What They Say:
Every warrior’s life is but a moment. These fearless fighters exist knowing all too well that each moment could be their last. There is always someone stronger, or faster. There is always someone unafraid to go to any length to ensure victory, or survival. And at least once in each warrior’s life, that warrior wonders what it would be like to be the worlds best. It is this great unknown, this passion for power that drives the Grappler. Each must choose to throw all else aside to achieve their goal, or forever shrink into the shadows, their potential unfulfilled.
Feeling his training to be the strongest fighter in the world is going nowhere, Baki Hanma quits his program believing that the only coach he needs is himself. Baki stumbles on his first step into this new world. Will he learn from his errors and achieve his potential? Or will he forever disappear among the millions of fighters who never realized that one must crawl before one may walk?
For this viewing, I listened to the English 5.1 dub. The English dub is also offered in 2.0, as is the Japanese track. The mix is pretty decent, with some nice directionality during the battle scenes to really help immersion in the moment. Nothing too complex, but enough to be noticeable. There is also nice balance across all the tracks, which is particularly nice with so much going on. Many times with shows featuring differing amounts of music, effects, and dialogue, I find myself having to adjust my speaker channels to balance it out, but I did not have to do that for this release.
This release is offered in letterbox format, which looks nice on an SDTV, but can be awkward for widescreens. The quality is uneven, as there is no cross coloring or pixelization, but the whole show looks a little hazy. For a show with such attention paid to detail of the character’s bodies, this was a little bothersome. To be honest, I was not a big fan of the character design either, as the minute attention paid to the fighter’s muscular structure made them look deformed. That, however, is more personal preference.
This packaging for this collection is just the individual releases put inside an art box. The box that houses the six discs has full color images of some of the characters set in front of other monochromatic images done with dot pattern. Along the bottom side of the box are some images from the show, along with some technical details. Each of the six boxes have pictures of some of the characters making appearances on that disc. The backs have images from the show, summaries, episode and extra listings, and other technical details. Overall, the packaging is decent, but I was irritated that each volume was individually sealed as well as the box, meaning that each volume had to be unwrapped and de-stickered on both the top and bottom. While that is not a huge deal, it was bothersome.
The menu’s are fairly well designed, and have a fair similarity to the look of the packaging. The main menu plays the main theme and has some character art across a dark background. The selections are displayed in an off white square, allowing for easy reading, and the highlighted selection is easy to see. There’s nothing particularly fantastic about these menus, but they are easy to use, and that’s the most important thing.
Over the course of the set, along with the normal stills galleries (both anime and manga) and the textless songs, there are quite a few other extras. There is an explanation of Muay Thai Kickboxing, character profiles, series trivia, a few episodes of “Mr. Stain on Junk Alley,” the music video for Dir En Grey’s “Child Prey” (the opening song), and director/actor commentaries for episodes 1, 5, 9, 14, 17, and 21. While each individual disc can be a bit hit or miss, over the course of the series, there is plenty to check out.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Baki the Grappler is an action series with shonen tendencies. This set contains the first season, and despite a number of plot arcs, it really feels just like all setup for what will come in the second season. Being an action show, as one might guess, it has plenty of good, mostly realistic action scenes, but it falls short in story line.
Baki Hanma is a young boy born into privilege. His mother, Emi, is the owner of a wealthy conglomerate, inherited from her dead husband. Baki’s father, however, was not this dead husband, but rather Yujiro Hanma, the greatest fighter in the world. Yujiro spends his life traveling and trying to find worthy opponents, but as he began to grow more frustrated with the lack of quality fighters, he instead began to embrace the violence and destruction he wrought.
In Emi, Yujiro found somewhat of a kindred spirit: a woman who appreciates power and all its uses, and he came up with the ultimate plan: conceive a son who will grow to be the challenger the father has been looking for all his life. As such, from the time he could walk, Baki has been in the care of the best trainers in the world and told to go out and find bigger and better opponents to best. Now at the age of 13, there are few that can stand with him, and his father has decided that it is time for Baki to learn the reason of his birth.
When Baki learns that he is supposed to fight his father, he trains even harder than before. He improves so much and so fast that when the day of the fight approaches, many feel that he can win. However, Yujiro makes short work of his son, killing Emi in the process, and declares him a failure. Baki, now knowing how far he still has to go before he is ready to legitimately challenge Yujiro, leaves Japan to travel the world and find the best fighters to train against. His travels ultimately bring him back to Tokyo and an underground fighting league that prides itself on only featuring the best of the best.
Since this series is based on martial arts competition, the majority of the screen time is spent on training and fighting. As such, it is action intensified. For the most part, the combat shown is realistic. Competitors may be able to jump high or have faster than human movements, but there is nothing of the more exotic moves seen in many anime of this type, such as shooting fireballs from hands. So despite some enhanced, human attributes, the fighting is pretty accurate.
Also a result of being a fighting series, the plot line is pretty standard. There is the typical “strongest evil fighter in the world” in Yujiro, the typical “pure as the snow, up-and-coming competitor who shows strength tempered by compassion” in Baki, the regular motley gang of thugs the good guy has to fight who then become friends with said good guy out of a sense of respect and camaraderie, etc. In fact, I found the story and relationship shared by Baki and Yujiro to mirror the plot surrounding Ryu and Akuma in the Street Fighter series of games and anime. The parallels are intensified by the fact that Baki and Yujiro even look like their Street Fighter counterparts.
That said, an anime like this is driven by the fighting and not so much the plot, so any retreads are minimal problems at worst, and this show has fighting in spades. Not an episode goes by without at least one extended fight sequence, and some episodes are spent entirely in combat. This is where the show’s shonen tendencies tend to come out: the battle scenes are lengthened immensely by long winded exposition by the fighters. I have always wondered if recounting your life’s story is an effective use of your time when fighting somebody who is looking to kill you, but that seems to be the natural tendencies for shows like this. For the most part, this sort of thing does not really interest me, but there was certainly nothing in it I would classify as bad.
If anything, the only real, story telling problem I had with Baki the Grappler is the apparent lack of knowledge of craft by virtually everybody involved. Though I study martial arts, I would not classify myself as an expert, but there are things in this show I would consider basic that these supposed warriors are ignorant of. For example, in a flash back of Yujiro’s past, he wins a fight with an axe kick, a fairly basic kick, and his opponent and all the spectators react as if Yujiro had done a move no man in history had ever done before. And in the fight between Baki and Gaia, Baki is taken completely by surprise when Gaia mentions that he (Baki) needs to stop thinking and just let his body take over. Again, these are pretty basic fighting concepts, but these supposed experts seem surprised by them.
In all, Baki the Grappler is not a bad show; it is just a show that never really clicked with me. With few exceptions, I’ve never really been a fan of typical shonen shows, and this anime leans in that direction. If anything, Baki the Grappler is similar to something like Yu Yu Hakusho, but without the supernatural elements. Shonen fans, and fans of fight shows would probably find a lot to like with this series. However, others would do well to go find something else to watch. Thumbs in the middle.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Image Galleries, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Muay Thai Kickboxing Information, Character Profiles, Series Trivia, Music Video, Director/actor commentaries for episodes 1, 5, 9, 14, 17, and 21
Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B-
Packaging Grade: C+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: A
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: January 23rd, 2007
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen Letterbox
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Memorex MVD2042 Progressive Scan w/ DD/DTS (Component Connection), Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System)