Anyone that has been a fan of anime for a while may recognize the name Baki as an OVA 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, gouged eyes, and bloody noses then you're literally going to be in testosterone heaven. A lot of fighting shows showcase the muscles and bravado of their warriors, but Baki The Grappler takes it to a whole other level. You can't get through a single episode without seeing some dude in a thong or flashing bulging muscles this way and that.
The show's premise is simple; make Baki Hanma fight…a lot. When the show began Baki was the tender age of thirteen but instead of going out to play baseball or ride a bike he was busy cracking skulls open. You see, Baki is the son of the world's strongest (and deadliest) man Yujiro, who goes by the nickname Ogre. All young Baki ever wanted to do in life was beat his father, but along the way through the series things haven't exactly gone as planned.
Despite Baki's best efforts he again and again is bested by his father at every turn. No matter how much training he completes not how many foes he knocks down; he still can't land a finger on daddy. Around the halfway point the show shifted its focus a little bit and catapulted the pubescent lad into adulthood. For five years Baki basically went off the radar for training and conditioning. When he came back his skills had improved and he is ready to make a name for himself in an underground fighting tournament. This was the stuff that original Baki fans were waiting for.
Unfortunately, even though the tournament has proven to be interesting, the series felt like it lost some perspective. Most of the screen time has been eaten up by the other combatants and in some episodes Baki only appears for a couple of minutes. Because of this we lose sight of the character and the exploits of his personal life (not that he really has one outside of fighting). In the interim though Yujiro has forced his way into the competition and has made things interesting as he makes strategic plays to scare his opponents and taunt Baki.
In the last volume more fighters stepped into the ring to get their asses beat but a few rose above and ascended to the next level; including Baki. Things left off with Baki's buddy Hanayama going head to head against Doppo's son. That's exactly where things pick in up the ninth volume for the show. The entire first episode here is dedicated to that battle, though the flow of it goes the same as every other fight. One person comes out of the gate running and pulls ahead but then the opponent has his chance; rinse, wash, repeat. The second and third episode's work out pretty much the same way
The fourth episode on this disc features a battle between Yujiro's crony and Doppo. The fight is a little more intense than any of the other ones up to this point, but it's the ending of the episode that really gets the blood pumping. Let's just say that the next volume is going to be something to look forward to if you want to see Yujiro in a battle royale with the fighters of this contest.
Baki the Grappler continues moving forward but it's not at the brisk pace that it once was. In my opinion the show has been focusing too much on the second tier characters and not paying enough attention to the ones that really matter. The coming volumes should prove to be more refined now that the tournament body count is dwindling but we won't know until we see those episodes. As it stands this volume is on par with the previous ones in the older Baki timeline.
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 "Measure of a Man" 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 fighting continues as the series begins its jog towards the finale. Three volumes (or rounds) remain so there's a lot of ground to cover still. Three of the four episodes here are entertaining in the sense that they offer a lot of fighting, but as far as story development is concerned there's basically nothing here. Fortunately the tournament part is at the cream of the crop so things should start getting more interesting. If you've been watching the show to this point then you already know whether or not you're going to buy this volume. Otherwise check out the first one to see if it's your kind of series.