Aha! Here we have yet another manga which falls victim to my "choose a random manga or anime and review it" strategy! Congratulations!
Story: "Busou Renkin" (or however you want to spell it) is about a boy named Muto Kazuki. He is walking around one day (or whatever the hell he was doing) and is nearly killed by something. Well, actually, he IS killed, but a girl named Tsumura Tokiko gives him an artificial heart-thing and saves him. Kazuki is now able to fight, Shounen Jump style! (But that makes sense. T.T)
If you have never read a shounen manga in your life, this story may sound original. If you have... then all I'll say is that most Jump manga follow this strict, strict guideline.
Art: The quality certainly fluctuates. I could hardly believe this is the same mangaka who created "Rurouni Kenshin;" the art looks so different. Sometimes the art is so cool you want to leap ten feet into the air, and other times it's so disappointing you want to rip out your hair in frustration. As far as character designs go... odd. Tokiko looks cool, with her scar (Kenshin, anyone?) and short haircut. Kazuki's resemblance to Takashi from H.O.T.D is uncanny; they look EXACTLY the same. Papillon's flamboyant (and disturbingly tight-fitting) outfits may scare viewers. I practically choked when I first saw him.
Plus, even though this is Shounen Jump Advanced, they had to censor some scenes using pixels or speech bubbles. Which (kind of) brings me to my next point: the weaponry. Despite the stupid names, some weapons were pretty damn cool. Tokiko's Valkyrie Skirt was original and made her all the more badass. Kazuki's Sunlight Sword or whatever it was wasn't too unique, but I suppose he could have had a baseball bat (he's already too much like Takashi, thankyouverymuch). And so on.
Characters: Kazuki kind of bored me. Sure, he's nice and all, but way too generic. I mean, he likes his sister, which is in no way unique ("Bloody Monday," "Code Geass"). He wants to protect his friends ("Bleach," "Naruto"). He has a crush on his sidekick (Do I even need to name anything for this one?). Tokiko, on the other hand, spent a good chunk of time as my girl-crush. You know, if I ever switch up my claimed characters, Tokiko has a shot at being one of mine. She's badass, no-nonsense, not a tsundere, not a benchwarmer, and just awesome--exactly what I want in a manga character. And her catchphrase ("I'll splatter your guts!") could certainly have been worse. Unfortunately, the villains didn't fare so well. "Busou Renkin" has some of the worst villains of any manga out there--they are not intimidating, not tragic, not likable, not aggressive, and serve no effing purpose. I can't believe how much potential was lost because of them.
Overall: "Busou Renkin" is a prime example of wasted potential. It was never anything special, but could have been so, so much more. I dearly hope there are more Tokikos out there. She is the reason to read this manga; there is nothing else particularly good about it.
If I hadn't known this was done by Nobihiro Watsuki, the creator of Rurouni Kenshin, I never would have known. In fact, it was when I heard he did another series that prompted me to seek this one out; I was sorely disappointed.
Not just the plot and characters, but the artwork and the battles...some of it felt very forced, and often times, it was difficult to tell what exactly was HAPPENING.
I will say that it started out with an interesting premise and idea, but, and I hate to compare it, in terms of homonculus and alchemy, Fullmetal Alchemist was much better.
This was, again, to my disappointment, as Rurouni Kenshin is one of my top three anime/manga of all time.
So, where did this go wrong? Let me break it down:
Okay, there's some creepy-ish battle going on against artificial humans, the typical shounen protagonist (simple and stupid; I'll cover this more in detail under the characters), the tsundere anti-hero, your cast of comic relief characters, and the antagonist.
As I've only read through the first arc/antagonist, I can only comment up until then; the story and characters weren't enough to make me read more of it.
Again, there's really not much of a story. It's probably explained later on, but the concept of alchemy and these weapons aren't properly given in the first arc (which is annoying). The excerpt/summery of the series does a better job explaining the beginning than the actual pages.
I don't know what the story is about; I couldn't really find a story. In Rurouni Kenshin, the first arc admittingly didn't have a huge plot to it, but it had enough background before that and bits and pieces of a larger story going on (as well as adding to building the characters).
With Buso Renkin, there wasn't any of that. Just some average high school student that gets in over his head and can now use this alchemic weapon.
I suppose the story is humans vs homonculus, as the latter are dangerous, zombie-like creatures in that they become infected and turn into human-eaters. The first arc had potential for a deeper story, but it wasn't touched upon.
I only read as far as I did to see how it would turn out, and if it would get better.
Was this REALLY done by the creator of Rurouni Kenshin?
Ah, we've hit the biggest snag in the series. Besides a generic shounen minimal plot, we've got the generic shounen protagonist.
Pick up a volume of Shounen Jump from around 2002 until now, and you'll find most stories filled with these sorts of protagonists: Simple and stupid.
They're the class dunces; the goofballs; the ones that usually start off with no or little skills and learn as they go. They have no mind for strategy, and blindly rush into things. They also typically remain that way throughout the series.
Naruto, Luffy, Gon, Natsu...even Goku. Not only are they stupid and obvious, but they don't seem to grow from their experiences and only acquire new techniques. Mentally, they're prettty much the same as when the series started.
I rather enjoyed Kenshin, as he was the "genius protagonist", and it was done RIGHT. I sort of expected another genius protagonist, because Watsuki-sensei pulled it off so brilliantly with Kenshin; a character that starts out powerful with a few quirks, and still has yet to completely mature mentally and learn their final or most powerful technique.
