Junpei Mizusaki’s time-travelling monkey story is as much the insane spectacle as you’d imagine.
“Behold the mighty batgod before us.”
Batman is basically a ninja. He’s trained in ninjutsu, he’s been taught by some of the world’s deadliest assassins and his stealth game is second to none. What’s baffling is that, despite countless Elseworlds tales and that time he was a pirate alongside Blackbeard, this story has never been told. So the creator of Afro Samurai, along with a number of other highly talented folk, went out to give it a try, with the aptly-titled and extraordinarily insane Batman Ninja (or Ninja Batman, if you’re Japanese).
The film follows Batman who, after failing to disarm a strange device created by Gorilla Grodd, is sent back in time to what I can only imagine is the Sengoku period in Japanese history. After discovering the Joker has taken a position as a warlord in a small town alongside Harley Quinn, he starts to see that a number of other famous Gothamites have been sent back, but have been living there for two years. In that time, the country has been split, with Joker, Poison Ivy, Penguin, Deathstroke and Two Face having taken control of one part of Japan.
He meets up with Selina Kyle and Alfred, who help him get to grips with what’s been happening (and seem to have the Batmobile with them, because why the hell not) and finds the rest of his Bat Family, who have forged ties with a local ninja group. The ninja group have a belief that a man dressed like a bat will come to bring peace to the region, and so they make Bruce head of the clan. Also, Tim Drake has a pet monkey, the castles turn into robots and Joker becomes a regular rice farmer for all of about five minutes.
Good grief is this a lot of stuff to take in. Batman Ninja would have been great as a one-season anime or as an OVA in a few parts because there are times when everything definitely feels a tad overstuffed. Spreading out the story of the other generals into more episodes would have given us a richer experience and would have allowed for more moments where Gotham’s other criminals could shine. Joker and Grodd get plenty of screentime, but Deathstroke may as well have not been in the film at all considering how little he was used. Two-Face gets a little more than the others, but it’s not really much.
Maybe it would have been better with a bit more substance, but at least the stuff we did get was very solid. Batman Ninja works because it goes balls-to-the-wall in its anime roots, by throwing every cliché at us, and letting the mania take over. Thankfully, it’s very much of how silly it is, with lines like “you’ve destroyed a perfectly good robot castle” peppered throughout, this is a movie with a sense of humour about its absurd premise. I only watched the Japanese version, so I can’t comment on the English dub, but what I got in that one was a movie that was having a hell of a lot of fun, while also keeping what makes Batman great in the forefront. Watching him lose everything, only to win the day is part of what makes him so endearing, and we get to see this again here.
I’d never heard any Japanese-language Batman stuff before, so I’ve no idea if Wataru Takagi who voices the Joker in this has ever done the character before but his performance is so spot on that it would be a shame to have him just for this one role. He channels a little bit of Mark Hamill alongside this manic owarai-style yelling. It’s perfect, and is so Japanese in the sense of humour you’d swear he was from the kansai region and about to do a manzai routine with Harley. Where the voice acting flops is Ai Kakuma as Catwoman, who is very good but woefully miscast. Her cutesy voice does the character no justice at all.
But for what it is, Batman Ninja is still a solid, fun animated adventure. With its sense of humour, it doesn’t feel stilted like it could very easily have been. The Afro Samurai connections are far smaller than I initially imagined, with this feeling like it’s by not just the same character designer but the same stdio. Either way, the cel-shaded style of animation has been drastically improved since the 2007 miniseries, and because of it this film looks amazing. Because, if nothing else, this film is an exercise in excellent animation and highly inventive character design that is a delight to the senses and one of the most anime things you’ll see all year.
Verdict: A love letter to both anime tropes and to the caped crusader, Batman Ninja is a blast from beginning to end.
Overall entertainment: 7/10
Sex: Harley licking Catwoman/10
Bane: Got super fat in 2 years, didn’t he
Politeness: off the charts
Injustice: if only this movie came out earlier, there would have been some great DLC
Batman Ninja (2018)
Also known as: ニンジャバットマン Ninja Battoman
Director: Junpei Mizusaki
Writer: Kazuki Nakashima
Koichi Yamadera – Batman
Wataru Takagi – Joker
Ai Kakuma – Catwoman
Rie Kugimiya – Harley Quinn
Hochu Otsuka – Alfred
Takehito Koyasu – Grodd
Daisuke Ono – Nightwing
Yuki Kaji – Damian Wayne
Akira Ishida – Red Hood
Kengo Kawanishi – Red Robin
Junichi Suwabe – Deathstroke
Atsuko Tanaka – Poison Ivy
Toshiyuki Morikawa – Two Face
Cho – Penguin
Kenta Miyake – Bane
Yoji Ueda – Eian
Anna Mugiho – Monkichi
Juri Nagatsuma – Monmi