When did you come up with this story?
Ohkawa: I came up with the prototype when I was writing novels for our doujinshi. Though the characters are the same, the story was different. It was more comedic, with onmyouji exterminating spirits… I say all this, but I never got beyond the introduction. *laughs*
Igarashi: Afterwards we drew just the characters for a cover of a novel out by Movic-san.
Ohkawa: Yeah, yeah, I think it was twice? We drew Subaru and Hokuto. It was just about then that we were invited to serialize in South, so the characters were already bouncing around in the back of my head. I thought, “maybe I’ll use them”.
Why did you decide to change the story so much after being offered a serialization?
Ohkawa: For a while I did consider writing a cute story but… because South is a quarterly magazine, one chapter gets a lot of pages, which led me to the decision to focus it on society-based issues. Also, I was young, so I had a lot of doubts and concerns aimed at society. *laughs* I decided that instead of having it all be occult, we would rather introduce a sense of realism to it.
At the time you were already serializing RG Veda. Was it difficult to add another series to your schedule?
Mokona: It was. *laughs* It came out only four times a year, but it was still 60 pages for each chapter. Finding the time to draw it in between the monthly-released RG Veda was stressful.
Nekoi: But after doing one series for so long, you start to want to do something else. *laughs*
Ohkawa: Since RG Veda was a continuous story, it was refreshing to to work on something with self-contained episodes.
Have you ever changed a character’s design?
Ohkawa: We made some slight alterations for serialization. Subaru and Hokuto are basically the same, but Seishirou really changed. In the doujinshi he had the same name, the same job as a vet, and had a “dark” past, but he wasn’t all that developed. *laughs*
Nekoi: In the doujinshi they had a Kero-chan-like mascot, didn’t they?
Igarashi: They were a penguin and a monkey. A penguin for Subaru and a monkey for Hokuto, right?
Mokona: And in the doujinshi, Hokuto also could use onmyouji magic. She even controlled a shikigami.
Ohkawa: Hokuto’s shikigami was “Minami” and Subaru’s “Leone”. We got the name from the car “Subaru Leone”. *laughs* Hokuto’s Minami came from Ultraman A.
Igarashi: And Seishirou’s shikigami was Nandarou (“Who Knows”). *laughs*
Ohkawa: Indeed. *laughs*
Nekoi: Although the same shikigame don’t appear in the version published in South, between the four of us, to this day we still call Seishirou’s shikigami Nandarou. *laughs*
Why did you name the series Tokyo Babylon?
Ohkawa: Well. *laughs*
Igarashi: I remember how we named it. *laughs*
Ohkawa: Originally we were going to name it “Tokyo” but it sounded a little enka-ish. We wanted to add something… You know the Roppongi Amando store? We decided to imitate them, and made it into Tokyo Babylon. *laughs* We chose the word “Babylon” because I feel that the Bible’s Babylon suffered a similar fate Tokyo is now.
Having the catch phrase be “Do you hate Tokyo?” is quite memorable.
Ohkawa: I thought that having “no” as an answer would be an interesting catch. That a negation would leave more of an impression than a confirmation.
Mokona: At the time we were living in Tokyo, so it probably ties directly to our feelings back then.
Nekoi: We were living in Ikebukuro and were amazed at how many people there were.
Igarashi: There’s lots of people in Osaka too, but it’s different somehow from Tokyo. Everyone in Tokyo looks so upset… Osaka people, they seem to be happy doing something as simple as walking. *laughs*
Which character was the easiest to draw?
Ohkawa: For me it’s Seishirou-san. At first I couldn’t figure out how to write for Subaru. I had a hard time grasping the “Good Kid” kind of character. Like an actor used to playing villains, I have an easier time creating characters that are a bit twisted.
Seishirou-san seemed like a good person at first…
Ohkawa: But I think he was very suspicious. *laughs*
Mokona: By the last scene of the first chapter he was suspicious. Though it did have its comedic aspect.
Ohkawa: At the beginning of the serialization we pulled in some of the doujinshi‘s atmosphere. We had already decided to end the series at volume 7, and we already knew the story’s structure, but we hadn’t set yet the mood. I think the pieces fell into place as we created the chapter set at Tokyo Tower (Vol. 1 “Babel”). By the time the cherry blossom story was completed (Vol. 1.5 “Destiny”), we were sure about the overall direction of the series. You can tell in Vol. 0’s “T.Y.O” that we were still deciding between being humorous or serious.
Did you have to make any decisions as to the images?
Mokona: For the color illustrations we decided to use color tone.
Ohkawa: We wanted to use a very vivid color tones. We could have outsources the coloring, but it was too complex, so we had to do it ourselves.
Nekoi: We can no longer find color tones, even at the art supply stores.
Mokona: It’s so difficult to use. The adhesive is strong, and the slightest movement lets things from the air get stuck. We didn’t have a cat back then so we could do it, but now it would be downright impossible.
Igarashi: Now, cat fur would stick to the tone! *laughs*
Ohkawa: Babylon is a product of its age. Hokuto’s idol’s clothes and the outfits with shoulder pads to emphasize the shoulder width… Combine that with the book design and the outfits, I think that the visual aspect reflects the time it was made in.
