Saturday, June 23, 2018

Batman Ninja

Since its announcement last year, Batman Ninja quickly caught my attention with its intriguing trailer and the pedigree of its creative team. Said team included Takashi Okazaki, the creator of Afro Samurai; Kazuki Nakashima, writer for Gurren Lagaan and head writer of Kill la Kill; Yugo Kanno, composer for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Psycho-Pass; Jumpei Mizusaki, who had directed the opening animations for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure; and animation studio Kamikaze Douga, which had also animated the opening sequences for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Now that I’ve viewed it through the physical Blu-ray release, I believe that the hype was mostly worth it.

As Batman (Roger Craig Smith) battles Gorilla Grodd (Fred Tatasciore) at Arkham City, he is caught in Grodd’s latest invention, a time displacement machine known as the Quake Engine, which sends him to Feudal Japan. While there, he meets up with Catwoman (Grey Griffin), who reveals not only that Gotham’s top criminals had arrived two years prior, but also that they had become feudal lords trying to conquer Japan and that the Joker (Tony Hale) has made a name for himself as Demon King Joker. Now Batman has to find a way to prevent Gotham’s villains from rewriting history and make it back to his own time.

The premise is rather interesting and one that isn’t actually that out of place for a Batman story. This particular story is able to deliver on its premise rather well and deliver a film that is undoubtedly Japanese with a distinct “anime” vibe laced throughout. However, the plot itself leaves a little to be desired. Outside Joker, Harley Quinn (Tara Strong), Gorilla Grodd and Catwoman, the other villains, Penguin (Tom Kenny), Poison Ivy (Tara Strong), Deathstroke (Fred Tatasciore), Two-Face (Eric Bauza) and Bane (Kenta Miyake), don’t really have much screen time or direct involvement with the plot. Bane, for instance, is there for more of a quick cameo than anything is not addressed at all afterwards. The remaining villains are also more of a background threat and don’t become relevant that much again until the finale, and even then, they feel mostly superfluous, almost like they could’ve been anyone and the plot would stay the same. A shame, really, considering that the idea of them fighting for dominance over Japan could’ve easily made them more relevant to Batman’s goal.

That said, what is there is still very engaging and easy to follow. What helps is the impressive animation by Kamikaze Douga that’s able to make the CG models look and feel two-dimensional. The character designs by Takashi Okazaki are also very unique and attention-grabbing, as they capture the essence of each of the characters involved while staying true to both the Batman mythos and the setting of Feudal Japan. One especially interesting design is Demon King Joker, which perfectly represents the Clown Prince of Crime. There are also a couple of traditionally animated sequences, including one which has a different art style altogether, one that’s a bit sketchier and is able to highlight the mood of that particular sequence.

Joker's (Tony Hale) design is very visually striking.

The voice acting is also very good, with a special nod to Roger Craig Smith as Batman and Tony Hale as Joker. Though Roger Craig Smith has voiced Batman before, notably the Arkham Origins and Unlimited incarnations, he has proven once again that he’s capable of carrying the role his own way. Tony Hale is new to the role of Joker and does a fantastic job portraying the character’s maniacal side while remaining humorous when necessary; I wouldn’t mind if Hale reprised the role in the future.

Batman Ninja is an interesting film. The sheer pedigree of the creative team shines through really well, although the plot has some issues that harm the execution of the story a little. The animation and voice acting are fantastic, however, along with Yugo Kanno’s score, which keeps it engaging and entertaining. I would recommend this to Batman fans as well as fans of anyone on the Japanese creative team. Those unfamiliar with Batman might be able to enjoy this as well, though the appearance of certain characters, particularly four different Robins, may require at least a passing knowledge of their existence.

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