Tokyo Babylon Anime Review
東京BABYLON / 東京BABYLON 2
US Release By
Supernatural Suspense Thriller
50 and 55 minutes
1992-10-21 and 1994-03-21
Subaru is the youngest member of a family of powerful mediums that have protected Japan for over 2000 years. Though the family has lost much of its power in recent times, they continue to be called upon by people who still believe in the power of the spirit world. Tokyo Babylon chronicles the exploits of Subaru, accompanied by his sister and a somewhat mysterious veterinarian with some abilities of his own.
In part 1, Subaru is called upon to investigate a series of mysterious accidents that have killed executives of the MCC corporation as it tries to complete an ambitious construction project. Even more mysteriously, one "lucky" man has been present at every accident, and miraculously survived all of them.
In part 2, serial killer has been brutally murdering women riding one particular train alone. Subaru becomes involved when he witnesses the most recent killing. While working with the police to catch the murderer, he befriends the other "witness": a woman gifted--or cursed--with the ability to look into the past.
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Moody, well written, and subtly detailed, Tokyo Babylon is supernatural suspense done right, and an all-around good piece of anime. Something like a mystical Japanese version of the X-Files, its engrossing tales blend the supernatural and modern investigation. Though shoujo-themed, it has all of the strengths of the genre without any of the weaknesses--well-developed, believable characters, carefully constructed stories with strong emotional overtones, and dark, vivid art. Despite the short length, it is paced steadily and maintains a palpable sense of tension.
Tokyo Babylon is a fascinating tale of paranormal suspense and mystery, with fine art, tense, well crafted stories, and deep characters. Highly recommended to CLAMP or X fans as well as anyone who likes a good tale of the supernatural, mystery, or subtle suspense.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Moody, well written, and subtly detailed, Tokyo Babylon is supernatural suspense done right, and an all-around good piece of anime.
Among the first of CLAMP's stories to make it to the US, it's not stereotypical shoujo, and if you're not familiar with the style this might be the place to give it a shot. It also happens to be a prequel to X (though absolutely no knowledge of that series is required to appreciate it), and is of the calibre and quality existing fans have come to expect.
The two tales of Tokyo Babylon are a rich and engrossing blend of supernatural and modern investigation, something like a mystical Japanese version of the X-Files. Things supernatural are just a little closer to the surface than you'd expect in its vision of Japan, but not so much so that you couldn't believe it's the real world.
The characters that populate Tokyo Babylon are solid and developed, maintaining a believable blend of experience with the supernatural and normal emotions. They tend toward quiet and introspective (again, very X-Files), but Subaru's sister is normal (and peppy) enough to balance the other characters and make them seem less stifled, adding a bit of believability. Of course, deep characters and complex relationships are what the shoujo style is known for, so none of this should come as a surprise.
The two stories that make up the series are engrossing and confidently constructed. The plots are detailed, well thought out, and surprisingly believable. The pacing is particularly good--there is a palpable sense of tension (particularly in the second installment), nothing feels hurried, and it never avoids slowing down when necessary.
My only complaint are a few odd continuity flaws that threw me, mainly toward the end of the second part, when a bunch of people seem to suddenly jump from where they were to where the plot requires them to be with no segue. The plot relies heavily on chance meetings, but that just comes across as good storytelling and (taking into account the overtones of the story) the ever-present hand of fate.
Tokyo Babylon is just as strong visually as it is elsewhere. The story doesn't require high-budget animation, making the fluidity all the more impressive. The attention to detail is equally impressive--things as small as how someone removes their gloves. The few action scenes are particularly vivid, managing to be both stylish and exciting. The art is also sharp, and there is a great sense of style to it--again, think X-Files, although the scenes tend to be stark rather than dark. The character designs are generally memorable, but some of the principle characters (most notably the veterinarian and the rock collector in part 2) look quite similar, which can be confusing. True to CLAMP form everyone is proportioned like a Barbie doll (literally), with tiny midsections and very long legs, but since the rest of the visuals are so stylized, it's not particularly noticeable.
Overall, Tokyo Babylon is a fascinating tale of paranormal suspense and mystery, with fine art, tense, well crafted stories, and deep characters. Highly recommended to anyone who likes a good tale of the supernatural, mystery, or subtle suspense. A must-see for CLAP fans, it's also a great introduction for people not familiar with shoujo anime--it has all the strengths of the style, with none of what I consider to be its weaknesses.
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Tokyo Babylon has a lot in common with another very well done shoujo series, Vampire Princess Miyu. It is also, unsurprisingly (it's a prequel), a lot like X (more the TV series than the movie). Finally, the tales of the supernaturally macabre of Petshop of Horrors have a bit thematically in common.
Notes and Trivia
Tokyo Babylon is based on a manga series created by CLAMP (available in English from TokyoPop). In theory, these side stories fit in with the manga version, between books 2 and 3, and 4 and 5, respectively. It is also something of a prequel to the long, involved story of X, although familiarity with X is not any sort of requirement to understanding or appreciating Tokyo Babylon. The Tokyo Babylon manga also spawned a live action movie, Tokyo Babylon 1999, which is supposed to take place 5 years after the end of the manga.
CLAMP, for those unfamiliar, is a group of women responsible for some of the most popular shoujo (girls') manga, and the inevitable spin-off animation.
Shoujo, for those not familiar with the term, is the Japanese word for girl, and "shoujo animation/manga" are terms frequently used to refer to the style of art and writing specific to comics targeted at girls and young women. They are more "soap opera" style than other animation/comics, focusing on characters and relationships instead of action. The art (particularly CLAMP's) is often characterized by large eyes (even by anime standards), very thin bodies (I'm not going to go into the social implications of that), and attractive men who seem to look remarkably like women. For a prime example of all of the above, look no further than Subaru himself.
On that note, the lanky character designs turn Subaru's sister's weight into an unintentional joke--I doubt she weighs 59kg (130 pounds), regardless of what the scale says.
US DVD Review
The DVD includes both parts, with Japanese and English sound tracks, English subtitles, and to my knowledge not much else.
Has a few realistically violent moments, particularly in the second story, and the themes are generally mature, hence the 13-up rating.
Violence: 3 - Never gratuitous, but there are some intense violent moments.
Nudity: 0 - None.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - Again, none.
Language: 0 - Nothing worth noting.
Available in North America from US Manga Corps on hybrid DVD, apparently out of print as of this writing. The DVD was a price-reduced re-release of their original DVD release. Was originally released on two subtitled or dubbed VHS tapes.