Let’s get right to it: Batman Ninja is hands-down the most worthwhile animated DC movie of 2018 thus far. After the fiasco that was The Killing Joke, I have had an inherent distrust of DC animations, despite the other good films the company has put out since then. And while I was stoked to see the Bat-fam in a new style like this, I was also weary – especially after seeing some of the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. But those trepidations were quelled within the first ten minutes of watching it.
Batman Ninja is unique because of its art style and the amount of creativity that was used in its production. While I’ve seen quite a few reviews touting the English dub version of the film (which features fabulous actors such as Roger Craig Smith, Grey DeLisle, Tara Strong and Will Friedle), I personally think it’s important to also watch the Japanese version to get the full experience. Don’t get me wrong, dubs are wonderful! But in this instance, there is a reason why you should grace your ears with the voices of actors like Kôichi Yamadera and Wataru Takagi.
This film incorporates a LOT of Japanese artwork and culture with the characters we are already familiar with. The combination of Eastern themes and Western storylines/characters makes for an interesting and entertaining watch even if you disagree with the execution. I’m not a big fan of CGI animation, but the way it was done in this film made me a believer. I mean, look at this.
Watching the film in the English language is fine and dandy, but trust me, you’re going to notice a lot more of the intricate Japanese details in the animation if you’ve got a stream of reminders about that influence through constant Japanese dialogue. And if you’re still iffy on it because of the CGI, let me introduce you to this beautifully animated sequence:
Honestly, if DC wants to create a similar film that is entirely rendered in this watercolor style, that’s fine by me. I would pay triple to see more of this.
And while the art style may have left a bad taste in the mouth of some, the introduction of a robot did others in. And honestly, I agree that it felt out of place – after all, the film is set in feudal Japan, so the use of modern technology just doesn’t logically make sense. But you know what other form of animated media uses plot devices like this that make no sense in our world? Anime. Like, a shit ton of anime. Whether they’re related to technology, superpowers or anything else, a lot of things happen in anime and manga series just because that was the creative route the author decided to take. Honestly, if it’s acceptable for Eren Jaeger to transform into a giant, genderless mutant in a pre-industrial civilization there’s really no creativity limit the writers and artists for Batman Ninja should be held to.
Not to mention that the mansions that formed the robot in this movie are all highly reminiscent of the castle in Howl’s Moving Castle. Seriously, there is SO much influence on this mech decision that is rooted in the culture the film is modeled around. So, while it is a little weird to see DC villains forming their own weird Voltron, it really isn’t that out of place.
Need one more phenomenal use of creativity to draw you in? The Bat Clan is an entire clan of Ninja elite who follow Bruce and his family due to an ancient prophecy. And yes, you may have seen something like this coming from a mile away because who wouldn’t expect a prophecy of some sort in a time-hopping film? But listen. It doesn’t matter if it was predictable because these Ninjas are badass. Not only that, they help drive the plot and push Bruce to find a deeper understanding of what it means to be a hero. The only disappointing thing about the Bat Clan is that we didn’t see more of them throughout the film.
Another thing I absolutely have to rave about with this film is its ability to juggle the personalities of classic Western characters and the introduction of Japanese cultural customs. It was really the little things: Bruce’s black tea being fermented personally by Alfred, Robin’s adoption of a small monkey and the Joker’s adaptation to farming are just a few of the moments that brought the Bat characters to life by intertwining them with Japanese themes. Perhaps my favorite moment in terms of characterization was Red Hood’s angry outburst – you can take the zombie boy out of 21st century Gotham, but you can’t take the anger and hatred out of the boy. A++ for continuing with this!
I do admit that I wish we could have seen more play out with the villains. It seemed a shame that we didn’t see more sword work with Deathstroke in particular. However, my favorite comment on characterization so far comes from an Amazon review titled “Not my Batman.”
This is not your Batman. This is an anime-inspired, Japanese take on Batman. Which has never existed before this film. That is the ENTIRE point.
If you take away nothing else from this article, just hear me out on this: Batman Ninja is a phenomenal film for its aesthetics alone. Even if everything else makes you cringe, you should be giving it a shot because of the incredible creative content that combines two, arguably three, different worlds. For that reason alone, Batman Ninja has carved its place in history as a unique cinematic experience in the DC Universe.