Grappler Baki: The Ultimate Fighter

Refrigerators don't make coffee. Toasters don't bake lasagna. TV sets aren't useful for doing the laundry. That's pretty much how I can wrap up my feelings about Grappler Baki: The Ultimate Fighter, a one-shot OVA that also has a TV show to its credit. It's a fighting anime. It's not about romance or car crashes or mecha or even things you would expect might be included in fighting anime like training or weight lifting or even a hero's origin story. Grappler Baki is all about the fight, nothing more and nothing less. It's never dull and it's never confusing. It's also not the way I like anime to be...I like detailed plots and characters with meaning. I like my action to have some purpose. But if you know you're getting your coffee black, perhaps the lack of cream and sugar and amaretto won't be so bad.

Baki is the protagonist of our story. We know nothing about him, and neither does anybody else. He appears at a tournament sponsored by the Shinshinkai martial arts group and proceeds to beat the crap out of their best students. He meets a stubborn adversary in the final round, but Baki knows how to spot his opponent's weakness almost instantly and perseveres. Baki gets involved in an underground fight club where anything goes, and his first opponent stops his foes by ripping out their nerve endings. Pleasant, eh? But Baki is the hero here.

If you like fight anime, you will love this OVA. It boils down the whole genre to its barest essence. It's derivative of Street Fighter and Fist of the North Star and Dragonball, but it delivers as promised. It's violent, bloody, and unnerving, but it is as it advertises itself to be.

Will the rest of you enjoy it? Maybe, maybe not. The animation is ho-hum, with some repeated crowd shots that make the low budget even more apparent. It doesn't have much of a soundtrack, either. And for those who like a plot? Forget it. This is the kind of show so interested in getting down to business that the character names are subtitled upon their first entrance, since they won't even get a proper introduction. The only reason that characters other than the fighters even exist is to provide running commentary or to give the audience information about why the next scene isn't as ludicrous as it seems.

There's also no explanation for why Baki is who he is. We know he's picked up scar upon scar from being in battles since childhood, but why does he pursue this life? Why would he want a lifetime of beating up people? And why is he such an arrogant schmuck? I dunno. And if these kinds of things bother you, don't even consider it. Plot and character don't matter.

If all you want from a show is tons of violent martial-arts action, there's very little not to like about Grappler Baki: The Ultimate Fighter. But it also is nothing else, which is disappointing. It's miles above many shows of its kind like Tekken, but just hovering around average when compared to the rest of anime.

Grappler Baki: The Ultimate Fighter -- graphic violence -- C+