Did you watch Death Note?
It was one of the most popular shonen works back in its day. It was a deadly thriller that had one of the best cat and mouse stories I’ve ever seen. Despite that, most people believe that the latter half of Death Note is not as good as it’s first half, that there is a massive drop off in quality.
Why am I bringing this up, well it’s because the series I’m talking about today pretty much follows in those footsteps. After the cut let’s take a dive into the series Babylon
I brought up Death Note because, like that series, Babylon seems to almost follow in its footsteps complete. Like I said, both series have excellent first halves, with a story that keeps you at the edge of your seat, full of twists and turns that keep you guessing, and a “halftime” conclusion that is jaw-dropping. Back in my look at anime in 2019, I gushed about Babylon heavily, even giving it a honorable place in my ‘anime of the year’ category because frankly it was just so good.
However, like Death Note, it has to have a second half and, like Death Note, that second half falls completely on it’s face. The problem is quite simple. In Death Note, the hook that kept readers involved and coming back each week was the epic showdown between main characters Light Yagami and L. Watching Light go to extreme genius levels of planning and deception to try and outwit his opponent is one of the main reasons the series was so good. But when that plot-line was put to bed and the series moved on from it, Death Note was unable to maintain that level of quality. The same can be said with Babylon. The first seven episodes are honestly some of the best anime I watched last year. A slow, methodical mystery thriller full of twists, turns and one of the best examples of politics in anime through the concept of the suicide law. I won’t get into details here, but since high suicide rates are a real concern in the Asian countries, it was refreshing to see such a difficult topic handled in anime.
Then of course, there is Ai Magase.
I’ve not discussed this before on the blog, but I’ve always thought that anime has had a villain problem. There have been good baddies, but anime has never really presented (at least to me) a true out and out evil villain. No tragic backstory, no understandable motives, no cartoonist antics. To me, anime has never had it’s true evil person, that is, until Babylon. Ai Magase is probably one of the best anime villains ever created. A seductive and mysterious woman who runs rampant through police, civilians and politicians alike. Her motives are unclear, her reasons are a riddle, and her presence is unnerving. Everything about Magase, from her stellar voice acting, to her seductive but rather plain appearance is perfect. She is the manifestation of chaos, an agent of evil, the pure black evil that is rarely seen in media today, and even more rarely done right. Her actions throughout the series, especially in episode 7 are not only some of the best moments in anime 2019, but the best in the last decade.
However, then the series has to continue on for that, and like with Death Note, that is where Babylon falls flat on it’s face.
The story arc that follow and the introduction of U.S president Alexander Wood takes Babylon in a weird and strange direction that the series never really recovers from. While the use of the U.S president trying to debate the suicide law that is starting to spread throughout the world is interesting, as is series main character Zen attempting to reconcile the events of the first half the series, Babylon is never able to hold onto it’s strengths, and ends up becoming a strange, ambitious mess. It is clear that the author wanted to aim high with his story, to go big and bold with his vision and kick things up a notch. Yet by doing so a lot of the heart and enjoyment of the first half of Babylon is lost, and it feels like the series tried to evolve into something far too fast. I can respect that ambition, but in this case the series suffers from the ‘Icarus factor’: It aimed too high and it ended up plummeting right back down And that’s a shame because again, the first half of this series is honestly great.
Babylon, looking at the series as a whole ends up becoming a disappointment. The series tried to go too big with it’s plot and premise and ended up getting burned bad. If the story had opted to remain small, with the focus on the ideological battle between Zen and Magase, or had just ended at episode 7, then I would have claimed the series to be a masterpiece. However that isn’t the case and we are left with an ambitious, confusing second half that bit off far more than it had to chew, or flew too close to the sun with wings of wax. I really liked Babylon though, and I will stand by my thoughts on that first half, because it is still really damn good. Yet it is a series that follow in the footsteps of Death Note. It didn’t know when to quit.