Cartoon Catch Up | Baki the Grappler

With Netflix recently releasing the series Hanma Baki – Son of Ogre, the third season of the modern Baki anime adaptation, and love for the series growing after a 17-year gap from the original Baki the Grappler anime, there’s no better time to dive into the Baki franchise in all its absurd glory.

Baki is a character who lives to fight, a character who yearns to get stronger to defeat his monstrous father and gain revenge for all the things that the antagonist has done. Created by Keisuke ItagakIt, the Baki franchise has spanned over twenty-five years of manga and anime versions that are filled with intense fights, over the top moments and high stakes adventure.

Baki is essentially fighting for the sake of fighting, and the characters, outside of their individual ideologies, never really develop much in the way of characterisation. That said, there is a charm here, not only in the strong three-dimensionalism of the grotesquely muscular artwork, but rather in the overall heart of the series. It takes us from fight to fight in craziness that not only delivers us action-packed battles where fighters literally put their entire bodies and souls into each encounter, but in the build up and drive towards each fight, highlighting the goals of each character to prove their superiority in this cutthroat world.

From the original animation series to the newer Netflix version, it is clear to see how the animation style has changed. Developing lines of action, contortions of the body and adding the speed and dynamic weight of each hit, truly exemplifies the mangaka’s (manga artist’s) vision, a vision that takes itself seriously, despite its wild, outlandish nature.

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The Baki series features such absurdity that it is hard not to fall in love with it. The original anime alone features a battle against a giant ape creature, an unstoppable monster of a man enhanced by drugs, and a man who can literally tear the tendons from a person’s body with his bare hands. The modern adaptation is even wilder, as we see Baki take on five escaped death row inmates from around the world, all of whom want their shot at the youngster, eager to test themselves and his abilities. If these plot points intrigue you then you may be in for a treat with this one, because Baki the Grappler has even more to offer.

The heart of this series comes from its creator, a lover of martial arts, who clearly puts everything into his work. Without this input to draw upon, it would be impossible to adapt it to such a powerfully animated version. Thankfully, Keisuke Itagaki’s original work has remained largely unchanged in the almost perfectly accurate adaptation to the small screen.

This has allowed for the author’s mindset to shine through into every character and fight, motivations and all, bringing a certain gorgeousness to every moment. Each character fights in a way that shows their love for martial arts, there is very little else in the plot other than the sheer dedication to keeping the protagonist on his path, a result that keeps us hooked in the overall (almost non-existent) narrative, a study into anatomy, action, movement, detail, power and style.

In conclusion, Baki is a series that is often overlooked, yet is a skilled depiction of a fun time – although not without its flaws – and continues, in all its forms and incarnations, to show that there is something for every fan of shonen-esque storytelling. You may not find Baki to be the Shakespeare of anime, but you will have an exciting time, I can assure you of that.

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