Andrew Osmond dons his posing pouch to weigh the pros and cons
One advantage of Blue Exorcist
over some other supernatural/fight anime is that it doesn’t run for hundreds of episodes. Instead, it accommodates plenty of twists and transformations in just 26 parts (including one video). The same is true of Buso Renkin,
an older show in a similar vein, available from Manga Entertainment in a single box set. Its spectacle is less lavish than Exorcist
, but it covers plenty of ground in the same running time, and has lots of fun on the way. Its creator
is Nobuhiro Watsuki, who wrote the source Buso Renkin
manga for Weekly Shonen Jump
, when he wasn’t writing the acclaimed Rurouni Kenshin
samurai saga. Both Buso Renkin
and Blue Exorcist
are based on lengthy manga strips (Blue Exorcist
is still running), available in English translation from VIZ Media.
Even more than Blue Exorcist, Buso Renkin
has what seasoned fans will recognise as a textbook “shonen” series set-up. The fun comes from what the show does within it. Meet Kazuki, an average schoolboy who remembers a strange dream in which he died messily, trying to save a girl from a demonic monster. By the end of part one, he’s learned it was no dream; both the monster and his death were real. The girl, Tokiko, restored him to life with an alchemical device. Perhaps reflecting the popularity of a certain other franchise of the time (think “full” and “metal”), alchemy plays an important part in the show, while Buso Renkin
’s monsters are called “homunculi.”
Kazuki’s second life comes with a useful bonus, the Buso Renkin, an oversized blade shaped from his spirit which lets him fight the homunculi. Tokiko wields a mean Buso Renkin herself, a multi-bladed device strapped to her legs. It has shades of Spider-Man’
s Doc Ock, not to mention the “Strike Units” used by the anime Strike Witches
. But despite her sailor suit uniform, Tokiko’s no cutie-pie. She’s a badass girl warrior along the lines of Saya in Blood,
a demon-killing pro with the catchphrase, “Splatter your guts!” Her closest equivalent in Blue Exorcist
is the memorable Shura, but Shura was only introduced halfway through the story, on the side of the grown-ups. In both Buso Renkin
and Blue Exorcist
, adults make untrustworthy allies.
Later in Buso Renkin
, Tokiko tries to keep Kazuki at a distance, urging him to live a mundane life. But Kazuki won’t listen, especially when he discovers the homunculi are using Japanese schools as their larders. Midway through the series, a full-on demon invasion of the school brings the recent Blood-C
series to mind, though Buso Renkin’
s outcome is happier.
Whereas the action in Blue Exorcist
peaked and subsided more than once during the series, Buso Renkin
is split more into two halves. The first episodes stress the gaudy, goofball comedy, most obviously in the adversaries faced by Kazuki and Tokiko. The favourite for many viewers is the butterfly-loving Papillon, an outrageously camp villain with a superhero’s story arc. He undergoes several physical and costume changes (posing pouches ahoy!), but his “mundane” backstory will resonate with many viewers; he could have been the show’s hero.
In the English dub, Papillon is voiced by Spike Spencer – an interesting flipside to the actor’s well-known work as Eva’
s Shinji! But Papillon’s not the only memorable adversary in the show. Another favourite is the daffy, crescent-headed “Moo-oon!,” who brings a Tim Burton-ish touch to proceedings.
’s second half is markedly more dramatic than the first. Kazuki and Tokiko are forced to go on the run from former allies; at the same time, they’re a bit sidelined, sharing screen time with a more crowded cast of fighters. There are fewer oddball baddies, more big bangs and musclebound giants. Older fans may think of Devilman
or Fist of the North Star,
but remade for a 12-rated sensibility. Later the big robots and battleships pour in...
The shifting tone and a sometimes unrelenting succession of battles may turn off some viewers. However, the momentum is well-sustained, the fights are spectacular and vivid (though mostly bloodless), and the values of love, loyalty and plain friendship are upheld to the end. Viewers who’ve sworn off “I will
fight harder!” epics are unlikely to be converted, but this is a genre show punching above its weight, and it’s hard not to watch the ending without a grin on your face.
and Blue Exorcist
are separated most obviously by their visuals. Buso Renkin
has a cheerfully retro air (check out the ludicrous hairdo on one of Kazuki’s supposedly ‘normal’ male classmates), while Blue Exorcist
looks far more splendid. The latter show was made by A-1 Pictures and feels like a showpiece series to impress clients, on the back of the studio’s similarly lavish Welcome to the Space Show. Buso Renkin
is cheaper and plainer, though it can work up an epic-feeling spectacle to reward viewers who make it to the end. Interestingly, it was made by the Xebec studio, a Production I.G subsidiary, which has worked on umpteen
anime titles, but rarely as the main studio.
Blue Exorcist, the Definitive Edition part two, is out now on UK Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment.