One of the nice things about manga, comics, and Sci-Fi/(Urban) Fantasy in general (Anime and Manga included) is that it makes for a good medium for serious social commentary. Anime and Manga perhaps is famous for including philosophical and geopolitical commentary in series and shows fairly often. However, this commentary is often directed outwards - Spriggan
's unsubtle commentary about how "The Cold War is bad - m'kay" is a great example of this. Occasionally, the commentary is pointed inwards though, at things that could be improved about Japan, and that's what this volume of Tokyo Babylon is more or less focused on. Subaru Sumeragi
's latest case in this volume involves a high-school girl who has fallen into a coma and needs to be drawn out. While all of Subaru's cases are difficult for him in one form or another, because his tragic failing is that he's empathic to a fault - this one hits far more close to home, as the girl was a school-mate of his, who he was close to before he left school to become a full-time Onmyoji. The commentary comes in when Subaru dives into her subconscious, and learns what drove her into a coma. She was raped. However, it was not the rape itself that left her comatose, it was the response of society to her as a rape victim that emotionally beat her to unconsciousness.
The commentary cannot vaguely be described as subtle - I might even call it anvilicious
. That said, to continue making references to TVTropes, some anvils need to be dropped
, and the way the commentary is done here, while unsubtle, is still well done. This isn't a Very Special Issue in any sense - everyone stays in character, and the tone doesn't doesn't shift to anything out of character for the series. The last volume's stories, while less political, were still dark, and this ties in with that.
The little epilogue story, while a little lighter, still stays political - Subaru's sister, Hokuto
, meets a girl on the run from strange men in Tokyo. After Hokuto fends them off, she learns the truth - the woman is an illegal immigrant, and the men she was fleeing were immigration agents. She then goes on to talk about what life is like for immigrants in Tokyo, both legal and illegal, and how her life is very lonely, because Japanese society is resistant to immigrants who want to assimilate. This story is a little less anvilicious, and fortunately it's a topic that's been discussed a little more often recently - recent seasons of You're Under Arrest involved immigrant characters, and the isolation immigrant communities experience in Japan is brought up in one of the many subplots in Durarara
. Still, this issue predates those shows by at least a decade, and I haven't seen that issue tackled in any other works contemporaneous to this series or earlier. So, it's nice to see those issues tackled.
I do have one significant complaint - the art has not improved from the last volume. Most of the chapters have characters talking in voids, either because we have really bland dreamscapes, or because the characters are in blank rooms. In either case, while the story for this volume kept my attention, the bland art did nothing for me.