Notice: This review covers all three major arcs.
A typical shonen series is about hyperactive boys training endlessly in order to become the best in a specific field. Well guess what; this anime is also like that. It’s about a boy that wants to be the best fighter and to surpass his father, the strongest man in the world. The catch is, it’s way more focused on being brutal than telling a moral message about friendship or spicing things up with something other than fighting.
If you got tired of watching fighting shonen or sport series that are wasting a lot of time on not being about the action, Grappler Baki is where you go to, assuming you can tolerate bad animation and horrible openings. Seriously, if you want to get your blood pumping when you begin watching an episode of pure manly action, you don’t throw a lame pop song, sang by a girl in the opening.
And I get why they did that. Females in the series are damsels in distress, existing only as rewards for manly men who beat the crap out of each other. Listening to girl singing while the protagonist is training hard is telling you subconsciously that everything is done for the pussy and that all the pain and suffering the hero is going through will have a reward at the end. It’s just a cheap hook to keep teenage boys watching a show about guys who want to be the strongest for the sake of being the strongest.
You also don’t use cancer CGI models. I get how it saves money, but if you don’t bother to render them properly or cover them by drawing over them, then it looks horrible and not awesome at all, which happens to be the main appeal of the show. I mean, if you can somehow look past it, it’s still amazing for its brutal fighting, which includes all sorts of nasty attacks no typical shonen would use. Scratching the eyes, biting the ears, kicking the nuts, attacking without a warning, and so on. The early episodes were merciless, as there was no honor in fighting and winning was the only thing that mattered.
Unfortunately this was diminished in the second arc, where everybody was fighting before an audience with a referee and you had to follow a few rules because you were doing it to prove how powerful you are and not to win no matter what. In fact, the second arc took away most of the charm in general and became an almost typical fighting tournament, despite constantly saying it is dangerous and merciless.
Even the plot was damaged because of it. During the first arc things were moving at a reasonable pace. You were following a single character as he was travelling around the world and facing all sorts of challenges with no rules or referees to limit what you are allowed to do. It also had meaningful character growth, as Baki gets constantly stronger and learns new tricks. The handful of opponents he faces get some screen time as well so their backgrounds can be fleshed out.
The second arc ruins everything. There is no actual growth since nobody there gets stronger from his battles. There are also about 30 fighters, most of which are one note, and they all get a rather equal amount of screen time when it’s their time to fight. Meaning you don’t focus on someone for too long and because of their sheer number almost nobody feels important or memorable. Also, every battle takes place on the exact same arena, which quickly becomes repetitive and dull to look at. Also, you can’t use dirty tricks, field tactics, or dirty tricks, because there is a referee and rules to follow. The fights are still kinda fun but there is very little engagement.
And I have to stress how darker the first arc was, despite having a lot more absurd elements during its battles. Everybody was constantly grumpy and ready to choke the life out of their enemies, while the only relevant female was the psychotic mother of Baki, constantly mistreating him so she can have sex with his even more psychotic father. It was edgy at times, but it was also much more enjoyable than the second arc that had a comic relief midget and a dull schoolgirl acting as a generic platonic girlfriend.
What I am getting at here, is that although the story was never something special, the first arc had a linear plot where every major character was somehow significant and was getting fleshed out. The tournament arc had everyone waiting for their turn on the ring. Until then, they had nothing to do besides being spectators who were stating the obvious for what is going on in the current duel. There is no plot to speak of and it quickly became boring. The show is all about muscular guys training and fighting each other just to see who the biggest badass is. In vacuum they are all different and cool, but when binging the show you clearly see how none of them feels important because of their sheer number and lack of permanent focus.
I also have to point out how a big part of the appeal was also Baki’s relationship with his crazy ass father. The two of them are the flagship of the whole series, and we don’t get much of it. Baki stops evolving in the tournament and becomes almost of a blank self insert. His father’s backdrop gets fleshed out, but he is still not doing something other than being a jerk who keeps making his son suffer as means to keep getting stronger.
Things seem to improve during the third arc, since the plot goes back to be being about dirty fighting, field tactics, and stealth. It is quickly proven to suffer from the exact same pacing issue as the second arc, with the addition of constantly cutting away every few minutes. Basically, a bunch of convicts go after Baki but they are constantly bumping on the 30 fighters from the previous arc. So again, there is no focus on a few characters. On top of that, since those 30 fighters are no longer standing idle as spectators, they are now constantly jumping in to intervene, or the convicts constantly do tricks to escape and leave the battle inconclusive. On top of that, a fight that is at large is constantly stopped and the scene changes to show us what someone else is doing at the time thus ruining the fun.
