Grappler Baki Anime Review
US Release By
Martial Arts Action
Baki Hanma is a generally happy student with a rather odd hobby: he likes fighting. Specifically, he likes fighting in a secret martial arts tournament that gathers the greatest fighters of the world and pits them against each other in anything-goes combat. Whether you're a sumo wrestler, a karate expert, or a guy who specializes in ripping out your opponent's nerves, you're welcome (as long as you can keep quiet about it, of course). Baki may be the youngest fighter the tournament has ever seen, but he's also the best, and he thoroughly enjoys what he does.
The story starts off with Baki entering a regular Karate tournament (as a warm up) and taking it by storm. He then moves on to the real challenge--that guy who likes to tear nerves (you knew he was going to come into this, didn't you?). Baki's pretty confident, but then again, he's never taken on somebody who can blind or paralyze an opponent using just one finger...
Quick ReviewSwitch to Full Review
Grappler Baki is a weird martial arts fest that serves up a sizable helping of humor, two or three plate-fulls of (very violent) action, and plot relegated to the parsley part of the meal--small and only there for decoration. There's absolutely nothing to it other than fighting, and the hero Baki cheerfully grins through the most vicious and bloody of battles, even when he's on the losing end, and even though he has no reason to be fighting other than for the heck of it. That, I must admit, was a change from the average martial arts philosophy.
If you enjoy a good spirited (albeit graphic) fight (or two), have a look at this one--perfect for your daily dose of nerve-ripping fun! Be warned that it's just an intro to the comic series, although it's not a cliffhanger.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Grappler Baki is an odd little martial arts action flick. The set up is tried-and-true (an underground tournament to determine the world's best fighter), but the execution isn't, featuring a mix of brutality and cheerfulness that's just plain odd.
The plot is a little unusual in that there isn't one. There are two long fights, and a characters with overly dramatic introductions, but that's basically it. We never even see Baki in street clothes (although we do get to see his mom and sister at home for about a minute and a half). It tosses out a lot of fancy backstory about the tournament, but that has no bearing on the plot at all. Admittedly, this seems to be the first part in a series (that doesn't exist, unless you count the later TV adaptation), but the video is about 80 percent action, and the last third is nothing but one long fight sequence.
There really is nothing else to Grappler Baki--no girl to rescue, no family to save, no one to impress, no lengthy training, not even any money involved--just lots of fighting for the sake of fighting. While the mood borders on comedy, the fights are plenty serious (and bloody to the point of being kind of silly), so I wouldn't really call it that, despite a generally unserious demeanor and some pretty amusing minor characters (I loved the tournament master).
What sets Grappler Baki apart from the crowd, though, is Baki himself. We're all familiar with the cocky young martial artist who's out to conquer the fighting world, but Baki takes happy-go-lucky confidence to new levels. This guy has less in common with those stoic martial arts masters and battle-hardened warriors than Ranma (and this isn't a comedy, or wasn't intended to be, anyway). Even Ranma trains a lot and takes fighting seriously--Baki may be the best, but he doesn't even stop grinning when some guy with bad makeup has his optic nerve in his hand. Then again, he is the best, and it's kind of fun to watch somebody who seems to enjoy a whuppin' (even when things get really bloody) for a change, rather than sitting around meditating and glaring at his opponents through a fight.
Other than Baki and the two guys he fights, there are only a couple of other characters, and they do almost nothing--there's a martial arts master and his mentor, who just watch the fights (well, the master does go ballistic on a cement pipe to show off), plus another fighter who gets introduced to us dramatically then spends the rest of the show gawking at Baki going at it.
And go at it he does. The action is plentiful and the violence relatively gratuitous (no one gets killed, but plenty get maimed and even Baki has more than his share of scars). As for the animation, there are some slow parts and still frames during the unending battles, but they are well done for the most part. The art has a definite style to it; everybody looks kind of... pudgy. Baki still seems to have his share of baby fat (well, on his face anyway--below the neck he would make Stallone proud if it weren't for all the scars), and most of the other characters share the same style (except for the nerve-ripping guy, who substitutes purple lipstick and red hair). Anyway, it's not anything to write home about visually, but it gets the job done and makes up for what it lacks in quality with quantity of action.
