Fighting anime is a genre that gets a lot of grief among otaku. The audience is often split right down the middle between people who absolutely love it and those that pass on it because of weak storytelling and lack of character development. So many shows have been nestled in this genre over the years that it has become as viable as any other out there though. Wading past the ones that aren't worth watching is a difficult task but there are a few out there that are definitely worth a closer look. Baki the Grappler is one of those.
Sure the series is loaded with bulging muscles and men in tight shorts but at its heart Baki the Grappler has been a story about triumph and ambition. Throughout its twelve volume opus the show has taken a lot of pathways and tossed up plot twist after plot twist. What started out as a simplistic tale about a boy who wants nothing more to beat his father has turned into a tale about a man who wants nothing more than to beat his father. Ok, it's a little more complex than that but at the center of Baki the Grappler that's pretty much what you'll see.
Through two seasons and a total of forty-eight episodes we have come to know the titular character Baki. From his humble beginnings as a child living in the shadow of his father Yujiro to his path through adulthood and becoming a world class fighter, the series has come to its final moments.
Like Baki I'm not going to pull any punches. The journey to this point has not been a smooth one. Along the way there were many episodes and story arcs that felt like little more than time savers and ways to stretch out the episode count. As Baki grew older and became involved in the underground tournament several characters were introduced and the focus was taken away from the boy we came to know. This clouded the series and made me loose interest many times over. Though when I actually sat down to go through the episodes from the first season once again I was reminded about the reason that I was watching; to see Baki beat the snot out of his father.
I have followed Baki through the course of ten volumes of the show but was unable to have the opportunity to check out the eleventh volume. Therefore if you have been following the series as well I am afraid that I can't provide you with a recap. The last time I checked up on the show things were looking to be set up nicely for Baki to tango with Yujiro but in between there looked to be a few more final rounds between the top competitors.
Presumably in the previous volume Baki met his brother Jack (who went by an alias in earlier episodes) because at the start of the twelfth volume they are the main event and final match. For three episodes they do nothing but beat the ever loving snot out of each other. The two may never have met before and may have different backgrounds and mothers but their goals are the same; come out on top to take on Yujiro.
In my opinion one of the coolest parts about these episodes was a flashback sequence featuring a moment from Jack's past. Well, technically it was his mother's past because it shows events surrounding a young Yujiro and how his mother came to know the man/monster. It definitely put a perspective on things regarding Yujiro's character and though it's little more than I expected it was a nice touch.
As the fight between brothers rages on both unravel some remarkable talent for causing damage. Jack (previously known in the series as Jack Hammer) maxes out thanks to all of the drugs that he has pumped into his system over the years. This turns him into a Hulk-like nightmare that beats the crap out of Baki. And as far as our hero is concerned he employs masterful mimicking of maneuvers from his previous opponents. We see Baki use the cord-cutting technique, arm breaker, and a multitude of others that have been used on him in prior episodes. It all leads up to the final episode though and while I'm not going to spoil it for the fans out there I'm just going to say that it felt incomplete.
The whole focus of the show and journey for Baki has been brought to this point and the series ends on an incredibly open and anticlimactic note. Considering we'll probably never see a "further adventures of Baki Hanma" series this is very disappointing to say the least. Still, the show was fun and the fight between the brothers Hanma in this volume is reason enough to check it out if you're a Baki fan. As far as my impression of the series as a whole? It has its share of ups and downs though after watching this volume and seeing things end the way they do I have to say that the downs feel most predominant. In its truest form Baki the Grappler is idyllic as an entry in the fighting genre, though not the best that it has to offer.
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. The art direction for the series has changed over the course of its run with this volume being comprised of some particularly interesting visuals (IE: Jack's steady stream of puking). Overall this is a good looking show with a lot of bright colors and action though the content can be questionable at times.
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.
Yet again there are no commentaries this time around. Instead there are some still pictures, textless songs, and trailers for other FUNimation products.
With 48 episodes of Baki the Grappler having been released (ok, so I watched 44 of them) I have mixed feelings about the way the show ended. When the credits began to roll I almost felt like I was in a title match and the ref called it over before my opponent hit the mat. Despite the feelings I have for the ending, looking back over the previous volumes I enjoyed the series for the most part. The beginning of the show (first season) was definitely the best part of the show because things got muddled when the tournament started. Still, fighting fans should keep this one on the back burner when looking for a show to get into. FUNimation has already released the first six volumes as a set for a decent price and the second batch should be along shortly.