Baki the Grappler has proven to be an interesting entry into the fighting anime genre. Inspired by the OVA, the series showcases Baki Hanma's fighting ability and what brought him to the point he was at in the original release from the 90's. With 48 episodes under its belt Baki the Grappler is broken up into two seasons that ran between January 2001 and December 2001. FUNimation has recently released a collection with the first six volumes which presents the first 24 episodes back to back.
Fueled by hatred and goaded by his mother Baki spent his youth training with the simple goal in mind of becoming the world's strongest fighter. Standing in his way is a bevy of other warriors and more importantly his father, who is considered to be the world's most fearsome person. It was this first season that caught my attention the most. Sure the pay off in the end for Baki fans is seeing the tournament but I found the development of his character more riveting than anything else.
Baki starts out as a thirteen year old boy who also happens to be built like a brick house and can fight like nobody's business. In fact one of the first impressions we get of Baki is watching his tenacity as he takes on about a hundred guys in a street fight. It's no small task but he handles them well enough to get a decent workout in. His training persists even further as he retreats into the mountains to work with a giant and battle the mythical Yasha Ape.
At this point in the first volume we see early on the quality of Baki's character. He's not just a muscle bound moron who wants to crack skulls all day. He has respect for life and holds his opponent's in the highest regard. This is a theme that stays true throughout the show which is a nice character trait and keeps his personality well grounded. Along the way this characteristic also nets him a bevy of friends who stick by his side and respect him for the person he is.
Some of the more interesting opponents you'll see Baki square off against are the towering Hanamaya, a group of militant commandoes, and a world class boxer. These guys stick with Baki throughout the show and pop in and out when the time is right. Several new characters are introduced in the latter part of the series but this first season keeps things relatively simple.
Throughout all of this Baki continues to train and get better as a fighter. After a while it does get kind of monotonous but I suppose this is what Baki the Grappler is all about; the fighting. Still, watching these six volumes back to back you can't help but pinpoint a few more relationships that are featured in the show. Take Baki's relationship with his mother for instance.
The two seem to be constantly at odds for the bulk of these episodes. It's clear that his mother loves him but part of it is also clear that she sees in her son a little bit of her monstrous husband, Yujiro. At one point in the show she even kisses her son full on the mouth which causes an awkward moment to be sure. Her character does turn around nicely towards the end of this season. I won't divulge what happens to her in order to keep spoilers at of this review but let's just say that it's enough to send Baki on a tirade.
Baki's relationship with his father is another interesting facet that the series brings to the table. It's amazing just how much Baki hates his dad and it's taken to the degree of homicidal intent. Yujiro, however, couldn't be bothered with Baki and merely looks at him as a pile of wasted potential. It was his wife's intent to train Baki to be a worthy opponent for Yujiro but according to him, her efforts have been for naught.
Again I'll try to keep the spoilers at a minimum but towards the end of the collection the gears start shifting towards the second season. That is the pay off that fans of the OVA probably came to the series for. With an underground fighting tournament and a significantly older Baki stepping into the ring things are much more intense. It's a nice way to end the collection and definitely leaves you wanting more if you haven't seen anything from volume seven and beyond.
Previously I had watched these episodes weeks apart as the volumes slowly trickled out to store shelves. The impression I got from watching the series like that was mixed with many ups and downs in terms of quality. My experience seeing them back to back was noticeably different. The pacing felt like it had more fluidity which kept disappointing climaxes at a minimum. It didn't entirely change my opinions on the show but overall I'd have to say that this collection is recommended if you were holding off on buying the individual volumes.
Baki the Grappler is presented with a 1.85:1 non anamorphic widescreen transfer, which is what it originally aired with in 2001. Throughout each of these six volumes the quality is virtually identical with no installment standout out above the others in any particular way. Well, I suppose I shouldn't say that because there are some episodes and story arcs that feature some different animation and art styles as if they were produced by separate animation houses.
As far as the image quality is concerned there are a few flaws to be found throughout this collection. There is noticeable grain and even some compression artifacts here and there. Aliasing also pops up now and again but is kept to a minimum for the most part. Still, there is a great use of colors and contrast in the show. Fight scenes in particular come across brilliantly with kinetic action shots and nice direction. This is a good looking show from start to finish and as long as you can get buy the overly muscular characters you'll most likely be pleased.
Again, each of these volumes receives identical treatment in terms of the audio presentation. There are three separate tracks to choose from as you've probably come to expect. English 5.1 takes the top billing with English 2.0 and Japanese 2.0 filling up the rear.
The English 5.1 offers some nice use of the rear channels with lots of sound effects chiming in during fight scenes. Some dialogue gets played there as well with music being distributed appropriately. It's not the most immersive soundtrack that I have ever heard but there is enough diversity to please the sense. The 2.0 tracks obviously offer the lesser experience with only two channels to play with. Overall the quality of the dubbing tracks for both languages are very good though so whichever you prefer you really can't go wrong.
Baki the Grappler was one of those shows that was a joy to watch partly because of the bonus content that was included with it. Granted there aren't a lot of features to take a look at but what's here is above the average mold by anime standards.
The first volume includes a description of Muay Thai Boxing that goes into detail about the fighting style and some of the rules of combat. Apart from that each volume also features some trailers, production stills, textless songs, and character profiles. The most impressive inclusion on each of these volumes is a commentary with a voice actor and director sitting down to watch the episodes. Each of these proved to be hilarious and definitely worth watching for a laugh. Sure they weren't high on information but the fact that they were so enjoyable was enough for me to be entertained.
On the fifth volume of Baki the Grappler there Baki the Grappler is a nice entry into the fighting anime genre. The characters have enough depth to be interesting and the show has a driven purpose with Baki's quest to destroy his father. The six volumes here offer varying degrees of quality but as a whole this is a strong collection of 24 episodes from the show. The first season was arguably better in my opinion but I haven't seen the completion of the second yet so I suppose I should reserve that judgment until I do.
If you're looking for a hard punching show to get into and want to see something with interesting characters Baki the Grappler should definitely be on your anime radar. Fighting fans owe it to themselves to check this one out. Recommended