Approaching this show is a difficult task. This isn’t because the show tackles harsh subject matter involving the likes of suicide as one of its fundamental talking points. It’s not because the show isn’t exactly good at doing so, either. It’s because I’m still coming to terms with what an absolute shitshow this series has become. There’s this immense swirl of emotions that come about from watching a show crumble before your very eyes, keenly aware that there were signs of trouble from the beginning. Babylon showed promise of being a fascinating police procedural with some of the most noteworthy directing of 2019...or at least that was the case for the first 7 episodes. Unfortunately, the last arc happened. Not only was I unable to accept any of the more idiotic decisions the show had been making as its presentation became blander and more obtuse, but the finale is one of the most devastating trainwrecks of recent years, invalidating almost everything the show had built up to that point.
*Part 1: The Rise*
Back when the show was about Zen Seizaki and his colleagues being wrapped up in a murder turned mass suicide mystery, the show had some of the best pacing of any recent seasonal. Its ability to generate tremendous cliffhangers was borderline unrivaled, even in the same year that Beastars and Promised Neverland came out. It never spent too much time dawdling on what the audience already knew or on presenting a character’s entire backstory since finding how the cause of a murder and eventually putting a stop to two people related to a string of suicides was at the forefront. Some of the characters that Zen interacted with, such as the morbidly nonchalant Shinobu Kujin and Zen’s first subordinate, Atsuhiko Fumino. Their banter often added a sense of levity to the tense first two arcs, and they’re involved in some of the more shocking scenes of the show.
The music was done by composer Yukata Yamada, the composer for the music of Vinland Saga. He creates several moody piano melodies that add to the show’s sense of gravitas. On top of that, there are some more electronic tracks that morph in ways that accentuate some of the show’s craziest moments and cliffhangers. The track “A Given” which plays during several key moments, is the perfect example of this. Unfortunately, as good as the soundtrack is, it often feels overplayed. Vinland Saga suffered a similar problem with its piano tracks, where the same few tracks are used in almost every episode. Regardless, there are several quality pieces here. The show’s 3 EDs are also fine songs in their own right, particularly 1 and 3. The first song “Live or Let Die” by Q-MHz feat. uloco, is a more chaotic piece while the last ED, adds a sense of finality to an arc that otherwise has none.
As for the visuals, this is Studio REVOROOT’s first full-length project and their second solo outing. The production values are rickety, with awkward CG environments and people scattered all over the place, and very few sequences that have much in the way of good animation. The show often feels jank, and the rough art style with white outlines does not help matters. Despite all of this, director Kiyotaka Suzuki was able to finally let loose after the horrible Psycho-Pass 2 and the decent yet already forgotten FLCL Alternative. The camera angles are often dynamic, there’s the usage of sepia tones and several interesting techniques. Episodes 2 and 7, in particular, have some of the most fascinatingly presented scenes of 2019. The former accentuates the sense of dread and confusion the former is meant to evoke, while the latter further conveys the sense of sheer agony that the main character feels in the final scene of episode 7. It’s a 5-minute torture sequence where the main character, Zen Siezeki, is forced to watch someone get cut to pieces as his ideology crumbles to the helplessly crumbles to the ground after everything he has been through. This is where the show peaks and you should stop, before the direction largely begins falling flat, and the show takes a tremendous nosedive.
*Part 2: The Fall*
**spoilers beyond this point**
Where do I begin? Just know that I'm not even gonna go over everything that was particularly off about the show's writing.
The first sign of trouble came at the end of the first arc, when it turned out that the new mayor of Shiniki had proposed a suicide law, making it do that you can commit die of your own free will without penalty since apparently that's actually illegal. He insisted this by having dozens of people gleefully jump off a building. Needless to say, this required a bit of suspension of disbelief.
It turns out that this was made possible by Ai Magase whispering in their ears. There are several, several problems with Ai and her powers in general.
A. She has offscreen shapeshifting powers. This isn't like with Fujiko Mine and other femme fatales that put on disguises. With those, they generally wear feasible wigs and can be identified by their face if you know what they normally look like. With Ai, despite having long hair, she can easily pull off all hair sizes, and her face can become unrecognizable with how different it is. It's as if between disguises which sometimes get deployed within mere minutes of one another, Ai goes through plastic surgery. It goes beyond having convincing disguises and into the realm of having supernatural abilities.
