Buso Renkin: Volume 2
There's something vaguely decadent about getting all your anime in hefty doses, especially after years of being drip-fed shows, four episodes at a time by frugal distributors. It's almost a Pavlovian response, salivating by the mail slot once every two months, as the next eagerly awaited volume finally arrives. I've been conditioned to accept that a series has to take a year to be concluded, and that boxsets are a luxury for after that conclusion. Now, all of a sudden, Manga Entertainment are taking their anime straight to boxset, and my world is slightly out of kilter. Cheap anime, quickly completed, what next, peace in the Middle East? Anyway, barely two months after it started with a bumper edition of thirteen episodes, Buso Renkin now concludes with the final thirteen. And my hair didn't even turn grey.
So schoolboy Kazuki Muto is minding his own business one day at the abandoned, haunted factory behind his school, when he witnesses a giant snake like monster attacking a helpless girl. He rushes to her aid, only to be stabbed through the heart and killed. She saves him by replacing his heart with an alchemical device called a kakugane. It turns out that Tokiko Tsumura is no damsel in distress, rather an Alchemist Warrior. Alchemy was a science that yielded two results, artificial life known as Homunculi that take the form of, and prey on humans, and Buso Renkin, the weapons based on alchemy that are the only means of destroying them. Tokiko is a Renkin Kenshi and her mission is to find and eradicate the monsters. But by saving Kazuki's life, she has given him the ability to create and wield a lance that can defeat Homunculi, and swearing to protect his friends and family, he joins her in her quest.
Once more, thirteen episodes are split across three discs, and there are extras to boot.
14. Who Are You?
When last we left our heroes, they were in dire straits. Dr Butterfly had taken the Resurrection Flask to the school, and was using the students' life forces to recharge its occupant. Captain Bravo was indisposed facing Moonface, leaving just Kazuki and Tokiko to defend the school. Thrown into that mix was the opportunistic Papillon, who was looking for an opportunity to increase his own powers, and it was an explosive situation. It gets worse in the first episode of the second set, as Papillon faces off against his grandfather Dr Butterfly, while the occupant of the flask finally awakens. Victor was a former alchemist warrior who discovered a Third Existence, beyond human and homunculus, and was hunted down by his former comrades as a result. After a hundred years, he has been restored, and with his glowing hair, invulnerable skin, he's draining the life force of all around him with impunity, and nothing that Tokiko and Kazuki can do can save their friends, or themselves. But when all seems lost, Kazuki makes the same bargain that Victor did.
15. An Intermediate Existence
Victor is defeated, however briefly, and Kazuki returns to his normal self, but for how long? Papillon is understandably peeved, that after all the lectures and pontificating, Kazuki has achieved what Papillon has always dreamed of, but Tokiko is distraught at what her saving Kazuki all those months before has led to. Kazuki is now somewhere in between human and not, and the likelihood of him becoming just like Victor is increasing. Even though he swears that he will hold onto his humanity, when simply by existing in that form he drains the life of those around him, how long will that remain possible? The only thing to do is to spend a couple of days at the beach.
16. New Strength
Beach comedy antics ensue, but that's just a brief respite from more serious concerns. An alchemist warrior of Tokiko's acquaintance is around, and is looking to rekindle an old relationship. They plan to meet at midnight, while Kazuki and Bravo arrange to have a late night training session. But since Kazuki's transformation, nothing's the same anymore. Bravo isn't training him now, and he explains all about the Black Kakugane such as those that Victor and now Kazuki possess. He also explains that Kazuki's transformation into a monster just like Victor, is inevitable, and before six weeks are up, he must die. Meanwhile Gota Nakamura is following orders by keeping Tokiko away from the inevitable.
17. When Dawn Comes
Is Kazuki dead? We've got 10 episodes to go so it's a good guess that he isn't. But he's Alchemist enemy number 1 now, and all their attention is focused on finding and killing him. Ouka Hayasaka hears of the development from her hospital bed, and decides to act to help her friend. But she'll need some unlikely assistance. Meanwhile Tokiko will save Kazuki no matter what, she feels responsible for what has happened to him since she was the one who brought him back to life with the kakugane. The trouble intensifies when the Alchemist Warrior Chief Hiwatari arrives with his troops to take care of Kazuki. But Tokiko has a lead, a chance to save her friend and it means going back to the school where she first recovered the kakugane. Just to confuse matters, Gota Nakamura insists on accompanying them.
