I'll say this first: I didn't hate Grappler Baki, nor did I enjoy it very much. Nevertheless, it's a really flawed series and I feel like ranting.
''There is not going to be much to say about it'' - this thought crossed my mind as I finished Baki's first episode. And I was obviously right.
Do not by any means expect anything original. It is your typical, average story about a buffed up brat whose dream is to be the strongest man in the world. In order to attain so, he pushes himself through over-the-top training, life-or-death situations or brawls against a hundred thugs, a 2.5 meters tall kid or some kind of mutant ape. As a result of this, he keeps getting stronger, meeting stronger dudes, beating them with stronger blows, and so on.
Normally I'd just tell you to go watch Hajime no Ippo instead if you want a really good tale about a young man going down the path of strength, but I'm going to rant for a bit.
This anime is chock-full of CHEESE. Sometimes god-awful, hard-to-digest CHEESE. You can expect the typical cliché characters too full of themselves with their manly nonsense, long and tiring speeches during fights between the combatants explaining their techniques/remembering their oh-so-touching pasts/spouting some pseudomanlyphilosophical garbage, or the typical useless side characters commenting the fights by doing some insipid observation or getting impressed over the most childish tactics ever.
I definitely think Grappler Baki would have potential as a genre parody since I laughed quite a bit in parts I wasn't supposed to.
So in a nutshell, what Baki's story has to offer is an unoriginal, uninspiring, unsubstantial tale about the pride of a manly man and outdoing oneself, with beating the crap out of everyone in your way often seen as something positive. That, and two messy, badly executed time skips with nothing much happening in them except Baki being stronger and changing his hairdo (thank god!!).
Truth be told, I love manly stupidity in anime because it is cool if you don't take it too seriously and you can laugh your ass off with some stuff, but Baki might have been a bit too cheesy for my taste. Since the ''plot'' doesn't really have anything else good enough to overcome this shortcoming, the score was bound to be low.
Let's get this straight: the character designs are effing ugly. Not Kaiji/Akagi-kind-of-ugly. I mean really awful designs one might find difficulty to look at. Total lack of detail aside, the eyes are too big, the lips look just like sausages and there are wrinkle-ish thingies a plenty all over the characters' faces (allegedly to reinforce their manly aura). Their hairstyles usually contribute to make them look all the more stupid, being Baki's dyed orange lawn the most offensive.
Don't think this only applies to men (who, on the other hand, represent the 98% of the active cast), because Baki's mother looks almost as ugly with her disproportionate, round head. And she's supposed to be a beauty, huhuh...
Anyways, faces aren't the only issue here. Muscles are nearly disgusting. They're so exaggerated and poorly-drawn, that rather than muscles you might think some kind of giant bugs are bulking the bodies from the inside, trying to get out through the flesh.
Also, character proportions don't seem to be consistent when it comes to height. Hanayama Kaoru could be compared with the Big Foot when seen beside other people, but he seems to grow or shrink a few decimeters every so often depending on the producers' mood.
Fights aren't that greatly coordinated either and recycled animation is an often ocurrence. But at least these are usually amusing to watch, and that's pretty much what saves this score slightly.
This anime's OP is one of the most unfitting themes I've ever seen. While the song itself is not terrible, the pop vocals create a clear disharmony between music and video. I couldn't help laughing when I first saw Baki and Kaoru in the OP, readying their fists to hit each other led by a campy pop pace.
The ED is not the big deal either and it is really forgettable.
The show's actual OST lacks variety and excels in annoying synthesized instruments. I may be wrong on this, but I'd swear the whole thing used up only the same 5 or 6 tracks over and over again, all of them unmemorable and trashy. I'd rather eat beans with chocolate than listening to these on their own.
Voice acting was decent, but not especially remarkable in any way, and the lame script didn't exactly help to the cause.
... Huh? Ah, oh, yeah, well, I guess there was something like that attached to the mass of muscles.
Let's be brief here: the characters of this anime aren't nearly as deep as a baby's pool.
Most of them are there for just one thing: getting beaten by Baki or his father, talking during the fights or simply filling some spare airtime. Besides, quite a few of them were completely disregarded as the series kept going - probably because they had already accomplished their unique function as cannon fodder. The anime usually tries to add some poor drama-ish flashbacks during their fights as a vanal intent on making them look falsely profound or minimally likeable. Needless to say, they achieve nothing but having the viewer scratch his head in boredom.
We learn essentially three things about Baki's father, Hanma Yujirou: He is very strong. He is a former soldier. He is a true bastard. Yes, good sirs, our dear protagonist's badass daddy is as plain and one-dimensional as that. He is very full of himself just because he is exaggeratedly strong and hence thinks he can do whatever he fancies. No wonder, in an imaginary world where every Japanese man is huge and/or has muscles bigger than their heads and a person's value seems to be indicated by how cocky and brutish he can get.
Baki's mother is equally as insulting as a character - maybe even more, since she isn't even useful in fights and everything we learn about her can be summarized in a sentence just like this: A sadistic bitch head over heels for Hanma Yujirou. As the anime progressed this woman became steadingly annoying and obnoxious.
Baki himself also starts off as a detestable brat who won a male lead role in a lottery. He is selfish, childish and violent. Soon after, though, the character suddenly feels more polite and bearable, and at least there are a few things which make him likeable to a small degree. Overall, though, he is really plain, just like the rest of the bunch.
I don't understand why I spent so many words on describing this thing... Oh well.
I found Grappler Baki to be mindless, yet mildly amusing entertainment. 'Nuff said.
-Enough uncalled for laughs to write a book!!
-Manly overload for the die-hard fans of GAR.
-Except for bad animation and lack of fluidity, the fights might prove somewhat enjoyable.
-Again, manly overload. Depending on the person this is also a huge shortcoming.
-SO. MUCH. CHEESE.
-Unlikeable and unimpressive characters you'll probably forget about in half a day.
-Very boring and not very well used background music.
-The lack of a true ending. You'll most likely have to watch S2 for that.