Saturday, September 11, 2021

Batman: Gotham Knight

Before the DCEU, there was a point where Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy colored the filmgoing audience's perception of Batman, for better or worse. The success of these films also led to an animated film project, Batman: Gotham Knight, which saw DC collaborate with multiple Japanese animation studios. I had no knowledge of its contents going in, but the idea intrigued me, which led me to stream it through HBO Max (if only because my DVR didn't catch the Toonami broadcast through their DC FanDome tie-in). Though I have mixed feelings on the Christopher Nolan films as a whole, I walked away pleasantly surprised by Gotham Knight.

Much like other animated Batman adventures, Gotham Knight depicts Batman (Kevin Conroy) fighting various criminals within Gotham City, including members of his famous rogue’s gallery. Unlike other animated Batman films, however, Gotham Knight is an anthology comprised of six segments, á la The Animatrix, animated by four different Japanese studios. In order, these shorts are, Have I Got a Story for You (animated by Studio 4°C), Crossfire (animated by Production I.G), Field Test (animated by Bee Train), In Darkness Dwells (animated by Madhouse), Working Through Pain (animated by Studio 4°C) and Deadshot (animated by Madhouse). Naturally, each segment is also written by a different writer. In the order of the segments, these writers are Josh Olson, Greg Rucka, Jordan Goldberg, David S. Goyer, Brian Azzarello and Alan Burnett.

Part of what makes the anthology engaging is how the approach allows each writer to tell a complete short story and still approach it a different way. Out of the six segments, the most unique was easily the first one, Have I Got a Story for You, which filters Batman’s encounter with the Man in Black (George Newbern) through the perspective of four skaters in the style of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950). Alternate perspectives are also explored, like in Crossfire where GCPD Detectives Crispus Allen (Gary Dourdan) and Anna Ramirez (Ana Ortiz), from the Major Crimes Unit, give insight into Batman’s effect on not just their jobs, but Gotham’s criminal activity as a whole. Working Through Pain also shows a snapshot of Batman’s training abroad while dealing with a gunshot wound in the present.

Have I Got a Story for You is told Rashomon-style
through the perspective of four skaters.

One interesting take on the anthology presentation is how certain elements carry over between each of the segments, creating a loose overarching narrative that ties them all together. For instance, the Man in Black is captured in Have I Got a Story for You and transported in Crossfire, a PDA that Bruce steals in Field Test has relevance in Deadshot and a small cache of guns Batman discovers in Working Through Pain is seen in Deadshot. I also appreciated how even though Gotham Knight supposedly takes place between Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008), you can watch and enjoy the film, or even the individual segments, completely independently due to their self-contained nature.

Each segment also has a completely different art style, which, like the writing, allows each studio and art director room to experiment with unique visual interpretations of Batman, all with impressively detailed backgrounds and fluid motions. Field Test, animated by Bee Train, feels the most “anime” of all the segments, including a rather bishōnen take on Bruce Wayne and some rather interesting camera shots. It also features a unique batsuit design that would later resurface as an unlockable skin in Batman: Arkham Knight called “Anime Batman”. By contrast, Deadshot has the most western-looking art style, though some details still give it a Japanese flair. Of course, the different art directions can be hit and miss depending on the taste of the viewers, especially the looser style used for Have I Got a Story for You.

Bruce Wayne looks noticeably young in Field Test.

The voice acting is also great across the board. Throughout all of the segments, the one constant member of the cast is Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne/Batman, who, as always, knocks it out of the park. In an impressive feat, his voice even works with the younger-looking Bruce Wayne in Field Test.

If you’re in the mood for Batman and don’t mind Japanese animation, Gotham Knight has enough to impress in its collection of different writing and animation styles that show off just how versatile the character is. You don’t even need to worry about any connections to other continuities and just enjoy it on its own merits.

No comments:

Post a Comment