Batman Gotham Knight

With every big screen Batman outing, Warner Bros. releases a companion animated film to help build hype. What’s funny is that the companion piece is often better than its live action brother. This film is actually six. They are interlocking short films each with different directors. Warner Bros. tapped the directors and production companies of such anime films as Yamato 2050, The Animatrix, Trigun, and the .hack/ series to give Gotham Knight a unique feel.


Blending Western and Eastern traditions in media is nothing new. There’ve been manga and anime versions of Spider-Man, Star Trek, and The Powerpuff Girls and American versions of Speed Racer, Transformers, and Street Fighter. These sometimes don’t translate well. The American versions, particularly, go out of their way to bastardize the source material. An ill-fated effort by Dic in the 1990’s created a stillborn Western version of the popular Japanese girl’s anime Sailor Moon. The show was literally laughed into oblivion and the original Japanese series went on to become very popular in the United States.

In this case, the directors stay very true to Batman’s unique characteristics. They show the mystery that swirls around him, as one short depicts him as demon, animal, and robot before finally showing him as a man. Other ones demonstrate his insane dedication to his mission and the lengths and personal torment he is willing to face to meet with it. All of them use the extremely dark images and tones that Batman readers are used to and the directors handle them with the adept mastery that their unique background provides them.

The directors further get the chance to redo a number of Batman’s rogues gallery. Killer Croc, Deadshot, and the Scarecrow all make appearances. Though other minor characters like Alfred and James Gordon appear, the villains appearances are much more important because like Batman himself, his rogues are outlandish, insane, hideous, and twisted. They represent twisted caricatures of the capability for madness that resides within the human heart– just as Batman represents their antithesis. Where Mr. Freeze is tragedy gone wrong, Batman is tragedy gone right.

Anime characters are very emotive. The large eyes and detailed faces make for strong nonverbal cues not frequently seen in Western animation. For example, the venerated Batman The Animated Series capitalized on Bruce Timm’s signature art deco angular designs. While a stunning piece of work themselves, those characters could not convey the type of emotion and fluidity you see in the anime. When Batman appears before someone in these short films, the terror in their heart screams through their eyes. Appropriately and conversely, Batman shows almost no emotion, as his face is half covered by his cowl. Batman is a very Western character– but one that translates extremely well to the Japanese style of storytelling. Like many anime characters, he is excessively driven, isolated, tormented, and extremely dangerous. This lends to the ties the Batman story has had to Eastern cultures since the beginning.

Man Behind the Mask

In a bold move, Warner Bros. and producer Bruce Tim picked Batman: TAS veteran Kevin Conroy to play Batman in this film. Conroy has been portraying Batman since the early 1990’s, and for countless fans he is Batman. This is testament to the following that the series has and to the family of strong animated dramas that have been created since. In true form, Batman is at best genre fiction. Like most forms of new media and modern media, it is then derided and ridiculed by literary critics and academics alike for being adolescent and unimportant in the greater literary landscape.

it is true that Batman is on as many pairs of pajamas as he is on book covers. It is true that this is a monumental moneymaking franchise for Warner Bros. and one of the chief assets of DC Comics. What is also true, however, is that Batman is becoming a part of our collective consciousness. His story, his enemies, his background, are informed by the same root stories that these academics praise– and the only key differences are more modern and unique media (sequential art and animation), and the pageantry of the costumes and adventures. Thousands of years since the days of the Greeks we remember their gods and their heroes more than their jesters and lovers. So will it be true with our culture. It would be immensely interesting to see what people think of our own heroes in another few thousand years.

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