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Warner Bros. Animation successfully moved into making more mature animated direct-to-videos with SUPERMAN: DOOMSDAY. Their latest effort — an anime infused BATMAN production made up of six distinct, but interlocking, chapters — is another step in the right direction. Six different writers and six different directors handled each section, which was brought together as a whole by the guiding hands of exec producer Bruce Timm and story man Jordan Goldberg, a producer on THE DARK KNIGHT. The distinct visual styles keep the material interesting as we watch the unfolding episodes chronicling the early adventures for the Dark Knight.
The first segment, “Have I Got a Story For You,” is a wonderful tale to start with, following the wild and wildly different impressions of Batman from four kids. In one tall tale he is a shadowy apparition then in the next he becomes a flying, savage creature. The next tale paints him as a weapon-filled machine. In reality, he turns out to be a mere man. With a screenplay from Josh Olson (A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE) and directed by Shouijirou Nishimi (animation director on TEKKON KINKREET), the raw style of the animation makes for a gritty start and a fitting look for what amounts to various legends about Batman.
Like the first installment, the second, “Crossfire,” again sets up Batman as a mysterious legendary figure. However in the eyes of police detective Crispus Allen, Lt. Gordon is just putting his faith in a vigilante. On the return from dropping off Batman’s latest collar at the asylum, Crispus tells his partner Anna Ramirez that he’s quitting the force. Ramirez quickly pulls over to the side of the road to explain to her partner that the city can’t afford to lose another good cop. Unbeknownst to them at first, the cops find themselves caught in the middle of a gang battle between the crime bosses The Russian and Maroni. By the end of the night, Crispus will think differently of the caper crusader. Written by Greg Rucka (author of the graphic novel WHITEOUT) and directed by Futoshi Higashide, the section works the least as a whole, but acts nicely as a transition between the first part and the following pieces.
The third and best section, titled “Field Test,” was written by Goldberg himself, and directed by Hiroshi Morioka (CHRONICLE OF THE WINGS series). The AEON FLUX-like design work gives the young Bruce Wayne a slick anime hero look with jagged bangs and piercing eyes. Working with Lucius Fox, he has discovered a device that creates a force field around him that will deflect handgun fire at any range. During a test run of the new equipment, Batman confronts the gangsters The Russian and Maroni and learns a valuable lesson about the risks he takes.
Next is “In Darkness Dwells,” written by BATMAN BEGINS scribe David Goyer and directed by Yashuhiro Aoki (animator on MIND GAME). The fairly straightforward action story finds Batman investigating an attack by Scarecrow and encountering the legendary Killer Kroc in the sewers of Gotham City. With Batman injured in this segment, his wounded state carries over into the next episode titled “Working Through Pain,” where he flashes back to his time in India where he trained under spiritual guru Cassandra, who taught him how to us pain to his advantage. However, he will learn other valuable lessons from her as well, but not through success. The thoughtful segment was written by Brian Azzarello (writer on 100 BULLETS comic book series) and directed by Toshiyuki Kubooka (animation director on GUNDAM 0080: A WAR IN THE POCKET).
The final segment, “Deadshot,” finds gangsters sending top assassin Deadshot after Lt. Gordon. Bruce contemplates his own need for closure over the violent death of his parents and his own violent acts in the name of ridding Gotham’s streets of deadlier violence. The nice closing section also introduces the witty Alfred into the picture. Written by Alan Burnett (BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES) and directed by Jong-sik Nam (new HE-MAN), the final chapter in GOTHAM KNIGHT presents a more mature Batman from the first segment, giving the character a touch of growth over the course of the six vignettes.
The six interlocking segments flow nicely together keeping the audience’s interest throughout. Yet they are distinctive enough that the changing visual styles aren’t jarring. While the look is anime, the overall production is Batman. Even with a drastic stylistic change, it’s a testament to the character’s universal appeal that interpretations from Asian artists still retain the essence of what Batman has become for everyone. Fans of both the Dark Knight and anime will be pleased with the balance.
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