The Need To Protect Both Shows Means Baki Hanma vs Kengan Ashura Pleases Nobody

Baki Hanma vs Kengan Ashura should have been something a little bit special. Two popular manga turned anime with a focus on brutal martial arts action, physics-defying fights, with both sporting casts of characters that cover the gamut of superhuman physiology. It should have been a pretty easy win, on paper. Yes, there was the risk that all involved would feel the need to protect both shows and creative compromises carried out in a mutually respectful way might lead it to a bad place, but what were the odds?

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I wasn’t overly concerned about this, truthfully. Baki Hanma had brought a prehistoric, dinosaur-punching murder machine to the present day to give the titular character a worthy scrap, and Kengan Ashura’s writers had the guts to stick their main character Ohma Tokita in a coma for most of a series just to give all the other characters room to breathe and develop. Both teams were happy to dive into the ridiculous and embrace creative problem-solving, but the approach to this crossover attempt seems to have gotten stuck in the mud.

Both franchises work because the shows, just like the manga they’re based on, can take their time building up to fights and developing their characters. It doesn’t really matter if a fighter wins or loses because they can learn a lot about themselves during their fight and still progress in their art and personality. Yes, it matters for the tournament they’re taking part in, but eating a loss doesn’t arrest the character’s development in any way. With Baki Hanma vs Kengan Ashura, we don’t have that time. There isn’t really a way to develop a history between the characters other than having them somewhat imply that they’ve heard of each other, because things needed to be wrapped up in a little over an hour of runtime.

The fights also don’t have the time to dive into the often deeply philosophical yet hugely enjoyable guff that Kengan Ashura in particular is prone to. Their different martial arts are often presented as diametrically opposed forces, entirely representative of the personality and worldview of the practitioner. In the Baki shows, they do a wonderful job of subtle character shifts mid-fight that still make sense within the logic of the show’s established universe. A great example of this is Katsumi’s mid-fight evolution against Pickle in Baki Hanma. Katsumi, a man obsessed with growing stronger, embraced the idea of weakening himself in his attempt to win.

Baki Hanma vs Kengan Ashura just didn’t have enough runtime to lean into the strengths of either show, so I can’t help but feel like the overall format should have been changed. There wasn’t much room to do anything cool, which meant fights were rushed, and the way they ended was often somewhat disappointing.

The only fight we really got a clean end to was Saw Paing Yoroizuka vs Kaoru Hanayama. Saw Paing, a wild and brash fighter from Kengan Ashura who approaches fighting with raw intensity and sometimes questionable strategy, practically headbutts himself into defeat by repeatedly trying to break the enormous fists of Hanayama with his face. It was a fun fight and worked for both characters. Hanayama got the win, and Saw Paing’s loss was almost invited rather than forced upon him, which works for the brash youngster.

Up next was Raian Kure vs Jack Hanma. Raian won this after breaking out his Removal ability, which dissolves the subconscious limits the mind places on the body. While he put Jack down, it wasn’t for very long, and by then, the nature of the fight had already changed. By the time Kure vs Hanma ended, commentary from the other fighters watching had made it very clear that this fight was no longer about winning or losing for either of them but was about living or dying. Jack “lost” the fight, but neither he nor Kure killed the other, so while it was technically 1-1 between characters from the different shows, Jack was still protected. As fighters and martial artists, Kure had won purely on a technicality by that point because the rules and the stakes were set by the combatants and combatants alone. Endless martial arts animes have taught us this.

The main course was always going to be Ohma Tokita vs Baki Hanma, and they went at it, breaking out all manner of techniques largely equal in measure until they were interrupted by Pickle, and then Yuujiro Hanma, and THEN Gensai Kuroki. This was just not a satisfying resolution to what should have been the marquee event. I didn’t need Baki and Ohma to murder each other; hell, as a fan of both shows, I didn’t even need them to fight!

I’ve seen Baki and Ohma go head-to-head with the most brutal opponents in their own worlds, I’ve seen what they’re willing to do to win. There isn’t much to learn in a six-minute fight between the two. I wish the creators had come up with a more inventive way to have fun with the characters. I think pitting both of them as a team against a new, singular threat would have been intriguing. Perhaps some third party pays off Maximum Tournament organizer Tokugawa Mitsukuni and Kengan Ashura headhoncho Katahara Metsudo to lure in Baki and Ohma to face an experimental mechanical fighter. While they win, the robot learns from each encounter, uploads it’s findings upon destruction, and bounces into a new body that they have to take on. If you don’t think watching two heroes take on a singular, impressive martial arts threat is peak viewing, I strongly suggest you watch The Raid. It’ll change your life.

They could have also gone the hilarious route of not having the two fight at all and never have them realize the extent of the other’s power. The film opens with both jogging. Perhaps they could witness a crime and spend their time trying to find the perpetrator while doing absolutely insane feats of physicality that the other one never actually sees. Basically, I can’t help but feel that anything would have been better than what we got, which was essentially a stale advertisement for fans of one show who may not have seen the other.

It’s a shame, because a crossover like this is quite rare. Both shows are fun and interesting, and they deserved more than what they got. It’s hard to know exactly where the problems arose, but most things about the show just felt rushed, and it genuinely felt like the pressure to deliver something in the writers room meant nobody ever had time to figure out a fun way to explore both worlds without failing to live up to the standards of either of them.

Baki Hanma vs Kengan Ashura is available to watch now on Netflix.


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Image of Aidan O'Brien
Aidan O'Brien
Aidan has been into movies, games, tv, and tabletop since the 80s. Rather than get bogged down in pointless nostalgia, he remains excited for all the amazing art that has yet to come. When not scribbling articles for sites like Escapist, Destructoid, or Dot Esports, he is making Youtube videos about interesting lore, or how to paint little plastic models.