Basically, the third arc has the same problem that plagues all stories that go past a tournament. You either never again show the fighters that took part in it, thus making it even more clear of how meaningless it was to spend time on them, or you keep them all around and you need to find something for them to do. The cast was now over 50 fighters doing their daily routine or bumping onto the convicts, making the plot extremely fragmented and unfocused.
On top of that, even if you somehow make a compilation of the fights so they will seem uninterrupted, they are still going to be horrible to look at. The CGI is now everywhere and it makes the characters look like something out of a Playstation 1 era. The android animation is also extremely cheap, as most motions are essentially stills that slide instead of actual motion. Most of the badassery is lost because of it.
I also need to point out how messed up the power scaling is. You never get a clear picture of who is stronger than whom, with the only exception being Baki’s father, who is the strongest man in history. At one scene it seems like A is stronger than B, only to somehow be proven weaker than C, who lost to B. For example, in the first arc Gaia was referred to as the second strongest person in the world, and then the second arc introduces all those fighters who are supposed to be even stronger. Then the third arc introduces the convicts, who are supposed to be even stronger, yet they all get defeated by the lower end of the fighters of the second arc.
The dirty tactics many are using could be used as a justification for why some can get the upper hand in cases where normally they would lose. But as it turns out not even that makes much sense, since the convicts are all crazy powerful on their own, and their dirty tactics are actually making them underperform. Plus, Baki gets a power up in this arc not through training or through some realization but because he lost his virginity. I kid you not; the show treats sex as a power up.
We also don’t get an actual finale, since the story ends without a resolution and it’s yet another case of go read the manga, where you get a whole bunch of arcs that keep going forever. There is never any clear objective or end point, making the whole thing being literally about endless pointless fighting.
Down to it, Grappler Baki is cool at points, but as a whole unfocused and badly directed and animated. It stands no chance next to better produced titles, even if their action is nowhere close as brutal.
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.
I was extatic to find these series becouse it's if only take in the fighting aspect is one of the best if talking about hand to hand combat i would say eaven the best anime there is, ofcourse it isin't perfect.
The story is quite good, a boy who seeks to overcome his father and become the strongest man in the world in the series you see his strugle as he rises in "the food chain" of fighters. If you are a guy there is like 90% probability that you have had that dream eaven if for a litle while. So as i could realate to that it made realy happy to so an anime of this kind of perspective. Other thain that it had a fiew gaps in the story but realy nothing major.
The animation on the other hand well let's just say its not for everyone the fighting seens where good but the drawing...
Character development as the anime goes it reviels Bakis backround the other characters where being introdused quite often and all of them only with preliminary small backrounds.
Sound was well mached the op and end wherent anything special.
BUT ITS A MUST WATCH IF YOU LOVE FIGHTING ANIME.
Baki the grappler is such a great anime sometimes you tend to forget how young the character is haha.It has alot of drama and ALOT of action if you like fighting animes this is one of the best and is a must watch
All spoilers are marked with strikethroughs. Caution advised while reading.
Grappler Baki isn't that complex of an Anime. In fact, it is one of the more simpler ones with a very little story to it, and with an enhanced focus on action. While other anime such as Dragon Ball Z or Yu Yu Hakusho at least had a somewhat feasible backstory to them which made the anime worth watching even if you took out all the amazing action and hype from it, Grappler Baki doesn't really seem to have much of a basis in much of anything. Luckily, though, the anime isn't as much of an action-oriented mess like Black Lagoon from the anime that I can name and is more or less barely watchable with a few factors which keep you watching it even if things might seem to get a little flat.
I haven't watched much anime, but I'd say that the art and animation is more or less below average for the time when it was produced and that the same would go for its sound as well. By modern contexts, they pretty much suck with the animation being choppy, the art blurry and pasty, and the sound flat and boring. They would've probably had done a much better job by using songs available under Free Licenses for their opening and ending themes. There are only two saving graces for the anime,
1. The dark undertone of the anime can be felt from the very beginning which leaves you uncertain whether there will be a happy ending to it and makes you watch to find out for yourself.
2. The martial arts that are shown in the anime have been quite well researched and presented in realistic or exaggerated terms in what they were meant to be. This point isn't really true for the first season of Grappler Baki, but rather the second season. However, as far as things go in the first season, there is a lot of content which is quite unrealistic. But then again, when have we watched anime for its realism. And in the face of most other anime fo the genre, it is comparatively surprisingly realistic.
Apart from that, there is a very simple backstory to the anime and the story isn't tied together all too well with events just occurring over time arbitrarily. Not to mention that the dialogues aren't the most innovate lines that one can think of...
