Grey Griffin

129: Batman Ninja Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

You know, there is only so much you can do with a character, before you have to start getting creative. You either find new ways to tackle a character that has been around forever, or you simply stop their story right then and there. There are also tactics and plans to be had in-between those two decisions, but when you are someone like Batman, you have pretty much done it all. Batman Ninja, directed by Junpei Mizusaki, is one of the rare DC animated features to not be tied down to the more strict DC-animated film tropes. It’s a Batman film that decided to take a big shot of anime in its veins, and that is what we got. It also had some big names attached to it, like Takashi Okazaki, who was the creator of Afro Samurai, and Yugo Kanno, who did the music for Blame!, Psycho-Pass, and the PlayStation 4 game, Nioh. It’s also one of the more interesting animated features, due to its mix of CGI and 2D animation. So, is it as good as the best action anime out there? Is it one of the best DC animated films out there? Let’s find out.

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The story starts us off with Batman, dubbed this time by Roger Craig Smith, during a mission at night, as he tries to stop Gorilla Grodd, dubbed by Fred Tatasciore, from selling another mighty invention of his to the black market for supervillains. These villains include Poison Ivy, dubbed by Tara Strong, Deathstroke, dubbed by Fred Tatasciore, Two-Face, dubbed by Eric Bauza, The Penguin, dubbed by Tom Kenny, Harley Quinn, dubbed by Tara Strong, and of course, The Joker, dubbed by Tony Hale. After Batman gets into a fight with Grodd, the machine goes haywire, and sends all of them, including some of Bruce’s closest allies and partners, back into feudal-era Japan. Now, along with Catwoman, dubbed by Grey Griffin, his butler Alfred, dubbed by Adam Croasdell, Nightwing, also dubbed by Adam Croasdell, Robin, dubbed by Yuri Lowenthal, Red Robin, dubbed by Will Friedle, and Red Hood, also dubbed by Yuri Lowenthal, must stop the villains, turn back time, and save the day.

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So, what’s so amazing about this film? Well, for one of the rare occasions, DC decided to let someone else take the wheel, and they take the wheel hard. Batman Ninja is unapologetically dumb, fun, over-the-top, Japanese, and it will not stand down. Out of many of the DC-animated features I have seen the past few years, this one felt like it had the most consistent tones outside of the Adam West Batman films. It’s Batman in Japan, fighting a version of the Joker, whose grand master plan is to make a giant mech, and rewrite history. It will not let up on how anime this entire film is. From the designs to the action-packed fight sequences, it was clear that they knew what they were doing. Heck, they even have giant robot fights. Again, giant robot fights between the villains and Batman in feudal Japan. While there is definitely a story arc for Batman having to remember to rely less on his gadgets and more on his closest allies and his own skill, it’s balanced out enough within the main plot to keep you invested among the insanity.

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While I was fairly disappointed in how this film was going to be mostly CGI, and CGI on a small budget can be a gamble if you do not have the right creative team, I felt like it worked. Sure, they act like puppets sometimes, but the models used are way more expressive, detailed, and they feel like they have some kind of life to them. I was concerned about how action sequences would be handled, but I never found it distracting that they were CGI. The action is fast, brutal, satisfying, full of energy, and very entertaining to watch. The last fight between Batman and Joker is probably one of the best fights among these animated DC features. I never found myself wondering what the heck was going on during the fights. I think that’s because, unlike the Berserk anime series that uses CGI, Batman Ninja has proper direction in how the fights flow. On top of the crazy action, the color pallet is used well, the CGI models look good on the 2D planes, and they even have an entire surreal sequence done in 2D animation, and it looks fantastic. The music by Yugo Kanno was also matched up well with the film’s pacing and style. The big action theme that plays near the end is quite heart-pounding, and it makes the final fight so intense to watch.

