What They Say:
Alchemist Warriors Kazuki and Tokiko continue their war against the evil homunculi. But the awakening of Victor, the “King” of all homunculi, triggers the dark force lurking within Kazuki. Cursed with the black kakugane, he becomes a marked man. Hunted by their former allies, Kazuki and Tokiko find help from the most unlikely source… As the showdown in this century-long battle nears its conclusion, the future rests in the hands of one young man. Kazuki must make a final decision that no one, not even Tokiko, could have predicted!
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 Captain Bravo and Kazuki in the foreground while Victor is in the background. 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 in Victor III mode 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 Captain Bravo as its central character and is free from any text or information. Opening up the digipak, the first panel has a darkened image of Kazuki 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 Tokiko in agony while the second one features most of the girls in their swimsuits. 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 booklet, which is strangely done in reverse reading fashion, is quite solid as it runs through all the characters, their kakugane and a lot of other in-show items. It’s a great full color piece with some solid production quality that really does shine.
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.
Viz Media has done rather well with the main extras included in this release but the same problem exists with this volume that they struggled with a decade ago when it came out. The continued inability to provide clean versions of the opening and closing sequences is boggling after all these years. 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. The previous set had a few commentaries mixed into it but those aren’t carried onto this set, unfortunately. The final volume has an only extra, 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)
The second half of Buso Renkin is done in a way that really capitalizes on what Watsuki wanted to do by paying homage to the great clichés and predictability of this particular genre. Everything works smoothly and carries on without a missed beat but there are some really nice little nods along the way that helps to elevate it and keep it entirely enjoyable. Buso Renkin is the kind of show that you could easily imagine being stretched – and not in a bad way – to accommodate a longer run similar to Naruto and Inu Yasha without any issues. And honestly, I’d probably still find it just as enjoyable as I did in this more compact and streamlined twenty-five episode form.
The awkward thing about sets like this is that we waited several months to see the culmination of the battle wherein Kazuki deals with Doctor Butterfly and his mad attempts at properly reviving Victor. Kazuki has been doing good in fighting that battle at the school in front of everyone since their lives are at stake, but Victor is the main villain of the series and he has to get out eventually. Victor’s arrival upon the shattering of his glass bubble container brings about someone with a lot of power that hasn’t reached his own full potential yet. And what makes him a little more interesting is that he seems to be following a similar path to that of Kazuki and has retained his humanity in some form since moving up to this power level.
The real revelation when it comes to the initial battle with Victor however is that Kazuki’s kakugane is actually one of the three that is really a black kakugane underneath. Tokiko’s acquisition of the kakugane back at the Newton Apple Girls School is given more importance as we learn that it was actually handed to her in a less than clear manner by someone and Tokiko simply didn’t know that it was a black kakugane underneath. With Kazuki in a pitched battle against Victor, it doesn’t take much prodding for the black kakugane to be unleashed and Kazuki now finds himself in the first stages of becoming Victor III because of it. The parallels increase because of this, but only more so once the two back away since Victor has the upper hand is intending to take in some of the world first.
The Alchemist Army now looks at the already dangerous and unsanctioned Kazuki as a much more imminent threat and that means sending out a special team to dispatch him. Their fear of unleashing another Victor into the world is justified, but the approach they take is the same as a hundred years ago and has led them to the situation that they’re in now. While a re-extermination team seeks him out, another team more intent on research and feeling out Victor heads out into the world to try and track him and set up the eventual bait and trap so they can throw the entire might of the Alchemist Army against him. The world has changed considerably in a hundred years and while the Army has made several mistakes and continues to make them, they’re more able to tackle things on this scale now.
Buso Renkin moves along two very distinct tracks for the bulk of the episodes here and they’re both enjoyable. For Kazuki, once he finds out that he has about six weeks before things get really bad with his “Victorization” process, he intends to find out more about the mysterious person that gave Tokiko the kakugane. That has him, Tokiko and Gota heading off to the girls academy to find out what’s going on. The re-extermination squad that heads after him provides chase and a number of short but solid battles that don’t go overly long. The Alchemist Army guys they fight against are fun enough and there’s some good if minor growth in their abilities and confidence as they duke it out.
The other track that is just as interesting is watching the changes in Chono as he works through his intent on killing Kazuki. The way that Kazuki has changed is something he doesn’t particularly care for since it makes Kazuki near immortal but it also has him on a different level and not the same person he faced before. He’s intent on finding a way of helping Kazuki get back to where he was so they can face off against each other properly. He also needs to do this so that the Alchemist Army doesn’t kill him and take away the one real challenge and foe that he’s aching to have it out with. Chono is still a very quirky and weird character, but his arc is fairly interesting in this half and he takes on an amusing role as more revelations about the black and white kakugane’s come into play.
Interestingly, the fight sequences that go on throughout this half don’t last a long time. There are several characters going at it in different matches, and they do go through the obvious moments of figuring out each others weaknesses, but the execution is nicely done and they’re engaging enough – and short enough – that you don’t mind running through several of them to get the pawns in the right places. As it all builds up to a climax, it comes across well and they provide for that epic feeling rather nicely. Victor is a fun opponent, one who is given a brief back story as it progresses but not one that really goes all that deeply. He’s simply been burnt by the Alchemist Army and is intent on doing what he wants at this point.
The last few episodes of the series are a bit awkward though. The final battle between Kazuki and Victor goes over the top in a way that I didn’t find appealing by taking the battle to the moon. The series has had its over the top moments to be sure, but they felt within the bounds of what was set up. Some of the things brought in towards the end, and this in particular, took me out of the dynamic a little bit. The last two episodes of the series serve as an epilogue and that kept some characters out of the picture more than I would have cared for, but I admit to liking these extended epilogues in general since it lets the characters get some good quiet exposure after all of the events. In particular, the changes that Tokiko and Kazuki go through together in terms of their just under the surface attraction on several levels to each other plays out beautifully. It’s always a good thing when this is brought out before the final frame of a series.
In the end, my criticisms of Buso Renkin are pretty minimal. The main serious criticism I have for this set, in particular, is that the final episode closing sequence has a lot of on-screen text that is not translated. This is a massive glaring problem since it’s a bit of comical wrap-up for the series and gives it all a very unfinished feeling for what has otherwise been a very polished set. The majority of the release is solid though and I have to admit that Buso Renkin defied expectations. I’ve enjoyed what Watsuki has created before but everything here screamed mundane. It took the clichés and obviousness of ideas and ran with it in an engaging and fun manner. It’s simply a whole lot of fun and one of the more enjoyable action rides I’ve been on in awhile.
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.