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 and bloody noses then you're going to be in male muscle bound heaven. Seriously, there are more shirtless guys walking around in this show than you can (or would want to) shake a stick at.
Even though he's only 13 years old, Baki Hanma aspires to be as strong, if not stronger than his father and is more beefy 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. In the last volume we saw Baki go into training and square off against a mysterious ape-like creature that pushed his skills to the limit. This time around Baki has completed that phase of training and heads back home with more confidence than he ever had before.
Before he gets to go one on one with the monstrous fifteen year old Kaoru Hanayama he watches Yuri do a little bit of boxing. This volume really fleshes out Yuri's character and creates a bond between the two warriors. Unfortunately for the boxer he finds himself face to face in an ambush by Hanayama and winds up becoming a victim of his arm busting technique. Since it looks like his fighting days are over, it's time for Baki to tackle the muscle bound freak of nature.
One thing that the second volume of the show does better than the first is it creates an air of anticipation for the fight. Without all of that training and development stuff to go through that we saw on the first disc, the show is much freer to do what it does best. Things come to a climax in a festival of sweat, blood and broken bones that rivals the stuff that happened on the first release. With all of the hoopla going on between Hanayama and Baki, could the red head's father be all that far behind?
Despite its lack of purpose and reason so far, Baki the Grappler does have a lot of humor going for it. The kid has a lot of great one-liners and spouts out some funny stuff to break the monotony of watching fight after fight. A lot of the "charm" from the show comes from Baki's cockiness, which seems to get him in more trouble than its worth. The show has a decent cast of support characters that definitely help things out when Baki's character doesn't cut the mustard.
One look at Baki the Grappler should tell you that the artist direction is a style all it's own with chubby faced characters and flexing muscles. Even though the show has an interesting art style, the battles here are mostly still frame and there are some shortcuts in the animation process. I think it's safe to say that this technique in animation is used only slightly less in this grouping of episodes than it was in the first.
Baki the Grappler is presented with a 1.85:1 non anamorphic widescreen transfer, which is what it originally aired with in 2001. While the presentation is very clean at times there is some noticeable grain, aliasing and jittery animations although the image looks slightly better in the second volume. There is a great use of colors and lighting with little saturation and even though most of the fighting animations are still, there are some nice effects to go along with them.
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.
On the second volume of Baki the Grappler there are a few extras that are worth mentioning. Aside from some trailers, production stills and textless songs, there are some character profiles to peruse. Also included is a little trivia type game where you are presented with some questions and quotes to see if you have what it takes to be Baki. This volume also includes another commentary that provides a lot of laughs but not much in depth look at the show or the production. It's a funny watch but not all that informative if that's what you are looking for.
I was a little skeptical about the series when I finished watching the first volume. Thankfully the characters have been fleshed out with the episodes on the second disc and the show seems to be headed in the right direction. The character development is much more interesting here and the action has been kicked up a notch. Those of you that may not be into fighting and violent anime will want to steer clear of Baki the Grappler, but if bloody beatings are your idea of a good time then it's time to saddle up! Recommended