The Unfortunate Case of Batman Ninja

If you’ve read my review of Batman Ninja, you know that I absolutely hated the film, so much so that I went on a nearly 4,000 word rant breaking down the entire film as my sanity slowly unraveled.

What you probably don’t know is that I went into this film with high hopes and eager expectations. When I was first approached about writing up a review on the film by our Editor-In-Chief, Jason, he had expressed quite a bit of love and enjoyment for the film, mentioning some of the more weebtastic elements like the castles turning into mecha, those mecha turning into a fucking Voltron, and Robin getting himself a sidekick monkey. These were things that I was immediately excited to see play out, being the gigantic turboweeb that I am and the description of these events filling me with hype.

And, truth be told, there are a L O T of things that I enjoy about Batman Ninja, even if I feel the film as a whole is fundamentally lacking.

For starters, the film has excellent character design and voice acting.

With the exception of Batman(an exception I am willing to accept because he is meant to be a fish out of water, having just arrived in Japan, while everyone else has been there for the past two years), every character in Batman Ninja who originated from a DC comic has a wonderfully Japanese interpretation to their original design.

From turning Bane into a sumo wrestler and making Two-Face’s disfigured half resemble a traditional Oni mask to more subtle details like making the “R” on Robin’s chest look like it could very easily be a combination of kanji or adding armor pieces and helmet attachments to make the outfits have a feudal Japan aesthetic, each character’s design made me want to pause the movie so I could just soak in and appreciate all the great work of character designer Takashi Okazaki(best known for his creation, Afro Samurai).

Likewise, the voice acting(at least, in the Japanese dub) is borderline perfection.

Like I had mentioned in my review, Wataru Takagi stands out as a shining example of a voice actor giving it his all to embody the character he was playing, but pretty much everyone gives an amazing performance in the film, to the point where, if there were to be another production like this in the future, I would be more than happy to see each of these Seiyuu reprise their roles, simply because of how fucking well each of their voices fit the characters(for real tho, if you could have sex with voices, I would have sexed up literally every person who applied voice talent to this film).  For the all issues I had with the story and pacing, this film was nearly saved purely because of how fucking good the voice acting is.

But Batman Ninja‘s greatest accomplishment is it made me, someone who absolutely hates 3D anime(or 3D animation in anime in general), sit down and say “well shit, I guess 3D anime can work!” If nothing else, it shows that while 3D in anime is a crutch for most studios, in the right hands, it can really make a work shine.

So, with all the great things that Batman Ninja had to offer, what went wrong exactly?

Writer Kazuki Nakashima.

Nakashima is not some unknown writer, at least in anime/manga circles, having penned the scripts for anime titles such as Kill La Kill, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, one of the Crayon Shin-Chan films, and Re: Cutey Honey, as well as various manga titles.

Nakashima is known for writing things that are bombastic and explosive, which Batman Ninja has in spades, but don’t really give you much to chew on intellectually. Anyone who has read a good Batman story knows that Batman is his most interesting when you get a chance to slow down with him and explore the nature of his psychological or emotional damage, or if you give him an adversary like any of the members of his rogue’s gallery, especially The Joker, who juxtapose his heroism with villainy.

Batman Ninja didn’t really have any of that. In a lot of ways, it was just another 90 minute anime film with silly bullshit going on that happened to have a Batman coat of paint and perhaps this is just a “me” thing here, but it almost feels like this film was just using the Batman license in hopes of getting fans of The Bat to go out and buy it.

And it’s a damn shame, really.

With a better script from a better writer who understands more of what makes Batman, the Batfamily or his Rogues’ Gallery interesting and compelling characters, or perhaps something that had the room to breathe and slow down, such as a 6 episode OVA series or 12/24 episode TV anime series, Batman Ninja could have been something I could watch again and again to enjoy not only the spectacle, but also appreciate a finely crafted story.

As it stands, however, Batman Ninja is just another one of those great ideas brought down by shoddy execution.