Walking the line between life and death, Baki Hanma enters the Raitai Tournament.
What They Say:
What does it mean to be the strongest? Having the biggest muscles? Flawless technique? Unrivaled speed? Martial artists from across the globe have gathered at the Great Raitai Tournament in order to find out.
Content (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Baki returns to Netflix with a new season and a new reason to fight. This batch of 13 episodes is a continued adaption of the New Grappler Baki manga, encompassing the Great Chinese Challenge and the Godlike Clash of the Kids sagas. The previous season was my first encounter with the Baki franchise and what a ride it was – preposterous prison breaks, ultra-violent street fights, over-the-top martial arts moves – Baki’s first foray on Netflix was just enough dumb fun to keep me entertained throughout. In the latest installment, Baki returns to its more conventional tournament format, pitting numerous fighting ideologies and tactics against each other. Overall, this season has a much more consistent art direction than its predecessor, but the story and characters lack the same charm as the previous arc.
Last we left Baki, he was in a grave physical condition. He and the other underground martial artists had defeated the escaped prisoners, but they did not come out unscathed. A deadly poison had run its course and Baki’s body was rapidly weakening. With some sexual healing from his girlfriend Kozue and the help of the Bailin Temple warriors, Baki barely clings onto life. It seemed like Baki’s fighting days were over…but that wasn’t the case. With the announcement of the centennial Raitai Tournament, the greatest fighters from around the world assemble, including Baki’s father Yuujirou Hanma, aka the Ogre, aka the Strongest Creature on Earth. Baki’s one goal in life is to defeat his monster of a father, and so he only has one choice – he must fight in the upcoming tournament.
But from the outset, this is no ordinary tournament. After the first couple rounds, all structure is thrown out the window. The hosting Chinese combatants want to make a statement, and so the regular tournament format is replaced by a five vs. five team battle between China and US-Japan. Although he is an ally of Baki’s, Retsu Kaioh competes on the Chinese team under the guidance of the previous Raitai champion, Sea Emperor Kaku. The US-Japan team is comprised of Baki , Yuujirou , the beefy Biscuit Oliva, Muhammad Alai Jr. and the kind-hearted instructor Jaku. The Raitai tournament was no longer just a battle of who was the strongest – it came down to a matter of pride. Which would come out on top – 4,000 years of Chinese martial arts history or the combined techniques of Japan and the United States’ top warriors?
Unfortunately, the Raitai tournament misses more than it hits. While there were some highlight matches, such as Retsu vs. Jaku and Oliva vs. the hand pocket master Ron, many of the other fights were extremely one-sided. Several of the combatants are given little to no build-up, their only purpose being to put the more established characters on a pedestal. If anything, the philosophical and ideological warfare was more entertaining than the actual fighting. Despite some lackluster battles, Baki still manages to keep things entertaining. I’ve always enjoyed Baki’s use of the narrator to describe techniques or put a character’s power into perspective – it reminds me a lot of Hunter x Hunter or JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. The art and animation are also noticeably better this season, avoiding the use of awful CGI as they did several times in the previous season. The Raitai tournament ends with a muddled conclusion, but in hindsight, it fairs much better than the second half of this season.
Episodes nine through twelve follow Muhammad Alai Jr. in his quest to win over Baki’s girlfriend Kozue. In preparation for facing Baki, Junior tries his hand at Baki’s old mentors and rivals. He faces off against Shibukawa, Orochi and Jack Hanma, but proves to be no match for them. Although Junior’s boxing style is unstoppable in the ring, in a real fight, it simply couldn’t compare to his powerful foes. Junior gets beaten to a pulp repeatedly, even by his own father, Muhammad Alai. But this path of crushing defeat would be the steppingstones to Junior’s redemption…or so one would think. This mini arc puts us fully in Junior’s perspective, building up to what should have been an amazing battle between him and Baki. But their showdown is settled in the blink of an eye. Although it’s stated that Junior was a formidable foe for Baki, it simply doesn’t come across that way. After several episodes of Junior’s steady rise to the top, he’s tossed aside, as Baki already has his sights set on his father. The season ends with an extremely lackluster confrontation followed by the promise of a long-awaited father-son face off.
But there is one extra episode to build hype for the next installment. It seems that the prisoners from the previous season have been patiently training. Much like the first episode of last season, one-by-one we’re shown the insane feats that these characters can pull off. Doyle’s sensory-deprived training, Speck’s inhuman rehabilitation, Sikorsky’s incredible finger grip exercises – the insanity of Baki’s previous season was back, but unfortunately, we’ll have to wait for another season to see it play out.
I’m sorely disappointed with the latest chapter of the Baki anime. What should have been a heart-pumping, fist-fighting frenzy turned out to be a jumbled mess of a season. It’s hard for me not to compare this season of Baki to Kengan Ashura, another Netflix anime with many similarities. In terms of a fighting tournament anime, Kengan Ashura does just about everything better than the Raitai tournament. Baki originally drew me in with its wacky presentation and over-the-top brawls. Despite a slight bump in production value, this season of Baki, unfortunately, didn’t live up to expectations.
Streamed By: Netflix