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. Last year FUNimation revisited the franchise and sent a boxed set of the first season to store shelves. If you have been patiently waiting for the conclusion then your ship has finally come!
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. After sitting down with the whole series I felt that the first season had the most to offer. Each of the characters gets developed the most during the first six volumes though I'm sure if you're coming to this series you're dying to see the fighting. Thankfully in that regard volumes seven through twelve satisfy nearly completely.
In case you missed the first six volumes for whatever reason let me fill you in on what has transpired to this point. When we are introduced to Baki he's a thirteen year old who also happens to be built like a brick house. Though he's merely a boy he knows more than a thing or two about fighting due to the fact that he has been training incessantly. Due to many circumstances Baki has been conditioned for an inevitable showdown with his father. Through the series it's revealed that Baki's mother promised her husband that she would have their child ready for an earth-shattering battle. It's an interesting dynamic for a relationship when you think about it but that angle isn't entirely explored here.
What we do get with the first leg of Baki's journey is a great glimpse at his journey as he grows from a boy to a man. After he fails to live up to his mother's expectations Baki goes out on his own and seeks out people to help him become a stronger warrior. From a giant kid about his own age to a championship kickboxer there are plenty of people out there who can provide a challenge for our redheaded hero. As he meets new people across the world Baki's personality begins to change and he learns new respect for the various ways of fighting out there. In the end it all proves futile though as he still finds that he is not a suitable match to take down, or even hit, his father.
Prior to the first season ending the series took a leap forward in time and presented a slightly older, more wizened Baki. While we don't really receive a suitable glimpse at what transpired in the off season the show does head down some new pathways. The sense of wonder and discovery is over at this point and Baki's training is essentially done. All grown up now he enters an underground tournament where he hones his skills against the strongest fighters in the world. This leg of his journey is a little like Bloodsport and more akin to what fans of the OVA were probably expecting.
Volumes seven through twelve wrap up the fighting tournament and the show but in all honesty I felt this was the weakest section of the story. I could go through and recap every single fight that you'll find across but let's face it; if you're coming to this boxed set then you're probably already prepared for 600 minutes of blood, muscle, and screaming. Very little plot develops here aside from Baki kicking some ass and an inevitable showdown with his dad.
The lack of interesting plot aside these episodes offer pacing that's all over the map. Battles are drawn out much longer than need be ala Dragon Ball and random bits of pointless dialogue are strewn everywhere like nuggets of steroid jibber jabber. It literally goes from a breakneck speed in one episode to a crawl in the next for no apparent reason.
Another problem with this batch of episodes from my perspective was, again, the lack of development. The series is called Baki the Grappler for a reason but for most of these episodes he just kind of sits off to the side and watches other people fight in the spotlight. This really took away from the character and what he's been through up to this point. It basically makes his appearances feel merely like he's being tossed a bone which doesn't help much when it comes to the ending. Baki the Grappler feels very incomplete with the way that it ends. Almost like there was supposed to be more tacked on but it wasn't produced.
Now that the final collection has been released folks who picked up the first box can finally fill that empty space on their shelf. The unfortunate part about reviewing the series this way is that the first half was really good and the second left a lot to be desired. That makes these five volumes really hard to sit through unless you're a diehard fan of the franchise and characters. There is an audience for the show out there but after experiencing the whole thing I must admit that you're probably better off renting it to see how you feel about it before digging in for a purchase.
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.
The bonus features for these six volumes of Baki the Grappler vary somewhat but there are plenty of commonalities. For instance there are character profiles, textless animation, image galleries, and trailers to peruse. There are also a few audio commentaries included on discs seven, eight, and nine. Like the other commentaries for this series these audio bites remain lightweight on the information and heavy on the laughs. They prove to be entertaining but not entirely interesting when you get right down to it.
The first leg of Baki Hanma's journey is definitely interesting. There is a certain energy to the show that keeps it moving and makes the character's development interesting. As the series moves into the final stretch many things kind of fall apart for lack of a better description. The pacing is all over the map, Baki is pushed aside, secondary and unknown characters become major players, and the ending is very unsatisfying in many ways. If you absolutely loved the first six DVDs then you'll probably want to pick this up for closure but otherwise you're just better off renting this series to see if it's your thing.