WARNING: The following contains a full breakdown of the plot of Batman Ninja, so there is going to be spoilers aplenty and a touch of autism!
Being both a fan of comics and anime, a production like Batman Ninja offers an interesting quandary for me. Do I judge it based on the comics property it is being adapted from, as I would your average DC animated work, or do I activate my inner weeb and judge it purely on the basis of how it works as an anime?
As luck would have it(at least, for the sake of review and commentary), it doesn’t really make much difference. No matter how one were to approach Batman Ninja, it has an element of failure inherent to the production.
For starters, Batman Ninja feels, rightfully so, not like a production of DC like any of the other animated works that feature The Caped Crusader or other mainline DC characters. Rightfully so because while DC were involved in the production of the film, a Japanese studio by the name of Kamikaze Douga(who have been around since 2010, mostly making music videos, ONAs, and film/TV adaptations in more recent years) were the ones scripting, animating and actually making the film.
Why is this an issue? Well, there is something of a standard of quality that most DC animation studios Batman films tend to uphold. As much as I have railed against the 2016 adaptation of Alan Moore’s classic story The Killing Joke(mostly for wasting 28 goddamned minutes forcing Babs into a character role that turned her desire to walk away from the life of fighting crime into little more than because Bruce didn’t feel the way for her that she felt for him), the film, at least once it got on the right track, is a solid enough adaptation of a classic Batman story.
Batman Ninja, simply put, is nothing like that.
It tries too goddamned hard to be cool, stylish and “anime” while fundamentally misunderstanding that which makes anime interesting to watch. Any story, regardless of medium and no matter how stylishly told, will fall flat if it does not have a solid foundation, as well as supporting structures in the characters, world building, and presentation. Granted, Batman Ninja does have much of its presentation down pat, but the other supporting structures are lacking and the foundation of the story is downright insulting.
Our story begins with(depending on which version of the film you are watching) with either Gorilla Grodd giving some monologue about the villains of Gotham being his “guinea pigs” or Selena Kyle giving an introduction to the story, giving some line about “how curiosity almost killed this cat”. Grodd had, apparently, constructed some sort of “Time Leap” machine, with the intent of taking all of Gotham’s criminals and warping them beyond time and space so that he could have as little interference as possible during his next attempt to take control of Gotham, only for Batman to arrive on the scene to stop him.
As tends to happen whenever Batman and one of the members of his Rogues’ Gallery engage, shit goes fucking sideways and Grodd’s Time Leap machine is activated, sending a large cast of Batman characters, including, but not limited to Batman, Robin, Red Robin, Nightwing, Catwoman, Alfred, Grodd, Joker, Harley Quinn, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Deathstroke, and The Penguin, back in time to feudal Japan. Upon his arrival in Japan(which, for some unexplained reason, is a full two years after everyone else was time warped to the locale), Batman quickly notices a wanted poster on the ground that has a drawing similar to his visage on it, only for him to quickly be accosted by samurai wearing motherfucking Joker masks.
And this was where one of my first issues with the film make itself known. This scene is simultaneously fucking awesome and fucking retarded.
On the one hand, the design of the samurai is really cool(design, in general, is one of the major strengths of the film as a whole), capped off with masks reminiscent of the faces left on those who have succumbed to the effects of the Joker Toxin.
On the other hand? Outside of the nice design of these samurai, the rest of the scene involving them is rather lackluster.
See, normally, when Batman is surrounded by enemies, he uses his genius level intellect and in-the-moment strategic abilities to outwit and overcome his enemies and get them to reveal information to him that he needs to get ahead of the game and plan his next moves. In this scene, after dispatching of a few Joker Samurai and seeing more on their way, Batman just runs away. No strategy, no planning, no interrogation, just runs like a little bitch because fucking reasons, I guess!
The following scene, now taking place at night, shows Batman trying to infiltrate Joker’s castle, but like many scenes with this version of Batman, he flubs the shit out of it and is thrown into a rooftop battle with The Joker, which quickly turns into a forest battle that seems to be lifted straight from a much better show.
As a quick aside, I do want to give props to Wataru Takagi, the Seiyuu in the Japanese version of the film, for his portrayal of Joker. Takagi does for the Japanese language track what Mark Hamill did for many years as the English voice of Joker, but that’s to be expected from a man who has nearly 200 voice credits to his name, some dating as far back as ’87 AND this man being involved in classic anime such as The Guyver, Tenchi Muyo, Dirty Pair Flash, Golden Boy, and Slayers(Which makes the English voice actor they got for this film seem so much more fucking horrid by comparison, to the point where watching the film a second time with the English voice track made me want to puncture my eardrums).
