Tokyo Babylon: CLAMP Premium Collection Volume 3 Review

Tokyo Babylon was a series which dealt with many social issues. However, these issues often change over time. While the first two volumes of CLAMP’s manga covered topics that we still deal with today – namely the environment, illegal immigration and sexual assault – the whole of the third volume covers an issue which is much more based in its original 1990s setting: premium rate party phone lines.

The volume begins with Subaru Sumeragi and Seishiro Sakurazuka meeting up at an aquarium for a date (which makes sense, because they are gay. Yes, I am still going to reference every time there is affection between just to hammer home the point, brushed aside by other critics who deny this relationship), but it gets cut short when Subaru gets a call from his twin sister Hokuto saying that he has been given a case.

This case involves a party line on a number from a company called Dial Q2, where several people can talk to each other over phone, but the prices are very steep. Recently a series of prank calls have been made using this line which have a supernatural bent to them. We the reader learn that the callers are three teenage girls who believe in a range of supernatural occult ideas about the world coming to an end in 1999. When Subaru tries to join the line, the girls cast a reverse mantra on him, which he is able to fight against, but he knows that when something like this fails the effects hurt the caster badly. He also twigs that whoever is casting this mantra is inexperienced and thus in grave danger, so he decides to try and put a stop to it before the worst happens to this trio.

Due to the technology involved in this edition, Volume 3 of Tokyo Babylon certainly feels the most dated so far. It is not just the party line, but other things that crop up such as Subaru having a pager on him. However, it is arguable that the issues that such technology covers have not dated, it is just the way things are communicated. Young people may not be in dangerous chat groups over the phone, but many are undoubtedly involved in such groups on the internet. If the story was being told today, no doubt Subaru would be tackling these girls over a computer (something that might have ended up being told in the Tokyo Babylon 2021 anime, if it hadn’t got canned). There is still plenty of action to excite the reader however, some of it pretty graphic. When their mantra goes wrong the girls are physically wrecked, with at least two of them vomiting profusely.

However, it is the more dramatic elements of the story that are of interest. Early on during Subaru and Seishiro’s date, they come across a service which uses a computer to deal with horoscopes. Using it, Seishiro gives his date of birth as 1st April 1965, making him Aries. For CLAMP fans, this is telling as 1st April is CLAMP Day, and several characters have this day as their birthday. However, Hokuto believes this date is wrong and that he is more likely to be something like a Scorpio. This is actually true, as an early CLAMP newsletter reveals that Seishiro was on born at 6am on 22nd November 1965, making him a Scorpio with sun, moon and rising signs, which is the most Scorpio you can get, with supposed traits being loyalty, persistence, passion, resourcefulness and danger. Another element that comes up is the references to 1999 and the supernatural beliefs at the time of a possible apocalypse occurring in that year. All of this helps lay down the foundations of Tokyo Babylon’s sequel, X, which is set in 1999.

Again regarding the production, Yen’s translation and lettering by Amanda Haley and Phil Christie respectively do feel superior to the Dark Horse version. There is also a fair share of extra material, with translation notes and a fold-out extended colour page. Credit should also go to the work by editors Jacquelyn Li and Won Young Seo. Then there is CLAMP’s design for the cover of this “Premium Collection”, which this time features Subaru and Seishiro in a gangster look, with sharp suits and long overcoats.

Overall, while the drama in this volume is good, the technology in this particular volume still makes it feel dated, and thus it just doesn’t quite have the same universal connection as the social themes of the first two volumes. However, as for the relationship between the main characters, the plot continues to thicken.

Our review copy from Yen Press was supplied by Diamond Book Distributors UK. 

7 / 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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