How the creators of the BATMAN NINJA anime made one of the craziest Batman movies of all time


No matter how many Batman movies you’ve seen before, you probably haven’t seen a version of the Dark Knight as different and ridiculous as BATMAN NINJA. The animated film sees Batman, his allies and enemies transported from modern Gotham to feudal Japan. And it just gets crazier from there, with things that shouldn’t transform or combine, often doing just that, among other absurd, distinctly animated elements.

But it’s not just what happens in BATMAN NINJA that sets it apart from the character’s previous films. The film uses bold CGI character designs that blend established looks with historic Japanese outfits, in addition to several striking art styles for different parts of the story. With the help of translators, Comic books spoke with director Jumpei Mizusaki, screenwriter Kazuki Nakashima and character creator Takashi Okazaki to find out how they made such a crazy movie.

Freedom of creation

If it seems like the creators took an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to BATMAN NINJA, it’s because it’s not far from the truth. Following a question-and-answer event at New York City bookstore Kinokuniya, Nakashima portrayed an almost completely uninhibited creative environment in which he, Okazaki, and Mizusaki brainstormed.

“Even in the meetings we had where we pitched ideas, I pitched an idea for the story. And then Mr. Okazaki would say, “Oh, so I think that kind of character design would do just fine. “ And then the director [go], “Ah, so we should have this kind of battle scene using these drawings and using this story.” And then I would come in and say, ‘Oh, but I can do you better.’ Each of us somehow accumulated ideas almost like a Jenga, where none of us wanted to withdraw, ”Nakashima said. Comic books. “And then you have the [Warner Bros.] producer sitting in the corner saying, “Oh my god, is this really going to happen? I’m a little [a] I will worry. And we’re like, ‘No, no, no, don’t worry.’

“Director Mr. Mizusaki, he likes crazy ideas,” Nakashima later said. “So I think it was actually the less crazy stuff, the really jaded stuff that got thrown out, and all the crazy stuff ended up in the movie.”

Sengoku Batman battles swords with Demon King Joker in BATMAN NINJA.

The filmmakers’ relatively loose process also applied to the character design of BATMAN NINJA, despite the extra work involved down the line. “I produced these really intricate designs,” Okazaki said. Comic books after the same question-and-answer event. And director Mizusaki told the modelers, ‘No, you can’t delete lines. You must keep it as it is.

Even for a film released straight to home video formats in the West (it hits theaters in Japan on June 15), BATMAN NINJA’s creative process seems to have been quickly held back by a studio director hoping to play it safe, especially with a major property like Batman. But giving the creators complete freedom seems to have been the idea from the start. As Leo Chu, who worked on the film’s English adaptation alongside Eric Garcia, told audiences during the BATMAN NINJA panel at New York Comic Con last year, Warner Bros. “much left the filmmakers alone in the making of this film”, resulting in a film that is “very authentically anime”.

Not the people you hire to make a “safe” BATMAN NINJA

Moreover, if Warner Bros. had wanted something safe, they probably wouldn’t have gone with that particular creative team. Nakashima is best known as the head writer of KAMEN RIDER FOURZE (the 2011 entry into the longtime tokusatsu / “special effects” franchise), and for being the series’ songwriter (essentially, the lead writer) on the 2007 mecha anime GURREN LAGANN (which follows a group of humans battling the ruler of Earth and his army of beastmen) and 2013 KILL LA KILL (which focuses on a girl looking for the assassin of his father in a high school where the students wear overpowered uniforms). Particularly in his anime work, he frequently operates in a ridiculous, comedic, and action-packed space.

Batman Ninja - Bat Ninja Village
Why yes, it’s a bat-shaped village.

