'Toon Review - Batman: Gotham Knight
As punishment for the rant-y nature of my Throne of Atlantis review, I made myself sit down and watch Batman: Gotham Knight. Happy now, Bat-fans?
The format of Gotham Knight is a bit of an outlier from most of the DC Universe animated movies is that it’s comprised of 6 short stories with a few common narrative threads all done in different styles, as each story was shopped out to notable Anime studios in Japan. In addition, it is supposed to serve as a connective thread between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, the first two chapters of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. What we’ll do for this review is look at each piece of the puzzle one by one, and then wrap up by looking at the picture as a whole.
‘Have I Got a Story For You…’
Story by Jordan Goldberg
Screenplay by Josh Olson
Directed by Shojiro Nishimi (Studio 4 C)
Here, we have a concept that has been visited at least a couple of times already via Batman: The Animated Series where it’s a “point of view/how reliable is your narrator” sort of story. In this instance, the story is relayed backwards by 3 eyewitnesses, all skateboarders. The first portrays Batman as a living shadow, the second as a giant bat and the third as a robot. The antagonist here is a simple man in black who’s just trying to pull off a heist of tourists from an observation deck on a Gotham skyscraper and, when that’s foiled, tries to make a getaway. The 4th kid, representing the audience, is of course bummed that he didn’t get to see any of this, as he has been waiting for his compatriots at their designated meeting place. Of course, the action comes to him and naturally, he ends up helping to bag the bad guy at the piece’s conclusion.
Like with any repeated story type or template, it’s okay to hit the same notes as the others that have come before, but you HAVE to bring something new or, at the very least, do it in a style that makes it feel fresh, even though it is most certainly not. This short utterly fails in doing that. Yes, one could argue that we’ve never seen Batman presented in this way before, but to that I’d counter “Thank God!” While every character animates just fine, it is the style itself that is just…well…ass ugly. The urban/graffiti style of it works for the backgrounds, the skater kids and the cops…sure. But for our “man in black” and the bat (in all his forms) it just looks…let me see if I can put it this way: Batman should NOT look fat. And there’s more than a few scenes here were you’ll look and think “And tonight, playing the role of Batman, will be Kevin Smith”. Well, maybe not Kev, as he’d have to shave…but you get the idea. Bats has really let himself go here. Another problem this short runs into is that it all happens in daylight. Look, there are circumstances where Batman has come out in the daytime, sure, but he works BEST, both as a vigilante and as a visual, at night. Unfortunately, these elements combine to get this compilation of to…well…I’ll be nice and say not the best of starts.
Story by Jordan Goldberg
Screenplay by Greg Rucka
Directed by Futoshi Higashide (Production I.G.)
With our “man in black” caught, Batman drops him off to Gordon at GCPD MCU (Gotham City PD Major Crimes Unit). Our not-quite-commissioner Lt. Gordon then summons Anna Ramirez (who we’ll see again in The Dark Knight) and Crispus Allen (who we won’t) to transfer the new prisoner to Arkham Asylum…which has expanded to the entirety of The Narrows (from Batman Begins). Allen is introduced to us a Bat-Hater (I like him already!) while Ramirez is very pro-Bat, going so far as to say that it’s through the progress that he’s made that she doesn’t feel ashamed to be a cop anymore. More on that later when we look at the whole piece.
As luck would have it, on the way back from the Asylum and in the middle of this argument, turns out our cops end up in the middle of a gang war between Maroni and The Russian. There’s a firefight, Batman swoops in to save the day and Allen ends up converting to the side of the Bat. As you can see, there’s not much to the story, but it helps that the visuals are a vast improvement over the previous segment…even though it does fall into your more traditional Anime style. Another improvement is that this segment, and all that follow, happens at night. Okay, there are daytime bits in the other stories but we only see Batman at night. As segments typically share the same voice actors, I guess now’s as good a time as any to talk about that. We have Kevin Conroy filling the vocal chords of the Bat once more…always a welcome thing…but I found the voice they chose for Gordon to be…off…almost too nasal and certainly not very easy on the ears.
