By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Before fans of Batman’s animated products can ask, Batman Ninja is not an Elseworlds product. That’s Gotham by Gaslight. With this direct to video product, Gorilla Grodd made a time displacement machine which went awry. It sent everyone back in time. Depending on how close the heroes and villains were to the epicentre, they were thrown to all the way to Japan despite the fact the battle took place in Gotham, at Arkham Asylum, somewhere along the Western side of North America.
Bats arrives two years later in a village and learns Penguin, Poison Ivy, Deathstroke and Joker established themselves as feudal lords. Each reign over a territory and are fighting amongst themselves to determine who shall rule. This change in history may well stick—where are the Legends of Tomorrow when you need them?
The screenplay by Kazuki Nakashima (Gurren Lagann) certainly takes a few cues I recall from other animated treatments of Batman’s greatest stories ever told. The story is gonzo. It’s like the production team wanted to put Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, Fist of the North Star and FLCL into a blender. With no surprise, Jumpei Mizusaki directed this piece. Takashi Okazaki (Afro Samurai) provided the character designs. The CGI 3D on a flat plane takes some getting used to. The movements are not always the same, and it favours lots of panning shots of the characters talking lots than seeing them in Batman: The Animated Series. I prefer the traditional cel animations over digital.
The villains look far cooler than the heroes. Robin, looks too out of place with his look (even though his look is true to period design) to appreciate and the prerequisite pet monkey is definitely not required. Nightwing, Red Hood and Red Robin feel like the standouts in this Power Rangers lineup. Sadly, Batgirl is not among them. She’s holding the fort back in modern times.
The idea of robots duking it out back then is unusual for the time period but perfect for being a sentai product. Instead of powered by steampunk, whatever technology was invented to power them up never gets explained. Strange magic (crystals) animates the castles, and Transformers they are not. The feudal backdrop is less historic because of this Batpunk. If Grodd tore apart his machine to give his associates the ability to defend themselves, the logic does not make sense. Although he does not intend to leave this time period, he must have a Plan B in case things go south.
Whenever a work is dubbed into English, preference is always given to the original talent involved over the voice-over. Curiously, the adaptation takes liberties and adds a touch more dialogue than needed. I found Tony Hale‘s take of The Joker hard on the ears. Yuri Lowenthal and Tara Strong pull double duty in voicing two characters than one. Respectively, they played Robin/Red Hood and Poison Ivy/Harley Quinn. Either this production ran out of money or there is a clause in their contract to give them more work than less in a very crowded film.
This version is refreshing enough to stand out because of the character designs. It does get me excited enough to seek out any merchandise which may accompany this product. To see Batman in a samurai suit or this Asian-style Joker can easily be the highlight of my toy collection!
3½ Batarangs out of 5
The bonus material includes:
- “East / West Batman” (Featurette) – Batman meets the anime medium, as this documentary looks into some of the Western tropes and archetypes, meshed into the world of feudal Japan. East meets West, swords, samurai and giant robots, all playing into the clash between Batman and his Rogues gallery.
- “Batman: Made in Japan” (Featurette) – To make a special film about Batman requires just the right artist to bring the mix of style and energy that is unmistakably anime. The filmmakers discuss the Japanese character models, influences and design create a fusion experience into this hyper-real world.
- “New York Comic Con Presents Batman Ninja” – Meet the talented filmmakers behind Batman Ninja as they discuss their inspirations and challenges in bringing an anime version of Batman to life during a panel discussion unveiling Batman Ninja during New York Comic Con 2017.