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In terms of the voice cast, I was surprised. While we have some returning faces like Roger Craig Smith, Tom Kenny and Tara Strong reprising their roles as Batman, Penguin, and Harley Quinn, the rest of the voice cast is pretty spot-on. I was curious to see how Tony Hale would do as The Joker, and while a bit off-putting at first, he does a good job capturing that zany crazy nature of the character. As you can tell, many of the actors in this film pull double shifts with voicing multiple characters, but they are each unique sounding enough to not be an issue or a distracting element to the overall film. It was also simply fun to see other villains outside of the main Batman library, like Gorilla Grodd, who is definitely one of the more entertaining aspects of the film.

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While I do love this film in terms of how willing it is to be not only visually creative, but fun with its plot and setting, I do have a few complaints. I get why they used CGI animation, and it’s not the worst I have seen, but it definitely shows itself at times with how limiting it is. Sometimes characters seem more like puppets, and less like actual characters that are on the screen. It’s even more distracting when you can tell that not everyone is a CGI model. It is better than what I have seen Polygon Pictures or the Berserk series use, but I wish they went full-stop 2D animation for this film. For as fun as the action is, the final battle that is not Batman and The Joker is really underwhelming. You have all of these amazing villains and characters with the unlimited creativity of anime fight sequences, and the villains end up losing in under a minute. It’s really underwhelming, because all the other action sequences in the film are great. The one full 2D sequence was fun to see in the film, but it sticks out like a sore thumb. I don’t think I fully got why it was only that one scene, and why it was animated in such a way. The rest of the complaints are minor, like even though I respect how much the film wrapped itself up in the anime culture, some parts were just a bit much, like the little monkey sidekick. Some of Batman’s sidekicks also don’t have a lot to do, or get that many line reads.

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Overall, Batman Ninja is just a fun movie. By the end of the year, it probably won’t be in my top ten or five, depending on what else comes out, but it will be one that people should definitely pick up. If you were burned by their other animated features, definitely pick this one up. I had a lot of fun, and it’s easily one of the most entertaining DC animated films you can get right now. For now, we must move on to the 130th review as we take a look at another film that may be good or bad for infamous reasons. I won’t say what it is, but you will have to see next time! Thanks for reading the review! I hope you enjoyed it, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!

127: Only Yesterday Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

It was incredibly depressing to hear that Isao Takahata, one of the cofounders of Studio Ghibli, passed away this year. While unfortunately being under the shadow of Hayao Miyazaki, in terms of being the face of the studio and Miyazaki’s films getting more of the spotlight, Takahata deserves to be just as well-known as his friend. If it wasn’t for Takahata, we wouldn’t have Ghibli, because he convinced Miyazaki to join up with him and Toshio Suzuki to make the studio. He is just as important as Miyazaki, and his films definitely deserve more recognition. This is especially true when he has films like Only Yesterday under his belt. Directed by Isao Takahata and produced by Toshio Suzuki, Only Yesterday is unique for its time, because while animated, it was a film aimed at an adult female audience. While we have recently seen more adult-focused stories in animation, you simply never saw that back in 1991. It was a commercial and critical success, but unfortunately, the US never got this film. You had to either import a copy, or watch a subtitled version online through questionable individuals. Thankfully, for its 25th anniversary, GKids decided to bring it over stateside with an English dub. If you saw my Worst to Best Animated Films of 2016, you know I love this movie. Let’s dive into this classic film from Isao Takahata.

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The film follows a woman named Taeko Okajima, dubbed by Daisy Ridley in the US release. She is turning 27 and pretty happy with her life, even though her mother is annoyed that she hasn’t been able to find a guy. Taeko decides to take a trip to the countryside to help out a family with their safflower farm. As she takes this trip, memories of her younger self start to pop up in her mind. She then starts to think back about her life and her relationship with her family, and with the family she is helping on the farm.

