“You think you’ve heard every Batman story? I promise, you haven’t.”
By this point, it seems as though Warner Bros. and DC have explored every Batman they could have, and then comes Junpei Mizusaki’s Batman Ninja (yes, Batman Ninja, not Ninja Batman) which takes all your favourite parts of Batman, and all you favourite parts of anime and brings them together in a stylish (if not incredibly substantial) feature that takes the Bat’s best back in time.
We find ourselves, as we often do in the Batman universe, in Arkham Asylum, where the caped crusader is fighting gigantic ape foe Gorilla Grodd (Fred Tatasciore), when a giant explosion catapults them back in time to feudal Japan – the strange twist being, while Batman (Roger Craig Smith) has only just arrived in the time, the rest of the characters have been there for two years already. In that time, the DC villains have risen to power, led by “The Demon King” – who is, you guessed it, The Joker. Voiced by Arrested Development’s Tony Hale doing his best attempt at a Mark Hamill impression, this Joker becomes somewhat shrill and annoying as the story goes on, almost to the point where you’d rather not be seeing the character at all.
With Joker and Harley Quinn (Tara Strong) reigning over their own state, the others are presided over by fellow villains, Penguin (Tom Kenny), Poison Ivy (Strong), Deathstroke (Tatasciore) and Two Face (Eric Bauza) each in their own, orientally designed palaces. The design and artwork really must be praised in this feature, as the crisp, beautiful graphics marry together Batman and anime perfectly. With art clearly inspired by East Asian ink wash paintings, the home country of this work is evident in every single frame, with even the classic characters being adapted into a more common anime style, softening their overall appearance to be more in keeping with the style.
As for the story, it follows the form we’ve come to expect from the Batman features we have seen, the age-old plot that sees Batman fight the all the bad guys. However, there is a difference with Batman Ninja, in that our hero must consider who Batman is when stripped of his technology. With a team of Ninja Batmen – Nightwing (Adam Croasdell), Red Robin (Will Friedle), Red Hood and Robin (Yuri Lowenthal) – Batman is also joined by a bat clan of ninjas, whose legend (surprisingly) tells of a masked saviour, dressed as a bat, who will bring peace to their land.
Drawing on inspiration from Transformers and Power Rangers, the villains are able to form one gigantic villain in order to take on Batman, his Batmen, and a monumental amount bats, in a sequence that is both wonderful and ridiculous in equal measure, Batman Ninja carves out its own place in the DC Universe with an inspired, unique theme, which will no doubt spawn new comicbooks and merchandise. In fact, if DC and Warner Bros. choose not to capitalise on this new design, then they are really missing a trick.
Though in parts the plot seems a little drawn out, and you find yourself thinking that it probably could have been done in a shorter amount of time, Batman Ninja is an entertaining feature that brings a new dimension to the Batman universe, and an imaginative take on its classic characters. And look out for Bane, because the Japanese take on the character is wonderful.