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Manga / Tokyo Babylon

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Where else on earth do so many people enjoy their descent into destruction?

"Do you love Tokyo?"

Tokyo Babylon is a dark shoujo manga series by CLAMP, which was serialized in Wings from 1990 to 1993 and compiled into seven volumes. It had two OVA movie adaptations, both independent of the manga, and one Live-Action Adaptation which takes place some years after the manga's events. A new anime adaptation is being planned. It was originally produced by GoHands for an April 2021 premiere, but production was shuttered in March 2021 after reports of plagiarism issues on the costume designs and the lack of trust in the studio. CLAMP and Kadokawa announced plans to continue the project with a new production committee where they have to restart from scratch.

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.

CLAMP's personal pastiche of the popular occult mange genre from The '80s, Tokyo Babylon mixes a mood of upbeat cheerfulness with dark social commentary and a deceptively naive tone. It acts as a prequel of sorts to X/1999, where the characters of Subaru, Seishirou, and Hokuto are featured again and reveal their last secrets.

Provides examples of:

  • Act of True Love: In a platonic example, Hokuto does this towards and for both Subaru and Seishirou. Even while knowing Seishirou is dangerous, Hokuto knew from the start that Subaru would fall in love with him, so she pushed the two of them together. When Seishirou's true nature is revealed and he shatters Subaru's heart, Hokuto does this again when she takes Subaru's place so Seishirou will murder her instead of her brother. In X1999 it is revealed that she also gave Seishirou both a Last-Second Chance and a warning telling him that everyone deserves love and that if he ever tried to kill Subaru the same way he killed her, the death will be reversed and Seishirou would die by his own hand.
  • Action Fashionista: The Half-Identical Twins, Subaru and Hokuto Sumeragi. The powerful Onmyouji Subaru wearing very nineties-like outfits courtesy of his sister Hokuto, and Hokuto herself as a super fashionable Badass Normal. It says a lot that Subaru resorts to far simpler clothing (save for a Badass Longcoat) in the sort-of sequel X1999 when Hokuto is not around.
  • Adaptational Wimp: The OVA series makes Subaru much weaker than his manga counterpart, not only giving him a less confident personality, but also removing his hand-to-hand skills and most of his combat magic. His best cards in a fight are now apparently just shikigami that peck at his enemy, and when he gets in close quarters he is basically roasted. As a consequence, he almost gets murdered by a Muggle killer wielding a garrote in the second episode.
  • Ambiguously Evil: The Sakurazukamori clan receives this treatment to the reader's eyes. On one hand, the Sumeragi grandmother describes them as basically assassins for hire, and indeed, the only member shown is an apparent psychopath who claims to have contracts behind his killings. On the other hand, Hokuto talks of them very highly, describing them as a group that protects Japan from the shadows just like the Sumeragi clan does openly. While this duality is not entirely irreconcilable, it is never explained or even directly addressed in the series.
  • An Aesop:
    • The main theme of the series is that no one knows what's in people's heart, and no one has the right to judge others' pain and suffering.
    • The manga also tackles a few difficult subjects in Japan (at the time the manga was written), specifically addressing how Japanese society handles bullying, the mentally ill, rape victims, older people, and immigrants. They don't propose solutions all of the time, but the idea is put out there.
  • Artifact of Doom: In the pilot chapter, one of Subaru's jobs involves a Chanel suit possessed by the hatred of people (it came from a war zone) and the longing of the women that wanted it but couldn't buy it. It counts as a Clingy Costume since it couldn't be taken off until Subaru knocked the host down.
  • Break the Cutie: Poor Subaru is easily the cutest character in the manga, and gets broken so bad he's still hurt several years later.
  • Canon Foreigner: The now more or less de-canonized movie gave Subaru a helper and driver named Shuhei Amano.
  • Canon Welding:
    • Like most of CLAMP's works, Tokyo Babylon's been tied to other works. It takes place in the same universe as X/1999, Clamp School Detectives, Man of Many Faces, Duklyon: CLAMP School Defenders and Miyuki-chan in Wonderland (with the first of them acting as its continuation).
    • Yuuko Ichihara from the ×××HOLiC universe talks once about two unnamed characters that are clearly meant to be Subaru and Hokuto, who she supposedly knew a long time ago. However, whether she is referring to the leads of Tokyo Babylon (which would mean either they travelled to her universe or she came to theirs at some point) or some alternate universe version of them (like those established in Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-) remains unknown.
