Little Box of Horrors: Batman Ninja
I fired up my turbines, put on my cowl, and got my Bat-Shark Repellent ready for a trip to the Saco Redbox. Will Batman Ninja have me doing the Batoosie, or will I have to get rid of another bomb?
Under the Red Hood
Batman might be batting above 500 when it comes to cinematic offerings, but the Martha Manhunter’s animated outings have been all over the place. Unfortunately the one trend seems to be downward: Batman has been squandering all the viewer goodwill that Batman: The Animated Series generated back in the 90’s. While there have been a few outliers, most of the recent Bat-films have been rehashes of classic comic stories (with some cringey titillation tacked on) or blatant merchandising vehicles.
That being said, a good Batman animation is like comfort food for me. So I headed down to the local Redbox to find out some of the battiest Bat-flicks I could find. Let’s see how gonzo we can get in Gotham.
- Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts (2015). Batman teams up with cyber animals. Or does he fight them? I don’t know; this looks like a kid dropped a tab of acid, dumped out his toy box, and started smashing things together.
- Scooby Doo Meets Batman (2009). Before Batman ’66 made Adam West era Batman cool again, the camp crusader had to put up with buddy comedies. If you think I’m going to let Hanna-Barbera slide another stinker past me, you’ve got another think coming.
- Batman Ninja (2018). Batman along with his allies and enemies wind up in feudal Japan. Castles transform into Robots and Robin befriends a monkey. Yeah, this is crazy Japanese anime dialed up to 11.
Which movie will escape from the nefarious clutches of the Saco Redbox? Find out tomorrow: same Bat-time, same Bat-channel! Or maybe just keep reading the article. Whichever.
Batman Ninja (2018)
Gorilla Grodd has rounded up all of Batman’s rogue gallery as human guinea pigs for an experiment in time travel. When the Bat-Family shows up to thwart him, everyone ends up getting hurled back to the Sengoku Period of feudal Japan. The villains quickly set themselves up as the local Daimyo’s, each one vying to rule the warring states period and rewrite history. Batman must learn the ways of ninpo (or relearn, pretty sure he already studied that) and thwart them with the help of a clan of bat themed ninjas.
Holy Voice Acting, Batman!
The first thing I noticed about Batman Ninja was the voice acting. It’s terrible. Batman sounds sedated, and the Joker is an annoying, nasally abomination. The English voice actors were so bad, that I paused about 20 minutes in to see if I could switch the audio to Japanese. Nope. They did have Portuguese though, and I was sorely tempted to give that a roll.
Bat Outta Hell.
The second thing I noticed was how bonkers this story is. I don’t think they got more than ten minutes into the movie before “Joker Castle” went full Voltron and Batman transformed his bat-cycle into a suit of armor with which to throw Bane (in Sumo Wrestler Cosplay) at a tree. I wasn’t surprised. Director Junpei Mizusaki also did JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. And that series is certifiably insane.
While I wasn’t surprised, I was exhausted. There’s so much frenetic craziness going on, that I was more fatigued than infatuated. I do like some crazy Anime, but this was Ready Player One levels of colorful things whipping past your eyeballs.
It’s a shame, because when Batman Ninja calms the hell down, it has an interesting style to suffuse the Batman mythos. The fights that aren’t complete frenzies are stylish (a la The Matrix), and the character designs are mostly cool. Some of the Japanese Retro-futuristic characters even look better than their comic counterparts.
Two Out of Three Aint Bat. Wait, it is.
So, bad voice-acting and seizure inducing action put Batman Ninja in a pretty deep hole. Is there anything to recommend this movie? Yes, yes there is.
Batman Ninja uses pretty much the current roster of the Bat-family (minus the female members; which is a shame. Kunoichi Batgirl or Batwoman could have been really slick.), so there are technically FOUR Robins. I’m talking about Damien Wayne, the newest Robin.
In the comics, he’s a bloodthirsty little prick. In Batman Ninja, he’s a doofus with a terrible haircut and an anthropomorphic mini-monkey sidekick. I was so delighted to see a version of Damien that wasn’t all edge, even if they swung the pendulum so far in the other direction that he feels like a joke character. In a film with very little intentional comedy, Doofy Wayne was a treat.
Good Idea? Bat Idea.
An enjoyably idiotic Robin is very faint praise for Batman Ninja. This anime ends up being much more appealing on paper, where the gonzo aspects should have blended with a cool-factor to make for some entertaining fan-fiction. Instead the movie is too serious, too seriously crazy, and too nails-on-a-chalkboard to recommend.
If they had cut out two of the Joker fights and given more time to the other rogues, I think the story would have been much more palatable. By the time you see the other big four baddies, the film was so far gone as to be unsalvageable. I’d already had enough of Mr. J’s screeching and Harley Quinn licking her chops (for real, did they confuse her character with her pet Hyenas?) by then. It also robbed the movie of tension, as we had seen Bats thump Joker pretty definitively about 30 minutes in. A second trouncing was overkill.
But overkill is a pretty good summation of Batman Ninja. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get my Bat-motion-sickness-pills out of my utility belt.