Baki the Grappler Vol. #06 (of 12) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, March 17, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, March 21, 2006



What They Say
The King goes underground! When Yujiro appears in the underground arena and quickly humbles his champion son, he accepts a vigorous challenge from the patient Doppo. Doppo's secret ten-year vendetta is exposed to the younger generation's champion - as well as his tremendous abilities as a grappler. But Baki must remain focused.

With his burgeoning friendship with Doppo on the line, he can't help agonizing over the possibilities of the elder warrior's bout with Yujiro. However, his own fate is in question as he awaits his match with a unique foe more concerned with nutrition and exercise than fighting. Kureha battles for the chance to prove the merit of years of research and seal his destiny as the supreme being on the planet.

The Review!
Two key fights run through this volume as the show prepares for the truly big tournament that is the second half of the season.

Audio:
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 whooshing 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.

Video:
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 are a lot 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 shiftier 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.

Packaging:
Using the stitching style again for most of the cover with the heavily obscured artwork underneath, the background emphasizes the dark nature of the show while the full color artwork for this piece is heavily filled with the four fighters from the two fights on this volume. 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.

Menu:
The main menu for this series is a decent static piece that features a large head shot of Baki along the left with a mean look to him 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.

Extras:
The extras continue to be about the same as we have a round of stills from the show, the basic character profiles section and the continual inclusion of the clean songs which I enjoy. This volume also brings us a new commentary episode and like past ones it's enjoyable enough to listen to while working on the review as they do point out some plot bits that may not be entirely visible at first.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Baki the Grappler has had a lot go on during its first half of the series where we met the young lad and his mother who was raising him for that monster of a father of his. We saw his journey from basically a top tier street fighter to one that tackled the monstrous in the Yasha Ape and then to the even more bizarre level of human fighters who have gone beyond the norm. His encounters with his father and those who've served with him over the years have shown him just how weak he was which led to the series moving forward several years to a time where he's now the champion in a popular but secretive underground tournament.

This volume has four episodes that have built up quite a bit in what came before as it's brought Yujiro and Orochi together to finish off the fight that they had started once some ten years prior. This covers about an episode and a half worth of time but it's one of the most brutal fights yet in the series. Prior to entering the ring, we get some nice down time with Orochi as he spends time with his wife at home, goes through his purification and a round of training with everyone in his dojo. Baki's been trying to get him to not take on his father in the fight but there's a history that the two have that must be brought to bear. I've loved Orochi since he got more involved in things in the last couple of volumes but watching these episodes was hard. He's a great fighter who has trained so hard for fifty years that it's not hard to understand why he feels confident in taking him on. Add in the experience he got before in his first fight as well and all of it seems like it's in his favor.

But watching him during the training and all his explanations, plus just having that gut feeling that you know Yujiro can't lose just yet, I can't help but get the feeling that he's not in the right mindset for fighting someone like the Ogre. It's not his look which is almost always a smile of sorts, but it's just that he doesn't have that edge to him that says he'll go at Yujiro with a ferocity and savageness that is required. The Ogre plays to win and even though he may play with his prey, his first and foremost goal is to disable his opponent as quickly and swiftly as possible. Orocohi just doesn't have that edge because of the kind of world he's lived in for so long now, dealing with clean fighting environments in his dojo's and students who will limit themselves against him. If he'd been out and about wandering the world or even participating more frequently in the tournament in the last few years it'd be vastly different.

The other fight we get to watch takes place between Baki and Kureha, the brother to the recently defeated cord cutter. Kureha's an interesting character as he's a master surgeon who other surgeons defer to in an instant. He's performed miracle operations over the years and saved many lives. He's also worked his body into a prime physical specimen that takes into account a variety of different forms of fighting to it so that he's able to deal with almost anything that comes at him. He's not interested in Baki beyond the fact that he's a stepping stone to Yujiro himself and Yujiro is rather interested in him. What makes Kureha a fascinating opponent is that while many fighters gain mastery and understanding of the human body in fighting and training themselves, Kureha knows its inner works better than anyone else besides Yujiro. But even there most of it has been through book smarts and surgery methods but it's something that makes him incredibly dangerous.

The fight between him and Baki is something that's been a long time in coming for Baki. We learn some interesting things about Kureha along the way and Baki's asked to do something in his fight with him that changes his attitude about the man entirely, something that at the time is entirely needed. When the fight starts, Baki gets to utter the perfect line in telling Kureha that, "This isn't a match. This is punishment." It takes a lot to really rile Baki but when he gets to that point nothing stops him from doing what he has to do, even to the point of revealing moves he had been saving to deal with his father someday. Taking place over the last two episodes though with plenty of downtime before and after, the fight is fantastic and is one of the best brutal ones yet. I loved how the cord cutter brother had fought before but this one just has you cringing so many times in how Kureha is able to fight and manipulate his opponents bodies.

In Summary:
Baki the Grappler continues to be a very engaging brutal fighting series, one that has me yelling at the screen when the guy I want to win gets taken down, one that has me cringing with some of the moves and one that has me sitting on the edge of my seat as the cliffhangers get revealed. I know it's easy to pass on shows like this and a few years ago I couldn't avoid these fast enough, but for some reason, Baki the Grappler has simply fascinated me with its love of violence and the way it for the most part doesn't cop out or back away from it. The two fights on this volume are engaging pieces of brutality with four men who are all masters of their bodies and arts. The fights are quick and violent and meaningful. Very recommended.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Director of Baki Commentary,Character Profiles,Textless Songs,Still Gallery

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI set to 480p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: A-
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
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen Letterbox
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Baki the Grappler