Batman Ninja and the East-West Discourse

There’s a Batman anime film slated for next year:

Whoah! (Courtesy of IGN.)

I’m sure that most of you are confused right now. Don’t worry, so am I. Simply saying “anime ninja Batman” is enough to wonder who conceptualized this wacky idea. I’m curious how the pitch went:

“I have an idea for a Batman film.”

“Okay! What’s it about?”

“Picture this: Batman is Batman, but with a samurai sword.”


“And he uses the sword in combat.”


“And he lives in a hybrid of Gotham City and Edo Era Japan.”


“And the film is an anime.”


And it’s directed by the guy who produced Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, written by the guy responsible for penning Oh! Edo Rocket, animated by the man responsible for Afro Samurai, composed by the man responsible for scoring Ai no Uta and starring Spike Spiegel’s seiyu.



“You’re crazy…but I love it!”

*Sigh* Me and my imagination…

This is a weird set-up. I know Batman’s been to the future and a Russian terrorist, but this is a Mad Libs scenario. I’m tempted to check it out for novelty sake, as Lord knows Batman’s in need of a new take following the failure of The DCEU. This could either be the shot of adrenaline the character deserves, or Batman’s jumping the shark moment. (Though, to be honest, I already thought Batman branding criminals was that moment…)

Batman’s ninja incarnation, while bizarre, isn’t his first in anime. He was, after all, the star of Batman: Gotham Knight, a series of OVAs that took place in-between the events of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. I didn’t mind Batman: Gotham Knight, but it’s pretty divisive amongst fans, with some considering it a bastardization of the character. So Batman Ninja, as this new film’s called, is anyone’s game.

The movie’s trailer also got me thinking about something that came up once at my old theatre job. See, Batman isn’t the first Western superhero to receive the anime treatment. With superheroes being the go-to for entertainment in recent years, plenty have been “Nippon-ified” for Asian consumers. And no other company has embraced this more than Marvel, with their characters getting several shows in Japan, complete with heavy metal/pop intros. So what does this mean?

I’ve been thinking about this convergence of anime in the mainstream for a while. If you’ll recall, I wrote a piece earlier this year, which was itself a follow-up to a much older piece, on Infinite Rainy Day about the anime bubble bursting in the West. I’m not the first to notice this, as we wound up with Neo Yokio on Netflix and two adaptations of beloved anime properties, Ghost in the Shell and Death Note, that failed to light up the world. Then there was Blade Runner Blackout 2022, which was meant as a tie-in to Blade Runner 2049 and has been reviewed by one of our other staff members. Either way, we’re getting a full-out dialogue between East and West now, with the streams flowing both ways.

But Batman Ninja is unique, for two reasons: superficially, it’s an original story. I know that some of the best Batman tales are original stories, but this is huge. Even when Batman’s veered into unique places, it was still grounded in a source. Batman Begins, for example, took heavy inspiration from Batman: Year One, even though it was an original story. Batman Ninja, however, is its own beast altogether.

More substantively, Batman Ninja’s also a wildly-original take on the Batman character. And I mean that in the most-sincere way possible. Batman’s had many reinterpretations since his gun-toting days of the 1920’s (look it up), but they’ve almost all stayed consistent to what Batman is: a caped-crusader that fights with gadgets and doesn’t murder people. He’ll beat you senseless, possibly even shatter some bones, but he draws the line at death. This is something Zack Snyder’s take on the character should’ve understood, but that’s already been bludgeoned to death by everyone else…

By giving Batman ninja armour and a katana, Batman Ninja’s done something unique and crossed the cultural divide. Granted, I’m surprised this hasn’t happened sooner; after all, he’s a ninja! If ninjas are already a Japanese concept, then why not go all the way and make him a samurai? I’d pay good money for that!

And that’s why the cultural barrier between East and West breaking down is a big deal. Because if Batman can be reinterpreted so dramatically, then who’s to stop other superheroes from doing the same? Why not make Iron Man an Astro Boy character? Why not make Spider-Man a ninja? And how about Thor as a Japanese deity? I’m positive the great minds in the East can come up with plenty of ideas in this vein if they’re already doing Batman, right?

Basically, at the end of the day, we’re gonna start seeing more cross-pollination as the barriers between East and West break down. This is really exciting, as it leads to many unique possibilities. Still, I hope the West takes cues from this and attempts more unique spins on classic anime adaptations too. I hope they also stay faithful to the spirit of what they’re adapting, since extremely-liberal adaptations haven’t worked in the past, but at least attempt it. Adaptation’s a game of stretching the limits of concept, and it’d be a shame if the West didn’t capitalize on this discourse.

As a final note, I’m curious how Batman Ninja will stretch the Batman mythos: will Batman kill people? Or will his katana be a test of how far he’ll go not to kill people? What will his Batcave look like? And how will his origin story be tweaked? So many questions remain, but I’m definitely excited!


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