The acting in both the dub and the subtitled version are fine, but not particularly noteworthy in either case (though there is a hefty amount of grunting and shouting throughout). The standout voices are Baki in the Japanese--his voice fits his youthful complexion well enough--and Kosho in the dub, who has a good air of scary to him. The English announcer also sounds good, and I liked the old master of the tournament, one of those Cherry/Happosai type fellows--short, has a strange sense of humor, and sounds appropriate in both languages. The music is pedestrian, but sparse and unobtrusive. The only memorable tune is the short but catchy end theme, which harkens back to some of those old-time theme songs in the Dragonball vein.
Summing up, Grappler Baki is a weird martial-arts-fest that serves up a sizable helping of humor, two or three plate-fulls of gory action, and plot relegated to the parsley part of the meal--small and only there for decoration. If you enjoy a good-spirited (albeit graphic) fight (or two), have a look at this one--perfect for your daily dose of nerve-ripping fun! Note that while this one-shot looks like the first part of a series, it isn't unless you read the manga or watch the much newer TV series (don't worry, the plot isn't exactly the selling point, and it's not a cliffhanger).
Have something to say about this anime? Join our newly-resurrected forums and speak your mind.
The only other light martial arts show I can think of that is similar to this one is Ayane's High Kick, but even that had a lot more plot and character development. Less humorous (and weird) than Ranma 1/2, but funnier and lighter than Fatal Fury and kin.
Notes and Trivia
Based on a long-running (42 volume) manga series by Keisuke Itagaki, which explains some of the rather abruptly and dramatically introduced characters who proceed to do absolutely nothing. The manga was licensed for US release by the late Gutsoon! entertainment, but never saw print outside a short-ish run in their Raijin anthology magazine.
This one-shot OVA was released around the middle of the original manga run. The manga was followed by the 31-volume sequel "New Grappler Baki," and the still-ongoing 25+ volume "Baki: Son Of Ogre," both also by Itagaki. In short, ridiculously long.
There's also a more recent pair of TV series based on the same characters; both are available in English from Funimation.
Both the manga and TV versions were released under the title "Baki the Grappler," but "Grappler Baki" is more correct--taken straight from the original.
For the true Baki-head, there is also a Playstation 2 game of all things. If this hilarious review of the import is any indication, though, the game is very, very bad.
US DVD Review
The DVD includes all the standards for an early USM release; Japanese and English soundtracks, an English subtitle track, an illustrated menus providing access to a scene index, clips that introduce the characters, and jumps to the battle scenes, plus there are trailers of some other USM releases.
Probably qualifies as 13-up due to the fairly graphic violence.
Violence: 3 - Nobody dies, but things get pretty messy (there's no clean way to tear out someone's nerves).
Nudity: 1 - Standard martial arts exposure, all guys.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - Nada.
Language: 1 - Not noteworthy.
Staff & Cast
English Dub Cast
Baki Hanma: Carter Cathcart
Doppo Orochi: Leo Gorman
Announcer: Eric Stuart
Kosho Shinogi: Stan Hart
Atsushi Suedo: Vance Acres
Mitsunari Tokugawa: Carter Cathcart
Seicho Kato: Stan Hart
Aditional Voices: Asia, Ross Charup
Producers: Tsuneo Seto, Chiaki Yasuda
Director: Yuji Asada
Original Story: Keisuke Itagaki
Screenplay: Yoshihisa Araki
Character Design: Yoshihiro Umakoshi
Art Director: Hitoshi Nagao
Photography Director: Yosuke Moriguchi
Music: Takahiro Saito
Produced by Knack Co., Ltd.
The single OVA was available in North America from USM on bilingual DVD or dubbed VHS, both long out of print. If you're looking, it's still easy to find copies floating around for a couple of bucks, for example from Amazon: Grappler Baki.