Baki the Grappler Vol. #01 (also w/box) -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: B

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  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: B
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
  • MSRP: 29.98/39.98
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Baki the Grappler

Baki the Grappler Vol. #01 (also w/box)

By Chris Beveridge     June 09, 2005
Release Date: June 14, 2005

Baki the Grappler Vol. #01 (also w/box)
© FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.

What They Say
Every warrior's life is but a moment. These fearless fighters exist knowing all too well that each moment could be their last. There is always someone stronger, or faster. There is always someone unafraid to go to any length to ensure victory, or survival. And at least once in each warrior's life, that warrior wonders what it would be like to be the worlds best. It is this great unknown, this passion for power that drives the Grappler. Each must choose to throw all else aside to achieve their goal, or forever shrink into the shadows, their potential unfulfilled.

Feeling his training to be the strongest fighter in the world is going nowhere, Baki Hanma quits his program believing that the only coach he needs is himself. Baki stumbles on his first step into this new world. Will he learn from his errors and achieve his potential? Or will he forever disappear among the millions of fighters who never realized that one must crawl before one may walk?

The Review!
With the drive to be better than his father, Baki strikes out on his own to become stronger than he has in the past.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The show has a very active stereo mix to it as there is a lot of action across the screen and its designed to have the blows wooshing in all different directions. This is nicely done here and while it doesn't have quite the depth or oomph of an original 5.1 mix does, it is an active mix and serves the show well. We took in the 5.1 track briefly and that had a bit more punch to it in terms of directionality. With both languages tracks, we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Addition: The opening sequence for this season had a rights issue with the song that was there and according to those more familiar with the subject than I, the second season opening song was used in place of it since the rights could not be secured.

Originally airing in 2001, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1 but is not enhanced for anamorphic playback, just as the Japanese release was not. The series is fairly dark in nature with lots of night time sequences and in enclosed areas so there's lots of shades of black and gray used throughout which are well represented and mostly maintain a solid feel. Some of the dark greens are bit more shifty but don't outright go into full macroblocking. There is a distinct amount of aliasing throughout this though, most noticeable during mid-range character shots and with some designs where the costume the character is wearing is full of tight lines. It's noticeable enough but is something that I'd wager most people really wouldn't notice. The transfer for the most part captures the look and feel of the show.

Emphasizing its dark nature, the opening cover to the series features a shot that just feels like it's about to explode with violence while the background reinforces it with a collage of shots done in dark greens and blacks that are all stitched together. Only Baki and the Yasha Ape are in full color in the lower right corner and the way it's laid out really draws the eye there. The new English language logo is used here as well. The back cover uses the same kind of collage of images with the same colors underneath everything but without the stitching or the tight layering. There's a few color shots from the show scattered around and the bulk of the text covers the episode numbers and titles as well as the summary. The discs features are nice and clear and with the inclusion of a technical grid, it's extremely easy to find all the necessary information for how the release is designed. No insert is included in this release.

In addition to the disc only release, a disc + box release was also done. The box captures much the same feel as the cover artwork of the first volume by using a slick black paper and then overlaying much of the imagery in dark shades of green. One panel has a face shot of one of the villains while Baki is in full color along the bottom right while the other side does the same but with the Yasha Ape there. The top and the spine both features character shots from the show and are all "attached" together with pieces of tape which is cute and adds to its rough nature. The box is designed to hold six volumes for the first season of the show and it's a good solid chipboard type. They do include an extra of a sort here, though it's one I imagine more people will just toss out than use. The cardboard insert that's used to keep the DVD in place has along one of its sides 3 cut-out "tabletop fighters" that you can then play with. Instructions for it are provided on the inside of the cardboard insert.

The main menu for this series is a decent static piece that features a large head shot of Baki along the left in his school uniform while the selections are on the right underneath a series of pictures that are taped to the screen. The background is fairly hard to discern but it uses a similar style to the front cover with the murky dark green images, all of which is set to a brief piece of instrumental music. Access times are nice and fast and the layout is easy to navigate and free of any real problems. With the way FUNimation labels and works their language layout, we don't use our players' presets since they never work. Setting it up via the menu works perfectly however.

The first volume has an interesting mix of extras. There are a couple of brief screens that cover some of the basics of Muay Thai Boxing and how it's evolved since spreading westward. A couple of art galleries are included, such as one with art from the manga series and another of just stills of Baki. There's also a section of character profiles of which history has told me to stay away from. Also included is a commentary track for the first episode which is done by the English language series director and the voice actor for Baki. It's a pretty standard commentary where once again some of the basics of voice acting and directing are talked about and so forth.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Baki the Grappler is a property that ran for forty-two volumes in its manga form over the years. Back in the late 90's, an extended length OVA was made for it which takes place much further in the continuity than we get here which was essentially one of those gift OVAs for fans of the show. Those who hadn't read the manga would get the idea, but without all the details from reading the manga it didn't have quite the same impact. And at the time it came out here, it was one of numerous "fighting anime" that we were plagued with so the overall reaction simply wasn't positive on the DVD front.

