"Baki the Grappler": Great Start, But Enough Yujiro Already!
Get ready, boys and girls, because it’s time for a new season of Baki the Grappler! Yes, get ready for tournaments, tournaments and more tournaments! And just for variety, we’ll have muscle-bound guys pound each other into the dirt! Never had that before on this show, have we?
After the success Baki brought the Underground Supreme Fighting Circuit last season, Tokugawa decides to up the ante and create an actual fighting tournament. With strong fighters from around the world, this tournament promises to be one to remember! After spending a year or so meditating in the trees, Baki, more focused than ever, returns to defend his title. But he’ll have to face a giant of a man who can kill with one slap! Meanwhile, Kato finally gets a chance to prove his stuff, but his first opponent is…an ape? Hanayama returns as well, but he has to face off against a master of the martial arts, while Doppo’s son, Katsumi, seems poised to claim the championship and beat Baki to the ground! Can this arrogant fighter back up his words? And who exactly is this Yu Amanai, and how did this soft-hearted man get to be Yujiro’s protégé? Things are about to get interesting in the Tokyo Dome, but can Kozue accept Baki’s life the way it is now?
Towards the end of last season, things were starting to get a bit dull. The fighters had become less interesting, and the story moved along at a snail’s pace, with a fight every two episodes or so. That’s all fixed here. The fights move fast and furiously, and there are a lot of them. In fact, there are almost a dozen separate fights in these four episodes! What’s even better is that they’re all entertaining and different. New styles are introduced, including American boxing, and about three different kinds of street fighting, which is refreshing considering the “martial artist fighting different kind of martial artist” rut that last season got to. And some of the fighters you’d expect to be defeated rather easily actually win their matches while others you’d think would claim a victory or two get beat down rather easily. The only problem is the inclusion of the Yasha Ape’s child. It may come back into the story later, but right now it just seems as though it was thrown in to show off Katsumi’s strength. The problem is we already know Katsumi is strong, as we found out when he and Baki had their little skirmish earlier.
But the end of the disc just grinds the action straight to a halt, as none other than Yujiro appears. I was hoping we’d seen the last of him for at least this disc, but I guess I was wrong. Frankly, I’m getting sick of seeing this guy in every volume and I wish the writers would give this guy a break. Yes, we know he’s strong, stronger than 99.99% of the people on this planet. He’s so strong the military escorts him wherever he goes. But we don’t need to be reminded of him every two or three episodes. We know he’s Baki’s ultimate goal, and presenting Yujiro in the same arena diminishes the importance of the other fights, since we know none of them stand a chance against the Ogre. I understand his role, to get his protégé into the tournament in order to take down Baki, but that could have been saved until later. And from the looks of it, next episode we’ll get yet another “Yujiro beats the crap out of some random idiots” sequence, which became boring in Volume 4.
While most of this disc is good story-wise, the animation couldn’t keep up. The designs on the characters seem much more simplified than before, probably to reduce the workload of the animators, but it doesn’t translate into better animation. Surprisingly, the animation has actually gotten worse. Most of the fights, though clever, suffer from manipulated still shots and bad frame movement. Honestly, the animation here is bordering on embarrassing. I don’t know if the production company switched animation studios or what, but the change wasn’t good for the series. Even early Pokémon has better animation, which is saying something. The intro and ending get new visual sequences, but they’re not much better. The intro basically has CG Baki, Doppo and newcomer Kanjo showing off their moves, but the CG looks like it came out of a bad GameCube game, making the intro rather boring. The ending sequence is OK, as it showcases all the fighters and their match-ups, but it’s not updated every episode, so only the same first few people are blacked out every episode. Luckily, the eye-catchers are updated every episode, which is cool.
Though we get a new opening visual, we don’t get a new song, as the series continues to use Dir en Grey’s “Child Prey.” The song still works, for the most part, but the lackluster visuals make for a boring intro. At least it doesn’t have the transfer problems the last intro had. The new ending song, like the last ending, is mostly forgettable and features some really bad Engrish from Ryoko Aoyagi. Voice-wise, we get all the returning cast members from the last series, even Chris Sabat as Shinogi Kosho (the nerve-pinching guy from last season), and all the newbies are voiced rather well. Not surprisingly, a lot of the new voices also worked on Dragonball Z, so they know how to do a fighting anime. The Japanese cast remains the same as well, and while it’s not my favorite dub in either language, it still works for the show, so current fans should be pleased either way.
Now we come to the extras. As per usual, the commentary is the main feature, this time with Chad Bowers, the ADR Director, and Chris Rager, who played Regal (as well as Yuri back in the beginning of the series and Hercule in Dragonball Z). The commentary is a bit fun, but drier than previous commentaries. Once again, we get a look into the stylistic differences between the various directors, as well as a quick Hercule cameo, but other than that, it’s rather boring. After that, we have the usual extras: summaries, bios, trailers, and songs. Unfortunately, we don’t get any more character punch-out figurines, which saddens me. Sure, they were useless in the overall picture, but they were a neat addition and a nice refresher from yet more pencil boards. This DVD was supposed to come in a Starter Set to hold the second season in, but apparently that box has been canceled. Too bad.
Overall, this is a fun disc for current Baki fans, but whether it continues to be great depends on your tolerance for Yujiro. Newbie Baki fans can jump right into this disc if they want, as there isn’t all that much prior knowledge needed.
Episodes on Baki the Grappler Round 7: The Hunted
Episode #25: “The Opening”
Episode #26: “Reverse”
Episode #27: “Darkness from Light”
Episode #28: “The King Returns”