♦ Tripwire’s contributing writer Alisdair Stuart takes a look at the latest DC animated movie, Batman: Ninja…
Directed by Junpei Mizusaki
Screenplay by Kazuki Nakashima (Japanese version)
Story by Leo Chu and Eric S. Garcia (American version)
Starring: Roger Craig Smith, Tony Hale, Grey Griffin, Tara Strong, Adam Croasdell, Fred Tatasciore, Yuri Lowenthal, Will Friedle, Eric Bauza and Tom Kenny
Character design by Takashi Okazaki
Attempting to stop Gorilla Grodd’s Quake Engine in the Arkham Asylum tower, Batman is caught in the shockwave from the device and appears in Feudal Japan. He’s instantly set on by Samurai wearing terrifyingly familiar masks and goes on the run. It turns out that the inhabitants of Arkham arrived two years ago. And they’ve been busy…
There’s a moment right after Batman appears in the past which sold me on this. Surrounded by attackers, he drops a smoke bomb, pulls his grappling gun and, realizing there are no buildings taller than three storeys, just runs off. It’s a lovely, subtle beat that tells him, and you, just how out of his comfort zone he is.
It’s also just the start of a cavalcade of magnificent, ludicrous invention. The excuse for the Batmobile and Alfred (Who’s design has been tweaked a tiny bit in the most adorable way) coming back is basically to have the Batmobile systematically taken apart by the first mobile attack castle in the movie.
FIRST. We’ll come back to that.
In a sequence that’s both a great action beat and weirdly funny, Batman shifts from Batmobile, to Batwing, to Batpod to Batarmor as the Joker outmanoeuvres him. It’s brilliant high-tech anime invention. It’s a character beat. It’s an action beat. It’s indicative of just how smart, and deeply thought out, this film is.
And it’s pretty much the smallest thing that happens. A naval battle with the Joker is technically beautiful, but really just the opening salvo of a full half hour of astonishing visual invention. The battle of the mobile castles is great. Multiple mobile castles, each one piloted by a Batman villain, each one transforming into a colossal mecha. And fighting.
And beautiful too. Okazaki’s designs for the rogue’s gallery are all truly beautiful. But it’s the ending that just builds and builds until you realize you’ve been laughing and on the edge of your seat for 20 straight minutes. It’s incredibly confident, fast-paced storytelling that is totally ridiculous in at least two points and at no point do you care because it’s that much FUN. Trust me that third act is a thing of beauty and crammed full of in-jokes.
Plus actual jokes! Weird ones! Robin’s friendship with a monkey who can speak English and the other Robins’ growing confusion about it is a joy. See also the characters Naruto running everywhere, Alfred’s fondness for food and the final scene in particular. This could so easily have been an easy cash in but it embraces its own fundamental weirdness to create something truly beautiful and entertaining.
And that beauty cannot be overstated. This is an astonishing visual achievement on every level. Even the static backgrounds are gorgeous and the way the animation changes is breath-taking. The standout sequence sees Red Hood (Whose Samurai design is one of the best) tracking down an amnesiac Joker and Harley. Disgusted by their crimes and refusing to believe their innocence, he attacks them. We experience the attack, and their terror, through a closeup of the Joker’s eyes, rendering Hood and the intervening Batman into mythical, monolithic figures. It’s amazing work and only one of several sequences this good.
Batman: Ninja is an incredible achievement. It juggles horror, humour, action and pathos with a never-ending salvo of visual invention and top notch voice acting (Especially from Tony Hale as the Joker and Roger Craig Smith as Batman) to create a stand-alone, vastly entertaining addition to the Bat family. Endlessly impressive, endlessly varied and massive fun.