Mizusaki, meanwhile, notably produced several incredibly energetic and stylized openings for 2012 JOJO’S BIZARRE ADVENTURE. The openings combined 2D and CGI animation under a style that Mizusaki’s animation studio, Kamikaze Douga, would work with Okazaki for BATMAN NINJA. Mizusaki’s personal thoughts on the creative process could be best summed up by Kamikaze Douga currency: “Compromise is death” (which explains why Mizusaki refused to simplify the design of Okazaki’s characters).

On the other hand, Okazaki is best known for a much more violent (but just as savage) project. He wrote and illustrated the 1999 AFRO SAMURAI manga, a bloody revenge story set in a technologically advanced feudal world, where the person with the number one blindfold has the powers of a god. The series was adapted into an anime starring Samuel L. Jackson in 2007, the 2009 sequel that Okazaki helped write.

In short, these aren’t the people you turn to for a Batman movie that doesn’t sometimes push the boundaries of realism.

Getting the right black anime characters

Story and visual considerations

Just because the creators were able to incorporate so many crazy ideas into the film doesn’t mean they had no guidelines. Okazaki made a deliberate effort not to enter “the realm of the extreme” with his creations, while Mizusaki and the film’s production crew made grounding one of the craziest elements of BATMAN NINJA. (or at least trying to do it) a priority.

“I think it’s very important to make something ridiculous come true,” Mizusaki said. Comic books via email, before referring to one of the many ridiculous events of the film’s final act. “Even though giant robots are assembled into one huge robot, they don’t fly through the air but use rails instead. And when the robots [move], they can’t do it quickly. We pride ourselves on the style of our production team so that we don’t just create something silly. We are seriously creating something ridiculous with all efforts.

Batman Ninja - Batman, Catwoman and Nightwing
Batman, Catwoman, and Nightwing falter as their enemy rises.

The creative team also wanted to make sure that BATMAN NINJA respected both its American comics and its Japanese roots. This is at least in part why the film features time travel in the first place, instead of Batman in today’s Japan, or a Elsewhere-style story with a version of the dark knight who lived in feudal Japan.

“We wanted to respect the current characters in the DC Batman universe. And… if he has traveled to present-day Japan, the ninjas you meet are not genuine ninjas, ”Nakashima said. “And if you had Batman who grew up in feudal Japan, it wouldn’t – not necessarily real Batman. But it’s not the current Batman, it’s not the Gotham Batman. So… you had to travel back in time.

The decision to use time travel was also not the only big choice that did not come only from unlimited creativity. According to Mizusaki, the use of different styles in the film – which range from one that looks like a watercolor to one that looks like a traditional Japanese ukiyo-e painting – came from a desire “to portray the different” perspectives “of the characters in the film”. But it was also the result of their goal of “maintaining … the overall quality by working with multiple production teams” and “letting them adapt their styles”, “rather than using the energy to unify the style. visual”.

What does the future of DC Anime look like?

Given the overwhelmingly positive response to the film’s visuals, it wouldn’t be surprising if Warner Bros. already thinking about which characters should receive similar treatment. When the Kinokuniya Q&A event moderator asked them which DC character they would like to see done in the BATMAN NINJA style, Nakashima and Okazaki expressed interest in Sandman, with Nakashima adding, “And, of course, Superman. Come on. ”Responding to the same question, Tara Strong (the English voice of Harley Quinn) suggested Batgirl and something with Huntress and Black Canary. However, she ultimately concluded that a future DC anime should have“ all the chicks. inside”.

When it comes to the filmmakers’ future with Batman, however, they’re all eager to work with the character again. “If the offer came, we would be more than willing,” Nakashima said.

Mizusaki offered a more bullish response. “I have just started in the realm of portraying Batman /[the] DC Universe. And I hope to continue so that the style created by our team becomes part of the universe, ”he said. Comic books. “Not just our team. But I hope there will be more American animation based on the comics created by the Japanese production.[s] and / or creators.

BATMAN NINJA is now available in digital and physical formats.

The interviews here have been edited for clarity and brevity. All images via Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. The title of the article has been updated.

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