Baki finally finds his home at Netflix
Baki the Grappler is an extremely popular Manga and not without reason. It’s over-the-top style and storylines practically demand that audiences keep reading to see what happens next. The series has sold over 75 million copies since it’s first appearance in 1991.
Yet Baki the Grappler struggled in the world of anime. There was more than one failed attempt to adapt the story to the small screen. However, the quality was as low as the viewership.
It took 27 years for the manga to be done justice by an anime release. But, by our money at least, it finally happened with the 2018 Baki series. The show brings the stories to new heights, while constantly reminding us while we’ve always loved this eccentric tale.
To understand the Baki The Grappler as a Manga, you have to know a little about its author: Keisuke Itagaki. Itagaki’s first love wasn’t Manga, but martial arts. He practiced boxing during his five-year tenure in the Japanese Self Defense Force.
His love for martial arts is part of what makes Baki the Grappler and his work tick.
However, before Baki, he was writing Manga about makeup. And luckily for you, we aren’t joking. His Manga debut was in 1989 with The Make-Upper. It follows the story of Mimu Zhu, who changes lives through his incredible cosmetology skills.
Itagaki’s eccentric flair has made him popular, even outside of the Baki franchise. He has also provided the story and art for Shaman and the art for Garoden. His work is easily recognizable for his exaggeration, yet textbook accuracy, of the human physique.
Only recently was it finally revealed that Paru Itagaki is Keisuke’s daughter. The lineage had been widely speculated, but never fully confirmed. The Itagaki’s really are the masters of building suspense.
BAKI THE GRAPPLER MANGA SERIES
Baki the Grappler was first introduced to the manga audience in 1991. It first appeared in the Weekly Shonen Champion until it’s final chapter in 1999. Even that 8-year run wasn’t enough for Baki the Grappler though.
Since then sequels have steadily been released within the same magazine where titles: New Grappler Baki: In Search of Our Strongest Hero, Baki: Son of Ogre have been added to the canon. All written and drawn by Itagaki. The most recent series Baki Dou began in 2018.
This long tenure has meant Itagaki gets to make his own statement about current world events. Maybe the most popular is the new character “Tramp” who we can’t help but notice looks vaguely similar to an unpopular American president.
Tramp is a blubbering idiot that pees his pants at the sight of Yujiro. It’s nothing personal to be satirized by Itagaki though, just ask George W. Bosh and Barack Ozuma.
MAIN CHARACTERS AND STORY
The story of Baki The Grappler is a long-lasting dance between two fighters: Baki and Yujiro Hanma. The two are bitter rivals, protagonist vs. antagonist, and they also happen to be related. Yujiro is Baki’s father. Baki has a deep hatred for Yujiro, who killed his mother, and wants nothing more than to defeat him.
The only problem is that Yujiro Hanma is “The Strongest Creature on Earth” and if that doesn’t impress you the way he puts on his cigarettes will:
Baki Hanma is not defenseless against his father, though. He is known as “The World’s Strongest Boy” and is renowned in the underground fighting arena. However, Baki’s first fight with Yujiro is a spectacular defeat that forces him to train even harder.
Their fights are some of the best we see through the manga series. Not that there is any shortage of incredible and often outrageous villains for Baki to fight. Itagaki’s love for martial arts is evident throughout the manga and the fight moves shown are rooted in actual MA moves, even if they are wildly exaggerated.
Even as the series hits additional levels of absurdity, it remains sincere and takes itself seriously. Allowing audiences to do the same.
Baki The Grappler is available to English-speaking audiences digitally thanks to Comixology.
BAKI THE GRAPPLER OVA (1994)
Working with Itagaki’s incredible source material seems like an instant home run for the Baki OVA (original video animation). Especially since the year was 1994 and the early 90s had produced OVA classics like Cyber City Oedo 808.
Baki the Grappler lasts 45 minutes and closely followed the first few chapters of the manga. The main villain was Shinogi Kosho “The Cord Cutter.”
The OVA was later released on VHS in 1996.
For whatever reason, the OVA never took off and remains all forgotten. While not impossible to find, it is rather difficult and is most easily attainable on VHS. Causing some fans to wonder where their old VHS player ended up on.
ANIMATED SERIES (2001)
The first animated series is much easier to find, but we’ll leave it up to you to decide if that’s a good thing. Baki The Grappler ran for 24 episodes on TV Tokyo from 2001 to 2002. Itagaki was involved with the project, but the story and its violence had to be toned down and therefore lost some of its charm.
Soon after the first one ended, a second series Grappler Baki: Maximum Tournament was released. This series also ran for 24 episodes. It was slightly better received than the first series, probably in no small part due to its amazing soundtrack.
Both series were released on DVD thanks to Funimation.
The series are not without their merits and are worth a watch, but it’s widely thought that they don’t do justice to the Manga. Fans would have to wait another 17 years before anyone attempted to take another shot at The World’s Strongest Boy.
BAKI COMES TO NETFLIX (2018)
At the end of 2016, it was announced that Baki The Grappler would be making his way to the small screen again with BAKI. This time with a Netflix budget at his side.
In recent years Netflix has turned more of its energy towards creating and streaming anime. Earlier this year they released the revolutionary short Sol Levante in partnership with I.G. Productions.
Because of this, and the team assembled to work on the new show, audiences had reason to be excited for BAKI.
Toshiki Hirano signed on as director, who has an impressive list of projects including Vampire Princess Miyu and Devilman Lady. Keisuke Itagaki himself came on the project as a writer alongside Tatsuhiko Urahata. Urahata has also worked with Netflix for the anime Hi Score Girl. Baki had an anime dream team.
The show was first released in Japan in 2018 and then globally a few months later.
Baki Season one follows a popular storyline from the Manga series, the Most Evil Death Row Convicts Saga. The show begins by showing us five death row inmates and their impressively bloody skills. We witness attempts to kill these men and every time the convicts have the same response that they “just want to taste defeat”, well that and killing everyone in sight.
Meanwhile, a young Baki has just won a tournament in the underground fighting arena in Tokyo. The only thing that’s hard for Baki is fitting in at school.
With news of a new worthy opponent, all five convicts escape their prison, with some ease and much bloodshed. They all gather and it’s decided that they will all fight to the death. The fights will take place anytime and anywhere. The only rules are there are no rules.
The animation does extreme justice to the original manga with every exaggerated rippling muscle. The show is gruesome and over the top, in other words, it’s an absolute delight. Just when you think you’ve seen it all in anime, BAKI shows someone dying as their intestines come out of their ear.
The season is a visual feast and remains loyal to the manga. Especially enjoyable is the narration provided by legendary anime voice actor Kirk Thornton.
The season was met with mixed reviews, as is to be expected when the source material is as beloved as Baki the Grappler. Overall, though the audiences are just ready to see more. Well, wish granted.
Season 2 of BAKI is right around the corner and will be released globally on June 4th on Netflix. This season will follow the Great Chinese Challenge arc, which the audience already saw a portion of at the end of season 1.
Most of the original cast and crew have returned for the second season. So we can expect high-quality animation, an incredible soundtrack, and maybe more wild fight scenes. Baki the Grappler hasn’t had a simple transition from manga to anime, but it never found the sweet taste of defeat. Baki lives to fight another day, er, season.
While you wait here is the trailer: