As the resident manga maniac, allow me to present TOKYO BABYLON: a lost-license CLAMP masterpiece, originally published in English by Tokyopop before being resurrected by the ever-lovely Dark Horse for a well-deserved second life.
This comic is many things. It is both supernatural drama and romantic farce. It studies its characters with the intensity of a quirky indie film and yet still offers ghostly action sequences and pentagram-barriers—as if Gus Van Sant directed an episode of SUPERNATURAL. It was first written in 1991, narratively and philosophically ahead of its time in so many ways that its themes are relevant even now.
It also uses cultural magic as a thematic device. Look at your favoriate comics, folks: magical characters hold sway over us. The John Constantines and Doctor Stranges of the comic book world fascinate, conjuring spells that aid their cause but never break the rules of whatever given universe they’re tied to. That motivation laced into ability, the fact that Zatanna could probe the barriers of reality but chooses to interact with people instead, gives magical characters the kind of dramatic conflict that heroic straight-lacers are often wont to find.
The main character here is Subaru Sumeragi, clan leader and frequent user of onmyojitsu (yin-yang magic). Subaru lives in Tokyo with his twin sister, Hokuto. The two are often accompanied by Seishirou Sakurazuka, a kindly “veteranarian” who is regularly on hand to offer advice, claims to be in love with Subaru, and—when the situation requires—uses his own much-less-benign brand of onmyojitsu.
The best thing about TOKYO BABYLON is its genre-defying development. We begin with a “Young Romance”-ish summer special rife with humor and facepalming, and somehow end with… well, I hesitate to spoil anything, but let’s say that the scope of this magnificent story involves secret pentagram scars, sealed bets, murders, lost innocence (or should I say slaughtered innocence?), sacrifice, strange acceptance, and the truly morbid nature of cherry blossom trees. Its protagonists, as obvious bearers of the yin and yang, embody ancient symbols against a background of city life. It brings violence to places of previously sitcom-level simplicity. Its vacant end is Vertigo-worthy perfection.
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