Buried as it is on Amazon Prime, perhaps not many anime-viewers have yet unearthed the psychological thriller Babylon. The first 7 episodes are currently available, with episode 8 delayed until December 30th for reasons that may become apparent. This article will help you to decide whether you should risk the emotional carnage of watching it, or whether you should RUN THE HELL AWAY.
WARNING: SIGNIFICANT, GRAPHIC SPOILERS FOLLOW
Babylon started as a quirky, serious procedural show about main protagonist, public prosecutor, and upstanding citizen Zen Seizaki and his investigation into a corrupt pharmaceutical company. Set in an experimental society with innovative laws, the show looked to be a sedate exploration of morality, philosophy, and sociology. The end of episode 1 hinted of the depths to which this show would plunge, as apparent co-lead Atsuhiko Fumio was found to have committed suicide by hanging. Episode 2 introduced an ultra-creepy, grinning female, thought to be a high-class hooker who was revealed to be something much more disturbing. Episode 3 threw all pretensions of normality into a black pit with the simultaneous, grinning suicides of 60 people as they launched themselves from the roof of a skyscraper.
The average viewer would be quite justified in exclaiming “What the hell?”. So Babylon appeared to be willing to go places. If only we’d known where it intended to drag us for the horrifying ride. Episode 7 ends with a gut-wrenching plunge into tension, horror, darkness, and grim excess that caused many of us in the AniTAY community to scream at our televisions in anguish, to rue the day we became anime fans, to regret our inability to suppress our own memories. We witnessed the gruesome/orgasmic murder/suicide of almost every supporting character plus the brutal axe-amputation/screaming death of Seizaki’s partner Hiasa Sekuro while grinning psychopath Ai Magase tortured Seizaki with his impotence and inability to save her. We needed help. We needed therapy.
Joining me, Doctorkev, on this odyssey into existential pain are my co-suffers Dark Aether, Kinksy, TGRIP, and TheMamaLuigi. Together we will enter group therapy in an attempt to recover. We hope to spare you our pain, or at least egg you on into sharing it. Go on, watch it then come back to read an article that screams in the words of patient zero, Kinksy himself, “I FUCKING TOLD YOU”.
We will begin with regression therapy, back to a time in early October when all was good and kind in the world. Amazon had just released the first three episodes. Here are some carefully chosen reactions from the AniTAY discord chat. (Some comments have been edited for clarity.)
Kinksy: Holy fuck, Babylon is so fucking good
Luigi: Yoooo: Babylon. Holy fuck. Anime of the Season??
TGRIP: Babylon feels like the antidote to all the shitty crime shows we’ve gotten for the past three years. And honestly, it being on Amazon gives me high hopes for it, given that platform’s weird habit of picking up good shows.
Kinksy: He’s very much on board the hype train. We’ll be serving drinks soon.
Doctorkev: I’m pretty meh on this season so far. Think I’ll go watch old anime instead.
Kinksy: NO. You sit there and watch Babylon you motherfucker.
Pay close attention to Kinksy’s command above. You sit there and watch Babylon you motherfucker. Compare and contrast to the following transcript of Episode 7 reactions, after it all went wrong - with Kinksy as the epicentre of negative, dark energy that dragged us all into his inexorable gravity well of pain.
Kinksy: Babylon is 4D chess: The anime.
Kinksy: (10 minutes later). Babylon and I aren’t friends anymore. Fuck fuck Ahhhhhh Noooooo Fuck. I need some time to process that episode. I don’t feel good. I can’t anime right now. I need a break. It fucking went in. And went in hard.
Doctorkev: (later, after reading Kinksy’s comment) OH MY GOD BABYLON EPISODE 7 WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?????
Kinksy: FUCKING TOLD YOU
Doctorkev: YOU DID INDEED. AND NOW I CAN’T STOP SHOUTING
Luigi: Oh god oh fuck I need to watch it
Doctorkev: DON’T DO IT. I AM NOT GOING TO SLEEP TONIGHT. I MIGHT NEVER SLEEP AGAIN.
Luigi: IS IT REALLY THAT BAD?
Luigi: KINKSY CAN YOU CONFIRM?
Aether: I watched it. Now I can’t unsee it. :no_mouth: Magase!
Kinksy: How you holding up?
Aether: Mostly shocked. Even with the content warning, I was not expecting that.
Kinksy: There was a content warning?! I must have completely missed it.
Luigi: Time for episode 7, I’m going in
Luigi: (later) Things are not okay. Oh no. Please no. EXCUSE ME WHAT THE FUCK? I am incredibly and aggressively not okay.
