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!
The bilingual presentation for Buso Renkin is a fair bit better than most other stereo shows out on the market as it gets a decent 256kbps encoding. The series has a rather straightforward stereo mix to it for an action show where it has a good bit of directionality across the forward soundstage during the big moments and with a fair amount of the dialogue as well. While the show won’t be a standout stereo mix, it is one that works very well for it as there is some noticeable impact during the action and the dialogue is very crisp and well placed when needed. In listening to the Japanese mix primarily and sampling a lot of the English mix, we didn’t note any dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in late 2006, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Viz’s releases have looked pretty good for awhile now and Buso Renkin is no exception as it has some solid high bitrates throughout combined with the better than average audio mixes. Buso Renkin has a very clean look about it as it works in the real world for the majority of it and is done in a fairly standard Shonen Jump visual style. The character animation and the backgrounds are all quite solid with only a few areas where the gradients stand out a bit, generally in some of the darker scenes at night with the moonlight. Noise is very minimal and aliasing only appears during the usual panning and zooming moments. Buso Renkin has a very good look to it with some solid animation and the authoring here captures it probably as well as DVD can.
Viz Media has gotten a fairly good rhythm going with some of its mini box sets in the last year or two and Buso Renkin is more of that. If you’ve seen what they’ve done elsewhere, then you have a good idea of what this is like with a slipcase holding the digipak case. The slipcase uses the silver of the kakugane as its background design to tie it all together while the foreground is of the three primary characters from this arc with Kazuki, Tokiko and Kohsaku. Kohsaku thankfully is wearing his full outfit and not just the little thong he often wears throughout and the artwork is all raised to different levels which add to the slick feeling of the layout. The package makes good note of the episode and disc count and that it is a box set. The back of the slipcase has a single half-length shot of a serious Kazuki to the right while the left is a basic silver backdrop. That section contains the summary of the premise and a basic rundown of the discs features and extras. Rounding it out is the usual production information. No technical grid is here that showcases what kind of video is on the disc though we do at least get a text listing that it is a bilingual release.
The digipak portion replicates the slipcase design for the most part but the silver is much more muted in this incarnation. While the front of the digipak is the same, the back gets a nice difference in that it features a reverse shot that has Tokiko as its central character and is free from any text or information. Opening up the digipak, the first panel has a darkened image of Kohsaku which doubles as the booklet holder. The three plastic disc cases can be flipped through and the reverse side for two of them contains pieces of artwork in full color which look great. The first has a half-length close-up of Mahiro in her school uniform with a pink filter while the second one features Ouka in her uniform with her bow drawn out. Underneath each of the discs is a series of kakugane which contain pictures from the show while having that particular volumes episode numbers and titles laid over it. The set contains some nice items in the booklet section with three high-quality full-color postcards of several of the characters that were used for the cover elements throughout.
Keeping to the theme started by the cover artwork, the menu revolves around the layout of the kakugane and its various sides while character artwork is mixed in with it. The navigation is placed within the various sections of the kakugane as well and it’s very easy to move from spot to spot without any issues. Add in a bit of upbeat music from the show and the slightly dark menus work rather well thematically. Viz hasn’t lost its love of lead-up animation though as when you first start up the disc you get a brief action piece from the show playing out before it settles into the menu proper. These sections can at least be skipped but it’s part of something that Viz has long done which just feels very gimmicky and outdated. Access times are nice and fast but the discs unfortunately don’t read our players’ language presets and default to English with no subtitles since there isn’t a sign/song subtitle track available.
The series isn’t one I expected much in the way of extras from but Viz has done a pretty good job with it overall with one exception. The exception being the continued inability to provide clean versions of the opening and closing sequences. This is something that every other company on nearly every title is able to accomplish but Viz just can’t seem to do it unfortunately. This release suffers from it as well I’m sad to say. Where it does make out, for dub fans at least, is that there are three commentary tracks for individual episodes, one per volume. This provides the dub crew a chance to talk about the show and their experiences on it and some of the fun that they had along the way. The final volume has an additional extra as well, including a surprisingly long twenty-five minute Behind the Scenes feature in which they sit down with what seems like the entire cast to talk about the show and their roles. These kinds of extras can go either way but I admit to finding them interesting enough as I like to see the production side of it and what goes into it, especially in comparison to how they were done ten years prior when we first started seeing such extras.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the ten-volume manga series by Nobuhiro Watsuki which ran in Shonen Jump between 2003 and 2006, this twenty-six episode anime series actually has the potential to tell a complete story. After the way his Rurouni Kenshin series ended up falling from grace by not sticking to the manga, Buso Renkin wasn’t put into anime form until well after the manga had completed, hopefully with some sort of finality. That alone makes this series something potentially more interesting than the majority of manga to anime conversions which are often based on ongoing series that are sometimes only just beginning.
