After months of procrastination, I finally had the opportunity (thanks to an unexpectedly short workday) to pop in my Blu-ray copy of Batman Ninja. The premise of this direct-to-video animated feature had me hooked from the very first foreign-language teaser trailer: a mad science experiment transports Batman—along with several of his friends and foes—back in time to feudal Japan; our protagonist must find a way to return home before Joker, Two-Face, Penguin, Poison Ivy, and Deathstroke use their knowledge of modern technology and warfare to conquer the country and rewrite history.
The plot is pure Silver Age silliness, but it revolves around a serious, “grim-and-gritty” interpretation of the iconic superhero that’s more in line with Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and the Arkham video games. On paper, it absolutely should not work… yet it somehow manages to combine the best of both worlds into one satisfying package. Yes, the setup is completely ridiculous (especially once the castles that transform into giant robots enter the picture), but it also motivates some genuinely compelling character conflict: stripped of his usual advantages (high-tech gadgets, unlimited wealth), this version of Bruce Wayne—who is uncharacteristically thickheaded and naive, occasionally to an infuriating degree—is forced to get back to the basics, relying instead on his considerable martial arts skills, the loyalty of his allies… and even a bit of shinobi magic.
There’s a wonderful moment early in the film in which Batman, surrounded by Joker’s samurai, whips out his grappling gun… only to discover, to his dismay, that Sengoku-era Japan lacks skyscrapers, foiling his escape. Little touches like that make the more groan-inducing elements (the adorable, hyper-intelligent animal companions, for example) a lot easier to endure.
[Originally written September 26, 2018.]