B. Mere moments before ending his own life, Shinobu tells our main protagonist that Ai can convince someone to uncontrollably want to kill themselves. Even the most steadfast and iron-willed individuals have a hard time resisting, so whatever she says, you do. It's how she was able to get out of interrogation in episode 2, and how all of those people in episode 3 ended up jumping off. As of the finale, it turns out that her saying...anything is grounds for suicide, rather than her seductively whispering a suggestion for you to kill yourself.
What's wrong with this picture? In this seemingly grounded police procedural with no confirmed supernatural elements, it seems a bit asinine for her to be able to pull this off with just her voice. What's stupider is that she doesn't even need to even specify that you have to die. In the finale, she whispers the phrase "good job" into the earpiece President Alexander Wood had on with his translators after speaking to a Japanese girl who was considering taking her own life. This was enough to get him to attempt suicide. Ridiculous, isn't it? Even more ridiculous than the idea that her whispering can trigger suicidal urges while her talking does nothing. Sure, whispering can be more seductive, but this is absurd. On top of that, there's a contradiction in the previous sentence. How come the horde of building jumpers in episode 3 kept themselves together and jumped off only on someone else's cue rather than their own accord while everyone else was unable to control their urges? This isn't the biggest issue, but it is still another knock against her whisper powers from a writing perspective
C. Episode 5. In middle school, she was somehow able to walk and talk in such a way that every male she encountered found themselves feeling so unbearably lustful that they genuinely felt raped. Even in the 7 episode grace period, I had a hard time swallowing this pill. Walking seductively is admittedly a thing but this is just tasteless and asinine. Luckily the idea of rape never comes up again, but this was definitely where I started to realize that maybe Babylon might be full of shit sometimes.
D. Ai herself is a rather disappointing character. She’s flash without the fire. She’ll get inside Zen’s head with borderline inane monologues about good and evil, but thanks to the director going ham during those sequences, they’re some of the most entertaining in the show. They obfuscate how dumb and insubstantial her dialogue is, like when in episode 7, she is trying to make Zen think about what evil really is (despite him doing so but I guess his answers don’t align with hers, which we’ll get to) all hile butchering one of his subordinates right in front of him. All she amounts to is just a person who loves being evil and wants to spread an asinine notion of good and evil around. One of her interactions with Zen reveals that in spite of and because of the villainous acts she is knowingly doing, she believes she’s some hero spreading an important message, doing a service to humanity so they’ll understand what good and evil really are. It would have been interesting if part of Ai’s motivation was for people to be able to understand her, and what it must have felt like to feel almost alien to everyone around her as everyone always thinks of her as a twisted, enigmatic female figure. That sure went nowhere despite the show delving into how she received therapies that ended up being worthless to her and how she finds this plight to get people to understand her version of good and evil to be a just cause.
The other major antagonist, Itsuki, isn’t that great either. While he does get an interesting debate in episodes 6 and 7 where he reveals that he wants to die so his kid can have his heart during a necessary heart transplant surgery that may happen in the future, afterwards he has almost no presence in the show. Nothing regarding his suicide law even gets resolved by the end. Speaking of characters that get shafted in the final arc, the last 5 episodes had the potential to really show how bad Zen’s mental state is after every single one of his colleagues in his field got killed. While episode 8 has him hallucinating here and there, that’s the last time the show does anything particularly captivating. Afterwards, he states his desire vengeance, gets aggy at a recording of her voice, and then fades into the background until the finale. Everyone else who survived the first two arcs gets thrown to the wayside as well, including Zen’s family that have death flags all around them despite nothing happening to them.
Before we get...there, one character relevant to the finale has to be mentioned, as no one else is that interesting or important enough to bring up. Alexander Wood gets introduced via a scene where he monologues his life story to the audience, about how he got a girlfriend, how he became god tier at this MMORPG, how he now has a wealthy family and a kid that’s healthier than he could ever be, and everything. Not only is that a terrible way to introduce a character, but it becomes the first sign that the wonderful pacing of the show would go downhill. Then you learn he’s also the president. I’ll let that one sit on the part of your brain that’s forced to process it. He thinks a lot and is a decent guy. That’s really all there is to him.
*Part 3: THE ENDING*
You ever think of a worst case scenario for how a promising show you're not entirely sure about will play out, and then wish you got that instead of whatever the fuck you just saw? That's Babylon's finale. It might be one of the worst endings I have ever seen.
