Eight decades of Batman is a lot of Batman. Our favorite Caped Crusader has appeared in no shortage of comics, movies, TV shows, merchandise, with his iconic visage undergoing nearly as many changes. I’ll be well into my forties when Bats hits the big 100, but I think I’ll manage somehow. Directed by Junpei Mizusake and featuring designs by Takashi Okazaki (the creator of Afro Samurai), the English-language version of Batman Ninja may not be the animated Bats you’re looking for, but it’s probably the one we need right now.
Writers Eric Garcia and Leo Chu may be the reason for the bizarre nature of the movie. Not having seen the Japanese version, which I’m told is radically different, I wasn’t able to draw any comparisons between the two. That a potentially more crazy, more insane version of this movie exists does make me curious, but for now I’ll happily settle for this. There’s only so much crazy I can take!
Much like the earlier Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, Batman Ninja takes our favorite cowled crime fighter to entirely new places, honoring popular mythos while mixing up expectations. Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Ninja Batman is less cultural appropriation than pure cultural imagination; the synthesis of Batman iconography intermingled with Japanese culture works like peanut butter and jelly; like rice and seaweed. It’s a celebration of both cultures that works better than it probably should’ve, at least visually.
Batman discovers Gorilla Grodd has invented a device called the Quake Engine, which is supposed to disrupt time itself. After a heroic attempt to thwart his dastardly plans fails, Batman and the rest of the Bat Family are transported back in time to feudal Japan. Before he can say “Fiends!” Batman is thrown into a kinetic battle with samurai working for the Joker, leading to a spectacular action sequence that sets up our expectations for the rest of the film – only to continually upend them.
Batman survives the samurai battle (of course) and soon runs into Catwoman, who explains to him that the Quake Engine’s blast that teleported him back to ancient Japan also brought Gotham’s villains along for the time-traveling ride, only they arrived two years earlier. During that interval each rose to power as feudal lords with their own ruling states, battling one another for control of the region. Armed with this startling information, Batman doesn’t waste a minute and quickly jumps into his Batmobile and heads off to find Joker.
Seeing these two iconic characters, redesigned for the genre, duking it out against the surreal backdrop of Japanese castles and gorgeous vistas is phenomenal. It’s not just Bats and Joker; Harley Quinn, Robin, and others have also been redesigned to match this era, results of which are equally stunning. The bizarre nature of Bats zipping around historical Japanese landscapes required a small readjustment on my part, but once everything clicked I was ready for more!
Ninja Batman is a visual feast for the eyes where every scene could be turned into a poster and hung on the wall. The hand-drawn anime style is gorgeous, and changes throughout the movie to showcase emotions and events going on in the story. There are several nods to Japanese art styles; one has the anime artwork transitioning into a dreamy watercolor landscape to demonstrate the confusion of a character who’s lost their memory. Gotham’s villains, and their respective states, are represented as sky lanterns against the backdrop of a star-filled sky.
My favorite was a shadow-play sequence that’s used to track movements on the battlefield and showing a giant robot facing off against a horde of monkeys. Yes, you get giant robots fighting monkeys here – what more could you ask for?
It’s impossible to put into words the utter craziness that occurs throughout Batman Ninja, especially with a plot that includes time displacement, mecha suits and monkeys fighting giant robots. To see our favorite characters thrown into one visually impressive situation after the next can be breathtaking and exhausting at the same time. To reveal anymore would lead to spoilers and, honestly, too much happens to stay on track before you’re left wondering, “What just happened?” Just go with it.