What the heck did I just watch?
I’ve seen a ton of Batman movies and television shows. I’ve seen the Dark Knight investigate the murders of Jack the Ripper, form a team of other superheroes, become a Lego plaything and much more. But Batman Ninja? This takes the cake! If you’ve ever wanted to see the most – not one of the most, the most – outlandish Batman adventure ever put on screen ever, you have got to see Batman Ninja. And honestly, it’s a mess. An incredibly beautiful, crazy, over-the-top wonderful mess. Then again, it’s an anime version of Batman, what was I expecting?
I know this film has been out for a while and I’m betting a lot of you guys and gals have already watched Batman Ninja. But I know a lot of fans are cautious about it and may not have watched it. So, to be on the safe side, this will be a SPOILER FREE review.
Batman Ninja has a very simple plot. Batman, his allies and his archenemies are transported to feudal Japan. The Joker and the rest of the villains vie for control of Japan and it’s up to the Batman Family to stop them and find a way to return to the present. That’s pretty much it. But, even if the basic premise sounds rather tame, Batman Ninja is far from dull. It’s actually quite the opposite as this is probably the most insane Batman adventure I have ever seen. Period. This is what happens if you take DC’s most popular hero, put them in the hands of Japanese anime writers and artists and tell them to just do whatever they want. And it’s… wow! Just… wow!
Words can’t really express how utterly insane the story unfolds as you’ll be seeing so many outlandish moments and scenes here you’ll think you’ve become as insane as the Joker! This is the part where I wish this wasn’t a SPOILER FREE review as there are so many fantastic and utterly batshit moments in Batman Ninja. Then again, even if I mention them to you, you probably won’t believe me. It’s just something you have to see for yourself. If you’ve seen the trailer embedded above and you saw that giant mech hand, you haven’t seen anything yet!
The first thing that hits you when you first see Batman Ninja is, of course, the art style. All the characters were redesigned with an anime aesthetic by Takashi Okazaki, the same guy who created Afro Samurai and they’re all really, really, good! He managed to put his own spin on every Batman character and they all work. You can tell they’re still the characters but they’ve managed to adapt to the feudal Japan time period. The anime inspired visuals also flow into the cinematography as well. It’s all beautifully animated and every movement flows together fluidly. The camera angles used are really dynamic but manages to focus on the really important action.
You can also tell that they put a lot of attention to the action scenes because they’re all exciting and heart pounding. A lot of this is because each and every fight and action sequence just tries to top one another with pure ridiculousness… but in a good way! It’s almost like they got every outlandish anime action trope in a blender, tossed the Batman mythos in and hit puree. It’s great stuff!
Now, I have to mention that I watched the English dubbed version of Batman Ninja and, I’m sad to say, that I kind of wish I watched the Japanese dub of the film. The voice acting of the English version is uneven. While I have been hard on Tara Strong’s version of Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay, this is definitely one of her better performances playing the Joker’s sidekick. Grey Griffin returns as Catwoman from the Arkham and Injustice games and she gives us our usual great performance. I also liked Roger Craig Smith’s take on Batman here as well. The rest of the voice performers are okay, for the most part.
Unfortunately, there is one really sore spot for me and that is Tony Hale’s version of the Joker. Now, I’ve been a fan of Tony Hale ever since I first saw him as Buster Bluth in Arrested Development but I think he was just miscast for the Clown Prince of Crime. While I did like how he did the Joker during his more sinister moments, it’s his “cheerful” and “playful” version of the character that didn’t work. It just sounded incredibly fake and forced to me, like he was given the direction to deliver the lines with a squeaky voice as fast as he could. This wouldn’t be too bad but we hear the Joker very frequently in Batman Ninja. I really hate to say this but Tony Hale should never voice the Joker ever again.
I do have to comment on the plot and the overall flow of the story because this may be a point of contention for a lot of Batman fans who aren’t into anime. Like I said before, this is a total mishmash of a whole mess of anime tropes and, as a huge lover of anime, I thoroughly enjoyed how Batman Ninja just throws everything at you, suspension of disbelief be damned! The thing is, these logical leaps may not jive with fans who would want a more serious and coherent story instead of how out of control this was. Batman Ninja goes by pretty fast, even if it has a 85-minute runtime, and it’s not going to wait for you to catch up if you get lost in the craziness. Also, Batman Ninja has the most use of the deus ex machina I have ever seen in a film. Things just happen because they just gotta keep things moving forward! It generally wants to jump from cool action setpiece to cool action setpiece and I was totally fine with that. Your mileage may vary.
If you’re willing to embrace the insanity and outlandish anime method that Batman Ninja follows, you’re going to have a grand old time. This is a Batman story that’s totally different from what you expect from the franchise. It just focuses on throwing all sort of crazy and cool things on the screen because they’re crazy and cool and, incredibly, it works if you just want to experience something cool with hardly any context. I do feel that Batman fans who want a more “grounded” Dark Knight tale will want to give this a pass. But, if you’re like me and you’re willing to suspend your disbelief for roughly an hour and 30 minutes, Batman Ninja will work for you.
Have you seen Batman Ninja? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!