Friday, August 04, 2006

Review: Buso Renkin vol 1

Those who know me well, are probably aware of the deep affection I feel for Nobuhiro Watsuki's brilliant masterpiece Rurouni Kenshin. I adored the manga,and let's just say I was very unhappy when it finally reached the end of its North American release in July, 2006.

Viz, always looking to profit, announced it had the rights to distribute an English version of Watsuki-sensei's Buso Renkin, and the first volume was released this month.

Now, I had my reservations. I wasn't overlly impressed by the preview that appeared in the final volume of RuRoKen. The dialogue seemed sloppy, and the art seemed to lack the cohesion of the Kenshin series.

Buso Renkin first appears to be very different from Rurouni Kenshin. RuRoKen is a beautifully constructed historical manga set in the Meiji Era with stong undertones of romance, morality, and redemption. It's a very mature series. Buso Renkin is set in modern day, with high school students. It's aim seems to be for a younger audience.

If you're going to read Buso Renkin, you have to leave your disbelief at the front cover. The first volume opens with the "death" of protagonist, Kazuki Muto. This somewhat silly "space cadet" is then pulled into a world of monsters and monster hunters that exists within our own. Sounds typical, yes? Did I mention that the root of these monsters isn't paranormal, but scientific? Rather, as "scientific" as Alchemy ever is in Japanese comics.

Watsuki has jumped on the Alchemy craze that swept through Japanese comics—started by Full Metal Alchemist, no doubt.

This isn't a knock-off comic, though. He's created a personal science that functions well with the story, and helps to create conflict. The villains in the book are humans-turned-monsters, each based on an animal or plant. This leads to varied and interesting character designs.

Not to spoil what happens, but the first book is hardly the slow-paced general introduction that most first volumes are. Watsuki immediately kicks the story into gear, creating a time-limit and sense of urgency for his first arc. This urgency motivates Kazuki and we can already see his character developing.

Kazuki's lovable, light-hearted and a bit of an idiot. He pulls it together for a fight, but Watsuki remains true to the character and has Kazuki get his ass handed back to him a few times. True, he has the standard "will become a great warrior" thing going, but Kazuki's going to have to make that happen.

He's partnered with Tokiko, a "warrior woman" character that Watsuki has always wanted to write. (He's personally referred to her as a female Battousai, and I can see the similarity.) She's cold, vicious, and appears heartless. When appropriate, Watsuki shows her softer side. Tokiko, quite frankly, kicks a lot of ass and manages to look ridiculously cool regardless of the fact that her weapon is called the "Valkyrie Skirt."

Other characters are Kazuki's roommates and his sister, Mahiro. So far their main purpose has been comedic relief, or to act as bait. They're necessary, but they're mostly there to move the story along. The main protagonists are clearly Kazuki and Tokiko. Their interactions are the most dynamic, and I look forward to watching their relationship as "Alchemist Warrior" and "Alchemist Warrior Apprentice" grow and change.

Volume one ends with a conclusion to the first small arc, but doesn't resovle the main conflict that's introduced. This leaves readers hungry for more, while giving them an appropriate place to pause until October (when volume 2 will be released.)

The rough start smooths out to an enjoyable, fast-paced story with an effective threat to the characters that provides a believable motivation. A promising start, and I look forward to seeing where Watsuki takes Kazuki and Tokiko in future volumes.

Rating: A


Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Hey. I write a romance fiction review column and am interested in learning more about manga.

Can you email me at and direct me to someplace with some simple info? Or give it to me yourself?


Michelle Buonfiglio
Romance: B(u)y the Book

c.rooney said...

Certainly Michelle, I'll send you an email.

Thanks for stopping by!