Mutou Kazuki was just a normal high school student- until the fateful day when he stumbled upon a battle between a teenage girl and a hideous monster and managed to get himself killed in the process. Fortunately, however, the very girl he was trying to save-Tokiko- also happens to be a warrior with alchemic powers, and she is able to give him a new lease of life by replacing his heart with a metallic device known as a Kakugane. The Kakugane also imbues Kazuki with alchemic powers of his own, and slowly but surely, he too finds himself drawn into the ongoing conflict between the alchemic warriors and their nemesis, the human-feeding homunculi…
Hard as it seems to believe in retrospect, there was once a time when I was actually looking forward to Busou Renkin. Having enjoyed Nobuhiro Watsuki’s other series, Rurouni Kenshin, it seemed impossible to believe that he could produce something unworthy, and so I was confident that this would be one series worth investigating. It was only later that I came to realise that the reality of the situation was very different.
From the start, it became clear that Busou Renkin wasn’t going to live up to its predecessor, instead starting off with an episode so dull and tedious that it proved to be an effort just to pay attention to it. By all rights, the whole venture should have been abandoned then, but despite its generally lacklustre beginning, there were still a few elements that ensured it was given a second chance; specifically, a range of interesting looking characters in the OP, and the attractive yet deadly Tokiko with her novel four-bladed ‘Valkyrie Skirt’ weapon. So it was that the series was continued, and as it began to pick up, it seemed as if that was the right choice. In those early days, the pace was swift enough to never become tedious, and for the briefest of moments, it seemed as if Busou Renkin would actually be the shounen pick of the season.
Unfortunately, this brief burst of optimism was just that- overly optimistic, and all too brief. When stripped down to the essentials, Busou Renkin could not really aspire to be more than a generic Shounen Jump series, but on top of that, it was one riddled with additional problems. Thanks to deviations from the original manga (which was itself cut short after a premature cancellation), the plot became something of a poorly paced mess, neglecting to develop the more interesting facets of the story and characters in favour of quick, easy and blatantly budget saving alternatives. For example, why show a final confrontation between the hero and villain when you can waste an episode by having the supporting characters mope about his absence? That being said, even battle was in the offing, all too often it was far too unbelievably over the top for its own good, starting with stupid special attacks such as floating bubbles or a pair of metallic dogs and moving up through “man vs. submarine” battles to a finale which sees our hero somehow go to the moon and spend a month there (I don’t usually like to spoil the ending to that extent, but such ridiculousness begs to be mentioned).
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Busou Renkin can boast of one other special feature that it would have done better to avoid- an excess of crudeness. Although the mangaka is said to dislike fanservice, he seems to have no problem with so-called ‘manservice’, leading to an excess of crotch shots, bulging underwear, size comparisons and the now infamous Papillon, a butterfly-masked antagonist with a predilection for mankinis, skin-tight bodysuits and storing important items in his crotch. On some levels it may be amusing in an unwholesome way, but rest assured that exposure to this level of ‘manservice’ will leave the mind hideously scarred for a long time to come.
Perhaps unsurprisingly by this point, Busou Renkin also manages to mess up when it comes to characters. With its extensive cast of alchemic warriors, assorted villains and allied bystanders, there is nowhere near enough time to make most of them into anything more than shallow and all too often annoying of personalities. Even the potentially interesting characters are usually short-changed in some way; as Kazuki becomes stronger in the effortless way that most destined leads do, poor Tokiko gets reduced to the role of a cheerleader who can only call out his name, whilst intriguing enemies such as the moon-faced Moon Face turn out to be quite dull when their background and abilities are finally revealed.
Visually, Busou Renkin is generally quite standard, with only a few character designs such as Tokiko standing out from a crowd that largely ranges from the generic to the hideous. Although there are some decent action scenes scattered here and there, there is a general air of budget saving about the series, with badly drawn generics and largely unnecessary flashbacks used to cut corners numerous times (one episode in particular only has about fifteen minutes of new footage). Background music is generally forgettable, although the OP is at least energetic.
Although it was fun to parody, in terms of providing entertainment on its own merit, Busou Renkin couldn’t quite cut it. Aside from the odd moment here and there where a character or situation looked promising, the messy plot, underdeveloped characters and overly crude take on shounen clichés all conspired to make this a series barely worth watching once, let alone twice.