Written by Jordan Goldberg
Directed by Hiroshi Morioka (Bee Train Inc.)
The story here initially seems like it doesn’t connect with the others, as it starts off dealing with a potentially corrupt real estate mogul and the death of a community activist that was blocking his attempts at “renovating” a neighborhood. But we soon learn our boy has ties with The Russian and as such, we end up being drawn back into the conflict between Maroni and said Russian. The main point of this story, though, is the field test of happy little accident Lucius Fox discovered in some WayneTech satellites…that being a quirk in the gyroscopes that produces a momentary force field, perfect for deflecting the gunfire often found in Bruce’s ‘nightlife’. A ricochet off the force field ends up putting the life of one of The Russian’s henchmen in danger and as such, Batman decides to never again use the device. “I put my life on the line every night…but only my life” or somesuch.
I enjoyed this one for many reasons. First, it’s cool seeing a little R & D work. Speaking of which, I was also very glad they didn’t opt to try and mimic Morgan Freeman for Lucius’ voice. He’s just got one of those iconic voices that you just don’t try to mess with, copy or what have you…and thankfully they don’t fall into that trap here. The visual style here is also very interesting and mostly in a good way. I can’t say I was crazy about their Bruce Wayne design, seemed a little too young/Anime/effeminate to me. But it was cool to see them get a bit daring with the Batman costume design, in particular the cowl. The very rounded front, with no real nose definition…well, I can’t say it worked for me as it registered as just a little weird, but it was great to see someone take a crack at doing something a little different with it! This was kinda what I was hoping for when this project was announced. Also, their Batmobile had a good blend of Tumbler from Nolan’s films and the Batmobile from the Burton films…very cool design.
‘In Darkness Dwells’
Story by Jordan Goldberg
Screenplay by David Goyer
Directed by Yusuhiro Aoki (MAD HOUSE)
This story doesn’t really tie in with the others, instead opting to show us what the Scarecrow has been up to since his escape in Batman Begins…that being building up a power base among the city’s homeless and disposing of anyone that tries to improve their disposition. Of course he does that by utilizing his fear toxin and using Killer Croc as muscle. Hrm…the homeless angle, I guess that ties in with ‘Field Test’ a bit. The background design for this particular story really stands out as being fantastic…or maybe that’s due to the REALLY shitty character design. Have you ever asked yourself “What if Mike Mignola sucked…hard?” No? With good reason…he’s a hard artist to get a feel for, hell, it took me years to appreciate his style. But this…gah…just outright garish and painful to watch, decent story or not (which…eh…it’s rather meh). In addition, while I think catching up with the Scarecrow is a good idea, as we see him briefly in The Dark Knight, well, as he’s written and displayed here really doesn’t fit well with the two movies that are supposed to be connected by this feature. Sure, that’s a topic I’ll go more into later…the reason I touch it now though is the fact that the screenplay IS BY THE GUY THAT WROTE THE DAMN MOVIES. Sigh. Still, maybe the blame rests with this Goldberg fellow.
