I hate that there’s a sexual assault scene in this arc of Baki, and I’m angry enough about it that this review opens with my analysis of what is easily the worst part of this arc. The second episode of the season opens with the revived caveman Pickle sexually assaulting a news reporter live on air. This is crude, gratuitous, and ultimately lazy writing, because there are so many more interesting ways to solve the problems involved in having a hulking caveman walk around in modern times than just he doesn’t know what consent is. The anime even touches on some more thought-provoking issues later on, like Pickle refusing to eat anything that he doesn’t personally fight for and causing a traffic accident because he doesn’t know how to drive a car. What is that.
The decision to establish Pickle early on due to his ability to inflict sexual violence is extremely frustrating because he is an entertaining character outside of this! His glee at being able to fight these very serious fighters while also being completely indifferent to their very serious philosophies and motivations is hilarious. This dynamic has made it so that none of these characters are serious people but instead overgrown kids who want to be the toughest kid on the playground and are breaking down to fight the kid. new kid, one of the best at their game without even realizing it. While I love that Raitai Tournament Saga explores the philosophies present in various forms of martial arts, the pure joy these characters express in being able to execute their chosen skill—defeating all Truly good people-at the highest level are equally interesting and lovable..
Pickle also embodies a neat thought experiment in martial arts. As noted in the Raitai Tournament Saga—and many martial arts films in general—self-defense techniques originally came from people trying to imitate the movements of animals as they defended themselves against predators. This inspiration is still overtly present in some disciplines, such as Mantis Style Kung Fu. However, how can modern martial arts compare to someone who had to survive alongside dinosaurs, the strongest animals in the history of the world?
That’s the question at the heart of the first 13 episodes of Baki Hanma this season, and in focusing on that question, it resonates in a deeply appealing way to the twelve-year-old boy inside me.
The second half of the season focuses on Baki and Yujiro finally confronting and resolving their numerous long-standing conflicts. While there are side stories, like Retsu taking up boxing and Chiharu Shiba constantly challenging Baki to agitate the young man before his fight with Yujiro, the relationship between this father and son is the focus. The exploration of this relationship is also more nuanced than I expected from an anime whose several episode summary is “What would happen if a prehistoric man fought a guy who was high on steroids?”
While Baki wants to fight his father this season, he wants to recalibrate his relationship with his father more. Baki is tired of his father being both the most important person in his life and a mysterious figure he knows nothing about. So he decides that, if and when they fight, it’s because they had a disagreement, which is typical of a father-son relationship, and spends most of the season trying to get along with Yujiro into his life. Baki dines with his father, learns about food and culture from his father, and eventually fights with him over how he treats Baki’s mother. Granted, that treatment involves Yujiro killing her after Baki fails to defeat him in a fight, but seeing Baki and Yujiro form a more complex dynamic is refreshing.
Anime and many novels in general often do not explore the nuances of relationships with characters that can be broadly described as abusive. Usually, those characters are just villains, and the main character just sees them as obnoxious obstacles to overcome. However, that’s not how things work in real life; This type of perspective only gives the abuser more power by making them the center of the character’s life. It would be much more engaging to see Baki trying to change his relationship with Yujiro into one in which they can both actively participate, rather than the anime framing this as a purely good vs. evil battle. . This isn’t to say that Baki Hanma has deep meditations on stories of abuse and complex power dynamics, but the characters here feel true to life in a way that both surprised and intrigued me. impressed me.
The multi-episode final fight between Baki and Yujiro was also highly anticipated and one of the best in the series. Of course, these meat-headed characters won’t really be able to understand each other and see who they are without dealing with that for a while. The art and animation in this fight are over the top, even for a series this wild and wonderfully visual. The image of Yujiro flexing every muscle in his body at once will haunt me for months, and the scenes of Baki metaphorically turning into liquid are equally well done and impressive. Baki’s VA, Troy Baker, and Yujiro’s VA, Kirk Thornton, were also excellent in this final match. Both characters’ identities are clearly revealed throughout this fight, and both actors do a great job of bringing all that emotion to life.
Even if I started this review by focusing on the biggest flaw of this season and perhaps the entire series so far, this is still the best Baki has ever been. It’s completely understandable if this anime isn’t for you, but if you can take this ride it’s a great watch. As a fan, this is everything I wanted from the series and more, and anything we can get beyond this will be a nice bonus.