Oftentimes, when stories are told in different forms or transferred between different cultures, there can be an exchange in ideas that can add and enhance each other. For instance, as anime and manga have grown more popular in the Western world, concepts and tropes from those stories have been borrowed and used in Western media, along with vice versa. The trope of the magical girl warrior has become an inspiration behind Western cartoons like Star vs. the Forces of Evil and comics like Zodiac Starforce, while traditional superheroes are a major topic in anime series like My Hero Academia and One Punch Man. Of course, this is not necessarily a new thing. Back in the late 1960s, manga writer Jiro Kuwata went to work on creating a manga series centered around Batman (known to fans these days as the Bat-Manga). Now, Batman has received a second treatment from Japan, this time with the anime film Batman Ninja. Hosting a diverse amount of impressive talent from the anime genre, the film is visually striking with some crazy and absurd ideas. Unfortunately, the actual plotting leaves a bit desired among the movie’s kooky spectacle.
One dark night, Batman and his allies face down Gorilla Grodd and a host of classic Batman foes as he debuts his newest invention: the Quake Engine, a machine capable of bending space and time. In the ensuing battle, the machine is activated and transports the myriad characters back in time to Feudal Japan. Batman is the last to be transported across time by only a few moments, but it is enough for him to arrive two years after everyone else. The result is that Batman’s foes (including the Penguin, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, and Deathstroke) now rule over the warring states of Japan, with the Joker and Harley Quinn possessing the most power under his title as the Demon King. Batman is not alone against this major threat, however. Along with his time-displaced allies (including Nightwing, Red Hood, Red Robin, Robin, Catwoman, and Alfred), he finds that there is a ninja clan known as the Order of the Bat, who believe a warrior from the future wearing the face of a bat will bring peace to Japan. With their forces united and training in the ways of ninjutsu, Batman might just have the edge he needs before any of these wicked foes can conquer Japan and change the course of history.
Batman Ninja is an alright film. When it comes to the more positive elements of the film, one of the biggest things that it has going for it is the sense of visual flair. For instance, a lot of the character design offers some memorable reinterpretations of classic Batman characters with a Feudal Japanese style. A good example of this is with the Joker, whose purple royal robes, green hair done up with a topknot, and a boutonniere inspired by the real-life Oda clan symbol all add up to a vision of the Clown Prince of Crime that comes by way of a classical shogun. This also goes hand in hand with the core spirit of the film, which throws out plenty of memorable and crazy sights. From a samurai sword duel between Batman and the Joker to a castle that transforms into a giant mecha, the movie gleefully throws out its eyecatching sights that mash up these two different styles. It is as if someone were to take a Silver Age Batman comic and mix it in with a heavy dose of Japanese history and anime tropes. As exciting and fun as that combination can be, however, it is tempered by a weak story that is patchwork in its pacing.
The plot of the film, of Batman thrown back in time and having to learn how to adapt his techniques to Feudal Japan, is a solid story idea. However, the film does not do a lot in actually showing Batman facing his own weakness and learning the classical ways of ninjutsu. Likewise, while this idea would seem to be a solid hook, the plot ends up shifting gears into a giant mecha anime with a whole host of giant robots about halfway through the movie. In essence, the plot feels uneven in the execution. It could have been more engaging, for instance, if they had spent more time taking advantage of the Feudal Japan setting. Imagine following Batman and his allies as they learn and adapt to the ninjutsu techniques of the Feudal era, take on these various villains and their armies using a mix of classic and modern methods over the course of the film, and then have the surprise of Joker having a giant mecha castle in the film’s third act. That would create a better narrative flow for the film, along with taking more advantage of the setting and cultural potential. As it is, the film ends up being more a scattershot that sometimes lands its hits instead of a clear bullseye.
As anime and manga grow more popular in the Western world, more and more media between the two have been sharing ideas and tropes. Batman Ninja is an example of this mixture of ideas, though the result tends to focus more on the spectacle instead of a solid narrative.