On Babylon v1

babylon
The cover.

Hi twitties! (because who else reads reads my blog?) I haven’t written anything here for a while, so it’s time to do something about it and immortalize my impressions on yet another Nozaki Mado novel. It’s the first volume of Babylon (subtitled “Onna” – “Woman”), a three volume-long series put out by Koudansha Taiga. This blogpost will be a bit special: for the first time I bought a novel with an animated adaptation in the works, with the intention of writing about it before the anime airs. Remember that time when Twin Engine announced a whole bunch of shows? Babylon is one of them. I made it in time, but barely – it’s starting in October. I got only the first novel, though – I’m guessing the anime will adapt the entire story. Babylon starts with a quote from the Bible, the one about the Whore of Babylon (Revelation, chapter 17, verses 5 & 6). Just in case you have doubts whether you’re in for a wild ride. Prepare for nothing but spoilers, more with every paragraph.

Remember Seikai Suru Kado, the sci-fi anime about politicians being wise and competent? Though Mado’s works can be very diverse, Babylon definitely brings Kado to mind. Meet prosecutor Seizaki Zen (正崎 善) – the hypercompetent investigator, a superhero among public officials, and the second coming of Shindou Koujirou. He even has a silly sidekick identical to Hanamori – his name is Fumio. Except, as his punny Nozaki Name (正しくて善い, as he’s called at one point) suggests, he’s all about justice. I swear, the weirdness of one’s name is directly proportional to their importance to the plot in Madoverse.

At the beginning, Seizaki is looking into a minor scandal in the pharmaceutical industry: some medicine was not as effective as it claimed to be on its package. Together with his assistant Fumio, he’s digging through tens of boxes filled with documents confiscated from Nippon Spiri, a pharmaceutic company, in search of evidence. There, he makes an unusual discovery hinting he’s stumbled upon something bigger than a small transgression. A sheet of paper with letter “F” scrawled all over it and some organic matter stuck to the paper. You might have seen it in the trailer of the anime. Traces of blood and skin lead Seizaki to Inaba Shin, an anesthesiologist. Upon an attempt at paying the doctor a visit, it turns out he’s dead. A strange suicide – he anesthesized himself to death. The least likely suicide method, if you consider it took him hours to die. With no alternative scenario, Inaba’s death is acknowledged as suicide, but Seizaki wants to continue his research with a little help from his friends like policeman Kujiin and hackerman Mitoni Ben. Soon, another link in the chain is found: Inaba was being visited by a man named Anou Tomokazu, accompanied by a woman. The scale of the story gets bigger: Anou is a secretary of a major politician…

At the beginning of the book, there’s a map. It shows a part of the Kantou plain and an area spanning the western reaches of Tokyo and some adjacent municipalities, far from the seashore. It’s distinguished with a darker color and labeled “SHIN’IKI” (新域) or “New Area”. In the world of the novel, a new sort of administrative unit was established in Japan. In addition to the four kinds of prefectures (todoufuken), a new, unique unit – “iki” or “area” was brought into being. A new building to contain the administration of the Shin’iki is already in place – a monumental edifice with seven towers (it’s a biblical reference again, isn’t it). Seizaki calls it Babylon – it even has a park filled with greenery at the top, a wink at the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. And he calls the future governor “Gilgamesh”. What a hodgepodge of references. The Shin’iki, a “second Tokyo” of sorts, is a target of many people’s hopes as a way to put Japan back on its legs after decades of economic stagnation. It’ll be an unprecedented “experimental city” with ambitions of eventually leading the entire world. The elections, held to select the Area’s first governor, are near. The number one candidate is Nomaru Ryuuichirou, a powerful old veteran of the ruling party. And Anou’s employer. Seizaki’s investigation is leading him into some dangerous places…

After tailing Anou for a bit, he finds out Nomaru’s committee has been bribing powerful people. And not in a usual way – Fumio witnesses him giving a woman to Chijima, the chairman of Tokyo’s association of construction companies to do whatever he wants with her, in exchange for making sure everybody under Chijima’s power votes right. So, tampering with the fairness of elections AND human trafficking. You know how people complain that voting is pointless because one vote changes next to nothing? Nomaru and his people said “if you gather several people and agree on one common candidate to vote on, you’ve achieved some power”. They pushed this idea to its logical limit and pulled off the “sexy present in exchange for a farm of voters” trick several times. Seizaki calls the victim Woman B – that woman who was seen visiting the doctor with Anou is Woman A.