  • Cherry Blossoms: Subverted in that they're mostly used for creepy effect.
  • The City: Tokyo is the center of the universe in this series.
  • The Clan: Two of them, the Sumeragi and The Sakurazukamori. They have been around, serving the emperor and protecting Japan since the Heian period. The Sakurazukamori is an interesting case, as it's actually a clan of one person.
  • Coming of Age Story: A rather cruel example. Subaru (despite being 16 and very powerful) is still innocent and with a black-and-white worldview of many aspects of human nature. During the series, he learns that he can't save everybody just by being nice and appealing to their better nature in many cruel circumstances, and later is betrayed by the man he learned to trust and love and loses his dearest sister to him, forcing himself to face the cruel reality and abandon his idealism.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: One of the first CLAMP series to do this. ×××HOLiC is in many ways its Spiritual Sequel.
  • Crossover: With X1999.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: Various references to the "Bet", which is eventually explained in the end.
  • Cult: A sect is featured in one of the "Save" case.
  • Dating Catwoman: Hokuto is trying to create a situation like this between Subaru and Seishiro. Which goes very bad.
  • Dead Person Conversation: Used several times. Of course, it is part of Subaru's job to have these, and he usually recognizes them for what they are.
  • Destructive Romance: One of the greatest examples ever.
  • Downer Ending: Hokuto dies at Seishirou's hands, and it's not until X/1999 that we truly learn the full implications of what she did.
  • The '80s: Although set in the early nineties, the atmosphere is more reminiscent of the Eighties flavour - especially the official soundtrack.
  • Elephant in the Living Room: During the first volumes, the Sumeragi twins are living and hanging around with a man who is pretty much confirmed (both out and in-universe) to be their mortal enemy. They take no action because one is in denial with the possibility and the other has really weird ideas about relationships. Deconstructed at the finale, when even the latter acknowledges it really ended up the only way such a situation could end.
  • Evil Phone: Features in one of the cases where girls who abuse magic chat and curse their victims through.
  • Eye Scream: Well, it's CLAMP. What did you expect?
    • First case is in "Save", where a girl who gets bullied tries to stand up but gets stabbed in the eye for her troubles.
    • Later, and more importantly, is Seishirou getting his right eye stabbed by getting in between Subaru and a desperate mother trying to get a healthy kidney for her sickly son.
  • Flashback Nightmare: Subaru has almost recurrent dreams about meeting a teenager in front of a cherry tree as a child. It's not a dream, it's a memory.
  • Foreshadowing: Book 3. Take a guess to what.
  • Forgotten First Meeting: Subaru meets Seishirou as he cradles his kill, and they end up making a promise. Years later Subaru only remembers this as a vague dream, and has little idea why Seishirou has suddenly appeared in his life as a suitor. Unfortunately the memory isn't a very happy one, once it's revealed.
  • Functional Magic: Onmyodo, mostly dealing with curses and counter-curses, kekkai (protective barrier), exorcism, maboroshi (illusion worlds), shikigami (spirit familiars) and other traditional spells.
  • Half-Identical Twins: Despite being Polar Opposite Twins, Hokuto and Subaru look almost the same.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Hokuto pulls one at the end.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: The girls who abuse magic have an unhealthy case of Chuunibyou.
  • Invisible Parents: Subaru' and Hokuto's parents are explained to be alive and well by CLAMP in an interview; it's just that "they weren't necessary to the plot."
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: Done by Seishiro to Subaru.
  • Kill the Cutie: Hokuto.
  • Klingon Promotion: The Sakurazukamori's succession ritual is killing their predecessor. If Subaru's case is to be taken, then anyone who gets to kill the Sakurazukamori inherits the name and job, bloodline be damned.
  • Kung-Fu Wizard: All the onmyouji in the series demonstrate martial arts training aside from magic. Subaru knocks a woman out with a Karate chop to the neck at one point, and both he and Hokuto (as well as Seishiro) use hammerlocks to restrain people at least once each.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Hokuto often inquires as to whether Seishirou is connected to the Sakurazukamori clan, and Seishirou follows up by immediately changing the subject - which Hokuto follows up by noting he is changing the subject. To make sure we caught that, apparently.
  • Love Epiphany: After a chat with a blind man, Subaru discovers that he holds Seishirou in a higher position that even his sister and is he's only person in the world he doesn't want to hate him, and is very scared that would be the case since Seishirou just lost his eye for his sake. All this allows him to realize that he has fallen in love with Seishirou. And just a few steps into Seishirou's hospital room right after, he suffers one of the biggest Break the Cutie in the history of CLAMP.
