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.