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. And yes, luckily it's the muscles that are bulging and not something else.
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 feels 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 volume nine more people that we didn't really care about got the crap kicked out of them. There really is no other way to put it. The real treat of the volume came right at the very end when Yujiro jumped into the middle of the arena and called out the nine winners to this point to show us all what a fight really is. It was the losers that stepped up to the challenge instead so you can imagine how insulting the Ogre found that to be. That's right where the tenth volume kicks things off and the anticipation is very much satisfied.
To say that Yujiro mops the floor with the losers would be a gross understatement. They don't even lay a finger on him; that's how pathetic it is. When it's down to the redheaded lady man his brother the cord cutting guy steps in along with the rest of the winners. This naturally entices Yujiro and just as he's distracted a group of men in the audience pull out guns and shoot the Ogre with rhino tranquilizers. The surprise attack leaves him stunned and susceptible to capture. Ironically, as it turns out it was almost entirely Baki's idea because he knew his father wouldn't just sit back and leave well enough alone. Who knew he had it in him!
After that there are a few more fights to go through. Cord cutting guy takes on the old master and loses. Baki also gets into the ring with a pro-wrestler and after getting his ass beat he wins; naturally. The series isn't called Baki the Grappler for nothing! Once that one is squared away some more battles take place between the sub characters. Nothing too crucial to the plot happens by the end of this volume so once again we're left feeling somewhat detached from Baki and his plight.
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. After the Yujiro fight and Baki's round there is literally nothing that happens here apart from more weeding out of the secondary characters.
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.
No commentaries this time around. Instead there are some still pictures, character profiles, textless songs and trailers for other FUNimation products.
With only a couple of volumes left it looks like Baki the Grappler may have finally weeded out the middle man (men?) that has made this series drag. I don't know what it is but once the tournament started and Baki was shoved to the sidelines I felt myself disconnected from the series. Every once in a while when he steps into the ring of Yujiro rears his ugly head I get drawn to the edge of my seat but those moments are few and far between. Still, if you've already invested your time to get to this point then there's probably no stopping you until the final volume comes out. If you're looking to get into the show you'll want to start at the beginning and keep in mind that there's plenty of fluff in store for you at this point.