If CLAMP fans around the world made a collective wish list, a complete anime adaptation of Tokyo Babylon would probably be near the top. So it stands to reason that when the news of a brand new Tokyo Babylon anime adaptation is announced for 2021, CLAMP fans should be overjoyed. However, the online reaction to this announcement has been mixed so far, and the reason is only two words: Studio GoHands. Fans are worried about the studio's distinctive visual style and its potential poor fit with the source material's overall dark tone.
At the heart of Tokyo Babylon is the tragic (though problematic) love story between Subaru Sumeragi, the teen head of the powerful Sumeragi onmyoji clan, and Seishirou Sakurazuka, the head of a rival assassin’s onmyoji clan determined to kill Subaru. Tokyo Babylon ran for seven volumes from 1990 to 1993, but it has endured the test of time and remained one of CLAMP’s most popular stories. Subaru and Seishirou eventually make their returns in CLAMP’s other classic manga X/1999. The story of Tokyo Babylon deals with big themes such as faith, destiny and individualism, and the tone of the story is rather melancholic.
Despite its popularity, Tokyo Babylon has never gotten a full anime adaptation, unlike most of CLAMP's other works. It's only received two OVA adaptations in 1992 and 1994 and a live-action film. There's so much more to the original manga that the two OVA episodes could not cover, so fans have been clamoring for a complete anime for over 25 years. After GoHands released their preview for Tokyo Babylon 2021, many fans are left confused if not worried about the future of this classic work.
Studio GoHands officially established its reputation for a specific controversial visual style through the K project series. It's a style exemplified by extreme use of over-saturated colors, blue filters, fisheye wide-angle lenses, Dutch angles and a strange fondness for reflective surfaces. Though the style can sometimes look beautiful, it's often overdone to the point of causing an eyesore.
From the first promo video, it is already apparent that GoHands has once again gone all out with its unique visual style. What’s even more worrisome is that Seishirou’s character has been redesigned to the point of non-recognition. Seishirou is supposed to be the older, more mature counterpart to the young and inexperienced Subaru, but now he seems to have a very similar lean and thin body type as Subaru, a 16-year-old high school student.
One of the most popular tweets trending in Japan after the PV's release is a post comparing Seishirou’s shoulder width over the years. The first picture is from the new PV, the second from Tokyo Babylon's manga and the third is from X/1999, the fourth is from Tsubasa showing an alternate version of Seishiro.
星史郎さんの肩幅比較— ー (@chousaaka) October 25, 2020
While one can argue that the shoulder width in the original manga is too unrealistic and very old fashioned, the current design, unfortunately, makes Seishirou’s head look disproportionately large. There is simply not enough contrast between the adult Seishiro and the teenager Subaru from design alone.
Besides the over-stylized visuals, GoHands’ recent productions such as Hand Shakers and W’z also suffer from incoherent plots, poor story logic, and very blend characters, and received terrible reviews as a result. Those flops were original stories, so at least there's some chance Tokyo Babylon 2021 will turn out better storywise due to the deep philosophical manga source material. Or can they? The promo emphasized that the story now takes place in 2021, while the original manga clearly takes place in the early 1990s. While it's perfectly fine to update the original story into contemporary settings, it is still too early to know what this setting change could mean for the story.
Nonetheless, many fans are still at least cautiously optimistic about what this new adaptation could bring. After all, this is an anime 25 years in the making, and if it's handled even remotely well, it is definitely a story worth the wait.