Conventional shounen anime adaptations always start off with a defined set of archetypal characters, with which genre fans are quite familiar. The character gallery generally consists of the chosen one, the antithetical frenemy figure, the oddball of a character who shines in the direst situation, the emotional support, along with some other stereotypes, and how the respective content chooses to portray the emotional complexity of each of these archetypes is what makes all the difference.
However, despite initiating its journey right from the shounen genre, in the later portions of the Baki series, the genre conventions are heightened to the point of ridiculousness, which is a sign of the self-aware nature of the source material itself. In terms of characterization, too, the journey is on a particularly set course with only the protagonist, Baki, being the focal point along with his father/prime adversary, Yujiro, which is a far cry from conventional multi-character arc animes. In the second season of Baki Hanma, the focus on the duo is even more centralized, but with the appearance of Pickle, an interesting character study is also highlighted in the series.
Baki Hanma: What’s Next For The World’s Strongest Being?
As far as shounen protagonists are concerned, Baki matches some of the tropes, like the loss of parental figures, starting from square one and gaining experience through life lessons to gradually overcome all the hurdles and inevitably becoming the absolute prime force in his world. But the similarity ends there because Baki differs in a lot of aspects, starting with how lonely he is in his quest to become the best. Except for his girlfriend, Kozue Matsumoto, he never received selfless moral support from anyone, not even from his own parents.
Since a very young age, Baki’s personal aspirations and identity have been trampled by the burden of his mother, Emi’s desire to make him strong enough to honor Baki’s father, Yujiro Hanma. To add to his burdens, the ogre’s reputation as the strongest person on the planet became a curse to Baki, who felt the pressure of measuring up to his father throughout his life. Even though Emi dedicated everything at her disposal for Baki’s betterment, she did so out of her wish to please Yujiro, not out of maternal love, which made Baki crave parental affection even more. His drive to become the strongest is also the result of the pressure imposed upon him since childhood, but that changes after the death of Emi, who sacrifices her life to save Baki, and that single act of maternal love motivates Baki to become strong to honor his mother’s memory. In his quest to become the strongest, he was eventually isolated from the rest of society, something he perceived from how he was treated by people in his neighborhood. His residence is at the corner end of his block, with walls painted with slurs and hateful insults written by weaker, jealous folks who know the only way they can get to a person of his stature is by affecting him mentally.
Hitoshi Kuriyagawa, one of Emi’s servants, who has observed Baki’s journey for a long time, raises the question as to what lies for Baki beyond justice for his mother, becoming the strongest. He has been forced into these responsibilities with the importance of his own identity, his own wishes turning out to be null, and he doesn’t know what he, as a person, wants from life. However, his singularly focused mindset could have turned him into a deplorable human being like his father if not for Baki’s innate goodness, humility, and the presence of someone like Kozue Matsumoto in his life. The emotional void that was left in Baki after Emi’s death was somewhat healed thanks to her, which eventually made Baki ever stronger and more resolute.
Baki’s feelings towards his father are complicated, to say the least. His immense hatred for Yujiro as a person is matched by the respect he has for Yujiro, the fighter, and despite loathing him for his actions, Baki has always sought his validation. During the final showdown between father and son, Baki’s skills impress Yujiro, who praises his son for his accomplishment, resulting in an involuntary emotional outburst from Baki. He has come a long way from his first fight with Yujiro, where anguish and rage engulfed him. By the end, even though forgiveness is out of the question, the bitterness between the duo has somewhat lessened. Now that the familial restraints have finally been lifted, it will be interesting to see how Baki grows as a character.
Yujiro Hanma: Can The Ogre Find Greater Purpose?
Yujiro has become a living manifestation of extremities of strength, to the point that he can be assessed as a commentary on the overpowered antagonists prevalent in the Shounen anime genre. A thoroughly ruthless, arrogant person, he is fully aware of his physical and even mental superiority over the rest of the people whom he perceives as weaklings, and he is also the kind of father whose tough love inadvertently destroys the family. Despite these numerous negative traits, the character has a certain enigma around him, which emphasizes his elevated status as some sort of superhuman being compared to the masses. However, the second part of the second season of Baki Hanma shows that unlike the mindless sadistic brute he is often considered to be, Yujiro has a lesser, unexplored side to him that people don’t get to see much of. He protected the weak, as he fought in the Vietnam War against America to help the hapless farmers and defeated the invading troops singlehandedly. Yujiro is also something of a gourmand, as seen when he lectures Baki about table manners and food etiquette and even emphasizes the importance of food itself. It is Yujiro’s dream to see Baki take the mantle of the world’s strongest being from him and to make that happen, he is willing to put his son through a world of hurt. Finally, during his fight with Baki, he decides to make an effort to mend the relationship with his son and some semblance of emotion can be noticed in his demeanor. It remains to be seen whether the hint of growth eventually unfurls into something significant and whether even an irredeemable character like Yujiro manages to change his ways.
Pickle: Prehistoric Intrigue
The Cretaceous-era prehistoric giant Pickle, introduced in the first part of the second season of Baki Hanma, offers a new perspective by introducing a unique strength-based hierarchy prevalent during antiquities into the modern world, an era that has lost respect for human strength. Despite being a primitive brute, Pickle has a sense of honor and mutual respect, shown in the way he doesn’t consume anything that doesn’t attack him and in the way he respects Katsumi Orochi during their battle. Despite the communication difference with modern people (due to his lack of speech skills), Pickle understands others in his own way and has even shown to possess imaginative and calculative skills. There is ample scope for exploration with his story arc, which viewers will like to be delineated further!