powerful Subaru is as an onmiyuji (yin/yang sorceror) who has a shikigami (familiar) help him with his spellcasting.

Subaru, Hokuto and Seishiro are a close threesome, after staying at the Shinjuku Kabukicho district where Seishiro works as a vet. Both twins are 16 and look identical. It is only Hokuto's flamboyant femininity with her clothing choices that separates them. This similarity proves detrimental at the end of the series. When you first look into the story, Subaru's encounters with the supernatural might seem lame, but Clamp are only setting the scene and lying in wait to trap us unsuspecting readers, luring us in with a little light-hearted comedy before we get to the real story.

In one tale Subaru recounts an exorcism he performed to rid a ghostly lover from a man's bed - in other words she haunted it after his bed was all she got to see! Another encounter led Subaru to a woman's house where she needed him to exorcise a woman who works at her husband's business. Surprisingly, she had her clothes possessed by the women who envied her being able to buy the clothes they deserved, but couldn't afford. While most of the stories are short, one is lengthy about a female ghost haunting the Tokyo Tower. She was an aspiring actress who got a speaking part in a movie, until it got cancelled, dashing all her hopes for making it "big." Her depression had led her to suicide and in death she haunted the tower where she could watch the world go by below her. This isn't so much of an exorcism as a discussion Subaru and Seishiro has with her where we get to know more of her life experiences and why she felt so down.

Seishiro might declare his love for Subaru, but he is a sinister Cary Grant figure who hides in the background waiting to strike, pretending to be a part of the family and enjoying Hokuto's approval of their love; even if he is the "older man." To illustrate the point Subaru thinks he has seen Seishiro before when he was much younger, but he is still unsure it is him. His experience was of meeting a schoolboy older than him one day in a park near a cherry tree, the only one in full bloom, unlike the others in the park. There the mystery older boy tells Subaru of bodies being under that tree being the reason for its rich blooms and their reddened hue. Subaru thinks it is strange he would tell him this, but the older boy has other ideas, getting Subaru to make a pact with him to meet him at the tree again when he is older. In this moment Subaru agrees to meet him again, but can't hear his real reason for the wind being so loud. Clamp leave the reader hanging as they show Seishiro  next to the boy he saw with hair covering his eyes and part of his nose so you can't tell for sure.

The teasing doesn't stop there however, when Seishiro takes Subaru and Hokuto to view the cherry blossoms in the local park, implying that the tree may be the same as the one he may have met Subaru all those years ago.

Clamp's work has been considered a boy's love classic even though their love is secondary to the plot of the story; Subaru is the last heir of the Sumeragi clan and as such has to prove himself worthy of the clan name to his grandmother. His friendship with his sister is of importance to him as they get along so well, while Seishiro's honorable or not so honourable intentions toward Subaru are of interest even if Hokuto's ribbing of her brother is humorous at times.

Clamp's bishonen style of drawing pretty boys is notorious as is the 90's influences in the suits Seishiro wears and the clothes Hokuto makes for the both of them to wear. This is a manga that even after all these years doesn't look so dated when we keep going back to these trends.

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