14th May2018

‘Batman Ninja’ Blu-ray Review

by Phil Wheat

Features the voices of: Roger Craig Smith, Tony Hale, Grey Griffin, Tara Strong, Fred Tatasciore, Yuri Lowenthal, Adam Croasdell, Will Friedle, Tom Kenny, Eric Bauza | English language version written by Leo Chu, Eric Garcia | Directed by Jumpei Mizusaki

batman-ninja-blu

There have been many, many Batman movies over the years – from the 60s movie, to Tim Burton’s 90s reimagining, to the LEGO Batman Movie (including the Justice League DTV LEGO movies too) and Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. But, and despite a number of animated Batman movies, there has never been an anime movie featuring DC Comics’ legendary character.

Until now.

The latest animated movie released by DC and Warner Bros., Batman Ninja is the creative result of a trio of animefilmmakers – director Jumpei Mizusaki (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure), writer Kazuki Nakashima (Gurren Lagann), and character designer Takashi Okazaki (Afro Samurai) – coming together to produce an original movie in collaboration with Warner Bros. Japan. The script was then reinterpreted and rewritten for English-language distribution by award-winning screenwriters Leo Chu and Eric Garcia (Supah Ninjas, Afro Samurai); giving us this. Batman Ninja. Because he’s Batman and he’s in feudal Japan and Batman ALWAYS dresses in black. So what else would he be other than a ninja?

Batman Ninja takes a journey across the ages as Gorilla Grodd’s time displacement machine transports many of Batman’s worst enemies to feudal Japan – along with the Dark Knight and a few of his allies. The villains take over the forms of the feudal lords that rule the divided land, with the Joker taking the lead among the warring factions. As his traditional high-tech weaponry is exhausted almost immediately, Batman must rely on his intellect and his allies – including Catwoman and the extended Bat-family – to restore order to the land, and return to present-day Gotham City.

Just as you’d expect from an anime iteration of Batman, the action comes thick and fast, with some high-impact, high velocity animated fight scenes that look like they’ve stepped straight off the pages of a manga; and character designs that make Batman and co. look right at home in an anime. Of the reimagined appearances its the Joker that looks most at home in feudal Japan, taking on the appearance of a Kabuki-masked demon. Speaking of feudal Japan, Batman Ninja uses that familiar time-travel trope of our hero arriving in the past AFTER the rest of the cast. In fact Joker, Gorilla Grodd and the rest of the rogue’s gallery have been settled in Japan for two years before Batman arrives – an arrival which, like all good myths, has been foretold in Japanese fokelore, spinning off its own Bat-clan of ninjas who help our hero take down the cornucopia of villains.

In terms of storytelling, whilst Batman Ninja has an over-arcing tale, with Gorilla Grodd’s machinations running throughout the background, the plot actually feels very episodic. First Batman takes down Joker, then Two-Face steps into the picture; then the focus is on Grodd retrieving power convertors from Penguin, Poison ivy and Deathstroke. Each time Batman steps into the picture, the story ends up feeling like a chapter in a much bigger book – of course that’s par for the course in the world of anime and manga! There’s even “filler” a la a long-running TV anime, with a side story about Joker and Harley Quinn losing their identities and becoming reborn as mere farmers and, in turn, finding their own kind of peace. The segment is animated differently from the rest of the film, in a more traditional, old-school Japanese fashion; and like filler, it’s pretty much unrelated to anything else that happens in the movie – this meek and mild Joker and Harley Quinn don’t last long!

Whilst the story and the animation makes for a interesting new take on the character, what makes Batman Ninja stand out from the rest of the DC animated movie crowd is the intriguing story arc for Batman. Here he becomes a hero stripped of his weapons, his gadgets and his vehicles – not only lost in time but also losing what he thinks makes him a hero, eventually rediscovering himself and the “Bat” within. Oh and did I mention the giant robot mechs? And that they combine together a la Transformers Combiners or the Power Rangers Zords? This is an anime after all – where would be without that kind of insanity?!?!

Extra Features on the Blu-ray include:

  • “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.

A more interesting, fun and, more importantly, watchable, take on the stoic Batman of DC’s animated features,Batman Ninja is out now on DVD, Digital and Blu-ray from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

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One Response to “‘Batman Ninja’ Blu-ray Review”

  • Andrew Laubacher

    2008′s Batman: Gotham Knight could be characterized as an anime, though the story originated at Warner Bros. Animation and each segment was animated by a different studio or team.