Throughout the entirety of the show, there have been two main ideological conflicts at play: the nature of good and evil, and the ethics/logistics of suicide/the suicide law. Episodes 6 had an engaging debate where several government heads oppose the suicide law through the socio-economic, moral/ethical, the extreme scenario and accusations, and and “people naturally avoid death” perspectives. While they may have felt surface level due to them getting one minute to make one point, it was at least able to offer up several perspectives that would logically be used to approach controversial laws.
Episode 11 has world leaders make strawman viewpoints about how “people gain their sense of morality through us leaders so we much teach them that suicide is wrong” while completely forgetting that most people still consider suicide wrong and that no one gets their sense of morality through world, country, or state leaders. The other viewpoints expressed are no better and just result in mindless bickering before President Wood decides that we need to examine the nature of good and evil in order to determine a unanimous position on the suicide law. What follows is the most tiresome deliberation I have ever heard, as everyone just spins their wheels examining the two most common and basic moral quandaries without actually pressing the issue further than the most surface-level ideas barely getting much exploration. My logistics class went further into moral dilemmas and that is a class where we learn about jobs, warehouse jobs, and forklift-driving. This is the epitome of the show’s incessant wheel-spinning on its topics, as even before this point it has already become a cyclical game of “what is good, what is bad, what is justice?” getting shallow, simplistic exploration despite the show constantly acknowledging how complex these issues are.
That whole idea means nothing anyway and is an excuse to wax about concepts the show barely has a grasp on before Pres Alex Wood is called to convince a girl not to jump off a building. Itsuki, who initiated the summit, sets this up. In the last episode, Alex gets a translator and gets to work. The day is saved until it turns out that after this, all of the translators (since apparently there is more than one despite there being only one volunteer) are dead and Ai Magase, who is disguised as someone that was not in the building and was never shown prior, whispers “good job” in good ol Woody’s ear. After this, we never hear about Itsuki or the suicide law ever again. During the convo, SudoWOODo finally comes up with the answers to what good and bad are.
Good = continue
Bad = end
Let’s talk about how mind-shatteringly stupid this is. If continuing is inherently a good thing, does it remain that way when applied to the act of continuing to murder innocent people? What about continuing to bully people? What about continuing to swindle people, kill animals for the hell of it, gamble all your money away, suffer, etc? Can continuing be used in a positive context in those situations? No. Is continue just the show’s silly and obnoxious way of saying life? No, but that’s the only context being applied to the term in the show. You can apply it positively to say, continuing to prosper, continuing to help people, etc. but the show isn’t smart enough to do so. The idea of ending being a bad thing is just as stupid. Should “end world hunger, end your addiction, end someone’s torture, end the show on a high note, end your career with one great game, etc.” be used negatively? No. Is “end” the show’s shorthand for “end your life”? Probably. Can you apply end in a negative light with ideas such as “end someone’s life, end someone’s career, end your relationship (that one can be positive or negative), etc.”? Yes, but the show doesn’t think of that because it’s too busy thinking it has all the answers to a broad concept.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is what Ai Magasee, that fucking idiot, wanted to spread to the world. This is what Zen ends up answering with once he and the president figure it out after a standoff where Zen has to shoot Wood in order to prevent him from committing suicide. As laughable as that sequence is, the idea that he has to stop Wood from killing himself after the man had just talked a girl out of ending her own life on international television, is the smartest thing the finale could come up with. After this, it is implied that through this last standoff, despite Zen pointing a gun at Ai and her just pointing a finger gun gesture at him, he dies and she gets to walk off and meet his kids. That is how the show ends, with the most anticlimactic and nonsensical ambiguous ending I have ever seen.
Also, in episode 11, Morning Wood decides that perhaps the key to answering the suicide law debate and the fundamental nature of good and evil is to decipher the meaning of life. This never gets brought up again. The suicide law gets no resolution as we never find out what the decision was regarding the law or anything about what would happen to it either. Itsuki and his new country, Shiniki, just disappear halfway into the finale. Ai does not even get challenged by Zen despite him pointing a gun at her after everything she had done to him and to hundreds of people. The three main conceits of the show, all rendered moot in the span of 10 minutes. None of this meant a damn thing, and all it would amount to is negative answers and Zen potentially being dead without feeling like his rivalry with Magase ever really came to a head. The entire show was just one big waste of time. You could honestly just stop at the first scene of episode 8 and act like Ai drove Zen irreparably insane while she wreaks havoc on the world. It’s about as conclusive as what we actually got, and a lot less stupid to boot.
