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‘Batman Ninja’ (review)

 

Batman Ninja is the latest DC Animated Movie and this one takes Batman to a completely stylized anime universe. Not since 2008’s Gotham Knight have we seen an Eastern version of the Bat Family, and both DC Comics fans and otaku have a lot to be happy about with Batman Ninja. The movie is directed by Jumpei Mizusaki (Mega Man X7, X8) with character designer Takashi Okazaki (Afro Samurai). A Japanese version of the film with a slightly different story will be released in June.

Batman is voiced by Roger Craig Smith and in a stroke of brilliance, Tony Hale (Veep, Arrested Development) plays The Joker. Tara Strong returns as Harley Quinn with Grey DeLisle returning to her role of Catwoman.

In modern Gotham, Batman and Catwoman take on Gorilla Grodd who has built a time machine called the Quake Engine at Arkham Asylum. After a big explosion, Batman finds himself in Feudal Japan after reality closes in around him. The first thing he sees are three Joker samurai ordered to capture the Dark Knight.

This reviewer’s knowledge of anime stunts at around the pre-live action Ghost in the Shell but as a Batman enthusiast who’s favorite stories are Elseworld tales and a healthy natural fascination with ninja, Batman Ninja checks a lot of boxes.

Not only are Catwoman, Harley and Joker in Japan, but the warring feudal states are being lead by headlining villains of Batman’s rogue gallery. Deathstroke, Penguin, Two-Face and Poison Ivy are mini-bosses Bats will have to defeat before he gets back to his own time. Even Alfred Pennyworth is there, learning recipes for miso glazed fish and hunting down rare black tea for Master Bruce. How about a sumo version of Bane against and an anachronistic Batsuit? You get that, too.

The costume and design makes for a beautiful watch, with Joker and Harley in a hybrid of Victorian and samurai visual kei. Batman, his army of Japanese Outsiders led by new ally Eian of the Bat Clan of Hida, Nightwing, Red Robin, Red Hood, Damian Robin as well as Catwoman dress themselves in a hybrid of ninja and samurai garb that has trappings of their modern costumes and chest symbols mixed with Japanese oni masks. Robin makes a Chim-Chim like friend, a cute monkey that only he can communicate with. Because this is anime after all!

The absurdity of Joker constructing a temple that turns into a mecha-robot kicks off the action. Batman masters the ways of the ninja with the help of his new ally Eian of the Bat Clan. The Bat Clan has prophesied a savior, and you guessed it, Bruce is it. Now with an army of ninja on his side, Batman and the family are poised to take back the Quake Engine from Joker and return to his proper time.

There are a variety of animation and drawing styles in Batman Ninja, from black and white to denote explosions, a watercolor dream state and lots of explosions of course to excite the viewer.

Bats and friends are stuck in Japan for a significant amount of time while Grodd attempts to rebuild his Quake Engine and The Bat Clan train for an epic battle. Alfred even opines for the next harvest season to start to bake bread. Alfred’s obsession with food in this movie is gonna get someone killed in my opinion! Wild boar steaks for dinner, Alfred? Calm down, you culinary madman!

Joker’s mecha castle serves as a preview for the climax of the film, as there is still a lot to resolve between the feuding city-states. Each villain has a power converter needed to fuel the Quake Engine, and the Bat Clan is there to sort it all out.

What’s more exciting than Batman vs. Joker in feudal Japan?

I’d argue that adding in Gorilla Grodd as the other major foil make this a better story! We all know that Grodd ultimately wants to rule a Gorilla City and he nearly gets his chance to transform Japan into his primate paradise. Perhaps he’d keep Alfred around for some Banana Flambé

You will have to see for yourself if Batman is able to return to a Gotham that is familiar and history remains unchanged. I, for one, will be happy to see a sequel to this or have the creators do more with DC characters. Samurai Superman might not be a great story waiting to happen but with so many parallels between Batman and actual ninja but I wouldn’t mind revisiting this world with another hero. Green Arrow, perhaps?

Tony Hale is a perfect Joker for the anime and to be honest could hold his own as the Clown Prince of Crime in other productions, so I also hope to see more from him in the future.

Batman Ninja is bizarre, contemporary, stylized and over the top. As it should be. These are the stories that make Batman a rich cultural icon that can be celebrated as legend, much like ninja and samurai themselves.

 

Batman Ninja is now available on on Digital HD,
Blu-ray Steelbook, Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD.

 

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