Wednesday, 03 December 2008 00:00
Batman gets the Animatrix treatment, as Gotham's legendary superhero get re-envisioned by a group of Japanese anime studios in a classic case of East meets West. So how does the man in the batsuit fare under Japanese hands..?
1 - Have I Got a Story for You
To the kids of Gotham City, Batman is a legend, and any meeting with the hero is just the thing you'll want to tell your friends about - and just the sort of thing that's likely to get a little bit of exaggeration in the telling. A group of four friends have all had encounters with Batman today - but for one of them, it's a lot more up close and personal than he was expecting...
2 - Crossfire
With the Man In Black having been captured by Batman and now handed over to the police, officers Crispus Allen and Anna Ramirez are chosen by Lieutenant Gordon to take the prisoner to prison. On the way, the two debate just how trustworthy Batman can be - is he a vigilante or true crimefighter? Does he operate outside the law or within it? Allen is particularly against Batman, to the point where he's considering quitting for force rather than just being one of the Bat's 'errand boys' - but an encounter with Batman may just change his mind...
3 - Field Test
An associate of Batman's has created a new device that promises to make the hero's job much easier - an advanced motion sensor that can detect - and more importantly, deflect - small-arms fire. The gadget gets its first outing during a mission where Batman puts himself between two warring crime syndicates, led by The Russian and Sal Maroni. The device works as advertised - but with its affects meaning that those around Batman may well come into harm's way when it's activated, will the big man's ethics allow him to use it..?
4 - In Darkness Dwells
The police respond to a riot in a cathedral where Cardinal O'Fallon was giving a sermon. According to eyewitness testimony, the Cardinal was abducted by a large lizard-monster and taken down into the crypts below the cathedral. Lieutenant Gordon, Crispus Allen, and Anna Ramirez investigate; Gordon has a brief conversation with Batman, who agrees with Gordon's theory that the Scarecrow's fear toxin is behind the riot as the doctor has been at large since the riot at the Narrows. Batman descends into the crypts himself to search for the Cardinal - but down there, he's vulnerable to the toxin himself...
5 - Working Through Pain
Refusing Gordon's help may have been the heroic thing to do, but it's also left Batman stuck in the sewers for the time being, and that's where he encounters another man suffering from the effects of Scarecrow's fear toxin, and is subsequently shot. The pain of this brings back to his mind memories of experiences past that have taught him how to handle such pain and discomfort without allowing it to get in the way of his responsibilities...
6 - Deadshot
As a way of honouring the death of his parents, Bruce Wayne had vowed never to use firearms in his fight against crime - although he understands the temptation that leads others to use them. When he's called in to protect Lieutenant Gordon against an assassination threat, however, it brings him face-to-face with Deadshot, a crack assassin who also has instructions to deal with Batman himself. As the confrontation between them progresses, the fight begins to develop worrying similarities to the night his parents were killed...
As you can probably guess from the summaries, Gotham Knight comes in the form of a six-part anthology, with the stories written by Western authors but the animation handed over to four Japanese animation studios, all of whom will be familiar names to you - Studio 4C and Madhouse handle two episode apiece, with Production IG and Bee Train handling the other two. That means that you get a very different visual style from the typical American animation, providing a clear break with Batman's other animated outings (and with each studio's style being slightly different, at that), while the small plot links between the stories provide the feel of an ongoing story that's more associated with anime. That's one good thing.
The second plus point is that the animation is of high-enough quality to properly make use of the Blu-ray format, something that's not always the case with material that wasn't intended for theatrical release. The dark and gritty atmosphere that's present throughout the release is typically Batman, too.
The downside is that the individual stories are so short - 15-20 minutes apiece - that there's very little opportunity for them to really get going. Every time, just as you begin to feel that each instalment is picking up steam, it shudders to a halt - a thoroughly annoying little routine that gets ever more frustrating as you go through the disc. When you consider that the underlying theme seems to be an exploration of just who Batman is, under the mystique, it becomes doubly frustrating - the material here could have been great, if only more time had been devoted to developing it, perhaps double what we have here.
The end result is something I'm finding hard to properly score, to be honest. There's a lot of good here, and equally a lot that's not so good, with the result that I ended up ambivalent to the whole experience - I didn't particularly enjoy it, but neither did it rub me up the wrong way enough for me to actively dislike it, either. It was just there, something to watch and discard. Bearing in mind the price premium that Blu-ray releases carry, that doesn't leave me able to give it a hearty recommendation. Instead, it's one to try before you buy - it's not often that a character of Batman's high profile gets the anime treatment and it would be a shame to miss out, but it's also not a release you'll feel the need to come back to all that often.