After having the world premiere of Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay the previous night DC Comics treated fans at WonderCon 2018 to yet another world premiere in the form of Batman Ninja. This new anime from DC Comics has recruited a talented crew to produce it with character designs by Takashi Okazaki, creator of Afro Samurai, the screenplay written by Kazuki Nakashima, writer for Gurren Lagann, and directed by Junpei Mizusaki, producer on Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures. Those are all big animes known for being widely different that touches on different genres. So does this talented crew along with an equally talented voice cast deliver? Let’s find out.
Now before getting into, just as with my review for Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay there will only be minor spoilers in this review. With those minor spoilers I will only touch on broad story beats without actually spoiling the actual story.
With that out of the way, Batman Ninja may very well be the most jarring Batman related content that DC Comics has released. There is really no other way than summarizing Batman Ninja than saying that it is just weird. Not only is it weird but it completely invests in how crazy everything Batman gets involved with in Feudal Japan is for the Dark Knight. And just as you get used to what Batman Ninja is about it finds a way to top itself with how over-the-top things get in each act.
Batman Ninja truly just revels in topping itself with each successive moment as it using every anime genre imaginable. It gets to the point that the only thing that you come away surprised about is that Batman doesn’t have his allies raise their hands in the air to gather him their Ki to form a giant Spirit Bomb (spoilers). The various use of what anime is and can be makes Batman Ninja that you will only truly enjoy when you turn off your brain and let yourself just revel in everything that is going on.
Now while it is truly an insane experience Batman Ninja does have a lot of great character moments that gets to the core of who the characters are. Batman’s character arc in particular does a good job addressing who he has evolved into being with his modern day version. Being placed in Feudal Japan where the Batcave does not exist slowly breaks Batman in an interesting way. That breaking point makes how Batman is positioned by the time the movie reaches its final act a fascinating spot that opens the opportunity for him to be even better than when the movie started. In doing so Batman Ninja turns out to be a meaningful examination of who Batman is and can be when pushed into his breaking point.
Batman Ninja is also able to bring in the Dark Knight’s well-known supporting cast in roles that are, for the most part, fitting to them. With Alfred we see how he becomes the rock Batman needs to continue to ground him even when things get absolutely nuts. Red Robin, Nightwing and Red Robin are also used effectively as a reflection of the core skills and mentality that make Batman who he is. Though fans may have wanted to see more of Nightwing and Red Robin they are used in an effective manner that helps open Batman’s eye to the world they are all in.
For his part Red Hood, in particular, gets a strong scene with one of the villains that helps push Batman’s own arc forward to show where he is by that point in the movie. Though, as a minor spoilers, the shift in the animation for the key Red Hood scene was odd since it is the only time it is used. It is also odd that given Red Hood’s important scene it is not revisited in later on when the opportunity opens itself up to.
While Red Hood’s character arc felt incomplete its Robin’s portrayal that may anger hardcore fans. Given that we know Dick Grayson is Nightwing, Tim Drake is Red Robin and Jason Todd is Red Hood its clear this Robin is Damian Wayne. While you’ll expect that would mean that Damian would be in heaven in Feudal Japan surrounded by ninjas that is not the case. Robin is played much more happy-go-lucky than any version of Damian Wayne. In many ways he was almost more Dick Grayson than Damian Wayne.
All that said where the movie does excel on top of Batman’s portrayal is how the staff use all of the Rogues Gallery in the Feudal Japan setting. The writers clearly love Batman’s Rogues and use them to their full effect as they used Joker, Harley Quinn, Two-Face, Penguin, Poison Ivy and Deathstroke’s regular designs to fit with Japanese folklore. How these characters end up representing different characters from myths does well in playing up how ridiculous things are within this universe that Batman and company are playing in.
Batman Ninja does a particularly great job showcasing how wild and crazy Joker is. With the animation style, the Joker was a perfect fit as one of the lead antagonists. Okazaki and the animators clearly loved working on Joker’s character. Even when things continue to get over the top it all seems fitting for a plot involving Joker. His own character arc, along with Harley Quinn, is one of the more satisfying as Okazaki plays up how the Joker is a genius when planning out his evil plots. Joker’s genius makes what he does even harder to predict while also making the moment when Batman comes out on top even more satisfying.
Overall, outside of some odd animation choices and a few arcs for supporting characters, Batman Ninja is an excellent movie. This is definitely a movie where as the viewer you just have to enjoy the wild and crazy ride the creative staff put you in. Batman and Joker’s arc help drive the story to with strong character arcs that make all of the action even more satisfying to watch play out. If you are a Batman or anime fan than Batman Ninja is a movie you should pick up when it is released digitally on April 24th or physically on May 8th.