The Fall 2018 Manga Guide
What's It About?Average high schooler by day and champion fighter by night, Baki Hanma is called to fight five escaped deadly convicts all looking to taste defeat. Baki now must fight in the ring again, in the second out of four installments of the Baki series.
The general premise of Baki, though not announced by the book is that Baki fights in an underground mixed martial arts tournament under the Tokyo Dome to become the best grappler of all time. However, it's easier said than done. The current champion is Baki's own father so the grudge is personal.
Baki is a titan of a series, selling over 60 million copies since 1991; digital versions of the series are available through Comixology and Amazon for $4.99. Baki has also has several spinoff manga and anime that would keep any fan busy. This specific installment of Baki also has a 1 episode OVA as well as a 26 episode anime due out soon on Netflix.
Is It Worth Reading?
Baki wastes no time in setting up the concept that there are some very powerful, very evil men from around the world who are on their way to fight the hero in some sort of foreordained good-versus-evil martial arts tournament. That's about all the story has to offer this first volume. After a quick introduction to a paper-thin but super strong titular character, we see one imprisoned or set-to-be-executed criminal after another slaughter their way to freedom via mind-blowing methods of escape, making it clear they could have done so at any time—but all of them waited for this very moment. In a way that's somewhat entertaining, but not as much as it might have been since we have no time to care whatsoever about Baki and these enemies on their way to unleash those inhuman-like powers at him. The manga succeeds in identifying the stakes, but it completely fails in anchoring the reader with characters to care about.
Itagaki's art jumps to life on the page, invoking the brutality and intensity of the high-stakes battles to come. Though many of the backgrounds are prisons, each is designed uniquely and Itagaki never skimps on the details. However, with so many crazed enemies, there sure aren't a lot of original designs. Most are distinguishable enough from one another, but none are particularly memorable.
The first volume of Baki promises high octane action to come but spends all of its pages introducing characters rapid-fire to the point of being disorienting. The Baki franchise has been around so long, it has a built-in audience eager to read more installments in the franchise. However, newcomers might not find this the ideal place to dive in to the series.
Baki is a sequel to Keisuke Itagaki's Baki the Grappler manga, which some of you may remember ran in the short-lived English manga magazine Raijin. While you don't really need to have read that, or seen its anime adaptation, whether you enjoyed either of those may give you a better idea of whether or not you're up for this series, which follows teen martial arts master Baki on his further adventures. Another good litmus test would be Fist of the North Star, because this feels fairly similar and features art that feels like a cross between that and Jojo's Bizarre Adventure with its unrealistically musclebound men and impressively gross acts of physical violence. Seriously, if limbs bent the wrong way or brains spilling out of shredded skulls aren't your thing, this isn't likely to be the fighting series for you.
If you can stomach the violence, however, there's a good premise being established, with five vicious killers converging on Tokyo in the hopes of finally being defeated. No one's said it yet, but Baki's doubtless the guy they're aiming to fight. That makes the biggest downfall of this volume its status as a set-up book, especially if you aren't already invested in Baki as a character. There's a clear formula to the book as well: we see each dangerous man in his home country be prepared for either execution or to meet his lawyer before he breaks out in a spray of carnage and leaves a note saying he's headed for Japan to finally know defeat, rinse and repeat. Between chapters we cut to Baki and the man who runs the dojo having a conversation at Baki's school. As a storytelling method, it isn't terribly compelling.
It seems very likely that this is done because readers are assumed to already have an interest in Baki and seeing him defeat new and even more sinister opponents, and in terms of a sequel series, that's fine. The issue is that only the first forty-six chapters of the previous series were ever released in English, making Media Do's release of this one feel a little nonsensical.
I know Grappler Baki by reputation. So, it was with a certain amount of cautious curiosity that I went into this first volume of one of the series' main arcs, wondering if I would even see the appeal amidst all the extreme ultraviolence and grotesque displays of masculinity. Well, perhaps that wasn't even a question worth asking, as I was captivated by Baki's bizarre world of fighting from the first page to the last.
Grappler Baki is a series about combat, purely and simply. It is the only narrative focus; the only motivation and interest the central characters hold in their hearts. But that description could make Baki sound a little boring, and it is anything but. Baki has a verve, a melodramatic intensity to its presentation that can make a moment as minor as the main character falling asleep in class one also meant to sell the raw power of his fighting ability, with everyone in the class shivering uncontrollably at his mere presence. It would be one thing if Grappler Baki were non-stop action free of context, but it isn't in the slightest. In fact, barely any fighting happens in this initial volume; it's mostly a prologue introducing the main villains of the arc, a group of five death row inmates who all desire to taste defeat at Baki's hands. Through its violence and story content, Baki's sheer audacity shines in every panel. This is a manga where an old man screams about the Jungian idea of synchronicity, where a prison submarine can be escaped from just by holding one's breath for five minutes. It's dramatic-intensity-for-everything approach kept me laughing one moment and horrified the next, and always, indisputably glued to the page.
Grappler Baki reminds me of Jojo's Bizzare Adventure. The appeal is in its absurdity held up by its absolutely incredible artistry. Except, somehow, it's even crazier—Jojo's but ramped up to eleven. And from everything I'm to understand, this first volume is an introduction to one of the best arcs of the series and the foundation of an incredible new aesthetic direction. You don't even need to read the preceding arcs to get into this volume, apparently—I certainly didn't have much trouble following it, and I only knew Baki in the vaguest terms. So, if you've always been curious about Baki's world of insane musculature and perpetual combat, definitely pick this one up. I enjoyed it a great deal myself.
Champion of a fighting ring under the Tokyo Dome, high school student Baki Hanma is becoming name known amongst the strongest of fighters. Now, high-level criminals are breaking out of their holding cells and want to taste what Baki's got. They expect to be bested and be defeated. Now Baki must learn about Dark Martial Arts and keep his title.
For readers who do not know, Baki is the second installment of a four part magna series. There are several spin offs including: sequels, prequels, anime, OVAs, you name it. But is it good? I truthfully cannot answer this, because my only Baki knowledge is from one gif from the original anime where Baki playfully kisses somebody's fist in a fight, and this seven-chapter volume. Instead of introducing the plot, Baki volume one introduces Baki's main competitors. Each chapter shows another antagonist breaking out of their prison cell and every cop reacting poorly. Yes, it sets up the climate for the story, but it doesn't draw potential new fans in much.
I'm also disappointed in the art. I can appreciate a good muscle or two, however, the proportions in Baki are over the top. Despite Keisuke Itagaki being a veteran to manga, these men look ridiculous! I will admit though, their facial expressions definitely get the point across, if the obvious writing doesn't.
For Grappler Baki fans, this is a great continuation in Baki's quest to become stronger than his father. For curious readers who are coming in blind, this probably isn't the best place to start, despite the kind The Story so Far section.
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