There is one last thing to mention before we wrap things up. There’s an easy fix to the suicide law debacle, one that is based on what Itsuki wished would happen. The answer is simply to treat it on a case by case basis, making sure to educate people on the ramifications their actions would have on their families and those around them before they decide to off themselves. The more knowledgeable they are of the severe effects taking your own life would have, the less likely they are of committing suicide and the more open and knowledgeable they would be regarding the subject. Not once is this idea brought up in the final arc of the show by any of the world leaders, when at least one politician in the second arc weaponizes this idea.
To all the people hesitant about this show and its writer after the hellfire that was Kado’s finale: you were right to steer clear. Truly this is a case where the ending will overshadow the show as a whole after eliminating any goodwill many had with the show’s first 7 episodes. Honestly, the cover is the most clever and thought-provoking aspect of this pretentious mess, and the “p-word” is a condemnation I don’t use lightly. Spare yourself the disappointment, aggravation, and sense of betrayal. There are a lot of silly moments and twists I did not even go over, and as I was writing this review, it became genuinely difficult to remember the more positive aspects of the show’s writing. The more I think about it, the worse the show gets. For something meant to be more intellectual, filled with more gravitas than your average anime, this is perhaps the most succinctly damning thing I can say about it. Let this be a lesson that if an anime looms like it can go either way, it's probably going south.
You're just too beautiful girl, that's why it'll never work, you'll have me Suicidal
[Anime of the Season Edition]
Where oh where to start with Babylon. There's a reason it's my favorite anime of Fall 2019, but the thing is, it's hard to put my finger on it without spoilers. Babylon is one wacky ride, one minute you think you're watching another boring Novel adaptation, the next you realize there's some genuinely disturbing terror unfolding right before your eyes, one half baffling, the other half extrordinary, the whole thing intriguing to a fault.
The Story is pretty complex in its ideas yet linear in its constitution, meaning that while it's theoretically one single story on a timeline from start-to-end, the threads that make up its plot all weave themselves behind the scenes, as we view everything through the eyes of a lone public prosecutor working to unravel that very scheme that he's set against.
The best way to describe the type of story it is: Thriller, Conspiracy, Mystery, Political, Psychological, all that good stuff, with the numerous twists and unexpected turns that come with the genres. It takes a bit to set up, starting as an investigation into a pharmeseutical scandal in the first two episodes, gaining in tension and scale until you're so confused as to why these bizarre things are happening, and there's a whole bureau working against an elected government to fight its insane ideals. But even with reveal after reveal, you still won't know everything. The show keeps its hand perfectly obstructed and shrouded in mystery, exposing you to only the sexiest most disorienting parts to confuse you while taunting you with the promise of information. And that's how it gets you. Soon you'll be empathizing with things you never thought you would, the world turns on its head for the viewer just as much as for the characters.
The first few episodes may be a slow burn, which is probably what contributes to the lower scores this amazing show has on this website, but it's well worth it due to the buildup and atmosphere it has.
The Characters themselves aren't super defined or over the top, another thing that may contribute to the low scores, but it's how they're handled that makes them excellent. The main character's sense of justice in spite of terror is what propells the plot, his sidekick's innocence and willingness to help makes you care about him, and everyone who is actually loyal to our main man is automatically worth cherishing just due to how much confusion there is everywhere else. But I've hardly talked about the strongest central character a show like this could have. Amidst all the intriguing and great ones, we have this girl:
Every mind-bending show has to have that one character who just breaks all preconceived notions, turning justice and humanity on its head so the heroes can set it back upright, and Ai Magase is the most perfect of these I've ever seen. Enigmatic full on, she's one of the main reasons to watch. Captivating yet infuriating. I would reccomend this anime for her character alone.
