When Batman Ninja begins, the first impressions come from emotions of sheer glee and excitement as to what DC’s experimental approach to their animated feature films has led to. That impression, even with some detrimentally outlandish elements and a somewhat rackety pacing, fortunately holds true for the entire 85-minute length that Batman Ninja occupies. It’s an impressive display of craftsmanship and artistic design, from its animation to its stunning character designs, that only is heightened by every scene that unfolds on the screen. While its practically ridiculous plot threads may throw off casual viewers, Batman Ninja proves to be a slick experience that recognizes its most outlandish elements and expresses it with utter glee and ease.
When the concept of Batman Ninja was first revealed with an exciting trailer, many fans were shocked to learn that proper anime creators would be working on the revolutionary and unique title. However, after viewing the film, it seems that there was another way to properly tell the shamelessly outlandish story. The screenplay, written by Kazuki Nakashima, fits in smartly with other products from the studio itself and other works of true Japanese anime, a feat that works simultaneously as a benefit to the film and as a detriment. On one hand, it allows for some unbelievably faithful storytelling. The film never loses its obscure edges throughout the entire experience due to some smart and brash pacing. It causes the audience member to be fully immersed with the content and not what is going on outside of the screen. However, on the other hand, it causes the film to feel disjointed at times. While its elements are gleefully strange at times, at certain points, especially with a hardcore Batman fan, the storytelling begins to weigh down on the viewer and crush them with the sheer lunacy of certain events. In addition, at multiple points throughout the film, I noticed that the film sometimes didn’t exactly know how to properly continue with the story at hand. There are multiple sequences that could be considered as replacement or supplements that only exist to ensure that the film is long enough to stand as a feature film. Overall, however, while the film may have some of the faults that have been established in previous works of anime, the screenplay of Batman Ninja still remains as brash and bold as it ever was. In each sequence, something new and revolutionary for the world of Batman is occurring, each scene breaks barriers in the storytelling of the Caped Crusader that previous works didn’t enough existed. It all sums up to a bold and unique screenplay that isn’t afraid to challenge and even shatter previous expectations or tropes that the viewer may have for any feature films starring the Dark Knight.
However, while the screenplay may have some bold and innovative concepts, its performances often lack originality and inspiration. As is expected with anime, the English voice-overs are generally sloppily done and are often unbearable to listen to. However, most of the audience for such content will be prepared and knowledgeable of this issue in the medium. However, Batman Ninja tries to target a new audience, an audience that generally is not well-versed in the anime genre. As a result, the especially poor voice work becomes infuriatingly noticeable. Not a single performance in the entire English cast can be considered high enough quality for a large-scale American animated blockbuster that previous DC animated films have adhered to. Even characters like Joker played by Tony Hale come off across as disappointing and somewhat laughable at times. However, the option for Japanese voice over is available and is definitely the preferable option for watching the film as it continues the trend of authenticity that the screenplay so expertly sets up.
In addition to just pure storytelling, the technical aspects of the film are also wondrous feats to behold. The animation style seems to be derived straight out of anime and makes the experience feel all the more authentic. There are also some truly spectacular shots, littered throughout the film.
Some of them are on such a quality as to they can be compared to the visual masterpiece Roger Deakins created with Blade Runner 2049.
As a whole, Batman Ninja is an example of pure experimentation that succeeds to great effect. It is a story that is not meant for everyone, especially stubbornly loyal DC fans who cherish the roots that the dark stories of Batman has been built on. But for what it achieves both in its storytelling and technical feats, Batman Ninja is still a worthy experience for any Batman fan who is sick of the recent, rugged and poor portrayals of the character and wants to experience a unique adventure that takes as many risks as possible but only redeems a few of them.
Score: 7.8 out of 10
Batman Ninja takes a journey across the ages as Gorilla Grodd's time displacement machine transports many of Batman's worst enemies to feudal Japan—along with the Dark Knight and a few of his allies. The villains take over the forms of the feudal lords that rule the divided land, with the Joker taking the lead among the warring factions. As his traditional high-tech weaponry is exhausted almost immediately, Batman must rely on his intellect and his allies—including Catwoman and the extended Bat-family—to restore order to the land, and return to present-day Gotham City.