May Contain Spoilers
From Watsuki Nobuhiro, creator of Rurouni Kenshin, we have Busou Renkin. I first noticed this series while browsing through the download website I now use regularly, rather than p2p. The description was intriguing; the plot sounded like a cross between Full Metal Alchemist and Bleach. The title in fact is translated to be “Arms Alchemy” or “Armored Alchemist.”
As with Bleach, the protagonist, Kazuki Muto, starts out as a normal high school boy who likes hanging out with his friends and getting into mischief. That is, until he dreams about running into a girl at an old, haunted factory near the school. In the dream he dies, trying to protect her. He meets her later, and learns that she is Tokiko Tsumura, an Alchemic Warrior fighting against homunculi using her Busou Renkin (Arms Alchemy). He also learns that he really did die, and was brought back to life after Tokiko replaced his heart with kakugane, a disc that produces Busou Renkin, a weapon that takes on a form in accordance to the user's fighting spirit. After he and his sister are attacked by an animal-type homunculus disguised as a teacher,
Kazuki follows Tokiko fighting various animal- and plant-type homunculi until they discover Koshaku Chouno, a genius student, who has become deathly ill and is now seeking to become a human type homunculus. He eventually gets his wish and becomes Papillon, who's not just a superbeing, but a hentai too!
Kazuki manages to defeat Papillon in battle, forcing the homunculus to return to his laboratory where he meets up with his ancestor, Dr. Butterfly,
who, along with the League of eXtrordinary Elects, is trying to resurrect the most powerful Alchemic Warrior of all time, a traitorous monster known as Victor. We also learn of the Hayasaka twins, who volunteered to be henchmen for the LXE in order to become homunculi. Kazuki has allies of his own, especially in the form of Captain Bravo,
who goes on to train Kazuki in Alchemic Arms combat.
Now the real meat of the series begins as Victor awakens over Kazuki's school, draining the students of their energy and bringing the boy's friends and sister close to death. Forcing himself to ignore the plight of his friends, Kazuki rushes at Victor, who promptly defeats him. Our hero isn't down yet, though. It turns out the kakugane Kazuki uses to form his Busou Renkin is far from ordinary. In the search to create the Philosopher's Stone, the Alchemic Warriors created what's known as Black Kakugane, an unstable form of the kakugane that has transformed Victor into a monster. Kazuki has the third of the three Black Kakugane in his chest, and thus he has the ability to “victorize” himself,
making him as powerful as Victor, but also just as insane and deadly to his friends.
After Victor flees, and everything seems to return to normal, including Kazuki, a trip to the beach with his friends turns tragic, as he becomes hunted by the Alchemic Warriors he once trusted. Of course they can't let another “Victor” go running around, draining the world of energy. We learn that soon Kazuki will permanently become victorized. However after Bravo fails to complete his mission and then turns on the other Alchemic Warriors, General Shosei Sakaguchi steps in and calls a halt to the execution order. That is, provided Kazuki, Tokiko, and new “love rival” Gouta can find information at the Newton Apple Girls Academy about the Black Kakugane.
Our love triangle then heads to the academy and finds Victor's daughter Victoria, now a homunculus, and wife Alexandria, now a room of cloned brains, have developed a White Kakugane from the second of the three Black Kakugane in order to reverse the victorization process. During the final fight with Victor, the White Kakugane fails to fully restore Victor to human form after he's reached an unprecedented third stage of victorization. Kazuki is forced to blast both himself and Victor to the Moon, where the battle continues. Tokiko and everyone else stews over their loss until our heroine decides to go take out Papillon once and for all, something Kazuki didn't have time to do. After fighting various cloned homunculi, Tokiko reaches Papillon, who is sitting in front of a large bomb-like container. She stabs Papillon and the container smashes open to reveal that he has full filled his own promise to Kazuki and made a White Kakugane. Shosei gets the bright idea to modify his Renkin, a giant robot called Busta Baron, into a rocket ship. Our team blasts off to recover Kazuki, who winds up bringing Victor back to Earth with him. Kazuki returns to normal after placing the white Kakugane in his chest to nullify the Black. Shosei produces another White Kakugane he's made from Papillon's instructions, and with two of these inside him, Victor finally returns to normal. The Alchemic Warriors disable their Renkin and begin to search for a way to turn the homunculi back into humans. Papillon continues his life as neither a homunculus who craves human flesh nor a weakling human, but as a superhero type being. He even gets a fast food toy modeled after him.
As mentioned in the plot synopsis, the first half of the series is quite slow. Filled with small battles that just barely hold the attention of the viewer, annoying minor characters, and comedy that's awkward to say the least, I'd almost recommend skipping over the first six, nine, even twelve episodes. Except for the fact that these episodes are exposition for the rest of the series, so we're pretty much stuck with them. They aren't entirely wasted. We get to see exactly how a homunculus is made, as Tokiko gets infected and nearly becomes one herself.
We also see some character building, although for the most part everyone stays firmly stuck in Shounen cliches for most of the series. Tokiko is the cool headed warrior just like Clare from Claymore, Kazuki is the brash young hero like Ichigo in Bleach. Gouta is more a goofy Naruto type character, eager to please Tokiko and envious of Kazuki's power. And Chouno (Papillon) is the Vegeta/Picollo character, first evil, then aiding his enemy only so he can fight Kazuki later in a duel, and after admitting final defeat, becomes a not-so-reluctant hero figure. Another strange similarity the viewer will notice is that Victor looks eerily like Brolly of DBZ fame.
Adding a bit more to the characters is the love triangle between Tokiko, Kazuki, and Gouta. There are a few moments when I didn't know who Tokiko would end up with, if either of them, which really lent some tension to the story. It also seems in the world of anime that Japan is populated by girls who are overly protective, or even sexually attracted to, their brothers. Kazuki has one such sister, who, along with his school friends,
is determined to be annoying as hell.
The whole semi-sexual attraction between siblings is also uncomfortably portrayed between the Hayasaka twins, who enjoy playing the “marriage game” while their “mother” looks on.
And speaking of “uncomfortable” and “annoying,” it's time I discussed Papillon (or Chouno, as Kazuki calls him). Papillon is in fact the true star of the show. He's a wild card in that you don't really know what he's going to do, or how he will affect the other characters and the plot. His “hentai” qualities are rather embarrassing, as one minute he's prancing around in a leotard:
and the next he's in a thong:
from which he pulls out his famous butterfly mask.
Everything about him makes you cringe, including his goofy since of humor, and the truly bizarre second ending theme, in which he features. He grows on you, though, like an ugly ingrown hair you just have to scratch, and the last half of the series picks up enough to keep you interested. The Renkin take on several interesting forms including a submarine and a series of caves. The opening theme is really kick ass, as I would expect from a Shonen Jump series. Even the comedy improves, what with General Shosei running around laughing and beating up insubordinate subordinates. The manga is only ten tonkoban long, and the anime pretty much concludes at episode 26. This is surprising for a Shonen Jump series, which usually run to at least 100 episodes. All in all, it may not be Rurouni Kenshin, but it's worth a short look.