The series takes place in the modern day world where everything seems just like it does in real life, or at least that would be the idea if it didn’t start off with the lead character having his life ended by a massive snake like creature. Kazuki wakes from this intense dream feeling very out of sorts, but he soon learns that it wasn’t a dream, it was something that actually happened when he went to visit the nearby abandoned factory where he heard something going on. It’s through some very quickly flashbacks that we learn how he stumbled into a battle between a high school girl and this creature, only to be killed for his curiosity and desire to help out someone in need. The young woman who he later learns is named Tokiko doesn’t want him to meet his end this way and restores his life by binding him to a device called the kakugane which essentially takes on the role of his heart.
The meeting of these two characters is what sets the series in motion as she reveals to Kazuki that she’s actually an Alchemist Warrior who is a year older than he is. She’s been moving about the country for some time in search of homunculi that have made their way into various cities and towns to cause trouble. She’s come to this town in search of another one and that’s how he ended up stumbling onto his death. The homunculi are interesting in that when created, they essentially destroy the creature that it was before and just take on its form. With a bit of history given to him, Kazuki learns the basics but Tokiko keeps telling him to just go back to his normal life and forget all of this ever happened. Kazuki can’t do that though because of the kakugane that she gave him.
That little device implanted in his chest has given him a weapon that he can use to fight against the homunculi which could cause quite a lot of trouble in the town. Kazuki is the kind of person that’s very forthright with his thought on things and has a rather basic black and white view of good and evil and what must be done. With the power he feels he’s been given, he can’t walk away and let someone else fight the battle to keep him and his friends safe. To Tokiko’s surprise, his ability to use the kakugane inside him as a Buso Renkin is quite strong as he’s able to manifest it into a weapon that is eventually called the Sunlight Heart, a massive ornate lance with a cloth attached to it that can focus his biological energy. Kazuki follows the standard shonen model in that he’s quiet gifted and is able to excel at all of this quite easily, though he doesn’t became a genius at it as he can still be brash, rash and easily defeated due to his lack of experience.
While Tokiko does agree to work with Kazuki, she intends to put him through his paces while they work to discover just who is behind the recent outbreak of homunculi in the area. The opening story arc deals with that as Kazuki gets pushed to the forefront after Tokiko is sidelined due to being infected by one of the embryo’s that the enemy uses to create new creatures. The mystery of who is behind it plays out for a bit and it does lead to an interesting take on how students interact with each other and those that fall through the cracks. It’s more prelude and set up than anything else though as it segues into a larger history that this character has through his family that ties to the alchemist warriors from a hundred years past. Buso Renkin shifts quickly from a monster of the week kind of show to something a bit more fluid and involved though it does still make sure there is a bit of action in each new episode since it is a Shonen Jump based show after all.
Like any good show of this genre, the supporting characters help it out immensely. Kazuki has quite a few friends at the school he goes to, many of which he lives with in the dormitory since his parents are overseas for work. Not only are his friends there but also his sister who attends with him. She doesn’t quite have a crush on her brother but she’s very close to him and cares for him a lot, so when Tokiko enters the picture she’s practically enthralled with her and starts doting on her like an older sister which completely freaks Tokiko out. In fact, everyone sees the two of them as a couple which just gets to her since she doesn’t see it that way and Kazuki is amusingly oblivious to a lot of it. The group comes together rather easily once they start interacting more and while there isn’t anything that really stands out with them, it does have that kind of natural comfort to it that allows it to just click well.
If there’s an area of the series that makes me… uncomfortable, it’s in the initial main villain of Papillon. As a character, he’s not bad as his history is explored and his motivations for wanting to end mankind make sense considering what he’s suffered through. His history actually gets nicely involved as it goes along and that makes him a good villain for the duration of the series as he adds a good undercurrent to things in terms of continuity. Where it loses me is when he goes through his first transformation sequence in which all he really wears is a thong. His outfit doesn’t get any better later on when he gets some sort of skin-tight latex outfit with little ties across the front either. For a boys action show, it’s one of those things that just feels inappropriate – and then you remember the varied outfits that the women typically get to wear in other series and it’s hard to really complain.
Beyond that, Buso Renkin has a really solid style to it though it doesn’t seem to actually stand out from the pack. It’s above average with its production values but it doesn’t have that kind of high level of quality that really shines. The character designs have some unique aspects to them at times, such as Tokiko’s scar across her nose or the hairstyle that Okakura has. By and large though, it’s fairly traditional in its design with some of the nods that you typically see in a Watsuki series of designs. The animation quality is solid and it doesn’t look like it cuts corners often which leads to some fluid fight sequences, solid background designs and overall a good amount of depth to it all. With the authoring as nicely done as it is, the combination of it all leads to a rather enjoyable presentation.
Buso Renkin is the kind of show that makes out much better in this half season box set form than it would in bi-monthly single form release that we were getting at the time. Going through the first thirteen episodes, the larger narrative is much clearer than it would be otherwise as it runs through fairly basic shonen action show storylines. The series starts off in a fun way by killing the lead character and putting him into a series of fights and special training to help him get to where he needs to be in order to join a very old and involved fight. At the same time, it balances the humor and lighter side rather well with amusing facial outtakes and some good physical comedy. For the price and amount of material you get, this is a solid deal through and through and very much worth checking out since Viz has basically done it right, even going so far as to include actual song subtitles. Color us shocked and supportive since this was not the norm for them at this time.
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: March 31st, 2009
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.