DC Animated Releases: Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto: Batman Ninja (2018) - Reviewed

Although DC has utilized anime style before with Batman: Gotham Night (2008) a direct-to-DVD anthology, with Batman Ninja (2018) they have taken it to a whole other level in both creativity and experimentation. DC seems to stick with a singular look for all their animated films, which doesn't make sense since the comics they are based on all have different artists with unique styles. It would make each one stand out more if they changed the appearances up to match the content.

In the film, Batman (as well as some of his biggest foes) has been transported back in time to Feudal Japan thanks to Gorilla Grodd's Quake Engine. Batman has to stop the villains from taking over the countryside and also figure out how to get back to his own time. Batman: Ninja looks absolutely nothing like any previous films with bizarre character designs by none other than Takashi Okazaki, the creator of Afro Samurai. Choosing him to provide the art style was inspired, because Okazaki's specialty is combing western elements with Japanese sensibility. Everyone from the Joker to Catwoman has been redesigned to fit the Japanese aesthetic and it's a blast to see all of them looking so different.

The animation is a combination of cel-shaded CGI models and hand-painted style 2D backgrounds. Normally, I'm not a huge fan of cel-shaded animation, but it works beautifully due to the direction of Jumpei Mizuski. Fans of the anime series JoJo's Bizarre Adventure will recognize his kinetic style from the incredibly dynamic OPs he directed for that show. The action sequences are a dizzying display of movement and camera angles that assault the senses, but never so much that the viewer can't tell what is going on. These visual fireworks are accompanied by a thumping electronic heavy musical score courtesy of Yogo Kanno (Psycho-Pass, Ajin).

I'm going to be real here for a moment: the story in Batman: Ninja doesn't make any damn sense. However, I don't see it as a negative in this specific case, because the entire concept is so outlandish that it actually works in its favor. This is a surreal work of art that takes all the familiar tropes of anime: giant robots, ninjas, henshin, cute animal sidekicks, and even tokusatu films, and mashes it together with the Batman mythology. It's like going to an awesome fusion restaurant and binge-eating everything on the menu. This is hands-down the most avant-garde animated film to come out of DC. It's definitely not going to be everyone's cup of matcha, but for those who love Japanese anime they will find much to get excited about.

--Michelle Kisner