Review: Batman: Gotham Knight DVD

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Throughout his almost 70 years in print and licensing, Batman has survived a 60’s-camp television show, Prince dance numbers and yeah, even the whole nipple-costume thing. He’s an icon that continues to hold up over time.  The recently-released Batman: Gotham Knight DVD/Blu-Ray is not only an example of the icon’s lasting appeal, but also a great example of how well he translates through the visual lens of other cultures. There has already been a Batman manga, so this anime seems like a no-brainer (which is made only more cooler because I now I get to to refer to the Batman anime as a Batmanime).

Gotham Knight is made up of six stories, all loosely connected, that take place in the Batman Begins universe. Each story is told in differing styles of anime, similar the Animatrix.  On the surface, the Batmanime may seem like a superficial exercise. Even though each segment is directed by Japanese animators, the stories are written by some pretty notable American comic-types like Greg Rucka, David Goyer and Brian Azzarello, as well as (non-Japanese) writers Josh Dixon, Alan Burnett and Jordan Goldberg.  But for the most part, the six segments manage to keep the core of the character, while giving the Bat-verse a new look and some anime-inspired misadventures.

The first segment, “Have I Got A Story For You”, is a rehash of sorts of the “Legends of the Dark Knight” episode from the Batman: The Animated Series that saw three kids telling street-level stories of meeting wildly different interpretations of Batman, including Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns.  It’s easily the most fun segment, as well as the most visually distinct. The director is Shoujirou Nishimi, who was an animation director on Tekkon Kinkreet. He uses the same style as the Tekkon Kinkreet here, as skater-kids explain their encounters with differing versions of Batman, including a shadow-lurking vampire and a robot Batman.

As fun as it is, luckily the rest of stories mostly get past the concept of “Look, it’s Batman, but he looks different!” Even when they don’t, it’s still cool to see anime-inspired Deadshot, Killer Croc and Crispus Allen’s several appearances.  One of the best fusions of the Bat-verse and anime conventions is “The Field Test,” which sees Bruce Wayne getting hooked up with some sweet tech that should logically make his Batman-life much easier, but puts the ethics of his one-man war to the test.

The strongest of the vignettes is “Through the Pain.” Written by 100 Bullets’ Brain Azzarello, a gunshot-Batman flashbacks to his early looking globe-trotting days, looking for enlightenment—or at least a way to never be bothered with pain.  It’s a classic conflicted-Batman tale that lives up to the premise of the Gotham Knight, by mixing the East and the West. Even if the East in the case is India, it’s still a great twist that sends our hero into a new setting, while still presenting the tragic hero we’ve seen in the funny pages.

The weakest segment of the bunch is unfortunately “Crossfire”, written by Greg Rucka, which more or less condenses a Gotham Central plot down to 10 minutes, and has the two protagonists accidentally drive literally into the middle of a massive gang shootout. It still works as atmosphere piece, with lots of foreboding shadows. And it also has a really creepy spin on Arkham Asylum.

For a running time clocking in at 70-plus minutes, you’re not likely to be disappointed. Also, according to the sticker on the case, it’s the first PG-13 Batman cartoon, which means a decapitation, some dude being shot in the head, and abdomen-blood spillage… just in case you’re really into gun shot wounds. Gotham Knight also serves as a nice warm-up to the upcoming feature film The Dark Knight. After this, the Final Frontier DVD and after a preview for the next Wonder Woman animated movie, DC seems to have a solid focus on the direct-to-DVD market.