When I think of Batman, there are 3 main characteristics that come to mind. Batman is the world’s greatest detective. Batman is an excellent tactician and fighter. Batman’s greatest weapon is his mind. These are three characteristics that are quintessential to the Batman mythos, and not getting the right balance between the three of them can result in a disastrous portrayal of Batman (see: anything written by Frank Miller). Over the last 79ish years few writers have actually gotten Batman completely right, and truly it is a tricky thing. That being said, there are few adaptations that get the caped crusader as wrong as Batman Ninja does. The most recent addition to the ever expanding and usually excellent DC Animated Universe (take note DCEU) is a joint production between Japanese animators and DC Comics.
The story sees Batman, the Bat Family and a host of his most famous villains transported to feudal Japan by Gorilla Grodd’s time machine. The story itself is fairly normal for a Batman story, with the Dark Knight tangling with sentient Gorillas and time travel on countless occasions. The plot is fine, and ultimately had potential to be an excellent story. The problem, to me at least, is that whoever scripted this film seems to know next to nothing about Batman. The anime style could lend itself quite well to a Batman story but for some reason the animators decided to drop Batman into a ready made generic anime, complete with giant robots.
You could insert any one of the hundreds of other anime characters into this instead of Batman, and it would still make sense. One of Batman’s skills is that he fights in multiple styles, with one of his main styles being that of a Ninja. Despite this, the story dictates that Batman be completely ignorant of the ways of the Ninja so he can learn them later and use them to beat the Joker. Batman is an idiot in this film. He constantly makes decisions that are uncharacteristic of both Batman and anybody with even a modicum of intelligence.
After the years of constant combat with the Joker, Batman just believes that after an explosion the Joker has lost his memory which, naturally, comes back to bite Batman. I mentioned giant robots earlier, and for some reason the writers decided that what the third act needed was a Voltron-esque formation moment between the five villain’s moving castles (which is an entirely separate issue). Naturally then how does Batman combat this giant mechanical menace? Does he put his brilliant mind to use dismantling the mech from the inside? Does he use his detective skills figure out a weak spot and hit it there? No. He uses a magical telepathic flute to summon an army of monkeys and bats that join together to form a giant Batman. No, that was not autocorrect running rampant. That is really what happens!
There is a certain suspension of disbelief that one requires to enjoy Batman, but this film broke that suspension. The Bat Family are all also crucially underused, with their involvement being forfeited to shoehorn in a generic ninja clan and prophecy macguffin. The members of the Bat family with speaking lines are mischaracterized drastically. The arrogant cockyness inherent in Damian Wayne is swapped out for a cutesy, affable kid who makes friends with monkeys. For some reason, the Bat family use antiquated versions of their costumes, which does not make sense if they were transported to Japan. Bane makes a brief appearance as a sumo wrestler, which is the same issues that plagues the Bat family. One of the Batman’s keenest foes is reduced to a one hit KO just to show off that batman has a smaller mech suit. Were it that this was an interpretation of Batman set to the historical tune of feudal Japan this and many other issues would make sense. There are some redeemable qualities that this film has. The portrayal of the Joker is as accurate as can be, even if he is dressed ridiculously. The animation is beautiful, and it is a shame that it is wasted on such an aggressively mediocre story as this.
This film tries to walk the line between DC and Anime, and instead ends up a waste of both, with a true balance between the two never really being struck.The DCAU is beginning to get Batman fatigue I think, and it is clear they are running out of ways to milk their ultimate cash cow. DC should focus instead on different characters without animated films such as Green Lantern or The Flash. If DC really want to put Batman in there they should do an Outsiders film with Batman in a managerial capacity to shake things up a little while giving the spotlight to some lesser known heroes.
Verdict: To conclude, I would give Batman:Ninja a 4/10 for stunning visuals but an aggressively mediocre story.