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Baki the Grappler Episodes #17 – 20 Anime Review

6 min read
© Itagaki Keisuke / Akita Shoten / Free Will

The Underground Tournament gets seriously underway.

What They Say
Baki has become the champion of an underground circuit known for employing some of the best fighters in the world. Tokugawa, the comissioner of the circuit, throws the best competitors he can find in Baki’s path, to no avail: The Champ seems invincible! But two incredible adversaries await. A battle against an opponent with an unusual fighting style takes Baki to the limit of his abilities. With his arm disabled early on in the fight, Baki has to push through agonizing pain to survive the bout of his career. Should he make it out in one piece, he will face a wrestling icon of mammoth proportions. Will Baki have the strength to bring victory to his name?

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Bringing the series up to episode twenty, this batch of four episodes solidifies the world that Baki now lives compared to how he used to be. It’s considerably different and his entire lifestyle and attitude has changed just as much. Getting to see him in this new setting while his opponents slowly fall into place according to the manipulations of Tokugawa is a lot of fun to watch but all the while you know the reason he continues to fight as he does.

The central focus has the eighteen-year-old Baki as the champion inside the underground fighting tournament who is undefeated. He’s become something of a real icon and hero of the tournament and those who come to see it because of his style and generally positive outward nature. While he does provide a great deal of entertainment for the audience and gives Tokugawa the kinds of fights he wants to see, what Baki really gets out of it since there isn’t any money or prizes involved is that instead of traveling the world to find the best fighters they come to him. He gets to meet a wide variety of opponents and styles and face them off, all for the grander purpose of being able to take on his father one day. But one has to wonder, even as he does all this training through the fights like this, is it really working or is it making him soft as he starts to get more into the performance and the applause?

These episodes hit up the storyline that we started in with on the Raijin Comics manga release as one of the first people we see Baki fight in this volume is Shingo the Cord Cutter, one of the creepier and deadlier opponents that have come along in some time. This is played out with the arrival of Kato, a former member of Dappo’s Shinshinkaikan dojo who has left the gangster world he participated in so he can find a real challenge. He’s far different than others in the dojo since he has no qualms about going further than he should which leads to a trail of bodies behind him. His arrival is timed nicely though as Tokugawa is at Dappo’s dojo as he wants to take Dappo, a former tournament champion himself, to see Baki perform while looking for new warriors for Baki to face. Kato’s able to tag along for this and to see first hand exactly the secrets of the Tokyo Dome and the power behind Baki. It’s always amusing to see people’s reactions to Baki when they first meet him since he does have that runt feel depending on what he’s wearing but once the clothes come off and he gets into fight mode he’s just stellar.

There is a slew of great fight moments throughout here as the various opponents show up and their intertwined histories start to become apparent as Tokugawa plays them all perfectly. It’s all fascinating to watch it come together and the fights themselves, such as the Cord Cutters and eventually the pro wrestler Toba’s fight, are very well done and provide some great challenges for Baki. It’s Baki’s time off of the tournament floor that proves to be interesting as he’s renting a room from a woman whose husband used to be in the tournament so she knows what Baki is going through and has an attraction to him of sorts based on that, though she honors her dead husband well. It’s more a setup for the daughter, Kozue, who doesn’t know her father’s true past to play more of a part. She’s been very interested in Baki but can’t figure out the right way to approach him, especially since he’s either gone for fights or off training. He rarely even attends to school.

When he does attend school it really helps to reinforce just what a runt Baki really is as he’s puny against the usual array of school bullies and thugs. Since Kozue gets him to attend a bit more often it lets her bring out some different areas of his personality but also lets others play up the obvious attraction she has to him that she can’t quite admit to herself. Just the general growth of Baki as a character since we first met him when he was a smaller mop top type with some truly awful hair and a really bad attitude about everything to what he is now is great. He’s got that new level of confidence and a very different perspective of how things go in life that really suits him more but is a very natural outgrowth of what he’s been through.

And then, of course, the last minute of the last episode here proves to be one of the most frustrating scenes in any series I’ve seen recently. That alone makes the next volume not arrive soon enough.

In Summary: 
Baki’s world and that of the tournament are expanded heavily here as new characters are introduced, pasts explored and a whole lot of great fight sequences are played out. If it hadn’t been for reading some of the manga before I would have turned my nose up at this series right from the start but with it now reaching an area I’m familiar with, it’s one of my favorite series out there that just goes for the brutality of it all but still with a sense of honor. The first arc of the series which was all new was definitely enjoyable since it was a prequel to what I knew and it helped expand my understanding of it all quite a lot. But now that we’re at the real meat of it that I’ve been looking forward to it’s just fantastic to see it all flow so well. Fans of this series are going to scream at a lot of this run of episodes and probably throttle their TV set at the very end of it.

Grade: B+

Released By: Funimation
Release Date: January 2006
MSRP: $29.98
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Letterbox Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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