So Babylon finished a few days ago and I’ve got to say, that anime was a pretty fun time. Great directing. Cool ideas. The animation in general was engaging to watch. Story and characters weren’t anything to write home about. I know a lot of people are getting mad at the series because it promised a great story and then failed to deliver on it, but here on this blog, we’re just happy if an anime is good.
Was Babylon good though? Well, I personally like it more for what it could have been rather than what it actually is, but that’s a legitimate reason to like something in my opinion. It’s sort of the same logic that makes Goldeneye a fun James Bond movie. Yeah the writing was cheesy and it didn’t fully capitalize on Bond in a generation that has outgrown his initial appeal, but for a standard action film that tried to do that, it’s a fun time.
What initially drew me to Babylon was mainly the cult popularity I had seen for the show across various parts of the Internet along with its self-serious tone. There weren’t any names attached to the anime that were really established from the production company to the source material, and the summary doesn’t really tell you anything other than it’s a mystery related to the government. It doesn’t mention that suicide plays a large part in the show’s narrative. It doesn’t mention any of the religious themes. It doesn’t even mention the main villain, who is a huge part of the show’s appeal. Like if you look up Babylon Anime on Youtube, you’ll find quite a few videos highlighting the show’s antagonist. They’re all shit by the way, but that’s beside the point.
And what caused me to stay with Babylon after noticing its existence was mainly all of those elements I mentioned. I like anime that tackle big social/political issues, as anyone who’s looked at my favorites list can tell. Obviously, I don’t expect an anime to have big answers for any of the questions it brings up because this is a medium that is impossible to take 100% seriously (not to mention, Japan wouldn’t have the high suicide rate it does if people could give a definite stance on the subject), but if it makes a point that I find interesting enough to ponder on, that’s good enough for me. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the show has strong visual storytelling. The way the camera angles are used to convey tension by focusing on individual body parts to highlight emotions or the close-ups used to emphasize that something serious is happening is something that you don’t exactly see every day in anime. Music is great too. I’m not technical-savvy enough to really highlight how great it sounds and how effectively it’s used in certain scenes, but let’s just say it’s easy to tell that a love was put in the production of this series.
As I said before, suicide is the main theme the majority of the story revolves around. Basically, the show questions the morality of killing yourself, whether more people would do it if it was actually legal, and whether it’s seen as a sin by religion all through this plot of a prosecutor who pursues this woman that has the ability to make people commit suicide just by whispering to them. It’s done in a pretty pseudo-intellectual way to the point that even I could shut down some of what the show discusses in a reasonable manner, but the show puts in enough effort that I questioned things a few times. One particular discussion that I really liked was how the world leaders discussed that if you had to choose between saving one or saving many, you’d only pick the many if you were put in a situation where you’d have to make a rash decision. Because that’s really true, but it’s something we never really think about until we’re actually in that situation.
That said, one thing about suicide that I can’t recall being brought up in the show, and I think really should have been, was how suicide would affect those you left behind. Basically, it causes your family to have to spend a lot of money on your funeral, it wastes a lot of authorities’ time that could be better spent on other cases, and if you don’t make the suicide clear enough, you could get someone arrested for something they didn’t do. There was an arc in Welcome to the NHK that really highlighted these facts and it’s one of the things that still makes me love that show despite the animation being dogshit. Good and evil can be in the eyes of the beholder at times, but when you’re clearly inconveniencing people in the process, it’s hard to see anything good about it.
Nevertheless, the show raised enough interesting questions that I was never really bored with it, and when it did something childish, it always did it in a way I found kinda amusing. But at the end of the day, I never found Babylon to be particularly great, which is a big reason why I can’t see the show as a massive disappointment. Wasted potential maybe. Bit off more than it could chew. However, when you can see those aspects right from the start and you’re still having fun, it’s hard to summon up much negative feelings towards the product.
Let’s be honest guys. Even if you get past the pseudo-intellectual approach to the subject matter, there are other major issues that really hold the anime back, and I have no idea why people expected more from this show considering I saw these issues in like the first three episodes. With the exception of Ai Magase, the characters are all subtle, which makes it hard to relate to them. We don’t know anything about the main character, Seizaki, other than he’s a hard-ass prosecutor with a family that we never get to know, and he always reacts to things the way any normal person in his situation would. And while I like Ai as a character, she doesn’t get much screentime and, as many people have already pointed out, her entire characterization hinges on her being the literal incarnate of the Whore of Babylon (and if you don’t know what that is, don’t worry as the show literally spells it out for you near the conclusion).
I think her character was inspired by Johan Liebert from Monster, who also didn’t show up on screen a whole bunch, had weird supernatural powers that were never explained, and was based on some religious figure. But the show also tries to make her like Heath Ledger’s Joker in that she’s a dangerous criminal who just randomly comes out of nowhere to stir up trouble, and I don’t think the combination worked as well as they intended. I get that her personal philosophy of good vs evil is supposed to factor into the question of whether suicide can be considered good or evil, but she also applies that philosophy to things like murder, which is not a major theme of the story at all, let alone compared to suicide. And it seems like she only affects the end of each arc, rather being a constant presence in the story like Johan was in his show. Basically, Ai Magase is a fun character with a great theme on the soundtrack who wasn’t used to her full potential.
