chomiji: A chibi cartoon of Hotaru from the manga Samurai Deeper Kyo, with a book. Caption: Manga Joy (Manga joy!)
[personal profile] chomiji

Subaru Sumeragi is the latest head of a respected family of onmyogi (interpreted here as magicians and exorcists). He is also only sixteen years old, and what little of his life that is not devoted to either school or performing exorcisms is essentially run by his twin sister Hokuto, who bosses him around and cooks for him. The twins live on their own in Tokyo, an arrangement that seems particularly unwise in light of the fact that Hokuto believes Subaru should become the lover of their acquaintance Seishirō Sakurazuka, seemingly a mild-mannered veterinarian who happens to be nearly a decade older.

Hokuto, who never seems to wear the same outfit twice (and most of them are pretty extreme), jokes that Seishirō must be a member of the Sumeragi clan's dark rivals, who use their mystical powers in assassinations. Whether he is or not, he does seem to be following along with Hokuto's suggestions with regard to her twin, declaring his love for the innocent Subaru and cuddling up to the boy suggestively. Subaru, meanwhile, has creepy dreams about a youth who tells him that cherry blossoms owe their color to corpses buried beneath them, which does not seem terribly surprising for a sensitive teenaged boy who spends a great deal of his time exorcising the ghosts of suicides.

The seven original volumes of this series have recently been reissued by Dark Horse as two large volumes. I spent most of the first volume wanted to smack the snot out of both Hokuto and Seishirō, as well as wondering whether the twins' grandmother, whom we see several times, has any idea what her grandchildren's lives are like in Tokyo. There's also the question of where in the world are their parents: if this is revealed anywhere in the series, I must have missed it.

I also could not help noticing that virtually every ghost and victim with whom Subaru becomes involved is female: a failed actress, a bullied schoolgirl, an office worker who has an affair with her boss, a group of schoolgirls who become involved in dark magic, and so on. The harried young mother who resents the presence of her aging father in her family's small apartment is probably the one that disturbed me the most. This isn't the sort of thing I usually pick up when I'm reading for pleasure, so this internalized misogyny is pretty blatant.

Hokuto has a single chapter to herself, in which she is valiant and warmhearted with regard to a stranger. I was starting to change my mind about her toward the end of the series … and then it turned out that the incident was basically a set-up for her actions at the dark conclusion of the story.

This shoujo series was an impulse buy at Katsucon. I don't think I'm going to reread Tokyo Babylon, and I have my doubts about looking for X, for which this is a prequel. The unpleasant fates of the various women in Subaru's cases call to mind the things that happen to Yuuko's clients in CLAMP's xxXholic, and Hokuto is to some degree a junior, much-less powerful version of Yuuko herself, what with the clothes and the way she runs her brother's life, but the occasional humor didn't work as well for me as the funnier scenes in xxXholic or CLAMP's Legal Drug/Drug and Drop do. The core cast is smaller, too, with no chance for the "family of choice" aspects of Watanuki's relationships with his various friends in xxXholic. The artwork is not as assured and far less stylish than that of other CLAMP works (for example, xxXholic, Clover, or Gate 7), so it was no compensation for the unpleasant parts of the story.

I see that it's been nearly two years since I've done an in-depth review of a manga (the last one was Gunslinger Girls in April 2013). Wah.

Date: 2015-03-08 04:34 am (UTC)
meicdon13: (Default)
From: [personal profile] meicdon13
The most interaction I've had with CLAMP characters would be the time in high school where I marathon-watched X/1999. TBH I did kind of ship Seishirou/Subaru, but then again, I only saw them interacting as adults and the whole "one-sided doomed love" thing fit in neatly with my teenager self. Their relationship would be really creepy in Tokyo Babylon, what with the whole underaged!Subaru thing.

Date: 2015-03-08 03:07 pm (UTC)
meganbmoore: (2 of a kind)
From: [personal profile] meganbmoore
*butts in*

I think the X/1999 anime was my first Clamp experience after being severely burned by the entirety of Chobits and the end of Wish some years before watching it. Seishiro/Subaru is the most popular Clamp pairing, I think, aside from the various iterations of Sakura/Syaoran. I'd say the pairing is much better in X/1999 than TB for the reasons you say, but a lot seem to like it mostly because of TB.

Date: 2015-03-09 06:36 am (UTC)
meicdon13: (Default)
From: [personal profile] meicdon13
Having never read Tokyo Babylon, I have no idea how Subaru reacts to Seishirou's attentions. From what I remember of X/1999, Subaru was legit depressed(? Sad?) about his past with Seishirou and how it dooms their relationship. There was a lot of angsting about pining (or at least being drawn to Seishirou) after Seishirou despite the fact that he killed Hokuto, if my memory serves me.

