Anime has a long tradition of making shows about fighting. Dragon Ball Z, Street Fighter, S-Cry-Ed and many others exist in a genre that’s all about beating each other to a pulp. Some go beyond their conventions to be something special that fans remember for years and that hold a special place in their hearts, while other shows languish and stay stuck in the clichés that abound the genre. Baki the Grappler is unfortunately one that sits in the second group.
Our hero, thirteen year old Baki gets introduced at the start of the first episode in a way reminiscent of a western gunfighter; the only thing missing is wayward tumbleweed rolling through the frame. He’s headed towards a fight, not just an ordinary man-against-fellow-man fight, but a fight against one hundred men. He first takes out their top fighter, and from then on it’s on for young and old, and grappler Baki manages to take down thirty seven opponents before being overwhelmed by sheer weight of numbers and an intervention by the police.
From here the show takes a standard trajectory of Baki trying to gain strength to be a better fighter and whip more butt, which (strangely) includes choosing not to work with his coaches and scientists, fighting opponents better than he is and using his own his old man’s training style.
Weirdness follows when he challenges the welterweight champion of the world (champion of what I can’t recall being directly stated, but I’m lead to assume boxing) and gets his arse handed to him, which he then proceeds to cry about basically because it’s the first time he’s lost. However, didn’t he lose to the sixty three out of the hundred fighters that were still left standing earlier? The motivations and logic of this show don’t really click at this point.
Baki then goes off into the mountains to eat a lot of food, fights a huge ape creature that’s older than the mountain itself (by kicking it in the jewels and gouging out its eye) and then proceeds to make a meal out of it. Gross. And I’ll tell you what else is gross – flashbacks to Baki’s mum giving him a full on lip lock to encourage young Baki to get stronger. There’s something really Oedipus like going on there. What this has to do with the other flashbacks to Baki’s dad is not really explained, but it probably can’t be good. There is also some kind of mental telepathy going on between Baki and his mum, which also happens to coincide with Baki having what I can only describe as a mind-gasm.
I believe the English voices over actors decided to not take this too seriously, which can be slightly evidenced by the cast commentary for episode one. I couldn’t help myself from laughing really hard for what felt like a minute when Baki – after taking on the huge yasha ape and giving it enough blows that it decided to walk away rather than risk more injury – wondered whether it was right to attack a creature that wanted nothing more than to live in harmony with nature.
The animation while not at a standard of the recent Ghost in the Shell series is easily better than Naruto or Pokemon, although most of the main characters seem animated with ‘parachute pants’. The technical quality of the disc is to be applauded for an amazing use of the multiple angle feature most DVD players provide. When playing the opening and closing credits there is an option to play either the English written credits or the original Japanese written credits on the fly using the angle button, so those that are purists at heart can watch it exactly as it would of appeared in Japan and those that aren’t, can watch in English.
At only four episodes I really can’t recommend Baki as a piece of stand out anime like an Evangelion or even Full Metal Panic, but as a piece of mindless fun that you can watch with a couple of mates while drinking beer and eating pizza, it can certainly fill that category, although twenty four episodes for the entire series may be a bit of a commitment even for your closest buddies.