Baki Hanma, sometimes and confusingly titled Hanma Baki — Son of Ogre, is weird! It’s ostentatious. It’s homoerotic. It’s dumb, but in a ‘dudes rock’ kind of way that ends up being both a critique and celebration of masculinity. Is it good? I enjoyed this season only slightly less than the previous one, but would I recommend it to a random person on the street?
ABSOLUTELY NOT! You’ll need to pass several vibe checks before I even consider mentioning that I enjoy the show. This anime is not for everyone, and that’s a big part of what I like about it. If you are like me, though, and you have no problems suspending your disbelief and spending a lot of time thinking about things like fitness, gender, your relationship to your body, self-improvement, and karate, there’s nothing quite like Baki Hanma. Even if this is a weaker season, it’s still a treat.
This treat doesn’t provide instant gratification, though. The first two episodes largely serve as a reintroduction to Baki and his journey to defeat his father. Many of the typical shonen tropes are used to accomplish this, like shifting the perspective to background characters so they can talk about how much they fear and respect Baki. An elementary school boy even becomes friends with Baki! And this kid knows just enough about fighting to let the audience know exactly how cool this anime’s protagonist is.
The opening two episodes that cover this material aren’t bad, necessarily; they feel gratuitous as we’re now several seasons into this multi-part anime, and everyone watching is already down to follow Baki’s hijinks. Baki fighting a giant, imaginary praying mantis is as fun as this anime’s other smaller fights — and it is wonderfully juxtaposed against Yūjiro’s fight against a real, monster elephant. However, it just doesn’t have the same surprise and spectacle that most fans have come to expect from the series.
And then, in the next episode, Baki kidnaps a legally distinct George W. Bush while the president is attempting to demonstrate how much better the Secret Service has gotten since the Kennedy assassination.
I can’t think of any other series that’s reeled me in after nearly losing me as well as Baki Hanma did. From here, we get a whirlwind of shocking developments and surprise twists for which the franchise is famous. These include the introduction of a knock-off of Che Guevara, the reveal that the U.S. government has been infiltrated with pirate martial artists, a deep dive into the romantic life of America’s strongest man, and an escalating prison yard brawl.
That last item is my personal favorite, as it involves Baki literally sleeping with Biscuit Oliver’s girlfriend to make clear to him and Jun Guevaru that they should get over their performative masculinity nonsense and just fight each other. I don’t know if this was intended to be a commentary on toxic masculinity or a dig at other action series that need contrived situations to make character interactions more engaging. However, it felt delightfully subversive to me!
Admittedly, Baki and Biscuit’s fight after this encounter feels like an afterthought compared to the aforementioned bout. Still, this encounter is fun, and the anime does a serviceable job of depicting Biscuit’s transformation into a sphere of muscle and, shortly after, a human Pac-Man. I should also note now that the voice acting in Baki Hanma is perfectly serviceable, and I appreciate that in the English dub, Black VAs are cast to voice Black characters. James Mathis III gives a great performance as Biscuit Oliver, and I much prefer his relatively grounded take to the comparatively goofier direction Hōchū Ōtsuka took the role. The music and sound direction in this season also helps add weight to even the most ridiculous developments, but the opening is a step down from last season’s Kung-fu inspired banger of an OP.
In short, this season of Baki Hanma is another entry in the wild and wonderful Baki franchise. It doesn’t address any longstanding issues if you’ve bounced off previous seasons, but it’s still a good time if you’ve vibed with prior parts. The kindest thing I can say about this season is that it’s left me excited for more; as the final shot of a prehistoric caveman frozen in ice while punching a T-rex has me eager to start the next batch of episodes.