Buso Renkin Vol. 1 DVD Box Set (VIZ Media)

busorenkin-header.jpgThis, in a nutshell, is Buso Renkin; yet another formulaic "boy gets superpower and has to learn to amp it up" anime.

 

 

3 discs, 13 episodes; approx. 300 minutes

Bilingual (English dubbed and Japanese with English subtitles)

 

One night in the abandoned factory near his high school, Kazuki Muto tries to save a strange girl from an even stranger monster. Just as the monster strikes, Kazuki leaps in front of the girl, pushing her out of harm’s way but getting his own heart torn out instead. It’s a great relief to Kazuki when he wakes up and realizes it was all a terrible dream. Or was it? It turns out that the monster was real, a creature called a homunculus that was conjured from alchemy. The girl is Tokiko, an alchemical warrior and wielder of a weapon called the "Valkyrie Skirt", and Kazuki really did die. But, thanks to Tokiko and the kakugane—a paranormal alloy created "from the essence of alchemy" that she placed in his chest—Kazuki was given a new life, and a new power. Determined to thank his benefactor after she saves his little sister Mahiro, Kazuki bursts in on another fight between Tokiko and a new homunculus, and discovers that he can summon an enormous spear called a Buso Renkin, a weapon unique to a kakugane holder. Kazuki manages to defeat the homunculus, and insists on becoming an alchemist warrior as well, determined to protect his little sister and his friends from the escalating homunculi attacks.

This, in a nutshell, is Buso Renkin; yet another formulaic "boy gets superpower and has to learn to amp it up" anime. For a series that came from Nobuhiro Watsuki, creator of the famed Rurouni Kenshin, this anime falls depressingly flat. This is not to say that I did not enjoy the anime, but I was not in any way blown out of the water by blinding amounts of creativity. For one thing, many elements of Buso Renkin seem borrowed from other series. The use of alchemy and homunculi smacks of Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist, but is presented much more crudely and without that series’ in-depth introspection or imaginative presentation. Everything alchemical in this series looks much more like pure science rather than a science/magic hybrid. Kazuki’s oversized spear is a classic shounen  schtick seen in countless other series aimed at boys (Tite Kubo’s Bleach especially springs to mind). Given the creative forms of all the other Buso Renkin, I marvel that such a bland manifestation was given to the main character. In my opinion, a spear is only just better than a sword, especially when Tokiko, the brooding loner, gets an awesome four-armed Death Scythe Valkyrie Skirt that attaches to her legs, another character gets an impenetrable second skin, and yet another gets to make 30 copies of himself.

Speaking of characters, if you’re hoping Watsuki offers up more great character studies and compelling plots with Buso Renkin like he did in Kenshin, you’ll be disappointed there as well. Quite simply, everyone is an archetype. Kazuki is the cheerful and determined do-gooder who continually fights for those he loves and what he believes in. He also accepts the reality of alchemy and homunculi—not to mention the fact that he’s dead—with far too much ease for any sort of plausibility. Tokiko is the serious warrior with an obviously violent past; she has a scar on her face and "hates all homunculi" (gee, I wonder why?). Mahiro is Kazuki’s chipper, puppy-like little sister, and Kazuki’s three friends (Okura, Rokumasu and Daihama) are: the studious one, the ladies man, and the gentle giant, though not necessarily in that order. Even the villains are tedious copies, though they become far more entertaining though sheer outlandishness and ridiculous names as the series progresses. Most notable among the villains is the Papillion Masked Creator, whose absolute weirdness and flamboyancy was enough to make me look at my TV askew.

Click for a larger image.I should warn anyone considering this series that these episodes are original and uncut, and should be viewed with the Older Teen rating in mind. There’s lots of dismemberment, stabbing, slashing, blood, devouring of people, and the questionable use of a G-string. I would also advise viewers to watch Buso Renkin in its original Japanese with English subtitles. I watched this series both ways, and find the Japanese voice actors to be superior. In English, many of the characters were overdone or came across as terribly annoying. Also, much of the series’ subtleties are lost in the English dub, and several situations make much more sense when reading the more faithful subtitled translation. Plus, any Japanese text on screen (such as a message that appears on Kazuki’s cell phone) is translated only with the subtitles on.

Buso Renkin’s animation is actually well done, and I liked a lot of the character designs. Movements flowed well, backgrounds are engaging, and CGI is kept at an acceptable minimum. While there is nothing that suggests an especially laborious effort of the part of the animators, there is also nothing cheap about the anime. In all, a pretty decent job. The DVD box set 1 features the following extras: audio commentary on various episodes, a "behind the scenes" segment, trailers for other VIZ anime, and a few suggested additional manga for purchase. If interested in purchasing the first box set, I would definitely recommend buying it online at a discount rather than the VIZ listed price; this anime is enjoyable, but frankly it’s just not worth fifty bucks.

Buso Renkin is a fun, decent anime. Although it starts off as though it wants to take itself seriously, it becomes obvious that this series is more about humor and standard shounen "strength training" than character development and plot. The series takes a while to get the ball rolling, so to speak, but once it does it’s pretty easy to sit back and enjoy. | Elizabeth Schweitzer

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