Animation-wise, this anime is second to none for the type of story it is. Its style has been perfected to the last degree before its release by revoroot, and it shows not only in its production and release schedule but most importantly, visually. It's beautiful and stylish, having a more mature look to it while also being colorful and vivid. But that's only the artstyle, the way shot direction is used in this show is reminicent of Monster or Monogatari series, disorienting, feverish in some areas, perfectly complimenting its atmosphere and tone. But I could go on about that forever, so let's get to the surprisingly even more amazing thing about this show:
The Sound Design. Ho. Lee. SHIT. This show has some of the BEST voice acting and script writing. It's not even close, if anime could win oscars for voice acting this one would take the trophy. So many characters are voiced by such talented people, who can really sell you on their emotions through voice alone, it's staggering especially in recent episodes where it shines through.
The anime isn't over yet and it won't be until after christmas, so I don't know much more than you about how the story will resolve, which is exciting in itself, but it isn't too late to hop on this incredible ride. Its philosophically staggering, enchanting, disturbing, and everything you'd want it to be. Get on it!
It's hard to say why exactly I reccomend Babylon to all mystery/thriller lovers, I couldn't quite tell you why I'd say if you loved Monster and Psycho-pass you'd love this one... in fact it's hard to say what the point of that would be... why am I even writing this review, again? Why am I even alive? Do I want to be alive? Wouldn't I rather... die?
This anime has a promising start but quickly becomes lackluster. What starts as an intriguing crime/political thriller quickly devolves into absurdity. Granted watching this start to suck did make me wanna kill my self; the idea that a woman can continually convince people to kill themselves is the dumbest deus ex ever. Whenever a writer decides introducing the president of the United states as a surprise character , you know the garbage you are getting.
This anime goes from: what could have been one of the best thriller animes of all time to.. this.. whatever this anime became.
This anime forgoes all thirller and all the good aspects it had and it transitions into a pseudo philosophical exploration of suicide. But the arguments and conclusions are all the same conclusions a middle schooler could have came up with.
This is also the weirdest transition you will see, from an investigator in japan trying to solve a case, to the same investigator but now, is somehow involved with all the president/leaders of the world. And having philosophical conversation with the president of the united states. The episodes leading up to the final episodes are a wreck waiting to happen but the ending is a 15 car wreck with no survivors. Plot holes left and right, a bunch of unexplained powers and behaviors, the ending so basic a white girl wearing uggs at starbucks has more redeeming qualities.
I'm going to explain the ending just so people don't think that I think the ending is bad because I did not understand:
SPOILERS AHEAD the ending was basically the main Zen character killing the president of the U.S. instead of letting him kill himself so that people don't think suicide is good. And he kills himself to make it seem he is an agent that went rougue, and by doing that make suicide seem bad instead. it still doesn't explain why he doesn't kill magase of course. END OF SPOILERS
I've seen bad endings, this takes the cake on being so simplistic, unsatisfying, straight up stupid in some ways.
This anime is like game of thrones, it starts of really well but turns into a convoluted mess, with plotlines and arguments that only a middle schooler could feel proud about. This anime makes me think the later seasons of Game of Thrones were not bad at all, it makes them seem fantastic and genius compared to this.
I've watched bad anime, but the fact that this anime starts out so good contrats with how bad this anime becomes. Its like eating a nice piece of steak or sushi and then eating a 5 week old mcdonalds burger drizzled with the dirty water that trash cans from the kitchen have.
I wish I could erase those last 5 episodes from my memory. This anime without an ending, like if the writer had a heart attack halfway through the anime (I'm still not convinced he didn't have a stroke halfway through) and they had to cancel the rest of the show, would be about 10x better.
This show was so promising. A thrilling political intrigue that turned into the most boring exploration of the morality of suicide. Please don't watch this show. At most watch the first 7 episodes and for the love of God, just turn it off. For your own brain's sake so that it might not atrophy, do not finish this show.
This show's attempt to address the morality of suicide through the thought experiment of a "suicide law" is really the beginning of why this show fails philosophically. Legally, no one can prevent you from committing suicide and there is no punishment for successfully committing suicide. I don't know if the subtitles are just not fully explaining the author's idea but legalizing pills available to the public for the express purpose of committing suicide is more of a moral quandary than just "making suicide legal" which again is gibberish in English. The idea that multiple foreign leaders would think about this idea of "making suicide legal" and discuss it in such simplistic terms is equally ridiculous. We're left at the end of this show with no motives for any of the antagonists and really no meaningful answers to the questions that the writers have asked us. Maybe the whole show is an allegory for suiciding a good anime and wondering why the writers killed this show instead of continuing the good things they had going?