You were in charge of the covers– wasn’t the font you used unusual back then?
Ohkawa: The publisher probably tried to stop us from having a cover where the title wasn’t crystal clear. Back then, it wasn’t common for comics to have covers where the catch phrase is mixed together with the title or to have the characters block part of the title.
Igarashi: They wanted the title to be readable to everyone, even children. But on the Babylon covers, the word “Tokyo” jumps straight out at you. *laughs*
Ohkawa: We also suggested putting in the pull-out pictures in the manga. I wanted, in the final volume, to leave Hokuto out and have her clothes in her place. Just for that *laughs* I wanted to have the pin-ups from the very first volume.
Igarashi: Designing the cover to the illustration collection was another nightmare.
Ohkawa: Originally we weren’t going to have an obi, but the title was “Photographs”, and you might not have known it was an illustration collection from the cover alone. So we quickly added an obi.
Igarashi: As we didn’t have as much experience back then, we didn’t know what was and wasn’t feasible. I imagine we caused a lot of headaches for our publishers and printers. *laughs*
Ohkawa: We were extremely concerned with our book covers then. With Babylon especially. More than “what is easiest?”, we now have a sense of what designs we can make. *laughs*
You also had to design the video and CD covers, didn’t you?
Ohkawa: As far as the planning for videos and CDs go, we were also advertisement producers (especially for the record company), which made the usual limitations flexible, letting most of our ideas go through smoothly.
Igarashi: Yeah, when the videos were released Wings and South ran, for several issues in a row, advertisements with drawings. The design for those were all made by us.
Mokona: There were four advertisements (for the back of the magazine), so when I go to draw the cover, I would make a connection in the drawings. For example, if the cover had Subaru, the back would be Hokuto’s version of the same setting.
Ohkawa: Sony-san let us experiment with a lot of other things, not just design. Like letting us gather songs from various artists for a image soundtrack.
Nekoi: We chose songs that reminded us of Babylon and got permission from Sony-san…
Ohkawa: We received support from an awful lot of artists, like The Boom, Yoshiyuki Ohsawa-san, and Chara-san. We even included a song written by Matsuoka Hideaki-san. Thinking back, it was a magnificently splendid album, wasn’t it?
There was also the live-action movie Tokyo Babylon 1999, right?
Ohkawa: Making a manga into a live-action is harder than into an anime. But there was one, complete, story that I thought would be interesting to do. I took Vol. 3 “Call”, changed the original, and made it a complete story in itself.
Nekoi: It makes for a good psycho-horror film.
Ohkawa: There’s a making-of video, which we compiled as well– Nekoi and I.
Nekoi: That was fun, wasn’t it? Filming the studio during filming, and interviewing the cast. Handa-san (Harada Kenji: Filming Director) said we did a good job. *laughs*
Igarashi: At the time Sony-san left copies at special agencies, and they loaned it out for free.
Ohkawa: That’s how it used to be. If it was now, they’d leave it at a rental store, or have it be a bonus DVD for a magazine supplement.
Were there any current event that especially influenced the series?
Ohkawa: The news influenced Babylon a lot. We wrote Vol. 8 Rebirth’s kidney transplant story right during the scandal over someone accepting an organ transplant from a brain-dead patient. It’s a controversial issue to this day but– at the time, in this country, it was a complicated matter to receive an organ-transplant from a brain-dead patient. I think my thoughts come out in the series.
Igarashi: When we did the kidney-transplant story we had a lot of discussions with our editor, right from on how to name it.
Do you have any lasting impressions from when you were making the series?
Nekoi: The letters the elderly sent us, I think.
Ohkawa: We received letters from all kinds of people. Vol. 6’s “Old” (what we call between ourselves The Banana Story *laughs*), received the most feedback. That and, this series got a lot of long letters. People would write to us saying things like, “your story says that, but isn’t it actually like this…?” They would explore and share their opinions with us.
Mokona: People talked a lot about the bullying story, too.
Ohkawa: I guess it is really is a big concern. Vol. 5’s “Save” doubled the bullying issue with a cult story, so we ended up receiving a lot of letters from religiously affiliated people.
As you look back on Babylon now, what feelings do you have?
Ohkawa: That, in a different way from RG Veda, it really reflects how young we were. There’s a lot of our works that if we were to do now, we’d do them differently, but that’s not the case of Babylon. The way we made it is a reflection of its time, I guess. It’s a series we made because it was the 1980s. Technically it was made in the 90s, but it was made with the remaining influence of the 80s. I guess you could say that it’s filled with all the ideas we wanted to try out.
 The novels Igarashi are referring to are these ones.
 Enka is a popular Japanese music genre considered to resemble traditional Japanese music stylistically.
 Ikebukuro is a large commercial section of Tokyo. That’s where Sunshine 60 is.
 “Obi” is the strip of paper often covering the lower section of Japanese books with advertisements, announcements, and the like.
Translated from Japanese by Bell (usomitai) with adjustments following TokyoPop’s translation.
Interview originally published in CLAMP No Kiseki vol. 3 (Kodansha), released on November 22, 2004.
If you found mistakes in this translation or would like to contribute with translating other interviews, please contact me.