Whee, it's Buso Renkin, another shounen fighting show to add to the deluge of them that we seem to be having at the moment. When Kazuki Mutou's killed trying to protect an innocent-looking schoolgirl, it's far from being the end of his problems - especially when said innocent-looking schoolgirl has to power to bring him back to life. With a new heart and the power of alchemy behind him, his battles are just beginning...
What They Say
High school student Kazuki Muto thinks he's saving a girl from a monster, but it turns out that he's the one who needs saving! Kazuki is killed while fighting a homunculus, a malevolent creature that feeds on humans. The girl, Tokiko Tsumura, revives him by replacing his heart with an alchemical device called a kakugane. With this device Kazuki can create his own Buso Renkin, an alchemical weapon in the form of a huge lance capable of destroying homunculi. With his new weapon in hand, Kazuki decides to join forces with Tokiko to eliminate the homunculi and destroy their master, the strange and eccentric Papillon Masked Creator!
Comprises Episodes 1-13
Audio is provided in 2.0 stereo, in both English and Japanese version. I listened to the Japanese track for this review. The soundtrack isn't anything special, but is perfectly serviceable – there's a good spread of effects across the two channels, particularly noticeable during combat scenes, and dialogue is clean and clear. There were no obvious problems or dropouts.
Video comes in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and in common with most recent shows it's a good looking series. There's not a huge amount of detail to backgrounds and character designs, but that helps create a clean look to the animation that's quite easy on the eyes. There are no apparent encoding issues.
No packaging was provided with our review copy.
A montage of clips from the series plays in a kakugane-shaped area of the screen, with different characters from the series posing off to the right – on disc one, Tokiko and Kazuki; disc two features Papillon; disc three has the twins. Options are provided for Play All, Episodes, and Setup
Only one extra is provided, but it's a good 'un: a 25-minute "documentary", Behind the Scenes of Buso Renkin, that looks at the process of recording the English dub for the series and speaks to most of the dub VAs.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
In what seems to be a dream, high-school student Kazuki Mutou saves a young girl from being attacked by a monster - but is killed in the process. It must be a dream as he wakes up afterwards, right? Not so. He's been resurrected by the power of alchemy (someone put the Elric brothers in touch with this guy, quickly), and the person responsible is now keeping a very close watch on him - as is the monster that killed him.
If you've ever seen Fullmetal Alchemist, you'll be familiar with its approach to alchemy – but put all that to one side, as Buso Renkin has a far more simplistic approach. No issues with the law of Equivalent Exchange here, or with having to worry about the mechanical intracacies of the device being created. You just need the appropriate artefact, a Buso Renkin, and the power of alchemy is at your command. The alchemic warrior who saves Kazuki from certain death is Tokiko Tsumura, who initially sees Kazuki as another idiot who just got in the way of her battle with the homunculi (the demonic flipside of the alchemy that created the Buso Renkins), but by the end of the opening episode she's beginning to see his potential as a warrior in his own right. She also looks spookily like Ciel from Tsukihime, with a few added scars for effect. Kazuki's given the option of staying on the sidelines, but male hormones - and the brotherly desire to make sure the homunculi never get the chance to have his cute & cheerful sister Mahiro over for lunch - lead to him eagerly joining the fray, and as you'd expect it's in a suitably dramatic fashion. The battle scenes are well-animated and easy to follow (although some of the Buso Renkin powers are a little hard to believe), while the series avoids falling into the shonen trap of having fight scenes that drag on far too long – most of them are kept short and to-the-point, and it's only the occasional battle that stretches over more than one episode. Words can't express how happy that makes me, especially after having watched a Naruto set before starting on this one.
There's quite a large cast to get to know. Kazuki has a strong sense of justice to him, which on the one hand gives him the will to fight but on the other means he's not as willing to land killing blows on his enemies as he could be – he would far rather find a way to talk sense into them and save them than see them destroyed. Tokiko takes a far more direct approach, and fights to win – she's not the sort to pause and agonise over whether she's being hypocritical. They're joined partway through the disc by Bravo, aka Warrior Chief, who takes on responsibility for training Kazuki once it becomes clear that he has the skills to be a warrior himself.
On the bad side there's Koushaku Chono, a student at the same school as Kazuki who has a terminal illness and turns to the forbidden side of alchemy to save his life and eventually becomes Kazuki's key rival; twins Ouka and Shushui Hayasaka, popular students whose bad experiences in life have led to them having a rather unfortunate outlook on life; and Dr Butterfly, Chono's grandfather, who has many years of experience with creating homunculi and leads the League of Extraordinary Elect (LXE), a group of humans and homunculi who appear to have something terrible in mind for the town where the series is set. The villains all have a certain over-the-top quality to them that makes them nearly all great fun to watch – there are very few throw-away villains that appear, are defeated, and disappear again; instead they get personalities, backstories and in some cases become people you can sympathise with. Buso Renkin isn't the first fighting show to try and do this with its villains, but it's the first I've seen that's actually succeeded with it, and that scores it quite a few bonus points in my book.
Having thirteen episodes in the set also turns out to be a good choice on the part of Viz and Manga – it gives you plenty of time to get your teeth into the setting and characters, and gives you more of a chance to feel the story arc develop than you would if it had been released in 4 or 5 episode single discs.
I make no secret of not being a huge fan of shounen fighting series, and with there being a few others on release in the UK at the moment I wasn't too keen on starting another one. I've been pleasantly surprised by Buso Renkin, though – its take on the genre is more off-beat and intelligent that some other shows, and with a good cast and some good humour there's a lot to like. Worth a look.
Japanese Language 2.0, English Language 2.0, English Subtitles, Behind the Scenes of Buso Renkin, Episode 1 Commentary
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.