Batman Ninja, An Interesting Anime Experiment
by Ben Martin
Batman is an American icon that has managed to capture the imagination of the entire world over his years in various forms of media. In fact, I hear that wherever you go in the world, folks will recognize the character and his emblem. Therefore, it makes sense that there could be unique cultural takes on The Bat and his universe from around the globe. Alas, the majority of The Dark Knight stories have been created state-side. That is until now, with the new anime film, Batman Ninja being released as part of Warner Bros. and DC Animation’s direct-to-video feature division. Unlike any other DC Animation movie thus far, the one in review was created by Japanese anime studios Kamikaze Douga, Yamatoworks, and Barnum Studio. Then the film was released by a DC Animation. As such, Batman Ninja marks the first time that a DC-based animated feature was creatively handled by other studios. The film features character design by Afro Samurai creator Takashi Okazaki and is directed by anime vet, Junpei Mizusaki.
While Batman Ninja is a native product is of Japan; over the course of the film’s production, it became a bit of a multicultural cinematic mosaic. The film’s original screenplay was written by Kazuki Nakashima (Futagashira); following that, the script was also given a rewrite by Leo Chu and Eric S. Garcia (Afro Samurai: Resurrection; Supah Ninjas). In doing so, the respective screenwriters felt that there were two different versions of Batman Ninja’s story. Such an occurrence which is common when it comes to translating narratives for other countries. No matter the translation, this movie begins with Batman (Kôichi Yamadera (original Japanese language performance)/Roger Craig Smith (English translation voice performance)) and for some ungodly reason, the rest of the Bat-family on a mission to stop Gorilla Grodd (Takehito Koyasu/Fred Tatasciore) in the midst of a dastardly scheme.
Having created a time-machine, Grodd wants to test it on a few of Gotham City’s biggest villains. Everything goes awry when all the heroes and villains involved are accidentally transported to feudal-era Japan. After getting his bearings, Batman realizes that a few of his most formidable foes have taken over the land. At the moment, The Joker (Wataru Takagi/Tony Hale) and Harley-Quinn (Rie Kugimiya/Tara Strong) have majority control of Japan. However, The Penguin (Yûichi Nagashima/Tom Kenny), Poison Ivy (Atsuko Tanaka/Tara Strong), Two-Face (Toshiyuki Morikawa/Eric Bauza) and Deathstroke (Suwabe Junichi/Fred Tatasciore) have their respective territories and are fighting “Lord Joker” to become Japan’s ultimate ruler. Now, it’s up to Batman, Catwoman (Ai Kakuma/Grey Griffin) and the entire Bat-family (except Bat-Mite) to stop their rogues’ gallery from plunging the land into chaos and changing history forever. Not to mention, everyone has to get back to the present.
Before getting into my thoughts on this picture; I should admit that I’m not the world’s biggest fan of anime. Don’t get me wrong; I respect it as an art-form. Unfortunately, though, I’ve just never found anime to be aesthetically pleasing. However, I do find many of the stories told through the medium to be interesting. Although, when it comes to Batman Ninja; the opposite is the case. I found the anime presented here to be quite stunning in every regard. Moreover, I especially enjoyed the action sequences which were done in a more fluid style than traditional, static anime action. Such a result was achieved by having real actors motion-captured while fighting and then translating those fights into the medium of anime.
While I enjoyed watching the anime; this film’s narrative did not work for me. Modern day heroes and villains getting transported to feudal Japan just seems silly to me, personally. I didn’t cotton to the same concept as a kid when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles in Time (1993) did it. Therefore, this story certainly didn’t work for me as an adult in Batman Ninja. Of course, the film’s narrative isn’t helped by being overcrowded with characters and sub-genres. Batman Ninja attempts to be not only a time-traveling anime; it also strives to be samurai tale and a mecha-battle film. In trying to cook all those concepts into one cinematic casserole, what results is a bit of a mess story-wise.
Ultimately, Batman Ninja is an Interesting anime experiment. I loved seeing a different country and thereby a different art-form’s interpretation of Batman, as he’s my favorite character. Alas, due to the narrative, it just doesn’t gel. About two-thirds of the way into this movie it becomes apparent that the screenplay is an aggregation of different ideas, as stated earlier, and a bit of sloppy one at that. However, despite my issues with the film, if you’re an anime enthusiast, I would say this film is worth a watch. On the other hand, if you’re just more of a Batman fan like myself, you may be disappointed. In the end, Batman Ninja is all style and no substance.
BATMAN NINJA IS AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL HD, BLU-RAY & WILL OPEN THEATRICALLY IN JAPAN ON JUNE 15!