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Review
Batman Ninja

Batman Ninja
Studio: Warner Bros. Animation
Release Date: April 24, 2018 - Digital; May 8, 2018 - Blu-ray, DVD; Summer - 4K

Synopsis (on back cover): In an all-new story, The Dark Knight travels to a land ruled by sword-wielding samurai and ninja assassins. Beginning in Gotham City, Gorilla Grodd's time-displacement machine malfunctions, sending a crazed cast of tyrannical villains back in time to terrorize medieval Japan. The most depraved is Lord Joker, who seeks total domination of the feudal states and the final elimination of the legendary Batman. With his arsenal of tech diminishing, can The Caped Crusader gain the advantage to keep Lord Joker and the others from rewriting history? Watch as an ancient legend comes to life in this stunningly realized, adrenaline-fueled addition to the Batman saga.

Press: The visually stunning Batman Ninja is the creative result of a trio of anime's finest filmmakers: director Jumpei Mizusaki (Opening animation of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure), writer Kazuki Nakashima (Gurren Lagann), and character designer Takashi Okazaki (Afro Samurai) produced the original movie with Warner Bros. Japan. The script was then reinterpreted and rewritten for English-language distribution by award-winning screenwriters Leo Chu and Eric Garcia (Supah Ninjas, Afro Samurai). Benjamin Melniker and Michael Uslan are Executive Producers.

Roger Craig Smith (Batman: Arkham Origins) and Tony Hale (Veep, Arrested Development) lead an impressive cast as the voices of Batman and the Joker, respectively. Grey Griffin (Scooby-Doo franchise) and Tara Strong (Batman: The Killing Joke) supply the voices of the antagonist & protagonist's closest allies - Catwoman and Harley Quinn, respectively - while Fred Tatasciore (Family Guy) provides the gruff-yet-sophisticated tones of Gorilla Grodd, a villain who must team with Batman to achieve his own personal agenda. Other voice actors include Bat-family members Yuri Lowenthal (Ben 10: Omniverse) as Robin, Adam Croasdell (Reign) as Nightwing and Alfred, and Will Friedle (Boy Meets World) as Red Robin, and the Rogue's gallery also features Tom Kenny (SpongeBob SquarePants) as Penguin and Eric Bauza (The Adventures of Puss in Boots) as Two-Face. Doing double duty is Tatasciore as Deathstroke, Strong as Poison Ivy, and Friedle as Red Hood.

You've heard every Batman story there is, right? Not even close. "Batman Ninja" adds another stunning reinterpretation the mythos of the Dark Knight. The action builds and out does itself at every turn and the designs and animation are simply amazing. Nothing you've seen before. It is an anime movie with Batman and his characters in it but Warner Bros. Entertainment and Warner Bros. Japan's collaboration with some of the best the industry has to offer have created a new, invigorating, and inspiring tale.

Batman, the Bat-Family, and a host of his Rogue's Gallery after Gorilla Grodd activates his Quake Engine at Arkham Asylum, displacing it and everyone to Feudal Japan. Batman, however, ends up 2 years late compared to the others. He soon learns the supervillains have taken the place of the warring lords and are at war for complete domination of Japan. To make matters worse, his dependance on modern technology becomes a near fatal weakness. Batman reunites with his allies and makes a desperate alliance with Grodd only to be betrayed. He meets the Bat Clan, a group of ninjas, who believe this is the culmination of an ancient legend that will end with peace being restored to Japan. Batman reflects of his mistakes and adapts to the times for a final showdown in the Fields of Hell, his last chance to bring everyone back to the present.

Screenwriters Leo Chu and Eric Garcia did have an enviable task adapting the original script into English but they were able to give us a solid script that doesn't water down the cultural differences and nuances. Admittingly, the story is not character-driven and deep on any esoteric levels but instead is more action and visually driven. The traits of characters are very evident, though -- such as the insanity of the Joker, the bitterness of Red Hood, the... er... Harley is Harley, or Catwoman is still cheeky and out to save her own skin. The only characters that gets introspective would be Batman when he realizes the errors of his over-reliance on technology. The script for the most part keeps the characters static and gives the audience enough to understand each character and give them a unique identity. The fight scenes are amazing -- from swords and spears to non-traditional Joker weapons explodes into giant robots and monkeys and bats. It is definitely recommended you watch both the Japanese and English versions for the full experience as the stories vary and it's really fun to see how the voice actors differ on a character. If you're not used to the structure of a standard anime movie, the pacing may feel off as it there's continuous action then a slow breather then more continuous action then another and so on.

Takashi Okazaki's character design is unlike anything we've seen in DC animation. The attention to detail and line work is superb and I simply can't process how director Jumpei Mizusaki and the animation teams kept everything on-model and timed. But all their pain and suffering has created a true masterpiece. To add, there's even the quiet scenes switch off to light and soft color tones and even the art style changes to mimic the painting of the time then shifts back to the regular designs.

