If you think you’ve seen every sort of Batman animation, Batman Ninja attempts to try something radically different. DC Entertainment and Warner Bros Japan have teamed up to offer a new unique take on The Dark Knight. The last time Batman flirted with anime was in short bursts in 2008’s Batman: Gotham Knight. For Batman Ninja, he gets a feature film outing with a script penned by Kazuki Nakashima and directed by Junpei Mizusaki.
Trying to put a stop to Gorilla Grodd’s latest escapade – a time displacement device – Batman, his allies and his enemies get thrown back in time all the way back to feudal Japan. Batman’s enemies waste little time in taking over Japan and end up in a civil war with one another with Lord Joker already amassing a grand army. While his enemies flourish in the time period, Batman finds himself out of his depth and quickly losing his technological advantage. With the potential aid of a ninja clan who see him as their saviour, Batman along with his sidekicks might just stand a chance to stop the villains and, more importantly, get back home.
As someone who has predominately enjoyed DC’s animated output over the years, the recent additions to the DC animated universe have seen their style and production values starting to become generic from release to release. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy the DC animated universe – but they’re no longer the revelations of DC storytelling that they used to be. They don’t even come close to Batman: The Animated Series.
It’s that over familiarity and occasional dullness with the DC animated universe that makes Batman Ninja a wonderful shock to the system. It offers a unique animation style and take on the Batman legend that feels more engaging that previous DC animated flicks. There’s also much to enjoy about the character designs by Takashi Okazaki (Afro Samurai) that sees the heroes and villains given a pleasing feudal Japan makeover. Although, Bane as a sumo wrestler probably is a makeover I could do without. Plus the English dub features a surprising and entertaining performance from Tony Hale (Buster from Arrested Development) as Lord Joker that’s worth checking out.
Even though I enjoyed the adventure, it’s not entirely perfect. After a quick action pack start and set up, things do hit an unfortunate lull in the middle – despite a short 85-minute runtime. There’s also the use of Batman’s rouges in the outing. Apart from Grodd, Joker and Catwoman – the rest are glorified cameos. It’s frustrating as I would have enjoyed seeing more of their feudal Japan variants in action against Batman. Nightwing, Robin, Red Robin and Red Hood are also in for the fight but – again – only have brief moments to make any impact and then it’s not really of any merit to the film. There’s only one real moment that leaves impact and it’s during a change of animation style as the Red Hood comes face to face with one of the foes. With most packed superhero bonanzas, we find ourselves confronting the usual problem of over stuffing heroes and villains into proceedings.
Things do greatly improve for the finale which sees Batman and his newly acquired ninja clan taking on the villains of Gotham in their armoured bases – and how it all unfolds really needs to be seen to be believed. Suffice to say, the film does like to tick off a few common tropes in anime with that added Batman flair.
Ultimately, Batman Ninja is a visual and entertaining shot in the arm for those feeling bored by the DC animated universe. The Japanese production values, artwork, design and music put it in a class above recent releases like Gotham by Gaslight and The Killing Joke. For any Batman animation fan, this should at least be on their watch list. Here’s hoping that its success brings new animated visions for Batman and the DC universe.
Batman Ninja is available now on all digital platforms and is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Monday 14th May 2018