In 2001, they had enough material that they decided to actually do a full on series. In fact, it went for two seasons, which FUNimation confirmed having both of when they announced the license. With twenty-four episodes in the first season, it definitely moves beyond what we got with the original OVA episode by going back to the beginning and showing him from a certain period forward. I'd been very interested in seeing this since I had really enjoyed the manga when it ran in Raijin a few years prior since the art style stood out against everything else in there and the character, which does change and grow from what we see here, was just a lot of fun to watch as he tackled whatever opponent he was up against.

Baki the Grappler is a very simple series in its concept and it definitely falls under the tournament concept, though not quite right away. We're introduced to a pair of stories in the first several episodes that run in parallel and don't quite officially meet up. One of them is that we're introduced to thirteen year old Baki Hanma, a young man who has quite the chip on his shoulder about becoming as strong and powerful as his father, a father who has moved on some time ago. We get to see what kind of spunk he has right out of the gate when he takes on a group of a hundred street thugs at once, though he only manages to take down thirty seven of them before a detective familiar with Baki breaks the thing up. Baki had hoped to take down at least fifty of them before being overwhelmed.

This is one of those critical moments where he realizes that the way he's been training just won't do it anymore. Something is missing and he's not getting better or stronger, so when he arrives at the high-tech training center the next day, he practically trashes it before striking out on his own. This is where we get to see him seeking out the kinds of challenges you can't find simply. One of them leads him to a boxing gym where he gets to see a Russian fighter using Muay Thai boxing and he becomes fascinated by the man's incredible speed and stamina as he deals with his opponent. His cockiness brings him into the ring where he meets his first defeat in a one on one competition, but it does serve as something that inspires him even more. And that gets him to follow in his fathers steps where he then heads off to the forests where an old friend of the family lives as well as something big and powerful called the Yasha Ape, a creature that lives for a couple of hundred years and is just filled to the bone with mean power.

Baki's growth through this is more mental than really physical though he does pick up some tricks along the way. The striking out on his own and following his fathers footsteps has him on the right path to gaining power through his own abilities rather than through the training of others. Being put into fights where his life is actually on the line is what drives and motivates him now and that forces him to not take the easy road at any point in time. There's also in the back of his mind his mother, a woman who took control of the Akezawa Group and is one of those people who as powerful as they are, are never "known" by most of the world. She manipulates things so that Baki has less issues getting onto the path but she mostly just encourages him during their one scene together to become better than his father ever was.

The other storyline that's going on has one of Emi Akezawa's subordinates going around the country and picking people to join in a tournament that she intends to secretly run, one where her son will be the star if he manages to train himself properly. Her subordinate, an amusing looking short man with huge glasses, goes around to different places and either outright hires on people or sets up smaller fights in order to bring in the people he wants. And he's not picking up your average fighters, but people like massively deadly gang leaders and other street fighters. This all runs in parallel to Baki's training and helps move that overall storyline forward and lets us get a look at the people Baki will face later without having to work up their histories during the fight but rather here.

Baki in these episodes fits the role of the punk kid with the chip on his shoulder and the power to back it up nicely. This isn't like a lot of other fighting shows or tournament shows that are out there right now. Unlike Yu Yu Hakusho, Baki throws himself headfirst into all of this and works just by himself. Unlike Fighting Spirit, he's not interested in the event itself or the beauty of fighting. He simply wants to be the strongest there is and win so that he can take on his father and truly prove himself. We get a few glimpses of the kind of training his father put him through when he was younger and it's definitely different but it shows how its shaped him. His teenage years though are where things will really count and the two episode arc here with the Yasha Ape really sets it up nicely.

In Summary:
Going by the manga and even the old OVA, I'm admittedly more looking forward to the later tournament material with the older Baki than what we have just right now, provided they follow the manga in that regards. What we do have here is a nicely violent show " something I wouldn't have cared for back in 1998 " that doesn't feel like most things out there. From the opening song by Dir Eng Gray and the brutality in a lot of scenes, this is something that continues to provide a real alternative to the shoujo and happy-go-lucky shonen titles that fill most of the shelves these days. I used to turn away from such things because that's all we got and often just in short OVA form. But like life, my tastes have definitely changed and I'm enjoying what I've seen so far and have hope for the potential that it could have based on the manga.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles, Feature on Muay Thai Boxing, Director of Baki Commentary, Manga Art Stills Gallery, Baki the Grappler Stills Gallery, Character Profiles

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.


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