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 male muscle bound heaven. There are more shirtless blokes 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 Baki geared up for some training so he'd have a chance of lasting in his upcoming fight with his father. We got to see how much of a bastard Yujiro is and Baki took on a superhuman warrior named Gaia. Everything was coming together by the end of episode twelve as father and son headed towards a climactic showdown. I was on the edge of my seat and couldn't wait to get my hands on the fourth volume.
There are only twelve hours left before the confrontation so each warrior continues to train in their own way. Baki calls in some of his friends to help and squares off against Yuri and Hanayama-san, while his father meets up with Gaia and shows him what-for. Finally the two fighters square off, but the battle doesn't last very long since Baki is still really no match for his dad. His mother's change of heart emboldens his ambition though and Baki leaves Japan to train for a couple of years. Talk about persistent!
Strangely enough though, the next episode (# 15 "Reflections") is nothing but a recollection of what's happened to Baki to date. I suppose during broadcast it could have been important to remind viewers of prior events, but it really felt out of place. Honestly though, I don't know who could have forgotten who everybody was and what they meant to Baki, not to mention what happens between father and son, and son and mother. Fortunately we get to see Baki again by the last episode on the volume, though he's a little bit older. He made his way to Brazil to learn from the best and while there heard about the "Holy Land of Fighting" back in Tokyo. Needless to say he makes his way back to Japan post-haste.
This volume takes a much more serious tone than previous ones as Baki's ambition turns into rage and a sense of loss. The first half of the series was more like training for a more immature Baki but with the confrontation between him and Yujiro ending up the way that it did, the series seems to have changed gears a bit. It's definitely going to be interesting to see what happens with the Holy Land of Fighting in the next volume and we'll see if it really pays off for the lad.
If you've been watching the show up to this point, then you've probably grown accustomed to the interesting art style that is used. The characters are all pudgy, but it's a muscular kind of fat with biceps, triceps, and whatever-you-call-them-ceps, bulging, twitching, and popping all over the place. This is a manly show, for manly people. Ok, not really, but there sure is a lot of testosterone flying around. I still don't really want to stare at some buff guy in a thong, but considering the show is a lot of fun, you have to take the good with the bad, I suppose.
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. 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. Overall this is a great looking show with a lot of bright colors and action, but it's kind of an acquired taste with all of the beefy guys walking around.
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 fourth 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. The previous three installments included commentaries, so why not the fourth? It's for the episode "Lullaby" and features the director of the English localization and also the actor for Baki's mother (Wendy Powell). Yet again the commentary proves to be more humorous than serious and it can get downright silly at times, but it's good for a laugh and there are some interesting perspectives about some events.
Up to this point the show has been more of the same, but after the reflection episode the series seems to have changed gears a little bit. It's going to see what happens to Baki in the Holy Land of Fighting and if it really helps him grow enough to be able to exact revenge on his father. The show provides plenty of character development, though now it seems to be reverting back to more training and such. The show is a lot of fun and definitely worth checking out if you enjoy fighting anime. Recommended