Sometimes anime distributors surprise you by releasing something completely outside of their comfort zone. Something that changes your opinion of what constitutes their typical target audience or release strategy.
Unfortunately, this isn't one of those times.
Once again Manga Entertainment tread familiar ground with
their release of yet another supernatural actioner set in a school and aimed at
a young male audience. This time the story revolves around Kazuki, an
eager schoolboy with tonnes of energy and drive. He dreams of being a hero
and tries to make himself more heroic, even going as far as to try and teach
himself martial arts. However, the one time he actually does do something
heroic and rescues a girl from a strange marauding monster, it costs him his
life! However, something like death isn't about to keep a male lead in a
shonen anime down, and Kazuki wakes up the next day wondering how he survived.
Things get more complicated when the same monster that 'killed' him the day
before turns up again, but this time it's the girl he thought he rescued doing
the rescuing. That girl is Tokiko, an alchemist warrior who brought him
back from the dead with the power of an artefact called a Buso Renkin.
This has now replaced Kazuki heart and gives him the power to create a weapon to
fight monsters like the one who attacked him. The monsters are homunculi,
artificial life created by alchemists searching for eternal life, and they are
man-eaters. Tokiko was in the area as someone there has been creating
homunculi, and it is her task to stop them. With this mission she joins
the school and uses it as her base of operations, whilst also trying to teach
Kazuki how to use his new-found powers. The problem he has is that the
homunculi won't let anyone who has witnessed them live, and that puts him firmly
in the firing line! Can he help Tokiko track down the homunculi's creator,
or will he and his classmates end up as food?
Buso Renkin may not be as well known as the likes of Naruto and Bleach, but it has surprisingly good heritage. The manga the series is based on comes from the pen of Nobuhiro Watsuki, creator of the excellent Rurouni Kenshin, and it boasts animation by Kazuki to boot. With these things behind it the signs are good for a challenger to the big boys of the anime actioner world, unfortunately though it's not to be. That's not to say it's bad per se, Buso Renkin is a solid actioner with some ok enemies and likeable characters, the
animation's decent and the story has a good dark edge to it that's a little bit more than you sometimes get from these kinds of series. The action sequences are good, some of the monsters are better than you expect, and the voice acting is decent enough too. The only real problem is that it's immensely derivative.
It feels in places like its been made by a committee who are
trying to tick all of the teen action boxes. You have the over-eager hero,
you have the school setting, you have the monstrous enemies that exist unseen in
everyday life and the supernatural powers the hero gains in order to combat
them. Tokiko is just Bleach's Rukia Kuchiki in a different dress,
the whole homunculus angle has already been done by Fullmetal Alchemist
and the hero-dying-at-the-start-and-coming-back-to-life-with-special-powers
thing has been already been done by 3x3 Eyes, Yu Yu Hakusho and
Shakugan no Shana to name just a few. Other character archetypes are
immediately apparent as well, including the ditzy but beautiful girl, the
super-intelligent friend, the over-the-top friend who leaps to conclusions, and
the secretive commander. Some of the monsters may be inventive, but at the
end of the day monsters-of-the-week are just that, and are nothing more than
cannon fodder for the hero to learn by fighting against.
It's a shame that it follows formula so often, because on the few occasions it doesn't, the series really shows some promise. There are moments when it makes fun of itself, such as Tokiko's disdain at Kazuki trying to come up with a name for his Buso Renkin weapon, and moments where the story steps outside of its comfort zone. An example of this is early on when Tokiko is infected by a homunculus seed, which will turn her into a monster unless they can track down the unseen enemy who is creating them. This story arc introduces real
tension to the plot as the characters race against time to find the person responsible and force them to provide an antidote. The actual villain is a bit, err, unusual too. It's times like this when the series touches on that something extra that the likes of Naruto and D.Gray-Man deliver on a regular basis. However, enjoyable though the series is, it never really delivers enough originality to really set it apart.
Buso Renkin vol 1 is good fun and quite entertaining, but it lacks the originality to take it above the average. There's nothing particularly wrong with it, and if you haven't seen many anime action series then you'll find a lot more to like than someone who has, there are flashes of brilliance too. However, if I'm honest I expected more than an average anime actioner from the person who brought us Rurouni Kenshin. Buso Renkin is fine if you're waiting for your next fix of Naruto or Bleach, but don't expect it to turn your head.
Some good stuff on here surprisingly, the usual trailers are joined by a behind the scenes featurette and audio commentaries for three episodes. Nay too bad.