The action scenes are top shelf as well. As Jumpei Mizusaki mentioned during press, the animation team had filmed real martial artists acting out storyboards then translated that into the movie. That approach yielded impressive choreography but there's, of course, a lot of superhuman moves, explosions, and mecha battle mayhem. As the movie progresses, the stakes and set pieces keep rising and topping each other then culminates in a jidaigeki style showdown of swords as Batman and Joker fight atop the remains of Arkham Castle.

It amazing that this is actually the first animated story to finally feature the four 'classic' Robins fighting alongside Batman. There's a lot of amusing and well incorporated easter eggs from both DC and anime. The nod to Scarecrow was very funny, in my opinion. Or the Maneki-Neko mask and bell fit right in with Catwoman's design and sensibility. Or Robin's hair style is a nod to Daigoro from the famous "Lone Wolf and Cub" franchise. Red Hood's design translates perfectly into a komuso monk that fits the time period. Even the Joker seems a stand-in of sorts for Oda Nobunaga, the dominant force in Japan's real Warring States Period down to the mixing of traditional kimono and Western ware and weapons. The mecha anime "Gurran Lagan" is still kind of fresh in my memory from its run on Adult Swim and some of its staff worked on this movie such as writer Kazuki Nakashima. The anime was influenced by another property called "Getter Robo Go" and you can definitely see some of it in this movie, especially the absurdity of scale as displayed by how the mecha get bigger and bigger and more flamboyant. In "Batman Ninja", it goes from Lord Joker's Arkham Castle to a cold war of the other rogues fashioning their own castle mechas each with over the top names and moves preserved from the original script then they all combine into one giant mecha armed to the teeth with weapons. There's even a little of the Gainax style '3 character arcs' for the lead. In this case Batman - the present day Batman reliant on technlogy, Sengoku Batman, and Ninja Batman. There's even a moment in the final battle that might make you think of Naruto. Lastly, given how Batman's rogues are always trying to carve up Gotham City for their own plundering, they translate perfectly to the Sengoku Period when lords of provinces were fighting among each other to rule Japan as the next Shogun.

The voice actors for the English-language version is what you would expect, the best of the best. Roger Craig Smith reprises Batman off of the Batman Unlimited series and further back Batman: Arkham Origins. Tony Hale dips his toes into voice acting and turns in a brand new, entertaining, yet familiar take on The Joker. I could definitely see Hale returning to the role again in a future project. Will Friedle voices both Red Robin and Red Hood -- or basically night and day. Friedle put a lot of contempt and bitterness into Red Hood, and gave a great take in a short list of people who voiced Jason Todd. Tara Strong and Grey Griffin voice Harley and Catwoman respectively and there's really no one else that can do it like them. They're at the top of their game. Again, it's really fun to then watch the Japanese version and listen to how that set of voice actors does their take on the cast. Yugo Kanno provided the score and bombastic comes to mind. It's a perfect match to the action set pieces and even the quiet scenes have authentic Japanese sound and music. Hopefully WaterTower Music plans to release a collection of the score when the 4K version is released later this summer. Warner Bros Japan has one set for June 13. 33 tracks for about $30 plus shipping. On Blu-ray, the picture is beautiful; bright, sharp then to water color and back. The detail is simply amazing as I said before. This will probably be mind blowing on 4K.The English 5.1 DTS-HD MA track does its job on this one, especially with with score, the explosions and action in general.

The Blu-ray has three main special features. The first is "East / West Batman" and clocks in at 17:33. It talks about putting Batman into the world of anime, the varying archetypes and tropes from East and West that were explored, combining them all, and keeping the identities of such preserved. "Batman: Made in Japan" runs in 14:03 and explores Japanese character models, influences and design that went into creating this unique collaboration. Lastly is"New York Comic Con Presents Batman Ninja", a recording of the panel from New York Comic Con 2017. It runs 49 minutes. Moderator Gary Miereanu speaks with director Jumpei Mizusaki, writer Kazuki Nakashima, character designer Takashi Okazaki, and screenwriters Leo Chu and Eric Garcia then goes to audience Q&A. The trailer that plays before the menu screen is for the upcoming "Teen Titans Go! To The Movies" and the trailers on the menu are for the 4K format and the live action "Justice League" that recently released for home entertainment. I would have liked to have seen a bit more of a focus on the production in Japan from start to finish or some time with the work done on making the score or the voice recording but the three features provide a decent amount of information on the making of the movie.

"Batman Ninja" is a one-of-a-kind never-before-seen spectacle that leads the way for this year's selection of DC Comics-based animation. Looks like 2018 is the year for Batman period pieces as this will make a very fine companion to DC Universe's "Batman: Gotham By Gaslight" release. The story is a phrenetic battle royale, the animation is stupendous, the attention to detail is inspiring, and it's a bold take that breaks new territory in the franchise. Anime isn't for everyone but Alfred's got a cup of black tea ready for you and you should really give this movie a shot. Very highly recommended!

Rating
Main Feature: 4.5 out of 5
Special Features: 3.5 out of 5
Average Rating: 4 out of 5