Luigi: (even later) I’m listening to a comedy podcast and getting ready for bed to calm down.
TGRIP: Okay made it to ep 7.
Aether: ^^^Oh shit, he’s watching it right now, he’s watching it!
Luigi: Prepare the hot cocoa and blankets! We need comfort levels at max!
TGRIP: (later) oof. Big oof energy. Certified oof. “what if the serial killer in a crime drama was a Black Lagoon character?” ... okay, how long until she shows up in Stars Align?
Now we will move on to the main group therapy section. Parts are spontaneous conversation to air emotions, other parts are excerpts from a therapy exercise where each sufferer was asked to express their pain through the written word. Unfortunately we will not be sharing the finger-painting or handmade pottery exercises as the results were too disturbing for a reputable family website like AniTAY. As you will see, both Kinksy and Doctorkev express their confusion via schizoid desires for further chaos yet regret for previous loss.
Aether: Somewhere along the way, I think I missed the signposts with this one. When Amazon dropped the first three episodes, I watched two and expected a procedural murder mystery thriller as prosecutor Zen Seizaki and his assistant Atsuhiko Fumio worked a case that involves a fair amount of third parties. I totally missed the death flags when the two started talking about what justice meant to them, so I was unprepared when Seizaki found Fumio had hung himself unexpectedly. “This shit got real.” I was sold.
Aether: I let the third episode sit for a while knowing we wouldn’t be getting the fourth for a few weeks - until it started blowing up in our discord chat sessions. Coming back to it, we know the city is being used as a pilot program for new laws/regulations and a new mayor is locked in to further this goal. The real twist is even they didn’t know what the first item on the new mayor’s agenda is. And then he broadcasts some 60 people jumping off a building to coincide with his intentions to make suicide legal as his first policy. As I sat in complete silence, I listened to the ending credits in full for the first time and noticed the title: “Live and Let Die.” It’s on.
Doctorkev: The first 3 episodes are the first arc. Everything seems normal up until the end of episode 3. Episodes 4-7 are where it gets really messed up.
Kinksy: I did some digging. It’s a 3 novel book series. It just got to the end of the 2nd book. So the last 4-6 episodes will be the final book. So It’s a complete story in its original medium which is a hopeful sign. The books are handily called “Poison”, “Death” and “End”. Death is a fucking understatement for episode 7.
TGRIP: All the death. Big death energy: Death mood.
Kinksy: Some folks seem to think the show is something different than it is. I’ve seen it as a supernatural horror from episode 3.
Doctorkev: It does seem to be leaning heavily that way, though I’m also kind of hoping there is a rational explanation. Perhaps I hope for too much.
Kinksy: I’m hoping for the opposite. I want it to go all in on Magase’s nightmare world.
Doctorkev: You want it to go full Book of Revelation batshit mental?
Doctorkev: I’d be up for that.
Kinksy: Whatever it does, I don’t want it to half arse it
Doctorkev: My biggest it fear is that it all ends with a wet fart. It either needs to go all in on the rationality or leave that all behind in a flaming explosion of insanity.
Luigi: Yeah I’m the same way. I don’t think it can skirt the line between Serious Political Crime Thriller and Supernatural Horror Feat. Politics.
Kinksy: I mean NOT NOW THEY KILLED EVERYONE :_: I’m so upset. I liked those characters. I’m so fucking mad. If it crashes and burns. I’m repressing this series. This season was a three horse race for me between No Guns life, Blade and Babylon. But Babylon decided to run into a fucking meat grinder. With the jockey still riding it. I’M STILL SO UPSET ABOUT THAT FINAL SCENE. ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH
Doctorkev: I keep getting flashbacks. I tried to describe it to my wife but she told me the wild gesticulations I was making with my hands were funny. Which wasn’t the tone I was going for.
Luigi: Like - What a violent way to go out. Jesus. And the emotional voice acting from everyone involved was incredible in how uncomfortable it made me.
Kinksy: I was screaming into a pillow
Doctorkev: I was swearing at the TV - “No don’t cut off another fucking limb!” Think I may have woken the kids as it was around midnight I was watching it. Alone. Not a good choice. Though watching it with the kids would have been a worse choice.
Kinksy: I put a warning in chat for everyone. I FUCKING TOLD YOU SO. God damn the first half of episode 7 carried on from where episode six’s cliffhanger left off and the debate with Itsuki parrying all opposition to his suicide law including from his own son trying to prevent his own suicide. The first half of the episode had me gripped and following the debate with bated breath. THEN THE SECOND HALF THREW ALL THAT OUT THE WINDOW.
