In a move that still seems like a dream for fighting anime fans world wide, the mixed martial arts series that started with “Grappler Baki” back in 2001 debuts the next chapter in the life of the world’s strongest high schooler in the adaptation of the 3rd arc by Keisuke Itagaki, “Baki Hanma: Son of Ogre”.
Taking the reins from Group TAC, Studio TMS Entertainment and Double Eagle, along with Netflix and Sentai Filmworks leading the way for distribution, previously made it possible to see the second series “Baki” after nearly two decades after the original animation went off-air. Encasing the “Death Row Convicts”, “Centennial Tournament”, and “Muhammad Ali Jr.” arcs, Baki Hanma goes face-to-face with at that point some of the deadliest martial artists on earth while expanding upon the stories of supporting combatants that he took on in the original story. The conclusion of the 39-episode saga was Baki’s declaration to finally finish the fight he lost to his father, Yujiro Hanma, who is the strongest man known on earth. Thus, this leads directly into “Son of Ogre”, the ultimate training arc whose finale promises to be an equally devastating bout between father and son.
The first season, consisting of 12 episodes, mainly covers the “Olivia’s Fortress” Arc while leading up to what will be the next challenge for Baki and company on the road to challenge Yujiro. For readers of the original graphic novels, an expectation that both the first stories, detailing the Elementary Boy’s Challenge and the Praying Mantis fight in Baki’s basement, would have gone on far longer than maybe audiences might prefer. As a reader of the novels myself, it felt like a slog to burn through those chapters, even if it was Keisuke’s intent to add nuance and depth to the fights ahead, which they do, but every big fight is a spectacle in the world of Baki The Grappler, so every slowed-down set of moments feels like the time waiting for a roller coaster to reach the peak, where the drop triggers all the excitement and adrenaline one could want. Thankfully, all the details of those stories are encapsulated within the first two episodes, giving the animation all the time in the world to explore the first big arc in the series, the fight against Biscuit Oliver, aka “Olivia The Unchained”, America’s strongest man.
As expected by fans after the completion of “Baki”, the 3rd adaptation of the Hanma story delivers tremendously, with the extraordinary amount of muscular detail, fight choreography, and graphic violence still very much intact from the original work. What makes this series unique from other fighting genre shows is the sheer amount of remixing this universe does with real world situations and characters. The previous series introduced Muhammad Ali as not only one of the greatest boxers of his generation, but as a compatriot of Yujiro, giving the creative freedom to write in a fictitious version of his son, Ali Jr, who in this incarnation followed in his father’s footsteps to take the boxing he learned and turned it into its own unique martial style. For “Son of Ogre”, not only are we introduced to “Iron Michael”, aka Mike Tyson, but we also get to see the 43rd President George Bush, providing Baki with the ability to enter the prison Olivia’s housed in out the middle of the Arizona desert, all after kidnapping him in the middle of the day during a parade. The story is nowhere near grounded in actual reality, where whole countries and governments live in fear of Yujiro Hanma, but the inclusion of real world elements makes interacting with the story that much easier and more fun.
Getting to watch each of the fights in this first season, whether it be between Jun Guevaru, aka Mr. Second, and his challengers, or the main bout with Olivia himself, the start of the 3rd series detailing Baki Hanma’s life is off the charts in action as it is ridiculous but fun graphic mixed martial art fighting. While the first animation from 2001 is still hard to find to see how the story started, viewers can get clued in from TMS’s well-timed flashbacks in the 2016 series, also available on Netflix’s streaming service and available for home purchase from Sentai Filmworks.
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