Spoilers await you:
Bruce Timm, who was behind the best cartoon to come out of the 90’s, Batman: The Animated Series, and who then moved on to Superman and Justice League, is now producing a more experimental line of DC Superhero direct-to-DVD movies such as Justice League: The New Frontier and Superman: Doomsday.
The most recent such DVD is a prelude to the upcoming The Dark Knight film, and takes place in between the two movies, if I understand correctly.
The DVD is actually an anthology of short films created by various anime studios, quite similar to how the Animatrix DVD was produced. There are 6 short films on the DVD. I watched them last night. I will review them all, to some extent.
“Have I Got A Story For You” is a tale of four skater kids who witness a fight between Batman and a high-tech robber, albeit at different times and locations. The animation is the same style as Tekkonkinkreet and “Beyond” (from Animatrix). It is the most interesting style on the disc and atypical of what modern anime has to offer, showing that some animators in Japan are ready to move on from the persistent tropes that many of us sat through in the 70’s and 80’s. The story is a simple one, but the twist is that every kid has a different interpretation of the Batman, and the animation illustrates their perception of him, not the reality. As such we get a wide gamut of powers and character, all of which are interesting and a joy to watch. 9/10
“Crossfire” shows two cops who have different opinions on Batman. The animation itself was generally poor, as much anime is – relying on style and detailed backgrounds rather than range of expression or body language. In this case the style itself was nothing to write home about. The action was, for the most part, melodramatic and trite. 4/10.
At this point I should mention that Kevin Conroy, who voices Batman in the other Bruce Timm productions, is cast once again as the dark knight in all of these shorts. This is a shame because while I think Conroy does fine work on all previous incarnations, I feel that the disparity of styles on this project lends itself to try out some new blood. Gotham Knight seems to want to introduce new and unexpected takes on Batman and I find Conroy’s reintroduction works to counter that.
“Field Test” is about a personal, bullet-deflecting force field that Batman tries out. The story is an interesting one, though the ending is weak. The animation is traditional hackneyed manga style complete with pointy chins and bad hair. 4/10
“In Darkness Dwells” is a slightly clumsy story involving Scarecrow and Killer Croc. The animation in this one is something a little different and lends itself well to the character. The action and intensity is pretty solid with only a few minor gaffs – I would say this is the second best of the six shorts. 7/10
With a good premise but a disjointed and somewhat lackluster telling, “Working Through Pain” has some of the most grounded yet dynamic animation. 5.5/10
“Deadshot” introduces the villain of the same name. This short has probably the most engaging of plots especially since we get enough time with the enemy to learn something about him. The animation is stylistic and like “In Darkness Dwells” it works well for a Batman story, though the now time-honored misuse of CG animation over traditional art is appropriately unsettling. The action is way over the top, which I imagine many anime fans embrace as it can often be typical of the medium. 7/10.