Doctorkev: All your warning did was attract more people into your event horizon of pain.
Luigi: That’s Kinksy’s best talent.
Doctorkev: Was it a barely-disguised plea for attention, or a way to share your pain Kiznaiver-style?
Kinksy: Doctorkev, in your express opinion how many limbs in was she still alive and please tell me it was less than 3?
Luigi: Oh man that’s good. Would she have survived or have been conscious for the whole thing?
TGRIP: Probably whole thing. Process was too short for blood loss to do its job. If she started at the legs she might’ve gone out sooner, but at an arm... sorry. Lotta blood goes through your legs (hence why taking a bullet there Is Really Bad, but taking one in the arm is... well, can’t say “better”, but much less worse)
Aether: But does Magase’s seduction powers work on women? If it does…
TGRIP: I’m... gonna bet she’d work on lesbians & bi (giggity), but not straight women. It’s my thought/personal reasoning on why she killed her. “Oh, I can’t seduce this person, better take them off the table” …
Doctorkev: I rewatched it, Kinksy you bastard. You can hear Sekuro’s muffled wails through most of the scene. Magase chops through each limb in fairly quick succession and those cords tying her down could have worked like tourniquets. I think she was probably conscious throughout.
TGRIP: OH, FUCK-
Doctorkev: I was intrigued as to where the show was going with the decriminalised suicide angle, though found the reveal that the kid was 1) standing for election and 2) the mayor’s son to be pure ridiculous soap-opera nonsense. It was already becoming hard to take the plot seriously. Itsuki’s plan to commit suicide in order to donate his heart to his ill son did bring up an interesting moral conundrum but the show did not seem too interested exploring that as it had other priorities. Those priorities being to completely fuck up its unsuspecting viewers.
Kinksy: Before we get to that, Doc, maybe we should see how the rest of the group are feeling about Babylon right now.
Luigi: I think your point about this turning into a soap opera is an apt observation. Though the show started somewhat grounded into reality, it has slowly ratcheted up its stakes and lost some sense of believability along the way. Nonetheless, I am entirely here for that ride, and it is almost entirely because of Magase. I increasingly see her as a fundamentally supernatural element/being more so than a fully realized character on her own. She is a force of nature, a being that comes in and out of frame merely to fuck with people and help the show’s other villain achieve his goal. I think seeing her in that way, as supernatural, makes the show more enjoyable and plausible because we are no longer bound to seeing the show as entirely grounded in reality.
TGRIP: I’ll admit, I… well, I didn’t drop this show after the first episode, but since I’m watching five other shows this season, Babylon did land on the backburner. Comedic isekais, MHA, Stars Align, Beastars; I’ve got a lot on my plate (and those are just the anime series I’m watching this season). I don’t regret it, it’s not like the show got exponentially better after the first episode, because episode one was pretty damn slick, as were all the episodes that followed. I figured this would be something on par with maybe, I dunno, Vinland Saga (they’re both on the same streaming platform, and are both stuff decidedly not for kids): something that’s good, but I’ll come back to it later and binge it.
Aether: When the series started updating weekly, I watched intently, not aware of where this was leading up to. In episode 4, Mayor Kaika Itsuki is under investigation, but a conundrum appears when the investigators are unable to tie Itsuki with the suicides. The only link in the previous “suicides” (suspected murders) was each victim came into contact with a woman who can seemingly shape shift, hence the difficulty in finding clear evidence that the suicides were abetted by an outside force. Again, I was expecting something would eventually explain this along with the political debate at the center of the suicide law, but the show had other plans.
Aether: Episode 5: Mind rape. I shit you not, our “serial killer” Ai Magase can not only shape shift, she can seduce men with her voice and compel them to commit suicide; the experience described as almost sexual… “Ohhhhhhhhhh……” (finally connects the title to the “Whore of Babylon”). Okay, perhaps I’ve been spending too much time on the other Babylon show this season, but surely it won’t go down that path, right?
Aether: Episode 6: The debate over the suicide law is on full display. “Oh, and the investigation team is disbanding, so I’m kidnapping the mayor, but feel free to arrest me now; though I don’t mind if anyone wants to come with.” Despite all the careful planning, coordination, and well placed counter measures…. Oh my God, this is all going to hell, isn’t?
TGRIP: It was only until the reactions to episode 7 started coming in that I decided to catch back up on this show. Because not many shows elicit the response from AniTAY quite like what Babylon was getting.
