It’s like a punch in the face. But you like it anyways.
Muscles, cigarettes, blood, and butchery. Baki, the Netflix adaptation of the manga “Baki the Grappler” has returned for it’s “Part Two”, the continuation of the madness it began several months ago. I reviewed it when it first came out and gave it high praise, with some reservation, for its existence as an ultra-violent shot of a show. That’s a conclusion that remains pretty much the same in its second part, which isn’t so much a second season as it is a continuation of the first half of the story. For what it is, a relic of a different age of violent anime and manga, focusing entirely on flash instead of substance, it’s a riveting, enjoyable experience, best enjoyed with friends and alcohol by your side.
The story of Baki is so inconsequential it might as well not be called a story at all. The plot is the same, continuing the odyssey of the world’s strongest convicts and fighters being called to do battle with each other for supremacy, leaving the titular “Baki” to defeat them all. Frankly, it’s just an excuse to get huge, muscular macho-men who eat nails for breakfast to beat the ever-living crap out of each other in new and exciting ways. Each fighter is also equipped with some kind of superhuman ability to liven up their battles and make them all equally impressive.
I’m extraordinarily critical of most shows, especially those that try to pass off weak scripts and terrible characters as good drama. But my critical ethos concludes that a show that does a small story exceptionally well is always better than a show that shoots for a big story but is too lazy to do it properly. This is why Baki gets such high praise from me. It knows exactly what it is, exactly what it wants to be, and it does so extraordinarily well. The character designs of these gods among men are grotesquely beautiful to watch, and there is a certain satisfaction in seeing a man get punched so hard in the face that his mouth is pushed to the rear of his skull. It’s insane, it’s brutal, it’s hilarious, and while it doesn’t have the same level of style and energy as “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure”, it makes for some damn good viewing if hyperviolence is what you want to enjoy. I’ll dock some points for some awkward CGI at times, but for the most part, the butchery of this show is exceptionally hand-drawn.
In addition, what’s impressive about the production of this second season, which is indicative of Netflix’s new approach to anime, is that it feels as if there was no gap in time at all between the first and second part. It’s very common for shows to lose their way in-between seasons, but Baki doesn’t have that issue. It’s as if the entire 26 episode run was already made but just delayed to allow the first season to settle in. With this level of animation quality, that’s a notable feat, indicating Netflix anime adaptations have their own style of production that trumps the typical studio developments that have plagued seasonal line-ups for some time. If Netflix can get itself some notable properties beyond the shock value, sex and violence engines of Baki and, similarly, “Kakegurui” and “Devilman Crybaby”, then Netflix could be one of the best things to happen to anime production in some time. (As long as things like “Neo Yokio” cease to be made.)
I think this a show that most everyone can enjoy for what it is. Baki is something a relic of a time where everything was trying to be “Fist of the North Star”, with its emphasis on excessive amounts of punching. There’s really very little like it that are still being made today. If you want a good story, if you want something a little more satisfying and meaty, that’s completely understandable, and you should stay away from this show if you do. Yet, I think it’s refreshing to see something that is so shameless in its depravity, so proud of its spectacle that defies expectation. Take it or leave it, but Baki is still something of quality to enjoy, even if it’s an acquired taste.