As the forest battle between Joker and Batman continues, Joker decides to take a load off and let his minions fight Batman instead, which ultimately results in the same outcome as the last fight scene between Batman and the Joker Samurai – Batman kicking a few of their asses and then running the fuck away.
Some time later, while the Joker Samurai are still in hot pursuit, Batman meets up with Selena Kyle, who explains that two years have passed between the time when everyone else first arrived in Japan and now when Batman did, as well as laying out that The Penguin, Poison Ivy, Two-Face, and Deathstroke have replaced the Daimyo of various regions and, like they did in modern-day Gotham, are vying for control of the entire area, with Joker having the most power and territory.
The next day, Selena and Batman(disguised as a Catholic missionary) meet Alfred, who had somehow gotten himself transported to the past AND managed to not only be transported with the Batmobile, but also was able to keep it in working condition, which is good for the sake of plot, as the Joker Samurai begin bombarding the little makeshift garage Alfred was storing the Batmobile in shortly after the damn thing was unveiled!
Cue another action scene(because this fucking movie couldn’t go more than 5 or 10 goddamned minutes without having some stupid spectacle exploding nonsensical bullshit in your fucking face) with Batman using the Batmobile to mow through the streets leading up to Joker Castle – only for the castle itself to turn into a goddamned mecha because anime.
Over the course of what literally felt like a minute, the Joker Castle Mech grabs the Batmobile and crushes it, only for it to turn into the Batwing(that only gets about 15 seconds of screen time before the wings get impaled by some retractable arm spikes on the Joker Castle Mech), only to turn into the fucking Batcycle because we apparently need to bust our Bat-vehicle cherry for this film as early on as we fucking can!
As Batman bursts into the main chamber where Joker is located, he demands that Joker “Stop his monster!”, only for Joker to do exactly what he asks, resulting in the motors keeping the mech’s arm in the air to shut down, causing the arm to plummet in the direct path of an innocent woman and her child.
Can you guess what Batman does instead of apprehending Joker? :^)
Admittedly, I can’t be too mad, because the scene that follows Batman taking the Batcycle down to save the innocent woman and her child involves the single greatest alternative interpretation of any DC character: Sumo Wrestler Bane.
But where my anger and desire to have every single person who worked on this film be fucking flensed return to me is, in this same fucking scene, the goddamned Batcycle turns into an Iron Man style Powered Exoskeleton which quickly dispatches of Sumo Bane and makes me wonder why the fuck the guy was even in the film for the 5 seconds of screen time they decided to give him.
After dispatching of Bane, Batman quickly goes to be the big goddamned hero and save the innocent woman and her child, losing his Exoskeleton in the process and for the woman to reveal herself as Harley Quinn(because of fucking course) who whacks Batman around with a variant of her giant mallet that looks like one of those traditional Japanese drum things. Joker and a few of the Joker Samurai begin to close in on Batman when, suddenly, ZOMG BATS APPEAR, along with a few Batninjas, who quickly whisk Batman away to safety.
Our next scene opens with Batman speaking with Red Robin and Nightwing, who explain to Batman that Red Hood(who has gone on an undisclosed recon mission and Robin(who is going to collect Selena and Alfred) are also in Japan, as well as to introduce Batman to the Batclan Ninja and their leader, Eian. Eian explains something about how Batman is a prophesied “strange-looking” hero-Ninja who would restore order to Feudal Japan or some such nonsense and announces the fealty of the Batclan to him.
Later, they take the Batfamily to the village hidden in the Bats so Batman and Co. can decide what their next move is. Shortly thereafter, Robin arrives with his little pet sidekick, Monkichi, a Japanese monkey who can understand English and is smarter than your average turd flinger, with a message for Batman from Gorilla Grodd. Time seems to have been less fortunate to Grodd than it has for the other villains, as he has no territory or castle of his own. After claiming that both Batman and himself are responsible for the current state of affairs, he proposes that the two of them team up to make things right and send everyone back to the modern-day, with their first goal being stopping Joker so they can take on the other 4 villains who have military might.
