BUSOU RENKIN by Nobuhiro Watsuki
WHAT IS IT?
When Kazuki Mutou is killed by a monster known as a Homunculus, a female warrior known as Tokiko Tsumura resurrects him with an alchemic weapon called a Busou Renkin. Empowered by his new heart, Kazuki joins forces with Tokiko and the Alchemist Army to defeat the Homunculus and confront the depths of his new powers.
WHAT MAKES IT GOOD?
With the failure (again, this isn't really MY opinion on it) of Gun Blaze West was a comic that probably HAD to succeed in order to show that Watsuki was more than a one hit wonder. Rurouni Kenshin has been called a comic that defined an era in Jump and following a series of that magnitude up was surely daunting. To be honest, I felt that Busou Renkin was still missing something after reading the first chapter and since this series featured alchemy as a large plot point it was impossible not to compare it to the wildly successful Full Metal Alchemist. Even after several chapters, I still felt the comic was lacking and was really hoping something would save it.
And then Watsuki introduced Chouno Koshaku, or Papillion Mask.
Kazuki Mutou, who was a typical hero character looking to become stronger in order to protect his friends, now had a villainous rival to play off of, and it wasn't just that Chouno was bad, he was flamboyant and ridiculously over the top as well. And along with his antics, the story found it's new strength: comedy.
With the slight change in tone from a kind of horror-action comic to a comedy-action comic, Busou Renkin became much more enjoyable. With the second story arc we are also introduced to Kazuki's Power Ranger-esque mentor, Captain Bravo, and a new villain called Dr. Butterfly, Papillon's immortal ancestor. We also find Tokiko and Kazuki growing closer and Kazuki finds a darkness within himself that he must struggle with.
One of the reasons Watsuki is my favorite author is because he is very good at writing multi-faceted characters, and Busou Renkin doesn't disappoint here. Though he started out as simply a new version of Yahiko from Kenshin, even Kazuki became his own type of hero in the end. Tokiko works well as a serious heroine we hadn't seen in any of Watsuki's other works before, and she as well had plenty of depth to work with and the progression of her relationship with Kazuki from mentor to comrade to friend to love interest felt natural.
Though some of the later characters didn't feel quite as fleshed out as Kazuki, Tokiko, Papillion and the surprisingly tortured Captain Bravo, they all were memorable in their own way and really helped to build up the core cast.
Among his fans, Watsuki's art is somewhat divisive, with many preferring Watsuki's mid-Kenshin art style to his current, more simplified work. Personally, I have enjoyed his current style since it's introduction in the last story arc of Rurouni Kenshin and think it really works well here.
Watsuki has my favorite page layouts, period. He takes the best of shonen, shojo, and Western layouts and combines them to really make each page clean and easy to follow, and each panel is filled with emotion and impact.
WHERE CAN YOU GET IT?
Busou Renkin is widely available in English, and the whole series is available on Amazon, here. There is an anime adaptation, also available on Amazon, which you can find here.
Though it started somewhat disappointing, Busou Renkin quickly became one of my favorite comics. If you've not read any of Mr. Watsuki's works, you owe it to yourself to give them a try. I'm sure you will enjoy them as I have, and maybe you'll even like Gun Blaze West, too.