Kinksy: I like to think I’m a hard nut to crack, I’ve seen some shit in my time as an anime fan but god damn this show really pulled the rug out from under me… Sorry! Please continue.
TGRIP: Perhaps that’s why I imagine I didn’t react to it like everyone else did. Oh sure, at the start I was like everyone else: this was an underhyped show. A serious crime drama, something we don’t see all that often. But again, I had other stuff to watch. So, the weeks passed by, Babylon went on, I got into the uncannily good Beastars; things came and went. Until November 18th: the first reaction to episode seven. Courtesy of Kinksy: “Babylon and I aren’t friends anymore.” Okay, so it lost someone, no worries. Happens in anime all the time. People pick up and drop shows all the time for various reasons. I thought “okay”, and went on… then others watched the episode. DoctorKev. Aether. And then others like myself decided to catch up on it… and the reactions were about the same. It took the breakdown of Luigi for me to finally sit down and binge, two months earlier than I expected to.
Doctorkev: I can respect the show for ratcheting the tension to unbearable levels and for leaning so hard into the absurdity of the situation of an irredeemably evil woman who can talk anyone into orgasm-suicide. I can also appreciate that she was toying with Seizaki, to isolate him, to break him, to see how his concept of justice survived the loss of all his surrounding support. Ai is a lot like The Joker, but in this instance it’s like she’s trying to create her own version of Batman - a broken, driven vigilante perhaps? Normally Joker-type villains are written to arise in response to an overpowered hero.
TGRIP: I remembered why I recommended this show from the start: its slick production. The direction, animation, editing, this has some of the best production for a show in this entire year. My main concerns pre-seven were that its setting was based around a dumb idea, but was doing a lot with it (a new city being founded in Japan as a “test-bed” for new laws… this is pretty dumb). It’s rare for any piece of media to be based on a bad idea and turn out good, so I got more onboard with it that I had been from episode one. By episode three, I had gotten to the series antagonist, and how dangerous she is; again, she too is something of a dumb idea, but the show sells you on her just well enough for the viewer to not outright dismiss her. So, Babylon: a show with its fair share of issues, but worth it for being a show that takes itself just seriously enough, with the right amount of gravitas and respect for its genre.
Doctorkev: Babylon runs the risk of alienating viewers completely. I already realised this would be a dark show, but even with the before-credits warning, I was not prepared for the sheer empty nihilism and grand guignol-style operatic execution. I cried in horror at the screen “Oh God tell me you’re not going there... don’t... don’t... No! What is the point of this? Not again... stop!” The quick cuts to Seizaki’s wife and kid making their happy lunchbox was witty but lurid in its own way, almost done for comedic effect in a scene that was probably the most upsetting thing I’ve witnessed in years, even more so than any live action production. This helpless woman is getting her limbs chopped off for God’s sake, she’s screaming while the nut-job with an axe is pontificating blandly about the nature of evil and the main character can only watch and plead impotently. As a viewer, I felt complicit - and shaken. I should not have watched this alone at midnight before going to bed to (fail) to sleep.
Aether: Episode 7:“HA HA, I saw through your debate strategy! And your one trump card is actually my son!” So the boy who was pleading online that the suicide law not go into effect because his father would commit suicide was actually part of the mayor’s plan all along, completely flipping the tables on the investigators/politicians. Now, this could have been an interesting take on the moral quandary of euthanasia when the mayor revealed he wanted to donate his heart to his ailing son, but this is still a crime show and there is still a serial killer on the loose, so let’s completely drop that and see what the investigation team is up to:
Aether: As Seizaki loses contact with his squad, he realizes it’s too late. Starting with graphic suicide of Seizaki’s best friend Shinobu Kujiin (who shot himself in the head as he held on to the last bit of sanity left before giving in), the body count jumps as the investigators start dropping one by one. Despite having seen most of his team utterly decimated and being unable to stop his assistant Hiasa Sekuro from being kidnapped by Magase, “there is still hope” as there wasn’t a sign she was immediately killed.
Aether: But just as things couldn’t get any worse, he receives a private livestream link from Magase as a final, cruel mockery of his so called justice. I was in complete and utter silence at what transpired in the episode’s last five minutes; other than yelling “Magase!!!” repeatedly in my head as she chopped off Sekuro’s limbs in glee before beheading her.
Doctorkev: The worry I have is that the final section of Babylon will not follow up adequately, it will not compensate for the feeling of violation, it will not tie up the themes and plotline and we’ll be left with a deeply unpleasant snuff video with nothing important or worthwhile to say. Perhaps I need to have more faith in the producers, but why have faith in someone who has abused me so?
