Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Nov 3rd 2008
DVD - Set 2
In the hopeless death-match with the newly-resurrected Victor, Kazuki's Buso Renkin is crushed. Rather than kill him, the experience unleashes in Kazuki the power of the black kakugane, a mysterious object similar to that buried in Victor's chest. Imbued with powers and cool glowey hair like Victor's, Kazuki manages to save his classmates, but only at the cost of his own humanity. The Alchemist Army, wary of Kazuki's potential as an alchemical natural disaster, decides to “re-exterminate” him. They hurl the might of their organization at him, forcing Kazuki to defend himself against an onslaught of Alchemical Warriors, including his mentor Captain Bravo, while attempting to cure his Victorization. With help from some unusual allies, he discovers a solution to his plight, but the cure may be more devastating than the disease.
Call it Buso Renkin Part 2: The Return of Captain Bravo. Or perhaps Buso Renkin Part 2: The Return of Tokiko Tsumura, or even Papillon Strikes Back. Anything but The Return of Kazuki Muto. Buso Renkin fails exactly where original creator Nobuhiro Watsuki's Rurouni Kenshin excelled: its lead. Kazuki is utterly incapable of supporting the stories built around him. Perhaps it's unfair to compare him to Kenshin Himura, one of the most beloved creations in Shonen Jump history, but it's impossible not to. Especially when there are characters like fierce, flawed Tokiko and the deeply principled and deeply odd Captain Bravo to remind one of the characterization skills that are for some inexplicable reason not being applied to Kazuki. It's hard to remember the last time that a supporting cast has so clearly outclassed its main character.
It may not seem so, but zeroing in on Kazuki's vanilla plainness is actually a kind of back-handed compliment. The first half was riddled with so many series-destroying issues that there wasn't time to allocate special attention to the merely uninteresting lead. There were more important flaws to fry, like the boring, pointless fights, a lazy plot composed entirely of rushed battles and even more rushed emotional interludes, and a crippling deficiency in the crucial coolness factor. But after its big mid-way twist Buso Renkin improves considerably, putting Kazuki's obnoxious friends on the back burner and pulling something rather interesting from the first half's checklist of shounen clichés. It isn't a new twist, of course, but it is a good one, one that flips Kazuki's allegiances, making enemies of his allies and allies of his enemies, creating opportunities for crushing decisions, deepening the romantic undercurrents and setting the climax up for a big Kenshin-worthy tragedy.
The series isn't any less dependent on clichés or any more evenly paced, but the bad clichés have been swapped for good ones, and the reason for the action-nullifying narrative rush becomes clear when the series slows down to focus hard on the decisions forced upon Kazuki and their consequences. Director Takao Kato and the animators at Xebec still haven't grasped the fine art of shonen cool, moving too swiftly through images that should burn themselves into the eye and spoiling others with inconsistent body proportions and unimpressive animation. Nevertheless, the establishment of a consistent story arc and shift to more emotionally intense subject matter gives the fights substance, providing suspense, if not jaw-dropping action.
But no matter how the series has improved, one must still come back to Kazuki. The big finale has to depend wholly on Tokiko for its emotional power, and comes across forced and cheesy whenever it asks viewers to feel for bland Kazuki. His relationship with Tokiko, while refreshingly frank, is inexplicable (what does she see in him?), and battles featuring supporting characters are nearly always more interesting than those that hinge on Kazuki. Everything Kazuki touches loses energy and conviction. There's an episode towards the end titled "No One Could Ever Take His Place." That's a lie. Anyone could take his place, and the series would be better for it.
It isn't all Kazuki's fault, of course. Kato depends heavily on music for pathos, which means that Kouhei Tanaka's professional but sometimes sadly uninspired score is at least partially responsible. The embarrassingly clichéd slinky sax during some of Kazuki and Tokiko's romantic scenes pulls viewers straight out of the story to smirk from above with knowing cynicism, while the piano support for the inwardly-focused final episodes is clumsy and obvious, if pretty. Even the action music is forgettable (though far from bad). The sole musical highlight each episode is the addictive opening rocker by JAM Project guitarist Yoshiki Fukuyama.
There's a lot of emoting for the English cast to deal with, and the hints in the first half that they're better suited to comedy than drama prove predictive here in the second half. That Kazuki will fail to inspire much sympathy is a given, but Tokiko and Bravo's lapses in intensity are a genuine disappointment. Not that either Tara Platt or Patrick Seitz give poor performances. Both are quite good; it's just that merely good isn't enough to convincingly channel emotions that are ridiculously exaggerated and often ill-supported. That takes superlative work, such as that of the veteran Japanese cast. When not weeping, gnashing teeth or yelling, the English cast does a generally excellent job of delivering easy, natural dialogue, only occasionally tripping over the clumsy phrasing. However, perhaps their most astounding achievement is their ability to deliver lines like “say it isn't so Bravo” without busting up laughing.
This set's on-disc extra is a fairly lengthy, informative behind-the-scenes feature, the structure and tone of which will be familiar to those who have been following Viz's various Shonen Jump properties on DVD. The set's booklet includes a relationship chart, definitions of key terms, introductions to each of the characters and their Buso Renkin, and also some weirdly autobiographical comments by Kato, who was apparently a flop with the girls in high school. Though it isn't my policy to grump about what isn't included in the extras, that there is no translation provided for the text in the final episode's pseudo-manga ending really irks me.
It's something of a letdown that the gently parodic edge established in the first half is largely abandoned here in favor of straight-up shounen drama. But if the hilariously hideous Papillon fan-service that rudely disrupts the obligatory beach episode feels lonely in the midst of all those stabs at big emotion, the stabs hit home often enough to make the loneliness bearable.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : C+
Music : C+
+ A unified story arc that pushes the series straight to a big, angst-ridden climax; (comparatively) strong supporting cast.
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