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I think what might turn off some people about this film is that it’s not as whimsical as Ghibli’s other offerings. It’s not really all that fantastical in its setting. Not to say there isn’t some whimsy, but it’s mostly kept with the flashbacks. This is a very grounded film, and you can see that through its themes and its visual style. Something I noticed about this film, and it’s probably because of Takahata himself, who made this decision, he adds a bit more detail in how the humans are designed. When it comes to designing human characters in animation, you can afford to sacrifice some details. It’s why many times when you see animated properties turned live-action, the added detail to the designs were not meant to look good in live-action. You can see this in a lot of the live-action Dr. Seuss films. The humans in Only Yesterday have more wrinkles and more detail to their facial movements that you don’t see with other Ghibli films. The more creative visuals come into play with the flashbacks when Taeko is younger. Instead of the gorgeous and highly detailed buildings, leaves, plants, and so on, everything has a soft watercolor style. The backgrounds have an interesting detail that they look incomplete. To me, this was a purposeful artistic decision, because memories can feel incomplete and fuzzy at times. However, do not take any of these comments as the animation isn’t good. It’s Studio Ghibli, and the animation they do is always amazing. It’s all very detailed, expressive, and it does not fall into any of the traps that anime falls into.

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I also love the music selection. While much of the wonderful music is done by Katz Hoshi, there are some foreign song choices that pop up from time to time that fit the tone of the film. If you can find the soundtrack to this film on YouTube or somewhere online, definitely check it out. It’s one of my favorite soundtracks. I also liked the voice cast for this film. While having plenty of great animation voice actors like Tara Strong, Nika Futterman, Ashley Eckstein, Laura Bailey, Grey Griffin, and Stephanie Sheh, I think Daisy Ridley, and Dev Patel, who plays Toshio, a man she meets on her trip, do a good job. While it might be distracting to hear their voices with Daisy holding back the British accent, and Dev Patel not really hiding that accent at all, they do gel into their characters. Even Alison Fernandez who plays Taeko as a young girl is also good.

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So, the animation is interesting and unique among the studio’s work, the music is fantastic, and the voice work/dub is done well, but what about the story and characters? A word I used for this film is grounded. It feels relatable to actual people. I think as we get older, we do look back at our childhood or maybe even a couple years back, and wonder if we are happy with what’s going on right now. Are there any regrets? Do we wish things had gone differently? Are you doing what you dreamed of when you were a kid? Are you doing what you are doing right now, because you want to? I think that’s fairly complex, and to my knowledge, not many films, especially animated films, tackle these types of plots. It’s refreshing to see an adult-themed film that doesn’t rely on cursing, violence, and sex. This film also got me to learn a few things about the Japanese culture. Some scenes might only make sense if you learn about certain parts of Japanese culture, like the scene with the pineapple.

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If I had to criticize anything about the film, I think Toshio, the character played by Dev Patel in the English dub, is not the most interesting male character. He’s likable, but much of his dialogue is about working with your hands, and how it’s different than using machines. I just wish there was more to him than simply that part. I mean, there is, but it’s mostly 80% of him talking about how working with your hands is better than corporate companies doing the work for you. I also wish the ending wasn’t covered up by the credits. It’s really sweet and endearing, but they add credits over it, and they do this with Arrietty, Napping Princess, and I just don’t get why Japanese animated features do that.  You can wait and play the credits after the story literally ends.

Still, I really love this film, and I wish I could have told Isao Takahata how much this film connected with me before his passing. It has a lot of his trademark elements that he likes to use with his films, and I definitely need to catch up on his other films. If you haven’t seen Only Yesterday yet, do so! Buy the movie! I hope more people can watch it. I can sort of see why Disney didn’t originally distribute this one, due to some scenes, including visiting a bath house, and a small story part about periods, but I’m glad GKids brought the film over. I’m sorry for Takahata’s passing, and I hope more people can admire and love this man’s contributions to animation. Well, next time, I think we should go from Japan to the US. We will be looking at Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay. Thanks for reading! I hope you liked the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials