Anyone that has been a fan of anime for a while may recognize the name Baki as an OAV that came out in the 90's as well as a 40+ volume manga. If you're the type of viewer that can't get enough flying fists, cracked ribs, kicked crotches and bloody noses then you're literally going to be in testosterone muscle bound heaven. A lot of fighting shows showcase the muscles and such of their warriors, but Baki The Grappler takes it one step further. You can't get through a single episode without seeing some dude in a thong or flashing mutant-like muscles this way and that.
Ever since he was a kid, Baki Hanma aspired to be as strong, if not stronger than his father and now finds he is beefier than a baseball player on steroids. The kid knows how to fight too, but he keeps getting involved in battles where the odds are stacked against him to test his abilities. After a ton of battles and a few rounds of head butting with his father Baki is all grown up now. The only problem is that it seems he'll never be as strong as daddy because his father is considered to be the strongest most fearsome man on the planet. In fact he's more than a man, he's an ogre.
Throughout the series we have seen Baki literally grow up. He started out as a thirteen year old but is now eighteen and ready to kick some butt in an underground fighting tournament. Think the classic American kung fu movie Bloodsport and you're on the right track. Baki doesn't actually just become a member; he becomes the freaking champion in no time flat. His fighting style and family heritage have given him an unlimited supply of opponents to practice against as warriors climb out of the woodwork to take a swipe at the kid. Sadly he doesn't get to hold his title for long since much stronger opponents step in and share his spotlight.
In the last volume the Yasha Ape's kid got beaten around by Doppo's son and Baki took on a wrester of gigantic proportions. The arena saw some more fighting and at the end Yujiro showed up to take a seat next to the chairman. Oh, and in the thick of it all Baki's "girlfriend" was introduced to the underground tournament. This time around things pick up some point later when the Canadian pit fighter known as Jack Hammer absolutely demolishes some Brazilian guy. Baki looks on in horror and for some strange reason finds himself trembling with fear.
Hammer peaks Yujiro's interest enough to introduce an old buddy of his to the arena. Amanai is a freak who fights with "love" as his power. I don't mean that he uses hearts and flowers to win his matches; instead he gives his opponents what they want as a technique. He possesses the nigh-mystical ability to seemingly hover in air and literally beat his opponent into the ground. Several more warriors are introduced and familiar faces are shown again.
Doppo takes on some American guy in a tuxedo who is a fulltime bouncer for a club in Chicago. In another match the cord-cutting guy that Baki faced tackles his feminine looking older brother. After that Baki goes against some random fighter before the sumo wrestler and Igari go at it. Even more fighting awaits you as Toba enters the ring and has his injured knee used against him. That's pretty much where the volume ends and to be frank there's nothing that compelling in this volume.
I've enjoyed the show up to this point and fans of the series will definitely want to check out the eighth volume. I guess at this point in the game winning over a new audience with this installment is something that's just not going to happen, but I felt kind of let down here. The attention shifts off of Baki for the bulk of the action here and centers on a bunch of characters that I didn't really care about. It's a shame that happened with these episodes considering how far along the series is. The tension felt between Baki and Yujiro is all but gone at this point. Hopefully things will pick back up again in the ninth volume.
Baki the Grappler is presented with a 1.85:1 non anamorphic widescreen transfer, which is what it originally produced with in 2001. While the presentation is very clean at times, there is some noticeable grain, artifacts, aliasing and jittery animations. Overall this is a great looking show with a lot of bright colors and action. I've pointed it out before but the art direction is drastically different now than it was earlier in the show. Character's faces contort in ways that are non-human though the fighting animation just keeps getting better and better.
There are three separate tracks to choose from, each with optional English subtitles. There are Japanese and English 2.0 stereo tracks as well as an English 5.1. The two stereo tracks are competent enough, but ideally you'll be using the 5.1 option even though it would have been nice for a Japanese 5.1 selection. The English dubbing is pretty good for the most part, even though there are a few performances that could have been better. The directional sound is used very effectively, especially with all of the action going on during the show.
More of the same is included on this volume of Baki the Grappler. Trailers, profiles, stills, and textless songs all find their place in the extras portion of the disc. A commentary is included for "User" which is the first episode on this DVD. I've always got a kick out of the commentaries for Baki because it just sounds like everyone working on the show genuinely had a good time.
The tournament continues in a major way and during it all Baki gets kind of pushed aside for the other warriors. I get that he's still the champion of the arena and the whole point of these episodes were to showcase the other competitors, but it's kind of boring seeing him off on the sidelines. Hopefully the next volume will change all of that and I can't wait for the final confrontation between father and son. Until then though this installment was kind of a let down compared to the past few but still provided plenty of action.
Check out more of my reviews here. Head on over to my anime blog as well for random musings and reviews of anime, manga, and stuff from Japan!