This article begins with my examination of what is unquestionably the worst scene in the whole Baki season because I detest the sexual assault scene in it. The season’s second episode begins with Pickle, a reborn caveman, assaulting a news reporter in real time. There are so many more intriguing ways to illustrate the issues inherent in having a huge caveman wandering around in the modern world than he does, and this is nasty, gratuitous, and ultimately lazy writing. Later on in the anime, Pickle refuses to consume anything he doesn’t personally oppose and causes traffic accidents because he doesn’t understand what automobiles are, leading to some even more thought-provoking issues.
Pickle is an entertaining character outside of this, therefore it’s really distressing that the decision was made to establish him early on by his capacity for sexual aggression! He was completely unconcerned with their very serious ideas and goals, which made his joy at defeating these very serious martial artists funny. Because of this dynamic, it became clear that none of these characters are actually adults; rather, they are all overgrown adolescents who are clamoring to fight the new youngster who is one of the best at their game without even recognizing it. While I enjoyed the Raitai Tournament Saga’s exploration of the philosophical underpinnings of various martial arts, I also found the characters’ unbridled delight in being able to do their chosen craft—badly beating up people—at the greatest level to be both entertaining and charming.
Pickle is also a clever martial arts mental experiment. Early self-defense tactics originated from people trying to imitate the actions of animals as they defend themselves from predators, as documented in the Raitai Tournament Saga and numerous martial arts films in general. Some disciplines, like Mantis Style Kung Fu, still explicitly incorporate this inspiration. But how would current martial arts do against someone who had to survive among the world’s toughest beasts, the dinosaurs?
The first 13 episodes of this season of Baki Hanma are centered on that topic, and when it does, it is stunning in a way that is incredibly enticing to my inner 12-year-old boy.
Baki and Yujiro’s long-running feuds are ultimately resolved in the second half of the season as they square off. The bond between this father and son is the main focus, despite the fact that there are some side tales, such as Retsu starting to box and Chiharu Shiba continuously challenging Baki to hype up the young man before his bout with Yujiro. What I expected from an anime with a few episodes that came down to, “What if a caveman fought a guy who did a lot of steroids?” is that the exploration of this connection would be considerably more subtle.
Baki wants to redefine his relationship with his father more this season despite his desire to fight him. Baki is fed up with his father being both the most significant person in his life and a mysterious character he knows nothing about. Therefore, he makes the decision that if and when they argue, it will be because they had a disagreement, which is usual between a father and son, and he spends the majority of the season attempting to include Yujiro in his life. Baki dines with his father, picks his father’s brain about cuisine and culture, and eventually quarrels with him over how he treated Baki’s mother. Even if the treatment involves Yujiro killing her after Baki fails to defeat him in a fight, it was still interesting to witness Baki and Yujiro develop a more complex relationship.
Anime, as well as a lot of fiction in general, frequently ignores the nuances of interactions involving characters who can be categorized as abusers. Frequently, those individuals are just bad guys, and the heroes just regard them as detestable challenges to overcome. But that’s not how life works; this kind of perspective just increases the power of the abuser by making them the center of the character’s existence. Instead of the anime portraying this as a pure good vs. evil conflict, it is much more intriguing to witness Baki attempt to transform his connection with Yujiro into something in which they can both actively participate. The characters in this story felt realistic in a way that both astonished and resonated with me. This is not to claim that Baki Hanma has in-depth reflections on abuse histories and complicated power dynamics.
Baki and Yujiro’s multi-episode final fight was one of the best in the series and lived up to the expectations. It stands to reason that these meathead characters would need to engage in some serious combat before they could properly comprehend one another and recognize their individuality. Even for this visually stunning and fantastic series, the art and animation in this fight are superior. The image of Yujiro simultaneously flexing every muscle in his body will stay with me for months, and the scenes in which Baki metaphorically turns into a liquid are equally well-executed and impressive. Both Troy Baker, Baki’s VA, and Kirk Thornton, Yujiro’s VA, excel in this final fight. Throughout this fight, the true identities of both characters are revealed, and both performers do a fantastic job of capturing the full range of emotions.
This is the best Baki has ever been, despite the fact that I began this review by highlighting the major flaw of this season and possibly the entire series up to this point. If you can’t get into this anime, it’s entirely understandable, but if you can, it’s a fantastic ride. This fulfilled all of my fan expectations for the series, and anything further would be a delightful addition.