"Baki the Grappler" Return of the Gore
Over the various volumes, I’ve actually grown to enjoy Baki the Grappler. However, it has now moved to a tournament-style plotline, which has plagued many, many shonen anime over the years.
Baki has been training for two years to become stronger than his father and has entered the Underground Fighting Circuit. One year after his entry, he has become the undefeated champion of the ring. To date, he has defeated a number of fighting specialists. However, his next two opponents will test his luck, as one is an expert at pinching nerves, while the other is seven feet of pure muscle. As if that wasn’t enough, Baki’s found himself a girlfriend!
There’s not much to these episodes aside from the two major Baki fights. Sure, there’s a new guy named Katou who’s bored of normal opponents and ashamed of his past, but he hasn’t really done much aside from cheer for Baki. Hopefully, they’ll explore his past a bit more and give a reason to care about this guy. But at least he sticks around for a while, as it appears that this is the only appearance of both of Baki’s opponents, which is a shame. I hate it when anime introduces new opponents just before the hero fights them, and then develops them in the middle of the battle, which happens two times on this disc. I’m tired of this story device and want it gone. Develop the fighters and reveal them well beforehand, not five minutes before they fight Baki! It’ll make the audience care about them a lot more.
But these fighters do bring back the gore that the series has been missing for a while, though I wasn’t missing it. Things get started with a guy who is somehow able to grab nerves from under skin and snap them, and he does this a couple times, which is really gross. Though somehow, these nerves get repaired without surgery in time for Baki’s next fight, which features the usual amounts of unnatural body stretching, which I guess is needed since Hanayama’s not a main character anymore. Combined with the animation, these scenes look more brutal and gross than usual, and left a sour taste in my mouth. And since Yujiro’s back next episode, things look to get a whole lot worse (here’s hoping he wears more than a speedo).
When Baki’s not in the ring, he’s busy doing his best impression of Yusuke Urameshi from Yu Yu Hakusho. It’s weird how many similarities there are between the two series on this disc. There’s the tough fighter kid who skips school a lot (granted, for different reasons), and is dragged into the classroom by his eventual girlfriend (though it’s unknown how long Baki has known Kozue, this series’ version of Keiko), who takes care of him and his dog. It doesn’t help that the teacher looks exactly like Iwamoto from Yu Yu and that Baki himself sounds almost exactly like Yusuke in the dub (despite not being voiced by Justin Cook). I’m sure all of these things are merely coincidental, but it is pretty funny, and since I’m growing tired of Tokugawa’s antics, this is the only other thing worth watching outside of the fights.
Those fights would be a lot more exciting if the animation was better. Once again, we get a variance in quality, from decent to embarrassing, and the tweening work is still highly flawed. The animators just can’t seem to get used to animating giant mountains of muscle, which makes me wish the production staff would just change studios already. The animation tries to hide its flaws via manipulated stills and special effects, but that just makes the fights look cheaper. You know the animation is bad when even the worst animated battle from Pokémon Advanced Generation, which had a much lower budget, looks a hell of a lot better. The transfer itself is mostly decent, but the intro is still full of jagged lines everywhere. I wish FUNi would fix that.
Dubbing wise, we get the usual. All of the characters in both languages are voiced rather decently, but the odd thing comes from the English version, as both of Baki’s opponents, Kousho and Toba, are voiced by Christopher Sabat. Now, he does them both well and makes them seem as different as he can (Kousho sounds like a serious Yamcha while Toba sounds like Piccolo), but it is a rather amusing casting choice. Aside from that, nothing has really changed. Most of the English actors are relative rookies, but they do their best and provide a respectable dub.
In the extras menu, we get the usual including trailers (including a really nice one for the next volume of Baki), textless songs, images, and character bios. There’s also a commentary for Episode 17 featuring Jeremy Inman (the ADR director) and Robert McCollum (voice of Baki). While still not as fun as the Disc 3 commentary, it’s much funnier than the previous volume’s, and proves to be a rather entertaining listen. However, they do slightly spoil parts of future episodes, so those listening, be wary.
Overall, this is a decent addition for those collecting Baki. This disc is more of a transitional disc to show how Baki is living now, so those who are jumping in won’t be too lost.
Episodes on Baki the Grappler Volume 5: Young Champion:
Episode #17: “Champion”
Episode #18: “The Cord-Cutter”
Episode #19: “The Right to Fight”
Episode #20: “An Honorable Loss”