This is adapted from a review I wrote from Bureau42.com
When you're creating a magic system for fiction, it's important to lay out some rules. If you don't have rules, then characters can do whatever the heck they want, which can ultimately make the story boring, as if they can do whatever they want whenever they want, all tension is removed. However, when you lay out the rules, you don't want to infodump, because you'll bore the hell out of the audience.
Perhaps the best narrative example about how to lay out the rules is this volume of Tokyo Babylon. The story involves Subaru Sumeragi taking on a group of bullied schoolgirls who have learned just enough magic to get into deep trouble, and are using it to lash out at their tormentors. The problem is that the kinds of flashy effects they're using can, and do, have some nasty side effects on the casters, leading Subaru to desperately try and stop them before it's too late. However, when things start going poorly for Subaru, Seichiro intercedes on his behalf, using his own magical powers, from a mysterious source.
All in all, this volume does a good job of setting up how magic works in this little pocket of the CLAMP multiverse, keeping it interesting and suspenseful, as while we know Subaru will survive, we don't know if the girls will. Additionally, this volume further establishes Subaru's tragic flaw - he is caring and empathic to a fault, and any pain the girls experience that he couldn't save them from, he'll take upon himself, meaning that even if he escapes physical harm, he can still suffer emotional harm.
Again, while the writing here is rock solid, the same complaints about poor backgrounds remain. I really wonder if perhaps CLAMP had taken on too much of a manga workload at the time - CLAMP School Detectives
was running around the same time, and RG Veda
was still ongoing. Still, that is a somewhat significant mark against the art quality this volume, though I would recommend giving it a read based on story alone.