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.
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. In the last volume Baki butted heads with his old man and lost in a big way. Not only did he lose the fight though, but (spoiler ahead in case you haven't seen the fourth volume…..) his dad killed his mother while she was trying to protect him. This left the series in a bit of an odd place. For the entire first half it was gearing up for the confrontation, but with our hero losing it means that the second half is basically getting set up for the same thing.
Baki made his way around the world to search for the best training methods. I really I thought that he already did this, but I digress. He learns about something called "Holy Land of Fighting" back in Tokyo and makes his way into the fighting tournament. Also in case you've missed it or forgot, this fifth volume takes place five years after the events of the last one. This means that while many faces are familiar, the show takes on a different feel and introduces new characters into the fray.
Baki is living with the widow of a former fighter and her daughter. When he's not cleaning up after a night of fighting, he's getting ready for a night of fighting. In doing so he's been able to carve a nice little name for himself as the underground champion. This means that many tough fighters are constantly going after his title so he gets to experience combat in ways that were never possible when he was younger. He squares off against a couple of interesting and well thought out opponents this time around. Of course the biggest climax here is within the last ten seconds of the fourth episode. If you're a fan of the show it will leave you dying for the next batch of episodes.
Another thing the show is doing differently with this new direction is the inclusion of a love interest of sorts. Baki's landlord's daughter has become a friend and tags along wherever he goes when he's not fighting. We see little glimmers of a relationship come forth but it's nothing sappy or overly mushy. Considering that this series is all about blood, guts and fisticuffs having a subplot like this could help alleviate much of the testosterone that pulses through the show.
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 and this new direction for the series isn't very different than the first. Baki may look and act older but he's still as tough looking as ever, though fortunately it seems that he's grown into his bulky body. 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. I also need to point out that even though it's still the same series, the whole five years later thing translates into even crazier action sequences; if that's even possible.
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 fifth 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 four installments included commentaries, so why not the fifth? This time around it's for the 17th episode "Champion" and features director Jeremy Inman and Baki's English voice actor Robert McCollum. I can't get enough of the commentaries for this series. Sure they may not be informative or have much of a point to them, but they are hilarious and entertaining. This time around the two talked about portraying a young Baki and an older one. After finding out that the episodes were dubbed out of order I can only imagine how difficult it was to get the voice just right.
In the last volume we saw the show take a different spin and enter down a new (well, newer) path. The series picks up five years after the confrontation between father and son and with Baki older and his mother pushing up daisies things have changed a little bit. With the Holy Land of Fighting and our lead redhead being the current champion things have gotten interesting and the intensity has been kicked up a notch. The last ten seconds of the final episode on this disc left me on the edge of my seat and dying to see what happens next though I've got a pretty good idea. The show has proven to be a lot of fun up to this point but this is the content that true Baki fans have been waiting for. Recommended