‘Working Through Pain’
Story by Jordan Goldberg
Screenplay by Brian Azzarello
Directed by Toshiyuki Kubooka (Studio 4 C)
Much better than the Studio’s opening effort. The color pallet is still the same as their previous entry, but the mix of traditional Anime and western animation really works beautifully here. As for the story, Batman is wounded in an encounter and starts to flashback to how he learned how to block out pain from an Indian woman. He’d initially sought the training of the Fakirs, but when they saw through his ruse as to why he wanted to be trained in this way, the opted not to train him, no matter how much money he offered. Young Bruce’s contact puts him in touch with Cassandra, a woman who deceived the Fakirs when she was younger, disguising herself as a boy. They eventually discovered her true nature (damn puberty I’m guessing), yet continued to train her, hoping to overwhelm her and ‘show her her place’. When this didn’t work, only then was she expelled. She agrees to train Bruce, but by the end of the story, we come to learn that she did so only to try and bring him the peace he’d been denying himself. In a confrontation with some locals, Cassandra goes out to face her taunters using passive resistance (oh, you Ghandi you), using her training to remain perfectly still as they attempt to inflict bodily harm upon her. Bruce, on the other hand, springs into action and eventually repels the crowd in typical proto-Batman fashion. At the end of the conflict, Cassandra has Bruce’s bag packed and waiting for him, as he is no longer welcomed there. The point she was trying to make is that eventually, they would get tired of their games and move on to other prey that could be more easily shaken. His reaction would only serve to enflame them with a sense of a need for revenge, bringing them back again and again. “Your pain is leading you down a path that you desire.” Think about those last two sentences for a while. This isn’t someone who feels obliged to do something, the heroic “I have to do this because no one else can”…this is someone that WANTS to do it. He WANTS his enemies to return so that he can face them again and again. It’s almost as though Batman is never interested in healing, instead letting his psychological wounds scab over just enough…then ripping that scab right back off again. Can’t say that’s terribly…what’s the word I’m looking for…healthy? Sane? And was we close this segment, we can see that coming into play as, while in the sewer waiting for Alfred to come and get him, he finds gun after gun after gun until his arms are full of the weapons. When Alfred finally arrives and reaches down to help Batman up, well, the Bat is posed with a choice, drop the guns, allowing them to be picked up an used yet again or hang on to them and thus doing further harm to himself by not getting aid from Alfred.
Story by Jordan Goldberg
Screenplay by Alan Burnett
Directed by Jong Sik-Nam and Yeong Gi Yun (MAD HOUSE)
Behold, the piece de la resistance. When you think ‘Batman Anime’…this is what should be going through your head. This segment ties everything together as we learn that The Russian, with money from our real estate mogul in ‘Field Test’ has hired Deadshot not just to assassinate the earlier mentioned community activist, but also other targets…including Gotham’s mayor at the opening of this segment. Oh, and to rewind a bit…remember Batman where we last left him…in the sewer posed with a quandary? Well, we conveniently skip over the details, but of course he does both, keeps the guns and gets the medical help he needs. (In cartoony growl)…because he’s batmaaaaaaan! Deadshot’s next target we (and the GCPD) are led to believe is Gordon, but ends up being the Bat himself. The entire theme of this piece is Batman vs. the gun…with Deadshot being its living embodiment. And of course, Batman wins. You know why.
When looked at as a whole and charged with the purpose advertised, to connect Batman Begins with The Dark Knight…well, ultimately this collection fails. As you’ll notice on each segments credits listed here, it’s pretty obvious whose feet that failure falls at. We’ve already talked about the inconsistency with Scarecrow, but there is a much more glaring one. Remember how I mentioned Anna Ramirez’s “proud to be a cop” speech. If she was that damn proud of it, why is it she ends up going crooked by the time we reach The Dark Knight. Yeah, TDK tells us about her mom’s growing medical bills, but comparing her character here in the animation versus her character in the film…no way. It just feels too irreconcilable. It’s almost like Goldberg was assigned to play in this world but didn’t do his necessary homework…or, given the secrecy surrounding Nolan’s films, maybe wasn’t allowed to do his homework. And, speaking as someone who’s done his fair amount of writing a paper without doing the necessary research in high school and college, sometimes it works and you get an A or a B…and sometimes it’s obvious and you get your deserved D or F. Sadly, this falls more into the latter. The visuals help redeem it, as the majority of segments are great to look at. Ultimately, this feels more like an ‘in the world of…’ sort of piece or an alternate/tangential timeline for the world we ended up getting in the films, but just simply does not fit in the context of Nolan’s trilogy. Which is why I have to be of the mind that this is a good experiment, seeing Anime directors take on DC superheroes…but there’s still a way to go.