Anime Review: Babylon (2019)

TL;DR – what starts off as a crime thriller devolves into a philosophical mess where many threads are left unanswered and an ending that most viewers will find disappointing. You have been warned.

Review (warning: spoilers)

I will try to keep this short. My score of three out of ten is based on the first three episodes being quite engrossing and then the rest falling apart. There are actually twelve episodes in total and if I scored this out of twelve, I would still give it a three.

The setting for Babylon is in the fictional city of Shiniki, a district created next to Tokyo designed to trial new political policies, ideas and systems. Enter Zen Seizaki, a public prosecutor, investigating a dodgy pharmaceutical company, and in the process, discovering a dead anesthetist and a document stained with blood, hair and the letter “F” written repeatedly all over the page by an author who has clearly gone insane.

Further investigation leads to individuals involved in election tampering (the usual stuff such as bribes, prostitution etc. to secure votes for an upcoming mayoral election). However, when Zen’s fellow prosecutor, Atsuhiko Fumio, who has been helping Zen, commits suicide by hanging, the story takes a dark turn leading to Zen confronting their primary suspect, a beautiful woman named Ai Magase.

Ai has a mysterious power where she only needs to whisper into another person’s ear and they will want to commit suicide. This also happens to coincide with one of the mayoral candidates wanting to introduce a ‘suicide law’ that permits an individual to commit suicide if they want to.

Suicide is a hot button topic, especially in Japan, and I wonder if Mado Nozaki (author of the Babylon novels) came up with this story because he wanted to explore the topic in a meaningful way, or he wrote it for the controversy and knew it would get an audience. Either way the anime series made me regret investing my time beyond the third episode.

There’s a kind of Death Note feel to the beginning. Like the Death Note anime series, we have two characters that face off against each other. One character whose thinking is unconventional and criminal under standard laws, and the other character trying to catch them. It delves into what is considered right vs wrong, good vs evil in a way that does make you think. The scene where Zen interrogates Ai and how their roles reverse by the end with Ai asking philosophical questions of Zen is riveting and quite suspenseful.

But that’s all the praise I can laud. The story starts going off in too many directions: a political debate around the suicide law, election fixing, the ongoing hunt for Ai Magase who can change her appearance, other nations adopting the law, and a G7 summit where world leaders wax lyrical about what is ‘good’ and how do you define it. With the story being pulled into multiple threads, it all comes undone.

Ai becomes a one-dimensional character. Her motives never explored. For all intents, she is evil for evil’s sake and no other reason. The suicide law is never revealed as being accepted or not in Shiniki or anywhere else. And Zen’s fate is also left ambiguous, the climactic scene leaving it open as to whether he is alive or dead.

A post credit scene reveals Ai meeting up with Zen’s son, who returns her hat because it gets blown off her head. She smiles at him as he gives the hat to her and she says, “Good boy”. I’m sure there’s meant to be some deep meaning to this ending other than seeing what appears to be evil triumphant but it evades me. In the end, I can’t help feel that Nozaki tied his story in so many knots he was not able to undo them, so instead, he simply cuts all the threads in anti-climactic fashion and not giving a damn about the viewer.

3 out of 10

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