Tokyo Babylon: CLAMP Premium Collection Volume 2 Review

Warning: This article covers, among other subjects, sexual assault, which some readers may find distressing.

As mentioned in my review of the first volume of CLAMP’s classic early work, one of the topics dealt with in-depth in Tokyo Babylon is social issues. While this manga may have been written in the 1990s, these issues are things which haven’t gone away. While the first volume discussed matters such as the environment, this edition covers illegal immigrants and sexual assault.

This edition begins with Subaru Sumeragi, the 13th head of his onmyoji clan, being given the task of helping a teenage girl who has seemingly fallen into a coma and has not awakened for four months. There is no medical reason for this to be occurring, so he is tasked to examine the cause himself. We, the reader, are made aware of the cause early on, in that the girl, named Mitsuki, was the victim of a sexual assault and cannot bring herself to admit the case to anyone for fearing she will be labelled as “damaged goods” and upsetting her mother. Thus, she has decided that she would rather go to sleep and never wake up, rather than admitting to anyone what has happened. Subaru delves into Mitsuki’s mind and discovers that he knew her when he was a boy, with Mitsuki saying she hated Subaru because he was “not normal”. It therefore takes effort for Subaru to delve deep into her mind, and even then he gets unasked-for help from his boyfriend Seishiro Sakurazuka, who summons a hawk spirit to get through some troublesome barriers.

In the other story in this book (there are only two, rather larger chapters in this volume), Subaru’s twin sister Hokuto comes to the aid of a girl being hassled by a group of burly men. The girl in question, whose name is never given in the story, reveals that she is a foreigner without a visa working in a hostess club, and is worried about being kicked out of Japan. Hokuto is happy to help her by a mixture of friendliness and using magic circles created with Chanel lipstick.

The social aspects covered in this volume are certainly troubling, and the way they have been dealt with has changed over time. While Amanda Haley’s translation describes Mitsuki as being “sexually assaulted”, in the Dark Horse translation of Tokyo Babylon by Carl Gustav Horn, they instead directly refer to Mitsuki as being “raped”. Perhaps Yen’s choice of words is due to the “Teen” age rating, and the reference to assault is certainly a lot less harsher-sounding. It does feel that the Yen translation deals with the topic much more delicately.

The translation also displays some improvements over the Dark Horse version in the second story. For example, when Hokuto learns that her new friend is foreign, she tries asking her directly in Japanese if she speaks Japanese, as displayed by the fact that Horn writes Hokuto’s passage in Japanese, before the friend says she can speak the language. In Yen’s version, rather than writing in Japanese, Haley’s writes in English: “Can you speak…” for Hokuto, which letterer Phil Christie puts in a different front and writes as “<Can you speak…>”, which makes for easier reading. Also, using this technique, the Yen version shows us passages spoken by the foreigner which were originally in her mother tongue, but were simply written in English without this indication in the Dark Horse version. Another odd quirk about this chapter in the Dark Horse edition, is that when they released Tokyo Babylon as two omnibus editions, this chapter was put into the latter, second volume, meaning that their chapters were in the wrong order, whereas Yen Press has released the chapters in the order they came out in.

Regarding CLAMP’s artwork, we again get to see some more cute outfits for the Sumeragi twins, with a fold-out colour page in the opening of the book, with perhaps the best outfit being Subaru wearing polka-dot pyjamas, as well as his trademark gloves, in bed. Then there is the cover design made especially by CLAMP for this “Premium Collection” edition, which features the twins in hip-hop style outfits, but also with plenty of belts, straps, trouser chains, and what appears to be transparent latex/PVC for a slightly more kinky look. This transparent material is more than likely a reference to the original cover of this volume which features Subaru in wet-weather gear, which also had transparent elements.

In terms of negatives, the only major one that I have is the lack of Seishiro in this volume. However, there are  some nice touches regarding their relationship, such as a scene in which the trio are having breakfast, talking about a meeting Subaru had with his grandmother. While eating, Hokuto makes Subaru cough while drinking his miso soup by saying, “If she finds out that the Sumeragi clan head is in love with a Sakurazuka, she’ll obliterate you!” It’s a nice visual gag, and an always useful reminder that no matter what other critics say, Subaru and Seishiro are very definitely gay. No ifs, no buts; they’re gay, alright?!

Regardless, this volume deals with some sensitive issues delicately, and it will be interesting to see how other topics are dealt with later on.

8 / 10

Ian Wolf

Ian works as an anime and manga critic for Anime UK News, and was also the manga critic for MyM Magazine. His debut book, CLAMPdown, about the manga collective CLAMP, is available now. Outside of anime, he is data specialist for the British Comedy Guide, is QI's most pedantic viewer, has written questions for both The Wall and Richard Osman's House of Games, and has been a contestant on Mastermind.

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