"Baki the Grappler" Reaches the Finals
The Supreme Fighting Championship is nearing its conclusion, and all the weak fighters have been eliminated from contention. Baki continues to train for the upcoming fight against his father, but it seems Jak Xamma has a beef with Yujiro as well.
First up on this volume is “Doppo vs. Shibukawa.” (Isn’t it nice when the episode titles are vague?) Doppo’s always been one of my favorite characters in this series, so any fight that involves him is guaranteed to be awesome in my eyes. Luckily, this fight doesn’t disappoint, as Doppo pulls off some new moves, including his ultimate technique, and gives Goki a hard fight for the first time in this tournament. The episode still uses some of the traditional gore and unnatural muscle-contortions, but for the most part the fight is normal hand-to-hand combat, which makes it pretty fun to watch. The only real problem I have is that we don’t see Katsumi at all. I know he’s still recovering from the beatdown Retsu gave him a while back, but it would’ve been nice to see him watch his father fight and be there when Doppo makes his most painful decision.
Next up is “Warrior’s Legacy,” with Baki fighting Retsu. Now, most of Baki’s fights this season have been rather boring, since his style isn’t as flashy as everybody else’s, and Baki himself hasn’t really changed his expression much since the tournament began. However, this fight is actually kinda cool due to Baki’s new version of image training, which ends up caking a parking garage in blood. (I’d hate to be one of the guys who owns one of those cars. You go down to drive home and you find blood plastered all over your Toyota. That really sucks.) It even impresses Yujiro. We also get some more background on Retsu before he’s defeated (come on, did anybody seriously expect Baki to lose?) as well as see some of his more impressive techniques. This is easily the best Baki fight in this tournament so far.
After that, it’s “Monster,” which is Jak vs. Goki. Obviously, given how much they’ve pumped up Jak, they’re not going to let him be beaten by a random old guy, so of course Jak’s going to win. But this time Jak lets his mouth do the talking: He takes a bite out of Goki—literally. He even bites off Goki’s heels, which couldn’t have tasted good, before spitting the flesh onto the mat. Goki’s doesn’t really use any new techniques here, aside from a neat little bit near the beginning where he clogs Jak’s tear duct, which ends up costing him while making Jak even stronger. Unfortunately, the fight starts right as the episode begins and ends right before the end credits, so there’s a lot of stalling in the middle, which makes the fight seem like it lasts a lot longer than it actually does. The middle part especially meanders along until Jak claims victory.
Finally, we have “The Finals,” which is your typical breather episode. Baki rests on Kozue’s lap in order to get heated for the next match, while Jak finishes off the last of his drugs, despite stern warnings from Kureha to not fight in the finals, since he probably won’t survive even if he wins. Most of this episode is actually taken up by a clip show, showcasing highlights from Baki’s first season as he trained himself, tried to reconcile with his mother, and vowed to defeat Yujiro. There is also a flashback to Jak’s past, but luckily it doesn’t last long, since we saw Jak’s origin just a handful of episodes ago. Really, this episode is pretty much stalling until the final fight, as there’s only one big revelation—which will likely have ramifications for the last four episodes—that occurs at the end of the episode.
The animation has improved steadily episode-by-episode since the second season, and while it’s nowhere near the standards set by Gonzo, Kyoto Animation, or Production I.G., it’s still pretty good here. Movements are fluid without using the really cheap cheats, and luckily the characters aren’t off-model every other scene as in previous episodes. Even Yujiro looks good in these episodes, and he’s usually the easiest for the animators to mess up. Unfortunately, Kozue still looks freaking ugly, and the animation still feels rubbery compared to most of the stuff on Adult Swim, but at this point I’ve learned to get used to it.
Not many changes on the audio front. The dub still has an excellent and diverse cast, and it’s only enhanced by Jak’s actually speaking regularly instead of just standing there scowling. Some of the changes to the dub continue to baffle me (such as changing Goki’s name to Ogi and Jack Hammer to Jak Xamma), but unless you’re a hardcore fan it probably won’t bother you too much. The music remains similar to that on in previous volumes, which is to say that it enhances the visuals without being good enough to make me buy the soundtrack.
Unfortunately, we still don’t have any commentaries on this volume (come back, Jeremy Inman!), but we do have episode summaries, an image gallery, textless songs, and character profiles, along with the usual FUNi & BCI catalogs. And really, what more do you need? Eh?
Overall, this is one of the better volumes of Baki, though it’s hampered a bit by Baki’s general stoicism and the mostly useless Episode 44. If you’re just jumping in, I suggest paying/renting the first season boxset first.
Episodes on Baki the Grappler Round 11: Buren’s Experiment
Episode #41: “Doppo vs. Shibukawa”
Episode #42: “Warrior’s Legacy”
Episode #43: “Monster”
Episode #44: “The Finals”