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Mumbling Kitsune: Flipping Through Batman: Gotham Knight
Anime Plus Batman Equals Great Fights and Bat-Angst
By Nadia Oxford
July 27, 2008
Batman: Gotham Knight(2008).
© Warner Bros
Batman: Gotham Knight is a series of short animated films that tell of Batman's growth and trials between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The in-pieces presentation is not unlike The Animatrix, which also incorporated different stories created by a varied stable of writers and directors.
Last week's column asked if Batman: Gotham Knight can hold a candle to Warner Bros' still-celebrated Batman: The Animated Series. The answer is no, not really...but that's no reason to give it a miss. Gotham Knight combines dark source material with a brooding anime style, so it's no surprise the result would end up a little heavy-handed. The fight scenes are incredible and have a brutal edge lacking from Batman: The Animated Series, but it probably wouldn't kill Bruce to...well, lighten up a little.
Just a little.
The animation is unique and modern, but lacking the style of the Animated Series. Batman: Gotham Knight is made up of six animated films contributed by Japanese animation studios, including Production I.G. and Madhouse (best known for the Death Note anime as well as bits of The Boondocks). The stories all bring their own visual style, but they all still somehow manage to run together. The backgrounds are sprawling and gorgeously detailed—even if Gotham looks unapologetically anime-ish with its weaving floodlights in the background—but some of the designs used for the throwaway characters are wretched. The first story, “Have I Got a Story For You”, features a pack of kids who look like their facial features somehow went wrong in the womb. There is a definite stylistic choice involved, but at the same time there's never any doubt that you're watching a cartoon.
Even the established characters are nothing to write home about. Killer Croc looks awesome but makes a disappointingly brief appearance in the story “In Darkness Dwells.” Scarecrow's appearance is similarly impotent, but to be fair his physical appearance has always ranged from silly to genuinely frightening...within Batman: The Animated Series, no less.
Days (and Nights) Of Our Bat-Lives
Anime has always had a flare for soap opera drama, so it's no surprise Batman: Gotham Knight has the very same in mass quantities. The Animated Series tread a fine line between realism and hyperdrama; by its second story, Gotham Knight tips into hyperdrama like a felled cow. In Darkness Dwells features a beauty of a line from Batman about how “Scarecrow's fear toxin is boiling in [Killer Croc's] veins.” Batman's a smart dude (he's a scientist, as Homer Simpson reminds us), but he's not a showoff. There's no real harm in making Batman talk like a romance novelist, but again, it reminds the viewer that a cartoon is on the television, something The Animated Series rarely did. Pulling the viewer away from realism isn't necessarily a bad thing, except Gotham Knight wants very much to be taken seriously by adults.
It's one reason “Working Through The Pain” proves itself one of the strongest stories on the disc. A purposeful lack of speech allows for easy focus on the imagery. Wounded and struggling to get home from the depths of a sewer, Batman remembers himself as a disciple of a spiritual woman who taught him to numb himself to physical pain—even if he proved helpless to numb his psychological wounds. It's an interesting bit of Batman's backstory, especially since Bruce actually <i>looks</i> tired and haggard until he achieves some measure of inner peace under his mentor. Letting a conflicted hero speak through his actions and expressions is never a bad idea.
Batman: Gotham Knight's voice acting is also lacking. Kevin Conry returns to do a very excellent Batman, but nearly every other character sounds wooden. The terrible dubbing doesn't help, either. The two protagonists in the second story, “Crossifre,” are painful to listen to. They're supposed to be members of the Major Crimes Unit, two individuals matched up to protect each others' lives, but they jabber in the scratchy monotone of two toy dolls. The teenagers in “Have I Got a Story For You” speak some kind of moon slang that you'll never hear real kids use, but is commonly employed by writers trying to emulate the youth.
In the end, however, Batman: The Gotham Knight shouldn't be held too closely to Batman: The Animated Series because it stands on its own merits. It probably won't be looked back upon fondly in ten years, but the stories and presentation are worthy of appreciation. Admittedly, it's difficult not to reminisce about one of the finest cartoons produced in the '90s, or in any other era. In time, something may match it. The world is young, as is the Bat.