  • Mildly Military: The Sumeragi clan enforces some military imagery, as Subaru is shown dressed in military garments when visiting his grandmother and she refers to non-magical people as "civilians" at one point.
  • Monster of the Aesop: When people misuse magic, there's an underlayer of personal issues that often transmit some wisdom over people's troubles and how they deal with them.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Seishiro burns a ghost by summoning a fire spell from his regular lighter's flame.
  • No Antagonist: Despite Seishirou's horrible actions towards Subaru at the final volume, it's clear that the real evil is Tokyo itself, as its bad influence on people was hurting Subaru way before that one man did. X/1999, however, changes the picture a bit.
  • Oddly Small Organization: The Sakurazukamori clan is actually composed by a single member, who is even tasked with killing his predecessor after assuming his role. Seishirou gives the explanation that the Sakurazukamori clan is symbolically formed by both the current clansman and his clients.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: In this case it's ominous Sanskrit chanting.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Seishirou goes beyond the lines to keep Subaru alive, since he's waiting for the end of the "bet" to see if Subaru is to be killed or not by Seishirou himself.
  • Parental Abandonment: The only 'parent' is the grandmother, who lives in Kyoto. Subaru and Hokuto live on their own in Tokyo.
  • Rape as Drama: Midori, a schoolgirl who's so horrendously traumatized after being raped that she falls into a coma. Subaru has to dive into her consciousness to rescue her.
  • Ripped from the Headlines; Several cases were obviously inspired from recent or common society issues.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The series draws heavily from Teito Monogatari, especially given the main plot being about onmyodo and Tokyo as a center of supernatural disgraces. Subaru even wears a military uniform which is a reminiscence of Yasunori Kato's. In the very first chapter, and a ghostly Super-Deformed version of Yasunori Kato from Teito Monogatari appears.
    • Fellow occult series Peacock King, of which CLAMP wrote doujinshi of, is also an obvious inspiration, as Subaru, Hokuto and Seishiro evoke Kujaku, Asura and Onimaru from said manga. The first is a dark-haired onmyodo user, the second is a cheery, upbeat girl with only minor offensive magic skills who lives with him, and the third is a mercenary onmyoji from a rival clan with a close relationship to the main character (also, both Seishiro and Onimaru share a penchant for wearing Cool Shades and killing people with a hand through their torso). The series is also namedropped by Hokuto.
    • A third work of the genre, Karura Mau! (which CLAMP also wrote dojinshi about), also lends inspiration. Like Karura, the series features a team of twin siblings who belong to a lineage of spiritual guardians, one being calm and sensible and the other cheery and energetic. Similarly, they are also led by their wise grandmother and helped by an unrelated, suave onmyoji with his own lineage who keeps a random job as a coverup.
  • Squishy Wizard: The OVA version of Subaru. His manga self, on the other hand, is able to do some impressive Combat Parkour.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Subaru and Seishirou.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: A little ghost girl's last message to Subaru before her departure:
    "Maybe people who do bad things... are just really lonely."
  • Thanatos Gambit: As revealed in X/1999, Hokuto was pulling one of these when she left Seishirou kill her.
  • Theme Naming: All the main characters are named for stars and constellations.
  • Tokyo Tower: Subaru's case in Chapter One involves the ghost of a woman who committed suicide, but liked the Tokyo Tower so much that her spirit stayed there.
  • Twist Ending: Somewhere between The Un-Twist and the Wham Episode, Sure, everyone was expecting for Seishirou to be the Sakurazukamori, but few would expect his reasons for sticking around and the amount of cruelty he displays.
  • Unfinished Business: Usually only requires a visit from Subaru the traveling exorcist.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: One of the Annex chapters.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Will Subaru succumb to Seishirou's advances as Hokuto urges him?
  • Winds of Destiny, Change!: Horribly played with and possibly deconstructed in the first OVA, where Shinji Nagumo uses his supernatural luck to cause several accidents... of which he comes out unscathed, but his co-workers and superiors come out dead.
  • The World Tree: A rather ominous cherry tree where the Sakurazukamori buries his kills.
  • Yamato Nadeshiko:
  • You Are Too Late: Subaru realizes his true feelings for Seishirou just the day Seishirou declares that the time is up and Subaru lost the bet.