18. The Escape
Tokiko has her hands full refereeing the rivalry that develops between Gota and Kazuki, as they make their way to the Newton Apple Girls' Academy to find out more about the kakugane that she recovered. But with Hiwatari and his comrades Ikusabe and Negaro after them, it's that point in the series where we get down to some serious shonen combat action. At the same time, the Alchemy Warriors still have Victor to deal with, so they put together a force to hunt him down, and they recruit the other twin, Shusui Hayasaka to help. When Papillon encounters Hiwatari's group, he demands to know where Kazuki is, which leads to a battle with Ikusabe, whose Buso Renkin allows him to regenerate regardless of the damage he suffers.
19. As Long As I Can Protect You
The initial encounter between Hiwatari and the fugitives is devastating, and he leaves Negaro behind to recover the kakugane, but they're not as defeated as they look. Round 2 features Kazuki and Gota (with his Chakram Buso Renkin) versus Negaro, whose Buso Renkin allows him to slice in and out of other dimensions. It's all a build up for the main event, the rematch between Kazuki and Captain Bravo, which cliffhangers over to the next episode.
20. With Strength And Spirit
A flashback to round 1 (episode 16) precedes the start of round 2, as Bravo and Kazuki go all out. Bravo is determined to eliminate the threat of another Victor from the world, and while Tokiko and Gota race to rescue their friend. Something's different. Kazuki may be going all out, but he's refusing to use his new powers. Could his desperate clinging to humanity be enough to convince Bravo to take a chance on a slim hope? It all looks like gravy, but then Hiwatari appears.
21. Gone Into Flame
Hiwatari vs. Bravo. No, it's Kazuki vs. Hiwatari. Actually, before it gets too complicated Supreme Warrior Chief Shousei, head of the Alchemy army appears to call off the hunt, and remind everyone that the true enemy is Victor, and that he's been located, and that they have to concentrate on defeating him. It's a temporary respite for Kazuki and his friends, as they finally get a chance to explore the Newton Apple Girls' Academy.
22. A Decision Is Required
The Alchemy army converges on Victor's location, and prepare to do battle, but they aren't expecting Victor to evolve into Stage III of his devastating form. Kazuki, Tokiko and Gota are joined by Papillon as they begin to explore the abandoned school. They don't have to search for long, as they are met by a mysterious cloaked figure, who leads them to an underground laboratory. Not only have they found what they are looking for, they have discovered Victor's tragic past. It turns out that a hundred years of illicit research has yielded a cure for the ravages of the black kakugane that resulted in Victor, and in Kazuki's impending doom. But there exists in the world just one White Kakugane, and it can cure only one of them. Kazuki has a choice to make.
23. Boy Meets Battle Girl
Summer's over, school has restarted, and everyone's glad to see Kazuki and his friends back safe and sound, with their dangerous mission accomplished. Or is it? To celebrate, the school friends get together for a day out to the amusement park, but the joviality is just a mask for Kazuki's inner turmoil. Fortunately he has Tokiko to lean on.
24. When You Die, I'll Die With You
Kazuki has a plan, and one that will save everyone, although he has to turn to his nemesis Papillon for help. After wishing his sister and his friends a long goodbye, he and Tokiko board a helicopter to head to the battle zone. The fight against Victor isn't going well, but together Tokiko and Kazuki should prevail. There's a funny thing about plans though, they never quite work out the way you intend. Kazuki and Victor wind up in a fight that is literally out of this world…
25. No One Could Ever Take His Place
… but what about those who are left behind? The clean up after the battle starts, and those who suffered the most take time to heal. Of them, the worst is Tokiko, although her injuries aren't physical. The Alchemist Warriors are moving to wind down the research, take a back seat role, and that means cleaning up the few remaining homunculi. Tokiko realises that Kazuki had unfinished business with Papillon, and she dons the burden of finishing what he started.
A happy ending?
Just like the majority of anime nowadays, Buso Renkin comes in 1.78:1 anamorphic. It's not the most groundbreaking of animations, the character designs are memorable enough, but don't break from the norms, the world design is pretty standard, and the animation itself is effective if not flashy. The transfer is adequate, clear and sharp for the most part, although there is minor artefacting around fast motion. Buso Renkin is a pretty bog-standard action anime for the young male market, and animators aren't renowned for doing their best work on series like these.
You get a choice between DD 2.0 English and Japanese, along with optional translated subtitles. I found the Japanese track to be acceptable, although did note that the dialogue was occasionally buried under the incidental music. Not so with the English dub, which is a little daft, but in perfect keeping with the tone of the show. The stereo does enough to carry the action although this isn't the show to expect aural perfection from. The opening theme is an eye-opener, nothing if not glam rock, and with a Brian May-esque turn to the guitars.