They set out the next day, Batman disguised as a simple ferryman and Grodd playing a Japanese flute as they wait for Joker to show himself. He and Grodd exchange a few barbs towards one another before Joker demands to know where Batman is, only for him to reveal not only himself, but also various Batclan warriors who reveal themselves by poking their breathing reeds out of the water, only for Joker to begin seemingly mowing them down with automatic firearms, because reasons.
Things aren’t entirely dire for the Caped Crusader and Co., as Batman reveals that the small little ferry-boat they are in actually has one of the two Batclan submersible ships underneath it and they take the fight to Joker’s ship. The fight splits off into various skirmishes, Selena facing Harley, Grodd and Batman taking on Joker, and the Batclan and sidekicks taking on the Joker Samurai, overtaking Joker and his minions with relative ease.
And then Grodd and Selena betray Batman. Because of course they do.
As it turns out, Grodd had been working with Two-Face(whose burned half of his face looks reminiscent of those Japanese Oni masks) the whole time, trying to usurp control from Joker by using Batman to take him out. Initially, he was planning on using a mind control device to force the Batclan to turn on the Batfamily and kill them, but after Eian claiming that Batclan members have “hearts of steel” and cannot be warped by evil thoughts, Grodd turns to his plan B and has Two-Face bombard both Joker’s ship and the Batclan ship with cannon fire. As he leaps from the fiery mess that is now Joker’s ship and onto Two-Face’s ship, he is met by Selena, who had pilfered one of the power cores necessary to make Grodd’s time warp machine work, only willing to give it to him on the condition that he returns her to the future once he gets the machine up and running again.
Due to all the chaos going on, Batman and Co. don’t realize Harley Quinn and Joker have escaped until they are lighting a barrel full of explosive powder, in an attempt to kill off not only Batman, but the Batclan and Batfamily in one fell swoop. In the aftermath, Grodd, Selena and Two-Face assume that all on-board are dead. Shortly thereafter, Grodd takes Joker’s place in his kingdom and continues work on the Time Leap machine.
In The Hidden Bat Village, Batman is still recovering from being blown the fuck up, having slept for two full days after the last time he went out to fight. As he tries to regain his bearings and get moving again, he notices several members of the Batclan trying to give Alfred food as offering to their “lord” and it reminds Batman that he is not in this alone and that even without his fancy gadgets and Batcave, he still had assets he can utilize in this fight, which reinvigorates his fighting spirit, or something. As he tosses aside his old Batman mask, he ties the one given to him by Eian around his head, and the Batman, Batclan and Batfamily prepare to rejoin the fight.
The scene that follows is an interesting one. Not necessarily for the scene itself, though it is an interesting distraction from the rest of the film, but more because of the animation style they utilize for the scene. Most of the film is either CGI with some kind of cel-shading overlay by itself or CGI with a bit of traditional animation mixed in. The following scene(and only this scene) is done in this Sume-i style that traditional Japanese painting of the era were done in that adds quite a bit of beauty to a scene that is, overall, fairly violent and dark.
The scene in question opens up on a little farm with Red Hood walking in from a nearby forest and asking an oddly familiar green haired man and blonde female if he could have a drink of water. The couple obliges him, but as the female farmer goes to get him some water, he begins to assault her, grabbing her by the arm and twisting it behind her back until she screams, causing the male farmer to come running to her aid. Calling the green haired man by name, Joker, Red Hood begins punching and kicking the two as they beg him to stop, unaware of who he is or why he is attacking them.
As Red Hood draws a pistol, all the while asking if Joker wants to continue playing dumb, Batman intervenes, causing the pistol shot miss his head at the last-minute, telling Red Hood to stand down and that the people he are brutalizing are not the Harley and Joker they know. Though still skeptical, Red Hood eventually trusts Batman that these two farmers merely look like them, fully dropping the subject when Batman mentions that a person like Joker cannot hide his cruelty and malice, so when they shook hands, he would have felt it.
I guess it’s too bad the Batman in this movie is a fucking moron, isn’t it?
One month later, Grodd is prepared to conduct his assault on the other villains who control one of the power cores to his Time Warp machine, mobilizing the Castle Joker mech once more and tearing through the city on his warpath towards the others, but he’s not the only one. As if on cue, Penguin, Ivy, Deathstroke and Two-Face also mobilize their Castle Mechs and head towards Mt. Fuji for their showdown, and the Batfamily, finally prepared enough to take on their foes, mobilize as well.
CAN YOU SAY SAMURAI BATMAN?!
