Anime: Baki The Grappler Disc One

KichigaiSaru

imageHave you ever been walking down the street and suddenly something in a window catches your eye? You stop to take a closer look, and you’re drawn in. The gravity of this object, be it shoes, clothes, a game, a toy, a car, whatever it is, it somehow has the gravity of a black hole. You can’t tear yourself away. You need to have it. You feel it absorbing you. The gravity well pulls you inside, forces you to buy it and you finally feel the pressure relieved, as though you can die happy, at least as soon as you get a chance to play with it a bit first.

Baki is my black hole. I saw a print advert for it, and I knew I had to have it. I begged Vandemar. I harassed him. I hounded and beleaguered him so he could get no work done. “Where’s Baki? When are we getting it? Is it on the way now? I need to see it!” I was a six year old kid the week before Christmas trying to ensure that my parents knew that I would not be content with anything less than the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’s Shredder action figure. Christmas came for me last week.

imageBaki the Grappler did not disappoint. This is a rarity in the world today. Everything is disappointing. I’m used to it by now, but there was something magic in the air, and I brought it home, and I watched it with my hopes set low, because I knew it couldn’t be as good as I hoped. I have never been so happy to be wrong. The story is great. This kid, Baki, is the son of the greatest warrior the world has ever seen, has trained his whole life to be a fighter himself. He is 13 now. A kid by any definition, he has proven himself anything but. The first scene of the first episode shows a group of local thugs, 100 of them or so, prepping for a fight. They’re here just for one man, or so they thought. They didn’t expect Baki to be too eager to face them. Of course, he was. From scene one, I was enthralled in this series, this story, this tough as nails kid with something to prove.

Episode 1: Stirrings of Destiny
Baki tests his mettle against a group of 100 street thugs armed with anything from chains to swords. He is disappointed to only take down 37 before he is subdued, and he realizes that his training programs are insufficient. Enter Yuri, a champion boxer and proudest of warriors.

imageEpisode 2: Those Who Squirm
Baki enters the ring with Yuri, a boxer of the highest calibre, knowing well that the only way to improve his own skills is to practice with warriors greater than himself. Meanwhile, the leader of the Hanayama gang, another child of incredible strength, makes his frightening appearance in the criminal underworld. Baki’s defeat at the hands of Yuri does not sit well with him. Inspired, he makes his way to the mountains to begin his training anew.

Episode 3: The Beast of Yasha Crag
Meeting an old friend, Ando, at his mountain cabin, Baki vows to train with renewed vigor. His pride gets the better of him, however, as he insists on camping at Yasha Crag, a place feared by all sane men. Ando is injured in an encounter with the Yasha Ape, a beast of legendary proportions, and Baki vows revenge for his friend. He pushes himself to the furthest extremes in his training before he finally crosses ‘the line.’

Episode 4: The Fang and the Tears
Content with his progress, Baki knows it is time to challenge the Yasha Ape who so nearly destroyed him, and his old friend Ando. The battle is set, and with no way out Baki must rely on his training, skills, and sheer force of will to defeat his monstrous opponent. In the aftermath of the battle, Baki gains some insight into the Yasha Ape, and in doing so, learns much about himself.

imageThe art in Baki is almost brutish in its technique, in that most anime gives every character a soft, gaunt face, a fair complexion, and a slender physique. The style in Baki is so far from this, where every major character has a rugged, tough, brutish look to them. They are not fantasy warriors, but battle hardened savages. This is a fabulous complement to the theme of the show, which is essentially that the true warriors are more than form and style, they live their life as warriors, and know nothing else. They are hardened, they do not relish a slender physique, or a slender fighting style, they must be as robust as possible in every way.

The music is lovely in the same way as the art. The opening theme is definitively J-speed metal. Reminiscent of 80s punk and sung by a Japanese band, the lyrics are incoherent, and the music itself is raw. Like a barbarian with a six string Lochaber; I can’t imagine a better opening theme to the show.

The voices were spot on with their characters. In all four episodes I only had one moment where I thought, “Oh that could have been done a little better.” But then, I’ve never seen a 13 year old kid fighting a nine foot behemoth, so I can’t say for sure if I would have sounded any different. From the curious detective to the Eastern European boxer, to Baki’s own dear mother, they were done with sincerity and conviction. It really worked.

Technical: 9.5
The actors were dead on. The animation fit the series perfectly. The music was hard when it needed to be, and soft when the situation called. All around a perfect fit. Not to mention the extras, including one of the best set of character profiles, as well as some neat information on Muay Thai Boxing.

Entertainment: 10
What can I say? I’ve been anticipating the series since I first heard of it. I finally got it, and I was not in the least bit disappointed. To be honest, it was better than I could have even hoped! It has a great story, incredible characters, even the occasional lesson to learn.

Overall: 9.5

Baki The Grappler is something like a culmination of years of Samurai, Bruce Lee, Clint Eastwood, and Rocky.

Episodes: Stirrings of Destiny, Those Who Squirm, The Beast of Yasha Crag, The Fang and the Tears

Extras: Muay Thai Boxing, Episode 1: Director/Actor Commentary, Episode Summaries, Manga Art Stills, Baki the Grappler Stills, Character Profiles

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