Tokyo Babylon is one of CLAMP’s earlier works, and though it sets the stage for the team’s apocalyptic X/1999 series, it also stands on its own. Tokyo Babylon follows the adventures of Sumeragi Subaru, the head of Sumeragi clan and an onmyoji, or a master of spirits, more powerful than any other of his generation. Subaru, though only 16, manages to exorcise ghosts as much through talking to them as through magical means. At his side is his twin sister, Hokuto, who provides a hyper sense of humor to the proceedings and takes advantage of Subaru’s giving nature by dressing him up in every elaborate outfit she can think of, much to Subaru’s chagrin. Her brightness is mirrored in their caretaker and neighbor, the older but equally cheerful Sakurazuka Seishiro, a veterinarian and sorcerer with his own legendary pedigree. Seishiro is, in fact, the heir to the Sakurazuka clan, historically enemies of the Sumeragi clan, assassins by trade, and practitioners of the dark opposite of Subaru’s magic.
This odd trio takes on case after case, and though Subaru does most of the work, Seishiro will step in to defend Subaru. On the surface, Seishiro appears to be everything the Sumeragi twins need — a confidant, a friend, and a guardian — but every once in a while he seems to display an alarmingly cold side. Could he be something different from what the Sumeragi assume?
The city of Tokyo is essentially a character within these tales, dominant both visually and in spirit. As Seishiro says early in Volume One, Tokyo is an example of the pinnacle of man’s civilization, both its glories and its vices, and, “Where else on earth do so many people enjoy their descent into destruction?” The reference to Babylon in this series’ title is no accident, and that doomed city and the clever foreshadowing within each volume indicates that despite the initial cheerful tone, this story will end a tragedy.
One note about content here: within the Tokyo Babylon series, there is essentially a romance going on between Subaru and Seishiro, though much of it is teasing rather than any serious declarations. Part of it is the sheer drama that Hokuto latches on to — the star-crossed nature of the two descendants of warring clans falling in love is too delicious for her to resist. Part of it is also complicated by the fact that Seishiro does not apparently have all his cards on the table, so no one can quite tell how serious he is. This does mean, though, that there is a constant stream of jokes in which Seishiro discusses marriage, petulantly complains of not being attractive enough, and asks the befuddled Subaru if he finds him sexy. The fact that Seishiro is 25 and Subaru is 16 may well throw some readers.
CLAMP’s style is well known by now, and here in Tokyo Babylon they let fly with the sakura, or cherry tree, petals. One of the more remarkable aspects of this series are Hokuto’s fanciful outfits for both herself and Subaru — one gets the impression Subaru provides an excellent living doll for all of Hokuto’s and CLAMP’s whims of design. The use of gray tones, repeated images, and careful layout are all as elegant as usual here, and symmetry is used especially well to draw visual connections between events and characters. The detailed renderings of Tokyo’s buildings and locations add a fine authenticity to the background.