May 7, 2017
What can I say? I'm a Batman fan. Though the "real" fans might run me over the coals for saying so. I like the movies, the animations, and have read my fair share of the more popular graphic novel compilations, but I don't have the gall to dedicate myself to the entire mythos. Regardless, Batman is runner-up to Spider-Man for my favorite western superhero, and the important thing is he maintains that status through the sheer great concept that's kept him going. More so a modern take - the gritty neo-noir detective stories set in a city as black and grimy as tar. I'm sure I don't need to explain Batman to anyone, but I'm left with a bit of a high after watching Gotham Knight, since it was better than I was expecting and reminded me of why I find the hero's stories so engaging.

This anthology movie contains contributions by several different Japanese directors, with each injecting their own style into their short. They're chronological and loosely connected, but satisfyingly enough to make the movie format feel worthwhile but also not beholding any of the directors to adhere to a specific narrative. Gotham Knight was commissioned as a sort of promotion for the upcoming movie, The Dark Knight. Gotham Knight released a mere week before the first public airing of The Dark Knight, so it got fairly overshadowed by the main event other than that niche of Batman and animation fans. They do exist, however, since the 1990s animated series is still fondly remembered. Since I still have a predictably difficult time getting Batman fans to watch The Big O, this other anime that bears its influence will be an easier recommendation.

I'm not wholly in the mood to go over each of these shorts individually, but on the whole I can say those expecting something grand beyond the anthology concept can scrap that thought. Gotham Knight is fairly close to the ground, perhaps a bit surprising given the Japanese direction, but that's how I like my Batman. The hero's rogues gallery sees little use, and instead the stories are focused on an eventful, but not particularly life-altering night for Batman. As normal as you might imagine things get. The shorts take a variety of perspectives from the people and police who watch him on the streets, as well as the fear Batman inspires and even his vulnerabilities. It covers the basic beats for Batman, but the modesty keeps it engrossing and almost calm as the unpredictability of the style changes bring their own excitements. The quality consistency is commendable, and there was no segment I felt to be a drag. Nonetheless, no anime are created equal and I have my preference: Working Through Pain > Deadshot > Field Test > In Darkness Dwells > Have I Got a Story for You > Crossfire.

I particularly enjoyed Working Through Pain for it breaking the mold somewhat on conveying an established character and his setting for specific character development. It's the only segment here that looks at a Batman theme deeper than the common interpretations, and as such it feels appropriately personal and the most emotional. Deadshot's second place is clear when you consider it's directed by my man Yoshiaki Kawajiri. Granted, his usual darkness can be hard to pick out in a series that thrives on such, but the most telling mark of his absurdity is when it turned out Kawajiri gets credit for Gotham Knight's infamous bullet punching scene. God bless. His section was visually a treat as well, with the heavy sharp angled outlining and realistic character detail felt the most similar to a standard comic book design. It reminded me the most of the 1990s animated series, though nothing here truly captures that spirit. It doesn't need to, though, because it captures the broader spirit of Batman that's been so ingrained in public perception that even this smorgasbord of different visions all capture what makes the world of Batman engaging while adding subtle, delightful differences. There's nothing extremely impressive, but it's a suitable and familiar ride through the dark streets of Gotham through stylish animation, and that's worth some weight in gold.