I've heard a lot of good things about the Grappler Baki franchise. I was first introduced to it through the forty-eight episode television series; I always find my younger brother studying the show intensely, as if he'll learn the fighting techniques it flaunts and become an MMA champion. I don't typically watch anime about martial arts and fighting, because in paradoxical fashion there tends to be more talking than fighting (Dragonball Z easily comes to mind). The Baki television anime juggled dialogue and action rather nicely, so I chose to give the original OVA a shot. The OVA was so intense that I paused it to tell my family just how amazing it was. I should have watched this a long time ago.
The ridiculously powerful Baki Hanma.
Clocking in at only forty-five minutes long, Grappler Baki does not have much time to put together a deeply moving plot. In a move any martial arts enthusiast should be proud of, the OVA decides to do away with narrative almost entirely and focus on combat throughout. Baki Hanma, our protagonist, is a participant in the Shinshinkai Karate Championships, and despite his white belt status he manages to wipe the floor with everyone he crosses paths with. A spectator takes particular interest in Baki's virtuosity, and so he is led by the director of the Shinshinkai to an exclusive underground fighting venue, a no holds barred club where Baki cultivates his amazing skill and is truly put to the test.
Baki, despite his absurd combative prowess, is only seventeen years old. We are not privy to explanations of his origins, but he does have a plethora of scars on his body, as if he's lived through innumerable battles. He's good enough to be a killing machine on-par with the X-Men's Wolverine, but instead Baki is a benevolent and almost innocent youth. This actually makes him a hilarious foil to the combatants he faces, who are hellbent on showing the cocky kid what real karate is all about. Unfortunately for them, Baki in fact takes fighting very seriously, terrifying enemies with his obligatory Bruce Lee style shrieks and whacking them square in the jaw. Character development isn't a major concern here, nor should it be.
The Shinshinkai director demolishes concrete with his bare hands.
Everything about Grappler Baki is brilliantly exaggerated. Facial expressions are stretched out to unbelievable proportions as the tournaments' viewing audiences violently react to the fighting. The fighting itself was fast and exciting and incredibly unconventional. Baki's biggest adversary is a man with the ability to aim for one's nerves and muscle fibers and pluck them out with his steel-like fingers. Watching him stick his fingers inside of people and rip them apart seriously disturbed me, but in a good way, like how people derive pleasure from watching grossly macabre horror/slasher films. I'm not lying when I say I sat in my chair, covering my mouth with one hand and trying not to shout in disbelief whenever some poor victim lost his nerve endings.
Grappler Baki glorifies fighting for fighting's sake, skipping the lengthy dialogue and explanation of fighting techniques most other martial arts anime includes. This is a man's anime, a testosterone driven homage to laying the smackdown on anyone who stands in your way. The only other film I know of that comes close to matching Baki's ridiculousness is Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky, a live-action kung fu romp that features oddities such as attacking an opponent with one's intestines (watch a clip of that here, it's utterly ridiculous). I had fun watching Grappler Baki; anyone who loves anime cannot miss seeing this before they die.
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