The loose premise of Batman Ninja was enough to mark it out as must-see to some genre fans upon the picture being first announced. The Caped Crusader and a slew of supporting players transported to feudal Japan? All delivered in an anime fashion? Yep, that’s quite the intriguing prospect. Is this latest animated DC effort actually any good though, or is it merely a case of style and intrigue over substance and genuine quality?
We’ve already alluded to the basic plot of Batman Ninja, but to flesh it out a little more this whole happening is down to the nefarious Gorilla Grodd. A psionic, telepathic genius gorilla, Grodd has long been a rival of The Flash, although his antics and shenanigans have never been exclusive to the Scarlet Speedster in the comic book realm. And here, the Dark Knight runs afoul of this hugely powerful rogue. In fact, within the film’s opening moments Grodd has already banished Batman through time itself and back to feudal Japan. Unfortunately for the World’s Greatest Detective, things go from bad to worse when he immediately runs across a familiar old foe: The Joker.
While the Clown Prince of Crime has been spruced up to fit the ancient Japanese setting, Bats has to deal with a whole host of other notable villains who have similarly been given a fresh lick of paint to fit their new surroundings as a power play takes place to decide who rules the land. Oh yeah, and then there’s the small task of somehow getting out of ye olden times and making it back to present-day Gotham City!
From the moment Junpei Mizusaki’s film opens, you know this is not your average animated Bat-flick. With a classic anime vibe combined with CG wizardy, Batman Ninja is a visual delight and a true standout from all previous animated DC offerings in that regard. The only earlier release that comes close to having even a smidge of similar sheen to it is 2008’s decent-but-not-great Batman: Gotham Knight. Takashi Okazaki is the person primarily tasked with the character design of Batman Ninja, and the Afro Samurai creator does a splendid job of bringing the sensibilities and eccentric style of a traditional anime effort in a way that puts a truly unique spin on a whole slew of familiar Bat characters.
In its basic form, Batman Ninja’s narrative is paint by numbers in the ‘Batman’s trapped in time, must defeat bad guys and get back to the present’ tale. But it’s the other details that makes this far from a formulaic outing for the Caped Crusader and Co. There’s a Bat-clan of ninjas, there’s an uber-cute monkey sidekick, there’s giant robots, there’s giant castles, there’s giant robot castles… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Then there’s the new lick of paint given to Bat-family members such as Nightwing, Robin, Red Robin, Red Hood, Alfred, and Catwoman, not to mention no-good sorts like Harley Quinn, Two-Face, Bane, Deathstroke, and Poison Ivy. In fact, a sumo incarnation of Bane is a true highlight to behold.
As for the English voice cast behind the host of familiar faces on display here, Roger Craig Smith makes for a rather great Batman once you get used to him. And by that, we mean that some of you out there may be accustomed to hearing the dulcet tones of Kevin Conroy as yours Bats. Smith has previous in the animated cape and cowl though, having voiced the iconic hero in the Batman Unlimited series and films plus the Arkham Origins video game – not to mention, having voiced Captain America in plentiful efforts, most notably the Avengers Assemble series. While Smith isn’t Conroy – and let’s face it, nobody will ever top what Kevin Conroy brings to the table – he still makes for a strong choice to tackle the Dark Knight role here. And while we’re all about Mark Hamill as The Joker whenever possible, special mention must go to Tony Hale for delivering a sinister and Bat-shit crazy Mr J who fits in pitch-perfectly for what was needed in this strange and splendid tale. Elsewhere, many longtime fans will get a kick out of Tara Strong returning to provide vocals for Harley Quinn, and she’s as great as you’d expect here.
Batman Ninja is as bonkers a Bat-tale as you will find – potentially a little too erratic and eccentric for some – but this is a stylish and fresh take that can get away with all of its quirks and eccentricities due to the fact that it’s simply a different, essentially Elseworlds story that means rhythm and rhyme can gleefully be thrown out of the window for the most part. Some traditionalists may find that Batman Ninja is a little too much for them, but if you go in with an open mind then this is a hugely entertaining and vastly changed-up outing for one of the most beloved figures in pop culture history.
Special Features: Two featurettes / New Comic Con 2017 panel
BATMAN NINJA / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: JUNPEI MIZUSAKI / SCREENPLAY: KAZUKI NAKASHIMA / STARRING: ROGER CRAIG SMITH, TONY HALE, GREG GRIFFEN, TARA STRONG, ADAM CROASDELL, FRED TATASCIORE / RELEASE DATE: APRIL 24TH (US), MAY 14TH (UK)