Luigi: The scene at the end of episode 7 still sticks with me even a week later, though like Kev said, I wonder how they will follow it up and where the last arc of the series will take things. Regardless, I am here for it and I can’t wait for the next episode.
TGRIP: I went into episode 7 expecting the worst. To me, the “worst” I’ve ever experienced in anime, in terms of soul crushing moments, are various scenes from Black Lagoon, one particular story detail in Deadman Wonderland about what happens to a prisoner’s family, and of course the chimera from Fullmetal Alchemist. Those moments are ones that cause me to recommend anime, but with a big old asterisk that cautions new viewers. For Babylon episode seven, that’s what I got from the aniTAY community: that asterisk. And it was needed, but at the same time it did spoil things. I expected the cruelty. After I watched the end of episode seven, I did go “oh shit” a lot, but… it was less me saying to myself “fuck” in disbelief, and more just a simple “damn.” And it must be said, I get why it elicited the responses, because that scene in Babylon conflicts with the established tone of the show. Those three other series are all action shows, you kind of expect things to go south like they do. Here though, wiping out half the characters in one episode… it’s more of a twist, but not one that lands for the right reasons. Sure, you don’t see it coming, but at the same it doesn’t leave a good taste in your mouth, and I can’t help but be concerned for the rest of the series. It must be said, my enjoyment came from seeing others witness this episode, and less from watching it myself. And worst of all, it might leave a bad taste, but it won’t stick with me like those other dark moments did. Don’t get me wrong, I am actually looking forward now to when the show returns in December, but now, I can’t help but fear this is the show’s high point, its defining moment. And with five episodes to go, I doubt any show wants to peak at just episode seven.
Kinksy: I’m genuinely hoping that at this point they just burn the whole city down and take us completely on Magase’s crazy ride. 4 weeks and we’ll be able to see if this episode is where the series jumped the shark or if it’s where it goes into something crazy awesome. Please don’t leave us all emotionally wounded like this for no good reason Babylon I beg you…
Aether: This is one hell of a way to end an arc now that the series is going on a brief hiatus before resuming the final arc. Weeks later, I’m still in utter disbelief at that ending, but now I’m concerned where this is all leading to. Author Mado Nozaki’s previous work, KADO – The Right Answer, started off similarly to Babylon by posing a question to society before completely going off the rails with the supernatural angle and having a character do a complete 180 towards the climax. Depending on how far it elects to apply its biblical analogies, Babylon will either have to find a way to ground itself in some fashion as to how Magase’s powers work or fully commit to its “end of days” portrayal of evil if Magase is indeed the personification of the “Whore of Babylon”. Either way, I both look forward to and dread the return of Babylon. And if you happen to be reading/watching this, abandon all hope, for there is no salvation waiting beyond this point…
Luigi: The comparison to KADO, beyond just because it is the author’s previous work, is apt in how both series explore similar themes in how humanity reacts on both macro and micro levels to widespread change resulting from a supernatural or otherworldly force. That being said, I really hope Babylon does not pull a Kado and butcher the ending (though I still generally enjoyed the show). The end of episode 7 seems to gesture towards that direction, but I also genuinely don’t know where the series is going to go from here. And, to be honest, that has me incredibly excited. If it means more Magase brutal murder porn, well then I guess I’ll brace myself and prepare for another therapy session by our good Doc. Regardless, I can’t wait to see where Babylon goes next because, regardless, I’m confident it will go down as a series that sticks in your memory and develops a cult following of some sort. Even if that cult following is just a group of PTSD-riddled anime bloggers. We’re here for it
With Luigi’s realisation that the therapy session has degenerated into the genesis of a new death-cult, we will leave it there. Thanks for surviving to the end of this unexpectedly long record of emotional wreckage. When Babylon returns to Amazon Prime with Episode 8 on December 30th, expect the five of us to be weeping and gnashing our teeth in the Outer Darkness along with those other poor, lost souls who were also drawn into Babylon’s inescapable maelstrom of pain. Somehow this was all Kinksy’s fault. We’ll be sure to punish him. It’s important to have a scapegoat.
Kinksy: As long as it isn’t Magase I may embrace death.
Babylon episodes 1-7 (October 6th 2019 - present)
Currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video
Directed by: Kiyotaka Suzuki
Based on the novel by: Mado Nozaki
Episode 8 due December 30th 2019
Note: Bible (New Testament) quotations taken from Revelation Ch5: V1-6, King James Version.