Also, I did some research around the end of the second arc and discovered it was based on a series of novels that have not been finished yet. The anime was going to cover all three novels that are out so far, which meant that unless they went for something original at the end, there would be no conclusive ending and a sequel to the show would not happen for at least a few years (I think it’s been a few years since the third novel came out and the fourth installment seems to be nowhere in sight). Ai was definitely not going to die by the end because the entire series revolves around her presence to the point that she’s on the cover of the goddamn books – or at least the first one. And I’ll be honest, I really liked the ending we got. I like open-ended endings as long as they don’t end things on a cliffhanger because I generally enjoy stuff being left to the imagination. While the overall story isn’t over yet, most of the important stuff got a conclusion in my eyes, even if they weren’t great conclusions.
Edit: Actually, I’ve been informed by some people that the novel series has finished and that all of that talk I saw of a possible fourth volume, while not impossible, is incredibly unlikely. However, that knowledge doesn’t change my opinion of the anime because at this point, it’s too late for me to have expectations regarding Babylon’s conclusion.
At the end of the day, all that’s really clear is that in the protagonist’s eye, the right thing to do is to continue going forward and the evil thing to do is to end things. And that’s just his viewpoint spoken in a state of emotional distress. It’s not really a definite answer to everything that’s come before, but it is the answer he arrived at after all the hardship he went through and the show provided sufficient evidence to support his viewpoint given all the deaths that happened in front of him. I guess another thing that’s clear by the end is that everything that makes up Ai Magase will continue to live on for all eternity, even if Ai herself eventually perishes. People will always have suicidal tendencies and there will always be evils that will feed into said tendencies. Even by the standards of anime, I do find these conclusions to only be average at best. However, strong characters can make up for average revelations, and…well we didn’t really get that either with Babylon.
What we did get though was strong visual storytelling that compensated just enough for the “what the fuck happened” ending to not feel like a cheap cliffhanger. When you realize that the show was so in love with build-up and abstract ideas to the point that it overtook the narrative, you start to pay attention more to how it delivers on this build-up for entertainment, and I think it delivers on that well. It’s hard to really explain why I was enjoying the show dumping all these abstract ideas on me before calling it a day and leaving me to play with them, but if I had to guess why, it’s because I’ve never really considered suicide as an evil thing either. I think it’s something you shouldn’t do, but at the same time, I don’t have the power to stop others from doing it, especially if I don’t know the person. And I guess I enjoyed how Babylon framed my mindset on a complicated manner like this with actual religious backing and some logistical ones as well.
Not to mention, I love the cat-and-mouse games between Seizaki and Ai in-between all of the suicide talk. Some people say Ai is designed to be a misogynistic stereotype, but I honestly have no idea what they’re talking about, because Ai is really well-loved amongst male fans, let alone female fans. It’s just really neat to see a woman who can use sex appeal as a weapon in a unique way to the point that you can take her seriously, and it makes me pine for Ai’s character to be written in another better story. Plus, the way she’s designed as Seizaki’s mortal enemy is both intriguing and hilarious. How anyone can listen to the dude yell “MAGASE!” like he’s rehearsing for a European drama and not laugh out loud is beyond me.
Overall, while they didn’t have the characterization that they should have, I like the idea of a married straight-laced workaholic who’s driven insane by a wild femme fatale who’s determine to crush his beliefs by killing those close to him. I’m aware that Ai being female is a big part of what makes this idea so intriguing since we don’t get many sexy females in a Joker-like role because it’s hard to do in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re pandering. Especially when the main protagonist is male, because males don’t generally hold murderous vendettas against females in fiction. Usually they get seduced by them and might even turn them to their side.
As such, the fact that Babylon could pull off Ai’s character and her overall dynamic with Seizaki the way it did in of itself something to praise, even if said praise is ultimately a minor part of the show. And ultimately, Ai being a female villain is such a core part of her character that it would be hard to make her male without majorly affecting the story itself. Personally, that’s the sign of a great female character to me. “Character first and female second” is an obvious thing to praise, but someone who uses being female as part of the character is when things truly become special.
All in all, I just can’t help but have some fond feelings for Babylon after it ended. It’s not like Darling in the Franxx or Erased in that I never got the appeal because what people loved about both series didn’t seem very praiseworthy, so when things went bad for them, I just went “oh well, that got worse”. I did get the appeal of Babylon and I think that appeal stayed throughout the show’s entire runtime. It just didn’t evolve into something amazing like people wanted it to, but I never expected it to. For those of you never saw this show and are curious, I do recommend one watch.
Anymore than that though…well let’s just say I’m not expecting many people to consider Babylon one of their favorite anime of all-time.