Out this week is Batman Ninja, an anime-styled superhero adventure in which Batman and his enemies are sent back in time and around the world. Here’s the official plot description and trailer.
Gorilla Grodd’s time displacement machine transports many of Batman’s worst enemies to feudal Japan — along with the Dark Knight and a few of his allies. The villains take over the forms of the feudal lords that rule the divided land, with the Joker taking the lead among the warring factions. As his traditional high-tech weaponry is exhausted almost immediately, Batman must rely on his intellect and his allies — including Catwoman and the extended Bat-family — to restore order to the land, and return to present-day Gotham City.
Although the event happens to everyone at the same time in the present, Batman (Roger Craig Smith) winds up arriving two years after the bad guys, which means they’ve had a chance to get established as warlords. Penguin (Tom Kenny), Poison Ivy (Tara Strong), Deathstroke (Fred Tatasciore), and Two-Face (Eric Bauza) all have their own areas of influence, and all get splash-page-style introductions. The Joker (Tony Hale, doing an excellent job!) is aided by Harley Quinn (Tara Strong), while Catwoman (Grey Griffin) — in an extensive hat with veil, cleavage-baring gown, and cat hand puppet — aids Batman.
The animation has limited motion, and the individual images look amazing, if you enjoy the aesthetic, with its incredibly detailed linework. (For example, the Batsuit is super-tech-y, with lots of extra plates and wrinkles and lit-up lines.) That’s the reason to watch, since the plot is ridiculous. Particularly once everyone turns their castles into robots for the final giant battle.
But let me say again, this all looks terrific, particularly Gorilla Grodd. (Except for the women. Catwoman is alternately sexualized or infantilized, while Harley’s costume is designed around a low-cut boob shelf, and Poison Ivy’s top is basically just nipple covers.). Look! Batman gets ninjas!
Unfortunately, this is also one of those action movies where you have to keep your finger on the volume button. The dialogue is extremely quiet compared to the fights. I didn’t care for the voice used for Batman, which felt too generic and at times lapsed close to parody. The best vocal performances are those who can be more exaggerated — Joker, Penguin, Harley, Alfred’s British accent (Adam Croasdell).
Batman Ninja is directed by Jumpei Mizusaki and written by Kazuki Nakashima (original screenplay) and Leo Chu & Eric S. Garcia (English screenplay). Character designs were done by Takashi Okazaki (Afro Samurai). It’s rated PG-13 “for sequences of violence and action, and for some suggestive material.” It’s available May 8 on Blu-ray (suggested price $24.98), Steelbook ($29.98), or DVD ($19.98). It’s available now on digital, and it will also be available in 4K UHD on digital only later this summer.
Special features include the film with the original Japanese Audio and English subtitles and the following featurettes. (They’re all pretty nifty in shedding more light on the cross-cultural production, and I actually enjoyed them more than the movie for that reason.)
“East / West Batman” (17 minutes) serves as a making-of and covers inspirations. What’s neat is that in addition to the usual participants (Mike Carlin, Creative Director – Animation, and Ames Kirshen, VP Interactive & Animation), we see the Japanese filmmakers as well, including screenwriter Kazuki Nakashima; character designer Takashi “Bob” Okazaki; and director Jumpei Mizusaki. That was cool, hearing their influences and intent. Plus, Eric S. Garcia and Leo Chu comment on their perception of differences between anime and comics.
“Batman: Made in Japan” (14 minutes) features the American screenwriters (who were also producers) talking about how cool anime is, while Okazaki talks about his design choices.
“New York Comic Con Presents Batman Ninja” (49 minutes) is pre-release Q&A from last fall with the three Japanese filmmakers (translated live on stage) and the American screenwriters (who don’t say as much, although they do speak to the nature of dubbing and lip sync). This also includes the Japanese-language trailer.