What They Say:
Batman and a cast of villains including The Joker are transported back in time to medieval Japan in this ground-breaking anime feature.
The audio presentation for this release is one that’s obviously geared towards the domestic audience so we get the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix for the English track and there’s also some lower grade French and Spanish tracks. What concerned me at first was that there’s no Japanese track in the language selection menu but there’s subtitle options for it. The Japanese audio is listed in the extras and it plays right away once you set the subtitles. Weird, but kind of standard weird when it comes to how these things are handled in Hollywood. The 5.1 mixes for this release are just strong in general with a lot of dynamic elements to it across the forward soundstage both in dialogue and action but also a great larger feeling to the action itself as it unfolds. The bigger the scene the more impact but there are a lot of neat little moments in how it’s handled for both primary tracks. Dialogue is a little more nuanced and there are some good subtle bits with background sound and the like that results in a strong and engaging mix across the board.
Originally released in 2018, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. Animated by Kamikaze Douga, Yamatoworks, and Barnum Studio, this is just a fantastic release. The visual quality with all its detail, colors, and fluidity is incredibly strong to begin with as you can see that this was a real passion project on a larger scale and the encoding captures it all just right. Colors are rich and varied with a solid look to all of them, there’s no line noise or breakup in any of the scenes including all those crazy high motion ones, and it’s simply incredibly easy to get sucked into the experience that’s put together here because of how pristine it looks in the right ways. I’ve watched a lot of Batman animated works over the years but none have blown me away like this, and I say that as a huge fan of the Warner Animation style for the character over the last thirty years.
The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case with an o-card that replicates the case artwork but is emobssed. This gives the character artwork a really nice sheen to it as we get three of the main characters here with all their distinctive elements played up, particularly the golds in Batman’s outfit. The logo is kept simple with a gold emboss that doesn’t try to do some kind of awkward looking Japanese script so it all feels very much in line with other projects and easy to figure out what it is. The back cover has a good key visual piece of lots of the characters along the left while the right has a brief breakdown of the premise to draw you in. Extras are clearly listed and the Movies Anywhere bar breaks down access clearly. The rest is fairly standard legal information and a thin and hard to read technical grid, which is how Warner Bros. has done it going back to 1997. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
Warner always puts together good extras for their animated works and this is no exception. First, we get a seventeen-minute piece with a look at the project with both Japanese and American creative, including the comic side. The Made in Japan part focuses far more on the Japanese creative side but has a good balance that digs into how they approached it and what they loved being able to put in. And for those that didn’t get to hit the NYCC event last year, they’ve got the 50-minute panel for the film that was done which is just a whole lot of fun to take in with a mix of creative involved.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Anime and superheroes, and Japan, go back a long way as there’s always been dabblings here and there. Both of the Big Two comics publishers have various anime related projects over the years, though it’s often hit or miss in them coming out over here in dual language form and without much in the way of alterations. Batman Ninja, an awkward title from the moment it was announced, is the latest feature film for Warner Bros. for the DC Entertainment brand and it went big in Japan with a theatrical release in the works for a month after the US debut. The project is one that plays a familiar idea, heroes outside of their familiar time and place, but with a strong creative such as Junpei Mizusaki directing it and Takashi Okazaki handling the character designs. As related in the extras, Okazaki was surprised how much of his designs were adapted so faithfully for the animation and it shows. It’s just stunning in its creativity, breathing some freshness into it (while still sticking to some unfortunate things as well, such as the last scene).
The premise is straightforward enough as in the present day we have Batman trying to stop Gorilla Grodd from some sort of plan that he’s got in motion in Arkham Asylum. His intent, we learn a bit later, was to take many of the problematic villains in Arkham and fling them to the ends of time in different directions so that they’d stop being such a hassle. Unfortunately, the time quake engine has a little interference and everyone is thrown back in time to feudal Japan. The gimmick is that when Batman wakes up there, everyone else has already been there for two years. That means some catch up for him but it mostly just allows everyone else to have settled in and established themselves.
That provides for some fun as the various villains have taken over various prefectures for themselves and rule them in their own way, with Joker and Harley together while Penguin, Deathstroke, and Two-Face have their own areas as well. Grodd, amusingly, is just hanging out in the hot springs with the monkeys there enjoying the simplicity of life in this time period. For Batman, who doesn’t de-mask until the end of the film, he spends his time quickly getting up to speed and adapting to the era instead of the usual “I’m so confused and uncertain” material we see in other films. Here, he’s the established detective that handles situational changes easily and that makes a huge difference in the flow. Partially because they just want to get to the action sequences as he starts figuring out how it happened, how it can be fixed, and making sure that everyone goes back to where they should be.
And really, that’s what the film does best. It takes these characters and shows us how they adapt into this time and move forward. The Joker adapts the best and is the most involved as a kind of mad feudal lord but he introduces a lot of changes to the period with machinery. This leads to the only area I don’t really care for later on with the mechanized castle aspect but I wasn’t surprised by it because, well, Japan. The film comes up with some creative fights before that such as Batman and Grodd teaming up to go after Joker and the big fight between Batman and Joker in the final act is just visually one of the best out there, particularly with how they shift the Joker into the smoke and shadows in a truly frightening way.
The creativity is what got me for the most part. There’s a sequence just before the third act that has Batman, who has been here for a while and has gone native to some degree, working with the Red Hood to track down Joker and Harley who seem to be suffering from amnesia and are operating as simple farmers. It’s done in a different style visually from the rest of the film but it’s just so spot on perfect that it’s almost not a superhero film in a sense but something different, something that left me wanting more. These twists and tweaks on the style definitely work well when employed throughout the film and that combined with the character designs for this project really does sell it in a big way. Typically, I find myself frustrated by some character adaptations to the anime form and there are a couple here that don’t quite work for me, but they commit to it all in such a big and whole way that I can’t really complain.
I loved Batman Ninja. It’s big, crazy, silly, but wholly committed to what it’s doing and delivers something that’s familiar but so rich and engaging that you can’t turn away. Throwing these characters into this period is something that’s not a surprise because we’ve seen it done in comics and in anime before but the execution of it here is just fantastic. It could use a few more scenes of breathing room to give us more character material for a more traditional film, but it’s interested in setting things up, establishing the boundaries, and the running roughshod over it as it plays out. It’s crazy beautiful in its designs and feels like a tour de force in just being incredibly fun as it plays to the strengths of superheroes and anime. Definitely one of the gems in my sprawling DC animation film library.
Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, Spanish 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Subtitles of Japanese Track, East/West Batman, Batman: Made in Japan, New York Comic Con Presents Batman Ninja
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Warner Bros.
Release Date: May 8th, 2018
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.