Anyone that has been a fan of anime for a while may recognize the name Baki as an OAV 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, kicked crotches and bloody noses then you're literally going to be in testosterone muscle bound heaven. A lot of fighting shows showcase the muscles and such of their warriors, but Baki The Grappler takes it one step further. You can't get through a single episode without seeing some dude in a thong or flashing mutant-like muscles this way and that.
Ever since he was a kid, Baki Hanma aspired to be as strong, if not stronger than his father and now finds he is beefier than a baseball player on steroids. The kid knows how to fight too, but he keeps getting involved in battles where the odds are stacked against him to test his abilities. After a ton of battles and a few rounds of head butting with his father Baki is all grown up now. The only problem is that it seems he'll never be as strong as daddy because his father is considered to be the strongest most fearsome man on the planet. In fact he's more than a man, he's an ogre.
Throughout the series we have seen Baki literally grow up. He started out as a thirteen year old but is now eighteen and ready to kick some butt in an underground fighting tournament. Think the classic American kung fu movie Bloodsport and you're on the right track. Baki doesn't actually just become a member; he becomes the freaking champion in no time flat. His fighting style and family heritage have given him an unlimited supply of opponents to practice against as warriors climb out of the woodwork to take a swipe at the kid. Sadly he doesn't get to hold his title for long since much stronger opponents step in and share his spotlight.
In the last volume Doppo and Yujiro (Baki's papa) took to the ring and Doppo got completely obliterated. He literally was stopped dead in his tracks when the Ogre delivered a blow that stopped his heart. Luckily the feminine doctor fighter guy stepped in to manually massage Doppo's heart and bring him back to life. A few more fights later and we still have yet to see Baki do anything against his father aside from something equivalent to a mosquito bite. It's getting pretty depressing to root for Baki because our hero gets the crap beat out of him at just about every turn.
This time around a slew of new fighters are introduced and we get to see some old faces that we haven't seen for a few episodes. Baki also gets the dubious distinction to fight the world's strongest wrestler who is about three times his size. For an odd twist to the series Baki brings his lady friend along to see the place. If you have been following the show up to this point then you know he has been trying to keep his fighting skills a secret from her.
After his fight Baki gets to sit back for a bit and watch some of the other warriors beat the snot out of each other. One of the more interesting fights involves Kato and the Yasha Ape's child though Doppo's kid gets in the way and beats up the monkey. There's a lot of tension building up between Baki and Doppo's son and it escalates even further back stage with some after fight drama. Oh and right before the end of the volume Yujiro shows up but I'm not going to divulge what his intentions are.
If you like big sweaty guys who love to make each other bleed then this is probably the anime for you. I don't think I have ever been witness to so many broken bones, cuts, and agonized screams before. With the focus on the tournament bracket you can bet your bottom dollar that there is a ton of action to be found in this volume. Sure most of it doesn't even involve Baki, but seeing the fighters that he could potentially face is a treat all its own. It was also great to see Kato and Hanayama in action again, though I have a bad feeling something is going to happen to one of them. It's nothing concrete; just a hunch.
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. However, I do still find it hard to accept the art style at times. I understand that the guys all have to look beefy and tough as nails, but do the girls need to look that way as well? I sometimes feel like I'm watching a yaoi series on steroids.
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. With all of the fighting going on this time around you can expect your home theater to get a work out.
Some trailers, character profiles, a textless song and still shots from the episodes here await you for bonus material. Just like the previous volumes the best thing to check out is the audio commentary track. Just like the previous commentaries this one is basically all about having a good time. I received more laughs than information, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
The next tier of the fighting tournament is well underway and more warriors get tossed into the mix. Seeing some familiar faces from Baki's youth and previous episodes was great and just like the tournament's bracket I got a sense that every event here was building up to something bigger. This is the part of Baki the Grappler that fans were waiting for and things only seem to be heating up. I'm looking forward to the next volume to see where a lot of these plotlines go.