The mecha showdown begins with Poison Ivy going up against Penguin and Deathstroke going up against Two-Face, who stands in between Grodd and Deathstoke when the latter attempted to attack the former, only to turn and betray him immediately after doing a coinflip and aiming his electricity arrows(because his mech has those) at Grodd, who quickly dispatches of him after mentioning he knew it was coming and tossing Two-Face’s mech into Deathstroke’s before turning his attention to using his supercomputer shogi board to control all four of the other villain’s minds, as their mechs to advance to the next step of his plan: creating an Ape Kingdom out of a restructured Japan.
But before Grodd is able to lay down his final Shogi piece and start on his conquest of primate superiority, a laughing bomb is dropped into his chamber that sprouts a single red flower before filling the room with some sort of paralysis poison, leaving both Grodd and Selena helpless as Joker and Harley enter the chamber and toss their bodies out, leaving them to plumet towards their deaths, but luckily, they’re saved by Batman and the Batfamily.
After dispatching with Grodd and Selena, Harley and Joker quickly take over from where Grodd left off, combining all 5 of the castle mechs into: Joker Voltron!
Not wasting any time, Joker immediately unleashes his full arsenal of firepower on the Batfamily, causing a massive boulder to come bolting towards Robin and Monkichi, who are nearly crushed by the thing until Grodd rushes towards them and takes the brunt of the boulder’s force, leaving him severely wounded, but still alive. Grodd then gives Batman his flute, telling him that is how he can control Grodd’s monkeys(though why we needed monkeys to fight a fucking mech is something I still don’t quite understand, but at this point in the film, I just wanted the fucking thing to be over, so I wasn’t about to question it).
At any rate, Robin and Monkichi take the flute and summon a whole fuckload of monkeys, who proceed to climb up and around Joker Voltron, who easily brushes them off like the ants that they are.
And then, things get even weirder.
A female monkey named Monmi shows up.
And then they play the flute again.
And then all the monkeys fuse into THIS:
WHAT THE FUCK AM I EVEN LOOKING AT?!
Anyway! Moving on!
So this fucking monkey amalgam thing scoops up the Batfamily and they start fighting Joker Voltron again, only for Joker to unveil his flamethrower cannon thing and try to burn them to death? As several monkeys, charred to hell and very fucking dead, continue to fall from the monkey amalgum and when things look dire for our heroes. What shows up? Fucking bats. And what do they do? COMBINE WITH THE MONKEY AMALGUM, OF COURSE! But not before making a gigantic fucking Batsymbol in the sky because you can’t have a Batman movie without having the Batsymbol in the sky at least once, right?!
Anyway, the bats and the monkeys combine, yeah? So you’d think you’d have some sort of flying monkey, yeah? WRONG!
You get this:
And then BatGod(yes, that is what they call it in the film) falcon punches Joker Voltron, because anime is fucking weird and Japan is perpetually high on bathsalts.
After breaking though the barriers and making their way into the various mechs, each of the BatFamily make their way to face off, one-on-one with one of the villains and one by one, the villains are dispatched of fairly quickly, with the exception of Joker, who is very handily going toe to toe with Batman in a rooftop katana duel, because they both are supreme gentlemen.
As the battle rages, Joker’s sanity slides more and more until he looks like a deranged maniac or feral beast staring down his prey. His attacks become more fierce, his intention to kill more obvious until he finally stabs Batman chest. Or so it appears. Batman bends and flexes the sword for a moment, against Joker’s attempts to maintain control of the sword, before breaking it in two and beginning to turn the fight around until Joker, catching him unawares, actually impales him with the broken sword by tossing the bit broken off the handle at his chest.
We see Batman fall from the roof of the building, only for him to remember that the word ninja has been affixed to his name and, like all the great ninjas of anime, he disapparates into a bunch of bats and pulls a ‘=3 teleports behind you’ on Joker before proceeding to do more of this substitution jutsu nonsense until he ultimately beats the ever loving shit out of him and saving the day or something.
After exchanging some bittersweet goodbyes with the Batclan, they activate the Time Warp machine and return to modern-day Gotham.
And after watching this movie, I wish I could time warp to before I watched it and warn myself.
Batman Ninja, save for some nice character designs, fairly impressive 3D animation work, as good Japanese voice acting, is probably one of the worst things I have forced myself to sit through in recent memory and I would literally rather relive the experience of having an obese woman nearly break my dick again than experience this film ever the fuck again.