Grappler Baki is based on the notion that in the root of masculinity lies the desire to be the strongest man in the entire world and while most people lose it or replace it over time, there are a select few remaining who still strive to be the strongest in the world. These people are supposed to be known as Grapplers even though that means something completely different when taking martial arts into context, especially considering the fact that there is little to no grappling to be found throughout the anime.
The anime opens with a scene displaying the brawling prowess of Baki and his desire to become the greatest fighter on Earth when he walks up to challenge one hundred men to a fight... Alone. If you think that's crazy, you've got another thing coming as the anime only gets even crazier as it keeps progressing.
He has the support of a cop who tries to guide him towards the right path and keeps him away from prison and trouble. He is seen as a lonely, young, troubled teen who has no friends and tons of enemies which he has made on his path towards being the 'ultimate man' as per the theme of the anime. His only motivation to become the strongest in the world is to attain his mother's approval, who has more or less rejected him since she's infatuated with his father Hanma Yuujiro, who has rejected Baki for his lack of strength and ruthlessness as a member of the Hanma family. He hence wishes to gain his mother's love by becoming stronger than his father and dethroning him. It's all a big play on the Oedipus complex, to be honest.
The show also features the past of his father, who was a wild beast in his own regard. A ruthless member of the military, Baki's newly married mother fancies him at a party and he seems to take a liking to her. He would later appear in her quarters in front of her husband, kill him, impregnate her with Baki, and then leave. She falls in love with the beast and lies to the cops about Yuujiro, essentially making Baki an illegitimate child conceived in the shadow of murder. I hope you're pretty intrigued by the story thus far...
While that's the backstory to the anime, that's pretty much all the story you'll be getting until the end of season 2. There's a slight twist to the story at the end of Season 1, but it changes effectively nothing.
Baki keeps on chasing his ambitions to defeat his father and goes through a wide variety of training to achieve it, starting off by following his father's footsteps and training in the jungles where he tosses himself off a cliff in order to achieve control over endorphins (essentially natural painkillers in real life but a fighting boost in the anime) and fights a fictional beast called the Yasha where he learns perhaps his favourite signature move which he'll end up carrying with throughout his journey all the way till the end of season 2. In case you're wondering, it is a kick to the groin...
He then goes on to fight a member of the Yakuza who apparently cannot fight, which came as a surprise to me because I thought that Baki couldn't fight when I first saw him fighting, but can grab you so hard he can tear apart the muscles in your body.
He also goes on to fight a team of guerilla soldiers deployed in a forest where he learns to control Adrenaline.
He would then finally go up against his father, who's more or less curious about the powers of a Hanma awakening in his son. He has also lost all affection for Baki's mother at this point since she gave birth to a weak son. By this point, Baki has grown quite strong and even his technique has drastically refined over time. He finally faces his father and gets defeated in battle. His father, disappointed in him, decides to kill Baki when his mother steps in to save her child, acting as a mother for the first time since she gave birth to him. Yuujiro decides to spare Baki by killing the woman who gave birth to his son instead. Baki wakes up to this and finds himself devastated. And here's the subtle shift in Baki's motivations for defeating his father. Instead of wishing for his mother's approval, he now wants to kill his father to avenge his mother instead.
The rest of the anime is Baki travelling around the world, trying to find some challenging opponents to grow stronger than ever before and kicking even more people in the groin. This continues until he stumbles on to an underground tournament held in Japan without any rules where the strongest of the world from various disciplines battle it out to determine the one person who's the strongest in the world. Even though everybody knows that the strongest person is, without a doubt, Hanma Yuujiro...
The rest is the tale of Season 2. But as far as Season 1 is concerned, there is a lot of explicit violence portrayed in very dark and brutal manners. Baki's fighting style remains wild and unrefined for the most part until his fight against Yuujiro, which leads me to wonder about what brought on the sudden change. At least the action is more or less streamline and the animation displays every single aspect of the action, no matter how brutal. There is an undertone which is more of a hybrid between trying to be badass and grossly overshooting and being a cold-blooded killer. But I suppose that's just the spirit of those that are ready to sacrifice everything in order to achieve their dreams of being the strongest in the world.
The usual Shounen theme of the protagonist being kind and warm is present with Baki as well, as he continues to turn defeated enemies into strong allies with his charm and optimistic outlook on the world (Even though that's never really shown in the anime). This includes the Yasha Ape even though Baki supposedly turned his Avocados into Guacamole given the number of kicks he threw there.
Anyhow, that's Grappler Baki for you. At least, the first season. But despite all the criticism and the effort and budget (or lack thereof) put into the anime, it's still good enough for a casual watch in my opinion. If you're fine with explicit violence and demented ways of life, that is...