Well its certainly a, uh… distinct Batman film.
Batman Ninja (2018) is a Japanese animated action film directed by Junpei Mizusaki and designed by Takashi Okazaki (Afro Samurai). The US released version stars Roger Craig Smith as Batman who, while trying to stop an experiment by Gorilla Grodd (Fred Tatasciore) at Arkham Asylum, is transported back to a feudal Japan where Gotham’s worst criminals have taken over the many regions and wage war against one another.
I am all for with experimenting with big properties, and this is as experimental as they come. So while it may be weird, nonsensical, absurdly silly and frequently grating… its definitely unique.
I should also clarify from the start, I’m not a massive anime fan and have little to no experience with Okazaki’s work on Afro Samurai so this review will be coming purely based on my batfandom. And while that sounds like I’m setting things up to tear it down, there is actually a lot to love for batfans here. Seeing Batman and all the classics of his rogues gallery reimagined in feudal Japan plays like a quality elseworld tale, and there’s some truly imaginative designs on display . This is bolstered by some truly unique animation, with huge flashy characters and movements that lend a completely different energy to this film than I’ve seen in any other DC animated fare. It can get very messy and hard to follow at times, but when it keeps things simple it truly is quite beautiful.
As for the story, well… It has all of the trappings you’d expect from this premise taken all the way up to eleven. Its stupid, utter nonsense that constantly tries to justify everything happening on-screen with as much logic as a child throwing around their toys. And hey, on the plus sign what’s taking place on-screen is a delight in a weird, deranged, nonsensical way. But on the other hand, there’s little more than the bare bones of a cohesive plot and that can be painfully frustrating for anyone who takes this film a little too seriously. I would personally just recommend switching off those silly little brain cells and committing yourself to the madness taking place on-screen – you’re going to have a much better time than anyone looking for a shred of sense in this animated fever dream.
The version I watched included a completely English cast, and ignoring the whole subs/dubs debate, I’m just going to say that the US voices are great. Its wonderful hearing Roger Craig Smith back in the role of Batsy after a great performance in Batman: Arkham Origins, but even beyond that everyone from Tara Strong (Harley Quinn), Adam Croasdell (Alfred) and Grey DeLisle (Catwoman, also from Arkham City) all deliver really fantastic, memorable performances in their respective roles. The one sore point is Tony Hale as the Joker who comes across as painfully grating and unmemorable. Part of that is obviously the agonising dialogue, but even beyond that Joker is always a difficult role to step into and Hale comes of as little more than annoying.
This is an extremely unique, wild project filled to the brim with some great animation and stellar character designs. But its also a very very specific taste, and anyone not into that style is going to have a real rough time with the painful dialogue and plot on display. Me personally? I think its some nonsensical fun, but little more than that.
General Audiences: Meh
True Believers (DC): Recommended