Instead, we get Kazuki...I'd say he's closer to Yahiko, but even Yahiko had more mental growth and ability than this guy. Even in the first season, before the Kyoto arc, Yahiko had matured quite a lot. That maturity and growth wasn't seen in the first arc of Buso Renkin.
There were some serious moments, and some emotional moments, but I just couldn't get INTO them. Something was missing, and it was probably the slightly rushed plot and undeveloped character.
Next, we have Tokiko, who seems really uncaring and cold, but gave Kazuki his new life and fights for a brief time; something that I wish I got to see more in Kenshin with characters like Kaoru and Misao, who were supposed to be strong, but we didn't see them get to fight much. Rather, Kaoru wound up kidnapped too many times.
However, not too long into the series, once again, the female lead winds up in a bind and has to be rescued by the male lead in the first arc; it impairs her ability to fight, so Kazuki has to take over and destroy the remaining homunculus and fight the final battle to save her.
I think she grew as a character in the arc more than Kazuki did, becoming a little more accepting towards Kazuki and his skills, and a little more open by having to hang around the comic-relief characters when she couldn't move.
That's another big thing this series lacks...support characters. They're not the protagonist, but they become part of the protagonist's group. In Kenshin, this was in the form of Yahiko and Sanosuke (with Kaoru occasionally joining in).
In Buso Renkin...there weren't any of these support characters. There was the bunch of "comic relief" characters and his sister, but they got so little screen time and so little character development that I can't even call them "characters". I don't know their names, and they ARE just there for comedy purposes.
I was supremely disappointed in the characters. The one that actually had the most potential as a character was the main antagonist, but even that was glossed over and didn't carry the same human-angle that Rurouni Kenshin brought with its antagonists.
"The creator of Rurouni Kenshin did another manga? I've got to check that out! It must have really awesome characters and a great plot filled with mystery, intrigue, and background...!"
...nope! It's the typical shounen manga that everyone and their cat is putting out these days. I'm so sick of that typical shounen plot, that typical shounen protagonist, the typical shounen background characters...
What I was expecting with this, from the genius that created Rurouni Kenshin, was another break in the typical shounen mold; a genius protagonist, excellent supporting characters with their own interesting backgrounds and situations, and best of all, no "simple and stupid".
I expected to see epic battles being strategically executed even as fists or swords clash with one another; the characters are constantly thinking while fighting and not just rushing in blindly with their best technique and a battle-cry.
Not in Buso Renkin. Rather, we're stuck with the droll and typical shounen stereotypes that can put someone to sleep. If you like the shounen cliche, the "simple and stupid" protagonist, a slightly creepy idea, and the supernatural, then I suppose you might fight this interesting.
However, if you really want to read something incredible that Watsuki-sensei worked on, stick with Rurouni Kenshin.
Buso Renkin is a really fun manga, not because the story is especially good (though it's not the worst I've read by far), but due to the comedy (which is brilliantly funny at times) and the memorable protagonists throughout the series.
Firstly, Kazuki. Though rather generic himself, he's fun to read about because of his interactions with others and how he effects them. Tokiko on the hand is a wonderful character in her own right, with a brilliant catchphrase ('I'll splatter your guts!') and all the aggression to back it up. The fact that to discover her full backstory you have to read a not so great second ending chapter sucks though. Their supporting characters are excellent too, with particular favourites being Captain Bravo and Gouta. Most of the antagonists could do with some work, but some really shine. Special mention to Papillon for scarring value.
The art, while not spectacular, does hold some hidden jems in the form of the maddened faces of the homunculi and the buso renkin, the range of which is amazing with everything from Kazuki's lance (Sunlight Heart) to Bravo's Metal Jacket (Silver Skin). Even a buso renkin of the military dogs makes a brief appearance!
Finally, the story. While often rather simplistic, it actual works very well with the series as the characters are the important factor here. While some might view this as a problem, I really enjoyed the emphasis on characters and I don't mind a lot of fights. After all, this is a shonen manga. However, if do you read primarily for story, there may be something for you here, but there are probably other series more suited to you.
All in all, Buso Renkin is a great short read, especially if you don't take it overly seriously.
Premise - Alchemy is an excuse for people killing demons in high school.
Plot Exposition - I see - wait! No! Keep explaining things! Oh...another fight.The plot, guys? Remember? Yeah, neither do I.
Protagonist - Not a unique personality by any stretch of the imagination, but both flawed and likable.
Antagonist - The antagonist in the first two volumes (as well as the pacing and action) are very intimidating, but after that you're usually just reading to see how the protagonist will beat the antagonist.
Supporting Cast - Typical, but fun.
Action - Very well done at the beginning, but becomes fairly standard shounen after that.
Comedy - VERY funny. But I mean, hey, this is Nobuhiro Watsuki.
Tragedy - Oh no. How terrible. /Sarcasm
First Ending - Holy cow. That was incredible. That was just amazing. I have so much respect for this manga now, as long as it doesn't ruin it by adding a sugary sweet unrealistic and stupid happy ending that -
Second Ending - Oh, COME ON!
Story - Fairly interesting, but really has its downsides. The first two volumes promise for much better pacing, drama and action then the rest of the series delivers, but it's entertaining. Despite it's flaws, it's fun.
Characters - A typical cast, but with lots of character-driven humor and interesting abilities. There are some very intimidating villains and some extremely unintimidating villains. The two protagonists are interesting and entertaining.
Art - It's Nobuhiro Watsuki art. Some sloppy mess ups, some great shots, but all in all just fairly average.
Recommended? - For shounen fans who aren't looking for too much.