It’s the bloodiest show since “Hellsing Ultimate.”
From the creators of Megalo Box comes Baki, the hyperviolent Netflix anime adaptation of the long-running fighting series “Baki the Grappler.” Its a show that aims to be the next big thing in fighting anime, a gripping portrayal of over-the-top fighting and machismo that is sure to delight and horrify anyone who decides to binge the series. Its first season has certainly caught my eye and left me hungry for more, and while I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone, if you’ve got a violent itch to scratch, this anime will do the trick.
The series follows of “Baki Hanma”, a high school student who is an incredible grappler and fighting talent, and the son of Yujiro Hanma, the strongest fighter in the world. A character so insanely strong that not even the school bullies will mess with him. One day, he is approached by an old man, Mitsunari Tokugawa, a tournament owner who informs Baki that five death-row prisoners who have all escaped their confinement, seemingly by force of will, so they may “Taste Defeat.” They’re coming to Tokyo to face Baki, which leaves Baki to gather allies and prepare for the coming martial arts war that is about to land on his doorstep.
It’s a really cool set up for a show, and one that leaves plenty of room for insane martial arts fights complete with special abilities and magical powers. “Baki” has to gather some of the most powerful people he can find to survive the fighters coming for him, which gives the show a fun “Fight crew” setup as well. While the show’s plot and design isn’t very complicated, its still done purposeful and deliberate, giving itself plenty of time to establish its world and the key players in it. Its a show that lives and dies by anime tropes and mythology; it delights in them, without any attempt at reality or even sanity.
The art in this series is nothing to sneeze at. Like many of the entries into Netflix’s ever-growing anime canon, Baki wields a powerful budget used to animate itself in gory, teeth-shattering detail. The animation style is reminiscent of “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure”, with its incredibly muscular male bodies and deep lines. The characters, in particular, the fighters, are given this kind of grotesque masculinity that establishes the world of Baki very well as a hyper-violent thriller. You’ll be hard pressed to find a show that has quite the artistic grit of Baki, even among the world of fighting anime. And that art style represents the thematic structure of the series quite well. This isn’t your romantic “Passion and perseverance” kind of shounen; its a gritty, gross art style for a gritty, gross anime.
Baki, at its core, is a story about relentless power and violence in a dark and cruel world. Baki seems to get his power entirely from within and is tied more to his instincts than his virtues or morals. Its characters are, admittedly, one-dimensional, but it sort of works here. This is a show much more about its spectacle and titanic plot than it is about character development. Comparing it to “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure” is pretty apt, its a story that exists to exist, an exercise in strangeness and over-the-top set pieces that don’t care to slow down for anything. If it weren’t animated as well, if it weren’t as terrifically violent, if it didn’t capture the level of spectacle that the show wants, it wouldn’t work, but as it stands it absolutely does.
That being said, the characters don’t feel stupid, just very deliberate. Baki isn’t Hamlet, but he’s not as single-minded as other shounen protagonists tend to be. This certainly stems from the maturity of the show, which doesn’t have time for the idealistic sensibilities of usual shounens. There’s fighting and killing to be had, after all; Luffy or Goku wouldn’t fit at all in this setting.
Baki is a sight to see, though one I can’t necessarily recommend to everyone on the planet. This isn’t a very well-rounded show, it’s not something that is going to scratch your itch for an adventure series or long-form serial. This is a very specific kind of show, one aiming directly for an entertaining and intense violent experience. To that end, it delivers extraordinarily well. I guarantee you won’t get bored, and I guarantee you won’t be forgetting this show any time soon. This is one of the best things to come out of Netflix’s anime venture so far: a show that knows exactly what it wants to do and absolutely kills it. If you’ve got the time, give this series a go, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.