Trailers for Batman Ninja had started spreading early 2018 for the movie produced by Warner Bros. studio. Kazuki Nakashima and Takashi Okazaki were contacted for the story and character design respectively.* With each having success in previous outings and making landmark pieces in anime, it seemed like a great experience waiting to happen. Perhaps it is for the Japanese version, but I’m reviewing the English version since I’m interested in how well they can localize such a fusion of American pop culture and the style of anime.
The visuals are amazing, as to be expected from Afro Samurai’s Takeshi Okazaki. With beautiful animation and visually eye-catching designs, the colors work well against the cell shading resulting in some very good and sometimes interesting moments. None of the designs stray far enough from their character origins to be unrecognizable, (save Jason Todd) but still remind you what time period the story is in.
Consistency does come as somewhat of an issue with the film however. There are points of exposition or an attempt at an emotional scene where the animation takes a sharp direction or becomes more like an adventure role playing game. Some of the action scenes seem reeled in a bit with a few even having a random color background instead of keeping the viewer in the moment of the battle.
Maybe it’s just not possible to have that much action going on at once and move as smoothly, but it did become distracting in some of the later scenes.
The movie really comes down to Gorilla Grodd vs the Batman Family with Joker coming in to steal the spotlight to… rule everything? Or… cause immeasurable chaos to inspire senseless anarchy? In all honesty, the Joker and Harley Quinn are here to be the most insane and goofy characters they can be, within PG-13 limits. It makes you wonder if they just added some other characters to have a full Voltron-sized team of five for the villains. After all, there were many underused characters in this feature. There are even two enemies who do more in exposition than on screen, represented by either short animations or still shots.
Characterization is very odd, in the sense that it does follow the premise of most of these characters, but not in a way that makes sense on how they are known to behave. The way every character acts would make more sense if this were an alternate timeline where all these characters already naturally existed in Feudal Japan. The plot would make more sense as well.
Disappointingly, the plot as provided makes Batman seem like he forgot how to be Batman while being time displaced.
The music itself may be polarizing. Good music in its own right, but how it was applied in the movie makes it feel like a different movie altogether at times. The characters had fairly generic voices for their respective characters in other recent media of each respective character. The delivery isn’t always emotionally moving, and often comes off as a flat reading, making some scenes fall flat, despite still having great visuals.
Final Critique and Thoughts
This film felt scattered and so jammed full of anime cliches and tropes. Think of it as an anime movie with the parody of One Punch Man, the emotional depth of a Pokemon movie, all dressed up in Batman’s intellectual property. There were a lot of ideas in this movie that I think could have worked under different settings and explanations. Instead, most of the movie feels like it stumbles along making changes without payoff, pretending there’s been a completed character arc when there is none, and under utilizing the full cast.
Bane has regressed to a mute strong man in the form of a sumo wrestler, and Poison Ivy just wears bits of Samurai inspired armor, because… it’ll help the environment somehow? Some of their characterizations have been given some liberties which is fine. And the premise of a Bat-family that includes Damien Wayne as Robin makes the idea of Batman learning how to fight his criminals without all his tech and trust his team more appealing.
In the end everyone seems a bit campier, and there is some silliness to a lot of the premise. All this is to say that it’s just isn’t a good film. The visuals are splendid. And while the voice acting was passable, these weren’t enough to overlook the poor characterization, changes in animation that distracted more than enhance the film, and overall plot. It might be good for a single viewing just out of curiosity but there are plenty of other, more cohesive pieces you could go watch.