Baki: The Tragic Idea of What Makes a Man

A parable about toxic masculinity and the struggle to find a place in the world. Trigger warning: a brief mention of drug abuse and sexual assault. This will also include some in-depth spoilers about the series.

Baki is a long-running popular manga and anime series that began publishing in 1991 and airing in 2001. While it may seem to many to be your average boys-only fighting series about big beefy guys beating each other to a pulp, there is often a deeper, more emotional and tragic side to the series which you see start to unfold as you watch closer.

This quote is the opening title card of the first episode of Baki.

In this series, if you were to replace the words “fighter” and “warrior” with “man”, you begin to see some parallels in the way men are raised by abusive households, and the harmful rhetoric that is instilled into the boys by their emotionally abusive parent(s). Baki didn’t want the life of living only to fight and hurt, but was forced into a hellish life by his monster father, who told him the only way to be loved or to be a man was to fight and be the strongest.

Baki, in the beginning, is a delinquent thrown into the world of fighting by his mother, a victim of Yujiro Hanma (our caricature of the toxic man), and is constantly beaten and broken in sequential battles trying to please his mother and trying to please his father by living up to his expectations. Never knowing a proper well-adjusted life, Baki lives with the abuse of his mother inflicted upon him because her son doesn’t live up to her image of the perfect man, who is her lover Yujiro. Baki gets into death-defying fights hurting people, but comes to understand and reconcile with his opponents through eventually building mutual respect for them and becoming their friends.

To this, Yujiro returns to warn Baki of his impending fight, bringing with him trophies of his conquests—these trophies being proof of his utter domination over the opponents Baki came to care about and respect. Yujiro antagonizes his son, insulting him and demeaning him for caring about opponents and for having any respect or understanding for them. He emphasizes how fighting is about inflicting pain, fear, and domination over others, and that this is what you ultimately need in life.

This represents how toxic masculinity warps the perspectives of men into believing you should not respect or care about others with whom you disagree or have negative interactions with; you should only hurt, attack, intimidate, and use force to silence them. The idea that you cannot have respect for your opponents in any way, shape, or form is harmful to the psyche, and reshapes how you perceive people who are different from you—seeing them as enemies to be crushed rather than as human beings. 

Eventually, Yujiro and Baki meet, and the disappointment of Baki not being as strong as Yujiro imagined and his son having a sympathetic side has Yujiro fight Baki and very nearly kill his own son—only being stopped by Baki’s mother, whom he eventually kills. The toxic desire for Baki to become a stronger fighter means that the only life he’s ever known has taken not only his only chance at a normal life but also his mother, his father, and worst of all, his perception of what it means to be a man.

After this turning point, Baki becomes driven to prove himself as a man in the only way he knows how: by fighting. Baki fights nearly to the death for the rest of his teenage years, growing into a man of violence but still maintaining his sympathetic heart. He meets his half-brother Jack, a man who abuses performance-enhancing drugs to obtain what he believes to be the ‘ultimate psyche’ to become the perfect man. As Baki and the audience learn, Jack’s life was quite literally ruined by the toxic musicality of his birth father Yujiro, Jack being the product of the sexual assault of his mother by Yujiro. Jack grew up hating Yujiro and living only to be strong enough to fight and kill his father. Abusing mind and body-altering steroids, Jack has become a volatile, dangerous, and quite feral man who fights to the point of trying to kill every opponent.

Baki and Jack are both products of the toxic acts of Yujiro Hanma, and they reconcile with each other through both understanding the pain that this toxic masculinity has inflicted upon their lives and their mothers—but both resign themselves to their fate, not seeing any way out of the toxic life they lead and choosing to continue on their quest to become the strongest fighter. It’s a beautiful, heart-warming, and heart-breaking moment all at once, expressing how once toxic masculinity has become a way of life, it’s hard to be able to stop—it’s easier to lean into the destructive life you know, even if the life it destroys is your own.

The image below is a quote made by Baki representing the state he is in, now having to live forever as a fighter and abandoning any hopes he once had at having a normal life and being able to fall in love.

Whenever the character Yujiro appears, Baki’s life and the lives of anyone else in his wake are made worse. Yujiro, in the series, is considered a natural disaster for the level of terror, death, and destruction he leaves in his wake. His attempts to mold Baki into the ultimate fighter (a man just like him), and have him give up the happy life he has, are like the idea of toxic masculinity being a man’s way of life that emphasises serving one’s own self and harming anyone else in your way.

Yujiro is a parable of the dangers of toxic masculinity and how it can warp and shape the minds of young boys into violent and emotionally stunted men. This quote by him is a great example of this:

To go more in-depth, Yujiro Hanma isn’t really considered a person—he’s the series’ symbol of the bleak reality that there is a limit to humanity. Yujiro is often called a demon, representing a realm unattainable by man no mater how much he struggles. The symbolism of his back being the face of a demon represents how he’s turned his back on humanity to become the monster he is, and how everyone is behind him in the quest for true strength—to be truly stronger than all men is to stop being a man. Maybe the opening quote is right, and being a man means to grow up thinking you can rule the world but crashing back down to earth when the limits of reality hit; disappointment with life can lead to strong negative emotions, after all.

One of the most surprising moments in the series is when Baki is with his girlfriend and is ambushed by his father, who tells him the best way to become “strong” (which here we will read as “a man”) is to have sex—lots of sex, with many women. This chauvinistic and toxically masculine idea of what sex is and means is presented to Baki as his way of finally becoming a man in the eyes of the other strong fighters he knows, even his father. Sex being portrayed as just another conquest or battle, a means to prove your worthiness as a man by how many times/partners you do it with, is the most blatant the series gets with the toxically masculine rhetoric that’s being fed to our protagonist Baki.

After sleeping with his girlfriend, Baki begins to change in how he is perceived by his opponents and the other men. They literally state how he seems to have grown, matured, or become a man now, as if they can just tell that Baki is no longer a virgin; as if being a virgin was holding him back as a fighter or man. Baki even begins to neglect his girlfriend, pushing her away in his pursuits of strength. This may be the point where Baki has accepted the toxic propaganda of being a “man” in his fathers eyes and throwing away everything else.

To draw a short conclusion, the undertones of what toxic masculinity does to people is expressed in these male characters’ need to continue to fight beyond their means, disregard anyone’s advice or help, and believe that their only goal and purpose in life is to fight. To Yujiro, the personification of toxic masculinity, fighting other men and sleeping with women is the only way prove your worth as a man. Many male characters in this series have thrown away healthy relationships just to pursue their selfish desire to fight, going so far as to hurt the ones they love time and time again just to get another chance to fight. Baki is a tragic tale of what the twisted propaganda and practices of toxic masculinity can do to the innocent young boys raised under it, ruining their chances to live a healthy and happy life.

Sources:

Itagaki, K. (Writer), Hitoshi, N. (Director), & Free-Will (Producer). (2001, January 9). Grappler Baki [Television series].

Itagaki, K. (Writer), Katsuyoshi, Y. (Director), & Group Tac (Producer). (2001, July 24). Grappler Baki: Saidai Tournament-hen [Television series].

Itagaki, K. (Writer), Toshiki, H. (Director), & Netflix (Producer). (2018, June 25). Baki [Television series]. Los Gatos, CA: Netflix.

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