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Buso Renkin #1
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Written by maehara   
Friday, 04 April 2008 16:00
Buso RenkinViz Media have begun to dip their toes into the UK manga market, and over the next few weeks we'll be taking a look at their new titles. First up if shounen action title Buso Renkin, for which Viz also hold the anime rights - so expect it to show up in the UK if this does remotely well. Kazuki Muto's not letting being dead get in the way of helping valkyrie cutie Tokiko fight demons...

1 - New Life
Kazuki Muto's latest strange dream - of a fight against a monstrous creature, where he'd saved a girl from attack - turns out to not have been a dream after all. Or so the girl who was in his "dream" tells him when she turns up at his school the next day. She's in town to fight against homunculi, demons who can take human form but who live by devouring humans - and it's not long before Kazuki has to face one again, as they don't like to leave witnesses to their actions. This time, Kazuki is killed - but the girl, Tokiko Tsumura, uses the power of alchemy to restore him to life - and grant him the power to kill homunculi himself......

2 - Midnight Run
Tokiko explains to Kazuki that the public perception that alchemy is a myth isn't exactly true. Early experiments into the art had two results: the homunculi they've been fighting, the result of studies into artificial life; and the Buso Renkin, the results of weapons research. The knowledge of both things was sworn to secrecy, but now that Kazuki's become involved he's earned the right to know the truth. Tokiko now has to deal with the remaining homunculi in town - but she'd rather Kazuki played no further part in her fight. When she gets to the homunculi lair, though, she finds she may have bitten off more than she can chew - but fortunately Kazuki's not good at following instructions, and arrives to offer his help...

3 - Homunculus's Identity
Kazuki and Tokiko return to the abandoned factory, where Tokiko's discovered a homunculi lab in the basement. Someone has been using it as a base to create new homunculi, which means there are going to be more of the creatures in town to be defeated - along with whoever has been creating them. They don't have to wait long to meet him, either, as he's been watching them from a distance and soon steps in to deal with the 'problem' they present. They're able to beat off his challenge force him to retreat, but not before Tokiko gets one clue to his identity: he's wearing the uniform of Kazuki's school...

4 - Parasitic Homunculus
Mahiro and Kazuki's friends arrive at the factory - they'd seen the fight from a distance and wanted to find out what was going on. When they see Tokiko, they at first they think that Kazuki's gotten himself a girlfriend, but they're quick to put that notion out of their heads and head back to town. On the way, though, Tokiko notices that Mahiro's carrying a homunculi core in her hair - if that should manage to get into her head, it'll all be over for her, so they need to find a way to destroy it, and quickly - but how? Meanwhile, their new enemy is planning another attack on them...

5 - VS Kawazui (Part I)
Tokiko needs to find the creator of the homunculi core if she's to prevent it reaching her brain. They know he's a student at Kazuki's school, and his uniform markings narrow it down to someone in the 3rd year - but from there, they'll have to work it out themselves, and time is running out. What they don't know is that their target is aware they're searching for him, and has decided to keep himself at a safe distance - but his henchman Kawazui isn't so discreet...

6 - VS Kawazui (Part II)
Kazuki faces off against Kawazui, knowing full well that at the moment his own fighting skills are inferior - Kawazui's transformed form seems powerful, but Kazuki's own determination to protect Tokiko and his friends is impressive. Determination alone won't win battles, though - he needs to fully understand the nature of his Buso Renkin if he's to be effective in battle, but before he gets the chance to figure that out, Kawazui manages to seize it from him...

7 - You're a Little Stronger
Just as he gains the upper hand, Kazuki reaches his limit and simply passes out, giving Kawazui the opportunity to finish the batle. But Kawazui had disobered his master's orders by taking on Kazuki, and soon pays the ultimate price for his disobedience, as another homunculus, Hanabusa, arrives to deliver punishment. Not that she's planning on letting Kazuki escape, though - but Tokiko has figured out that Kazuki's trying to be the hero, and soon arrives to help him out...

Seven bite-sized chapters in this volume, then, although if you're keen you could read the whole volume in around an hour or so. Series creator Nobuhiro Watsuki (also well-known for Rurouni Kenshin) seems to have figured out that there's a time & place for detailed artwork in manga, and saves it for when it's needed, leaving most of his artwork nice & clean and making it easy to see what's going on. As with most US manga these days, the original right-to-left format is retained, and with this book sound effects are translated in-panel. Text is a decent size and easy to read - something that can't be said for all of Viz's titles. In short, on paper it's a decent production.

With the "technical" side out of the way, let's move on to the story. With alchemy featuring heavily, you'd be forgiven for expecting something Fullmetal Alchemist-like, but the alchemy used in this story isn't alchemy in the traditional sense - it's for turning humans into homunculi or creating weapons, and nothing more, so far at least. The Buso Renkin can also be used to keep a human alive, which is a fortunate side effect as far as Kazuki's concerned. Outside the existence of alchemy to arm the good & bad guys, you can pretty much ignore its existence, as the story comes down to a simple good vs evil story.

It's not a bad one, either - nothing deep or meaningful, if Buso Renkin is going to go down that road it's a little bit early to get started on it, but it's perfectly enjoyable in a shallow, flashy kind of way. It's the usual "boy finds problem, boy joins forces with cute girl, boy and cute girl fight against problem" that has been done 1,001 times before - but since I haven't read any of those previous incarnations of the basic idea, this still holds an appeal for me, despite the simplicity of the basic idea.

That simplicity may change over time, though. There are some interesting "liner note" panels included after each chapter in this volume that give the game away that, as this stage of the story at least, Watsuki wasn't entirely clear on what he wanted to do with Buso Renkin, and that's reflected in characters that start off as rather bland an uninteresting. You don't really know anything about Kazuki and Mahiro, while their friends seem to be just there to provide a rent-a-mod whenever that's required. Tokiko gets the best background & personality, and is also the quickest one to develop a real personality - by the end of the book you can see that underneath the hard exterior that comes with being am alchemic warrior, there's a caring side, and that side of her is helping her build a connection and relationship with Kazuki.

Kazuki himself is still two-dimensional. If there are two qualities that the male lead in any fighting series will have, it's that he wants to protect someone (Mahiro in this case, who's enough of a ditz to need protection - she joined her school simply because she thought she'd look cute in the uniform, for starters), and they'll want to get stronger, which is something he spends a lot of fortunately off-page time working on.

Overall, this volume is probably worth taking a look at - manga's cheap enough that buying one volume to test-drive a new title isn't too hard to justify, and there's enough good about Buso Renkin that it works well for newcomers (like me) and probably will hold some appeal to longer-time shounen manga readers. Although I still say that Tokiko's Valkyrie Skirt looks completely impractical. I have Volume Two of this sitting on my shelf - if it's as accessible as this one, they may just have a new fan.

Rating - ***

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