And then disaster strikes again – Fumio follows Woman B to her home and lies in wait for her to leave so he can ask her some questions… but he never does. Seizaki receives a farewell text from him and then finds his assistant dead, hanged. A second suspect suicide. Fumio had no reason to die, but there are also no signs of possible homicide. Somebody must have “done” that suicide to him. But how? “Are there any supernatural shenanigans at work here?” – is what I though. But that wouldn’t be very in-character considering this is a Nozaki Mado novel. And, none of the characters ask that question, so Babylon isn’t one of those “Does preternatural stuff exist in this world?” kind of murder mysteries. Or is it? Nonetheless, some kind of big evil has to be behind this.

For a while, the investigation goes slowly – only one surprising bit of news surfaces: opposing candidates in the Shin’iki elections were swapping committee members. And then, an opportunity to set up a trap for Anou arrives. The secretary drives a woman to a hot spring resort in Hakone, where three fat cats turn out to be waiting for her. This time, the carefully planned campaign by Seizaki succeeds – Woman C gets arrested. Seizaki tells his boss Morinaga to hold a special conference during which the contents of Hiramatsu Emiko’s confession, as the woman’s called, will be presented, dealing the finishing blow to Nomaru as a politician. The story’s climax. Hiramatsu proves to be a tough nut to crack, however. A disconcerting weirdo of a woman, utterly unfazed with what’s happening. Hiramatsu promises to sign whatever paper she’s given. Seizaki goes to the next room to write her confession down, only to find out the woman’s gone an hour later. Okuda, the dude who was supposed to keep an eye on her, says he doesn’t know what happened, stunned.

The conference starts, but it’s Seizaki who’s the center of attention, with Nomaru present in the audience. The plan to bring Nomaru down gets foiled. Does this mean Seizaki lost, though? In a gigantic twist of a scene, we learn Nomaru and the Shin’iki conspiracy reaches ridiculously far. It isn’t even Nomaru who’s supposed to win the elections – the young and brilliant Itsuki Kaika will emerge victorious in this parody of free elections, where Nomaru will lose on purpose only to drum up some drama. All five candidates are in on it. And all that for the sake of the Shin’iki, the ideal city of the future. This won’t end well, will it. Nomaru admits to manipulating the election process, but denies being responsible for the two suicides. It seems like some unknown force hostile towards the Shin’iki camp is responsible for those. Seizaki receives permission to continue his investigation.

Itsuki becomes the governor. Meanwhile, since Morinaga (a part of the conspiracy) and Seizaki are on one side of the conflict now, he tells the protag some shocking truths. Women A, B and C are actually one and the same person. Seizaki protests – although he’s only seen the first two women in pictures, he’s positive the three can’t be the same woman. There have to be some strange powers at work here. Of course, a name as plain as Hiramatsu Emiko couldn’t have been real – her true name is Magase Ai. MAGASE AI. 愛で世を曲げる. Wow. Another name with meaning, and one that’s pretty much the exact opposite of “Seizaki Zen”. At this point there should be no doubts about who the Whore of Babylon might be. Morinaga describes her as “having the power of seduction” (does that count as supernatural?), which would make her the most probable killer of Inaba and Fumio. And an efficient predator in the world of Japanese politics, occupied by men. Without her, there would be no Shin’iki – he says.

After a while, some disturbing news arrive: Kaika has disappeared together with some secret documents and his most trusted confidants. But, the governor soon reappears on the top of the Shin’iki building to make a disturbing speech to the world about “the biggest invention since fire”. The invention turns out to be “embracing death”, whatever than means. Kaika announces his subjects now have “the right to die” and causes the people at the top of the skyscraper to jump off. What is the meaning of this? What about Nomaru? Is this a rebellion against the old crook or is he in on it again? This must be the work of Magase Ai, the Whore of Babylon! To Be Continued.

Well, that was pretty good. Babylon proved to be a well written mystery novel that doesn’t let you be bored for a moment. And, although the first volume isn’t a complete story, it seems to have something to say. Or at least it has some bits and pieces of big ideas. My kind of novel. Please don’t screw it up. Stick a proper ending to it, I don’t care if it’s a cliche one. I’ll definitely watch the anime – it starts in a bit over two weeks. Even if Kado was a failure, I appreciate having more serious, adult anime to watch. In case you’re interested in reading the novel, it’s moderately difficult Japanese-wise.

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