REVIEW: Batman Ninja
In the 1950s, Batman was transformed into a variety of beings or wore a colorful assortment of costumes to goose sales. Thankfully, that silliness was retired with the New Look and wasn’t resurrected until the Elseworlds what if stories of the 1990s. That same approach has now crept from the page to the screen with Batman Ninja, out now on DVD from Warner Home Entertainment.
This anime-style adventure comes from director Junpei Mizusaki, (producer of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure), working from a script by Kazuki Nakashima (Kill La Kill, Gurren Lagann) and character designs from Takashi Okazaki (Afro Samurai). As a result, it comes with a strong pedigree for the creative approach.
Rather than a posit an ancient Japan that needed a protector styled in the form of a bat, this gonzo story actually takes the heroes and villains of Gotham City and transports them into the past. It’s weird, wild, wacky and not at all to my taste so your mileage will almost certainly vary.
We have the Dark Knight (Kōichi Yamadera/Roger Craig Smith) sent to feudal Japan without his high-tech gadgets and has to go back to the basics to save the locals from the Joker (Wataru Takagi/Tony Hale), Catwoman (Ai Kakuma/Grey Griffin), Harley Quinn (Rie Kugimiya/Tara Strong), Two-Face (Toshiyuki Morikawa/Eric Bauza), Gorilla Grodd (Takehito Koyasu/Fred Tatasciore), Deathstroke (Junichi Suwabe/Fred Tatasciore), Penguin (Chō/Tom Kenny), Bane (Kenta Miyake), and Poison Ivy (Atsuko Tanaka/Tara Strong). Also transported are Alfred (Hōchū Ōtsuka/Adam Croasdell), Nightwing (Daisuke Ono/Adam Croasdell), Robin (Yuki Kaji/Yuri Lowenthal), Red Robin (Kengo Kawanishi/Will Friedle), and Red Hood (Akira Ishida/Yuri Lowenthal). Along the way, he finds new allies and becomes a ronin of sorts, a masterless samurai out to protect the innocent from the wicked, fulfilling a prophecy about a foreign bat ninja coming to save them.
the creators thought they were getting one shot at this project and therefore threw in every trope you could ask for, making it feel weirdly familiar but also oddly humdrum. The most interesting turn comes when villains lose their memories and acclimatize to their surroundings. There’s also a nice twist with Grodd.
Produced in Japan, the Blu-ray release offers up both the original Japanese vocal cast and an English audio track. Visually, it is an amazing piece of animation, mixing traditional drawings with 3-D virtual realities so you’ve not quite seen a Batman animated feature like this before.
The Blu-ray comes with a handful of useful features delving into this project’s background. We start with East/West Batman (10:00) where Mike Carlin (Creative Director Animation, DC Entertainment), Ames Kirshen (VP Interactive & Animation DC Entertainment), Eric S. Garcia (Producer, English Screenwriter), Leo Chu (Producer, English Screenwriter), and Junpei (Director), Mizusaki, Nakashima, and Okazak take turns discussing the challenges with bringing an American super-hero to Japanese storytelling.
Then there’s Batman: Made in Japan (15:00) which goes further into the traditional Japanese storytelling elements while focusing on Okazaki.
Of course, there’s New York Comic Con Presents Batman Ninja (40:00).