Designed to replicate the success of 2003’s The Animatrix, Batman: Gotham Knight is another anime anthology riding on the crest of a trendy movie franchise that seems destined, by virtue of Hollywood’s dollar, to be seen by many more people than your average Planetes or Gungrave. Like it or not, it’s exactly this kind of release, along with Afro Samurai and its ilk, that represents the image of Japanese animation to the eyes of the unwashed masses, and for good or for bad, tends to influence their many opinions. In this case, it’s definitely for bad.
Batman: Gotham Knight isn’t a disaster, it’s just heartless, devoid of feeling and worst of all, boring. One fist-cracking action scene follows another and while most of them are beautifully animated, the stories themselves are merely adrenaline-fuelled and tiring. Studio 4C contributes the two most visually-arresting shorts, the first ‘Have I Got A Story For You‘ and the fifth ‘Working Through Pain‘. The former has a wonderfully fluid, urban-punk aesthetic which has clearly been traced from director Shojiro Nishimi‘s previous work, the sky-scraping and colourful Tekkonkinkreet. The latter, peppered with moody lighting and authentic landscape, dares to risk some character development in Bruce Wayne and, by its end, finds our hero lost in despair. The only other segment worth mentioning is the thoroughly grotesque ‘In Darkness Dwells‘ (animated by Madhouse and directed by Yasuhiro Aoki) because it looks so unconventional and strange, like a hybrid of Gurren Lagann‘s more extreme character design and the gritty cartoon adaptation of Spawn. All style and no substance just about sums it up then.
Though one could point to the meagre running-time of each short (around 10-12 minutes in length) to explain the lack of actual plot, anthology predecessor The Animatrix includes several episodes which are just as limited by time yet remain magnificent, not least of all ‘Beyond‘, ‘The Second Renaissance‘ and ‘Kid’s Story‘. The problem here is the lacklustre writing, which hardly dares stray from the half-baked villainy and cartoon dirge of Gotham City. The Animatrix‘s best effort was ‘Beyond‘, which it had nothing to do with Neo, Morpheus or Trinity, yet made the most of being animated, fun and limitless. I mean, with ‘She and Her Cat‘, Makoto Shinkai needed just 5 minutes to forge his entire career. Lack of time is not an excuse for poor storytelling.
Aside from the above, my biggest issue with Batman: Gotham Knight is the stereotype it inevitably reinforces – that all anime is either Pokemon kids-fare or Ninja Scroll-level cartoon violence. What I really loved about The Animatrix is that, alongside the more typical action fluff, it shone with elements of slice of life and drama; it was a great showcase for the diversity of anime as a medium, not only in terms of visuals, but in terms of storytelling too. Gotham Knight is a throw-back to that era when anime wasn’t expected to be anything other than stupid, violent and extreme. It’s worth seeing for the Studio 4C segments, but The Animatrix this is not.