武装錬金 (Busou Renkin)
Shounen – Action, sci-fi, comedy, romance
10 Volumes (complete)
Kazuki just had the weirdest dream: he died trying to save a girl! But when a teacher transforms into a hideous animal-human hybrid known as a homunculus, Kazuki learns his heart has been replaced with an alchemic device known as the Buso Renkin. Now Kazuki and his savior, Tokiko, must search for the creator of the homunculus in order to prevent innocent people from being killed.
Had the author taken another approach to this series, Buso Renkin could have been a hilarious parody of shounen manga. Alas he didn’t, and the series is destined to be a mediocre example of the genre at best.
It’s hard to say exactly what went wrong in Buso Renkin. It does have its charm points: a strong female lead, crisp artwork, and some good running gags. It also has several of the usual shounen action tropes: male lead who levels up quickly, unique weapons, and a cool mentor. But maybe the world wasn’t presented well. The comedy and drama didn’t mix. Battles were too typical. Something did not go over well for me or the Weekly Shounen Jump readers, as it was eventually canceled, and the author had to beg to give the series a proper ending.
While Watsuki mentioned in his liner notes his respect for writers of comedy and that humor is not his strong point, Buso Renkin, in many ways, has the perfect setup for a parody. The main character is part of a known group of idiots and wants to shout out his attacks. The villain dresses likes a stereotypical gay ballerina and walks around town in his outfit. The mentor’s name is “Bravo” and uses it as a speech quirk. Battles include combatants repeatedly doing the “I’m behind you” move. While these aspects are used to lighten up the series, they are far more interesting than the main story. I mean, a guy in a leotard and mask is walking around town and wears his mask to the public bathhouse. Come on! Jokes about “I can’t reveal my real identity” or “I’m off the clock” are just begging to be written.
The manga might have worked well as a 4-koma:
“I had a strange dream. I tried to save the girl and got attacked!”
“Did you save the girl?”
“No, I died!”
“So you’re a loser even in your dreams, huh?”
“Too slow! I’m behind you!”
“I’m behind you!”
“I’m behind you!”
Narration: And thus the battle raged on forever…
Unfortunately, the comedy is secondary to the main story, which is far more boring and generic. Kazuki is a male lead who learns to fight almost instantly. A rival becomes a friend. The mentor is a cool guy. Yada-yada, been there, done that. Even when the manga tried to be less-typical, I just didn’t like where it went. I can’t say I predicted the battleground for the final showdown (although that could be as a result of the series being cancelled), but it’s so eye-roll worthy. Interesting information about the enemies is included in the liner notes but not the story itself. Kazuki’s normal friends get a rather large amount of screentime, but due to story constraints, the balance between his “normal life” and “hero life” don’t mesh well. I don’t think Kazuki need three friends, his sister, and her two friends in order to be his support. Some of the more interesting or important characters were woefully underdeveloped. The leader of Tokiko’s organization, for instance, just kind of pops in and then isn’t utilized well in the story despite participating in the final battles.
The bright spot is Tokiko, the female lead who outranked Kazuki in the popularity polls consistently. She may seem like the standard female tsundere and the resident tsukkomi, but she develops in a very realistic fashion and her motives are understandable. Tokiko is an example of a strong female heroine and, despite being eventually eclipsed in power by Kazuki, doesn’t falls into the “damsel-in-distress” category who twists her ankle.
The strongest part of the manga is the art. Watsuki has come a long way since his debut. Character design is excellent with a wide range of faces and hairstyles so readers will not be stuck in a situation where they can’t tell who’s who. They also don’t look like carbon-copies of the author’s previous characters. The homunculus and weapons look like they fit artistically and not just CG’d awkwardly in. Some images are done in sumi-e (ink wash painting) style, and certain key battles are done in this style without any speech bubbles to put full emphasis on the action. Good paneling makes the action scenes easy to follow. Overall, Buso Renkin is a visual pleasure.
This is a pretty solid adaptation. No honorifics are used except for Mahiro’s two friends. Mahiro does address Kazuki as “(Big) Brother” to replace “onii-chan”. I don’t believe the text ever explained what “buso renkin” means, which was rather odd (arms [weapon] alchemy). I didn’t like a couple of romanizations (“Mappy”), but that’s just personal preference and nothing to do with the overall translation. But despite a few minor hiccups, the text is quite solid. The same person did the translation and adaptation, so I suspect that is part of the reason it was rewritten well.
If you want to look at nice artwork, borrow a copy from your local library or a friend. Otherwise, pass. If it had spoofed tropes like the battle speech, victory poses, and the like, Buso Renkin would have been awesome.
Watsuki is more famous for his series Rurouni Kenshin, also released by Viz. (It’s popular for a reason and I highly recommend it.) It had a couple of short stories only released in the omnibus releases and also a two volume reboot. He mentioned this would be his last shounen manga, so maybe he’ll move on to seinen eventually?
Viz Media also released the anime for Buso Renkin in two box sets.