I recently finished the Netflix anime series Baki. Recommended by the good guys who run the Manime panel at Anime Weekend Atlanta, my girlfriend picked this one out for us. She picked this right after we finished Kengan Ashura, another stellar combat anime series I recommend.
With that being said, Baki has its ups and downs. But I will say those downs don’t really hit until the end which I’ll get to shortly. For what it’s worth though, this anime kicks ass. The animation, the music, the character design, and even the narrative history on martial arts and other tidbits of trivia hit a high note.
For those wondering, this adaptation of Baki does not take place at the beginning of the manga. This anime begins with the Most Evil Death Row Convicts arc. The previous tournament arc is essentially recapped right in the opening.
With that being said, I would love to get to the point on why I recommend Baki.
What to Expect from Baki
Baki the Grappler is a martial arts shonen manga released in Japan in 1991. It features the young martial artist, Baki, who seeks to defeat his father, Yujiro Hanma, also known as the Strongest Living Creature. Having murdered Baki’s mother, he seeks revenge while training and fighting against many powerful martial artists.
Compared to your contemporary shonen anime, however, Baki is a great deal more violent and geared towards a more mature audience. Think more like Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure in terms of violence because it pushes on horror levels of gore. On the flipside, Baki also offers insightful trivia on martial arts, history, as well as some grossly exaggerated anatomical feats such as surviving bullets to the face.
The Netflix arc focuses not just on Baki but on a myriad of fighters. The Most Evil Death Row Convicts arc features five fugitives who escaped the death penalty and traveled to Tokyo in order to seek defeat. These convicts fight against Baki as well as his fellow martial artists including Doppo Orochi, Kaioh Retsu, and Gouki Shibukawa, among others.
Stellar Work of Animation and Narrative
Being released in 2018, Baki features some of the most cutting-edge animation. Many of the fights feature some incredibly hard-hitting blows and fast-paced fighting. Along with the stellar character detail, I can’t say enough good things about it.
Every fighter in this series is a true badass. Fighters like Biscuit Oliva and Jack Hanma are among the most intimidating people introduced alongside the already frightening Death Row Convicts. Not to mention some of the convicts are just downright sick in the head, like Spec, who will surely disturb you.
Baki brings a wonderful notion of dread especially throughout the first part of the Death Row Convicts arc. The villains are seemingly unbeatable at first and the fights involve a number of grotesque sequences. For a martial arts series, I daresay the level of violence might blow your mind.
A Couple of Drops in Writing
However, Baki isn’t a perfect anime. I feel there were a few studders here and there with the writing. Naturally, whether it’s the same as in the manga or not, I’m not sure. I certainly don’t fault the anime production team for bringing this to life. Regardless, the writing dips once during the first arc and essentially the second half of the last arc.
For starters, Dorian’s defeat egged me a little bit. He was soundly defeated by Doppo Orochi. Yet he retaliates in a sneak attack against Orochi only to be defeated quickly by Kaioh Retsu. As such, he loses his mind and regresses to a childlike persona. I don’t know why that was ever necessary when it could have ended at Orochi.
This problem also extends similarly to my least favorite arc, the Muhammad Ali Jr. arc. While the manga pays great tribute to Ali, his son initially starts off as an incarnation of Ali, but younger, in the Baki series. Beating down tough fighters using Ali’s skills, Ali Jr. quickly becomes a dominant fighter. Where does that lead us?
I will say, however, that the series pays tremendous respsect to boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
After his utter defeat, he is rematched by and loses to the 3 competitors he previously defeated. Suddenly, he’s going to challenge Baki Hanma and expect to win? After his inevitable defeat, he’s reduced to a crying mess. While I’m all for an arc where a powerful character is humbled and grows from it, nothing came of this ass-whooping that Ali Jr. received. It felt like a pointless direction. And to make matters worse, the arc ends on the cliffhanger of Baki and Yujiro finally going to battle.
The Ali Jr. arc in itself wasn’t terrible. But it didn’t live up to the Raitai Tournament and certainly not the Most Evil Death Row Convicts arc which I found epic. It still had plenty of gorgeously animated visceral scenes but it lacked the tension of the previous arcs as well as building up a prominent fighter just to drop him like a basket of eggs.
I especially enjoyed the Most Evil Death Row Convicts arc. I loved the premise of a life-or-death tournament where a battle could happen at any time. These frightening convicts with superhuman strength were fighting to kill and the series wasn’t afraid to gross you out with it. The latter arcs were endearing with their fights and animation but nothing quite hit like the first one.
With that being said, Baki isn’t perfect but it’s certainly worth watching. For shonen and martial arts enthusiasts, definitely give this one a watch. If you’re interested even further, seek out the manga or the older anime series to catch up on what happened before the Netflix series.
If big muscles, hand-to-hand combat, and gory deaths excite you, Baki will surely deliver. While I would disagree with the direction of writing in a couple of places, I still found myself entertained throughout. The Death Row Convicts and Raitai Tournament arcs were surely exciting.
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