[EP. REVIEW] Baki – Episode 1 – Synchronicity

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The first episode of Baki was released on Netflix Japan just shortly after 11:00 AM EST. As expected, it didn’t have English subtitles. But given my familiarity with the manga, I wasn’t worried about being able to follow along.

Hell, if you’ve seen any promotional material for this show, you already know what happens in this episode. I mean, it’s an adaptation of the “Most Dangerous Death Row Inmates” saga for fuck’s sake. You don’t need subtitles to enjoy watching death row inmates break out of prison and mutilate guards.

The weeks leading to the launch of this series, I began to get nervous. It’s been nearly 17 years since the last TV series ended. While Grappler Baki was a faithful adaptation, it was very poorly produced. In many ways, the low budget added to its charm, but I couldn’t help feeling that the franchise deserved better.

Now that I’ve seen the first episode, I’m happy to report that it was everything I wanted it to be and more. It’s dirty, it’s hyperviolent, and it’s not sorry about it.

With little exception, “Synchronicity” is a panel-for-panel adaptation of the first six chapters of the New Grappler Baki manga. If you’re unfamiliar with the series, be warned that it assumes you already know who Baki Hanma is and what happened in the last two seasons.

But don’t let that scare you away. While it might be annoying for some, most people probably won’t even notice. Grappler Baki isn’t about complex storytelling, it’s about punching people in the face and being metal as fuck.

And that’s something this franchise finally understands. The original series had this bizarre lo-fi electronic soundtrack that would be more appropriate at an anime convention rave (I’m looking at you, Greg Ayres). Baki, on the other hand, is full of screamin’ hot guitar riffs and sweep arpeggios.

It’s not just the music they get right this time. The Grappler Baki manga is known for its melodramatic storytelling and exaggerated character designs. When handled poorly, it can be mistaken for comedy. This is most apparent when you compare the OVA and TV series versions of Baki’s fight with the Kosho Shinogi.

The team behind Baki took great care to stay true to the spirit of the original work while managing to keep things more badass than hilarious. You will still find yourself laughing, but it’s because of your own incredulity. Did that guy really just smash a gun with his foot moments after being shocked in an electric chair until blood came out of his eyes?

Oh, yes he did. And it’s only going to get wilder.

It’s too early to tell if they can maintain this level of quality for the duration of the series. One things I’m worried about is the awkward CG shown during a fight scene in one of the promos. I didn’t noticed anything like that in this episode. It’s my hope they keep that to a minimum.

In a perfect world, we’ll get a dub this fall with the original voice actors, but the only way that would happen is if Netflix teams up with Funimation. That seems unlikely to go down for such an obscure show. In the meantime, I’m just happy to know that one of my favorite series is getting more attention.