I got to look at the packaging this time, and it's quite impressive, certainly space friendly, with a standard Amaray style case that holds all three discs, one to the left and two overlapping on the right. The card slipcase replicates the Amaray sleeve art and information.
In terms of on-disc extras, the discs once again replicate the original US releases, which means no commentaries this time around.
Disc 1 gets another Behind The Scenes Of Buso Renkin featurette, and wheels out another set of voice actors to comment on their characters and their impressions of the show. There's plenty of footage of actors trapped in a booth, acting for their very freedom. There's 25 minutes of this by the way.
The trailers are on disc 2, with promos for Origin, Death Note, Bleach, Naruto, the Naruto Movie, Stand Alone Complex, and Solid State Society to peruse.
Buso Renkin is daft, it's silly, absurd, ridiculous and nonsensical. It's also decidedly fun, and even a little charming too. It's one of those shows that you feel vaguely guilty about watching, as if you really ought to know better, but when it comes down to it, you have to admit that you enjoy it more than certain 'highbrow' titles that critics will tell you are far more rewarding. I rationed myself to two episodes a night for this review, yet I found I was looking forward to each new instalment, and strongly tempted to just let the disc keep spinning at the end of each session. It's an odd endorsement though, as I really don't know why I'm recommending this show.
It's a Shonen Jump property, typically aimed at young teenage boys, with all the good versus evil clichés in place, with successively difficult battles for our heroes to face, and the necessity of levelling up every once in a while to show off a new ability, and be ready to face a new challenge. Everything is possible through willpower, and the laws of reality can be distorted just so that the good guy wins in the end. It's the sort of show that you'll be intimately familiar with if you have ever caught an episode or ten of Naruto or Bleach, and in many ways can be considered a pale imitation of its better marketed, and longer running brethren.
That may be half the charm though, the fact that it gets its story done and dusted within the space of 26 episodes instead of 256. There's something to be said for succinct and brief storytelling, and when you've seen a five episode long ninja battle, where the protagonists pause halfway through to wrestle with their personal philosophies, a thirty second smackdown is a breath of fresh air. That it also highlights the utter inanity of those Shonen storylines, with their regular levelling up of character abilities, the impetus to constant self-improvement is just a happy side-effect. You don't notice it when the story is stretched over a couple hundred episodes, and padded out with filler. But in Buso Renkin, our hero goes from wimpy schoolboy to world-shattering titan in the space of 10 hours of screen time, or two months of story time. With that sort of pace, it's impossible to take the story seriously, which is why it's to Buso Renkin's benefit that it's played totally tongue in cheek.
That pace is detrimental however when it comes to sheer character overload and lack of development. The first half of the show introduced a fairly hefty set of characters, with Kazuki, Tokiko, Bravo and friends, allied against Papillon and his minions. Then LXE showed up with an immortal in a flask to resurrect, and the numbers multiplied again. By far the strongest dynamic though was with Papillon and Kazuki, and I was looking to see this curious adversarial friendship explored in the second half of the series. Not so, as with the revival of Victor from his flask, we entered a whole other story thread, with another army of characters to meet, and back-stories to memorise. It's a fairly neat twist in that former allies become enemies, and vice versa, and there is a greater emphasis on action in this second half of the show, but there are some nice character moments too, and seeing Kazuki and Tokiko's relationship actually develop made a pleasant change from the usual stasis of such pairings. It's a bit of a shame that Papillon was left on the back burner for much of this half though.
And then there is the ending. I've heard of happy endings, but Buso Renkin's tops them all. Everyone, but everyone gets a happy ending. Even the bad guys. It's utterly contrived, unbearably sugary, but somehow perfectly suited to the story. At least there's no intention to milk the property beyond its worth, no loose ends offering another instalment two years down the line. This is as final as it gets, and for once, it's nice to have a small perfectly wrapped package of a series. The only problem I found with this set was that the final episode ends with a pseudo manga, anime with speech bubbles. The trouble is that the speech bubbles are in Japanese, and no one has translated them (this is apparently true of the region 1 set as well).
If I'm being honest with myself, then I didn't like the second half as much as the first. The new character overload wasn't too hard to deal with, but not exactly appreciated since the characters of the first half were a little neglected as a result. It's also in the nature of these things to have a massive world threatening nemesis to deal with, with global consequences and really big bangs. But I never like them as much as the earlier, more personal storylines. But it's really a narrow margin between the two, as the second half, while not as structurally sound, certainly provided the mindless entertainment to match the beginning. If daft, energetic and stupid anime is your thing (and who can't make room for a little stupid?), then Buso Renkin is just the ticket.