I can't say much about Hokuto in X/1999 because I only ever saw her via flashback; either Subaru's or that dude who was in love with her.

Date: 2015-03-08 03:00 pm (UTC)
meganbmoore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] meganbmoore
It's been several years since I've read this, but no, I don't think the parents are ever really mentioned. Teenagers living alone in Tokyo is such a common trope in shoujo (I've seen it s bit in shounen, too, but shounen is both less likely to have as much focus on that part of the characters' lives, and has a smaller percentage of stories set in the real world) that I have to wonder how often it happens IRL. Though at least now, they usually explain why they're living alone.

I've seen a theory that that reason that there are so many female ghosts in TB and that most of Yuuko's clients are female is because Clamp is drawing attention to the fact that because of social pressures and structures, women are more likely to be desperate or unfulfilled. Which might be true, but the fact that most of them aren't portrayed sympathetically, but are instead seen as nuisances and/or getting their just deserts kind of kills any social commentary or deconstructive merit.

X/1999 is an entirely different beast from TB. It's apocalyptic SSF through a bit of a gothic lense (it is still Clamp) as opposed to pure Gothic "city as person." It...does better with women simply in that there are many more in the main cast and most are portrayed sympathetically and get development, but is still bad there in a lot of ways.

Date: 2015-03-10 03:08 am (UTC)
kikyo: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kikyo
I'm not sure what you mean by punishment... The cult leader wasn't being punished. Seishirou kills her because someone put a contract out on her. He doesn't care one bit who she is or what she's done (in this case, what she will do: she's fated to become a powerful cult leader six years into the future).

Date: 2015-03-08 08:43 pm (UTC)
lauand: (Gojyo - Fuck up)
From: [personal profile] lauand
I must admit I hold Tokyo Babylon in high regard for what it meant to me the first time I read it. At first, it was an admittedly pretty ugly art with barely no backgrounds, an over the top female character that I could barely stand and a spineless male lead two sweet and innocent for me to get fond of. But then, CLAMP started to give hints about a secret past and Seishirou being more than met the eye and I got hooked.

I'm growing sort of used to the Japanese mysoginic view of life and I don't take it much into account unless it reaches unbearable levels. Although I tend to think of Hokuto as a rather strong and clever woman (it's just that I can't stand her and I think she pushes Subaru way too much).

But what I really loved about Tokyo Babylon was the ending, because, naïve as I was back then, it totally blindsided me. I didn't expect it. At all. In a million years. And that traumatized me so much that I had to talk to people about it (when I rarely talk about things that I like with my friends if I suspect they don't love it the same way that I do) and I actually went to the budding Internet (it was a long time ago and Internet was a pretty new thing) in search of more info about it, because I needed some closure to the relationship, some meeting point, some... I don't know, something. So, you see, Tokyo Babylon was the reason I got into yaoi fanfiction in the first place. And that's another reason why I'm fond of it.

And, I must confess, that even if the art is not as worked and beautiful as in other stories, I really liked Mokona Apapa's style and I actually miss it in the newer mangas. X or RG Veda are really beautifully drawn and it's something that I deeply related to CLAMP and that I now can't find in their work. And yeah, I miss it.

Date: 2015-03-09 09:59 pm (UTC)
lauand: (Aya - Sweater)
From: [personal profile] lauand
Oh, yes, this Japanese thing about being the one to hurt/kill the loved person. I was also enamoured of the concept the first time I came across it because it's a bit paradoxical and I like contradictions when they don't cross the line to become inconsistency.

Aaaah, beginnings, such a beautiful thing to remember...!

Date: 2015-03-09 02:07 am (UTC)
umadoshi: (Arashi *facepalm* (satura_te))
From: [personal profile] umadoshi
My relationship with Tokyo Babylon is kind of backwards, because I encountered X long before I read it and thus went in knowing what was going to happen. Mostly I was just kind of surprised that it took so long to get to the ending, and I found it hard to engage with the story the way it obviously meant for me to, because I knew about Seishirou.

I love X, I really do, but it's a difficult one to recommend to people since the aspect I love best doesn't really kick in until halfway through and it's been on hiatus for a decade or so. It's a mess in a lot of ways. But the things it does well, it does very well. (And from a completely biased position, having worked on it, I note that the new omnibus edition is one of the most physically gorgeous manga releases I've ever seen.

I'm not going to try to talk you into hunting X down, because it really might not work for you, but I will frankly beg you to NOT read the original Viz edition (which could be what a library has, if it has X at all). I hate the original release's script, and I hated it long before I got to help work on the new one. :/ I find it clunky and over-adapted, in the way so much manga was back in the '90s when the companies didn't think anyone would buy manga in English unless they flipped the art and tried to make them sound like Western comics.

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