WonderCon attendees in Anaheim were treated to a world premiere screening of the new anime Batman Ninja this past Saturday morning. Following the screening, the Japanese animators and producers joined the American writers and voice talent for a lively discussion about the history of bringing this epic collaboration to the screen.
In Batman Ninja, Batman is taken out of Gotham City after Gorilla Grodd’s time displacement machine goes awry, and he is timeslipped into feudal Japan along with The Joker, Harley Quinn and other members of his rogues gallery.
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DC All Access host Whitney Moore moderated the panel, which featured Japanese screenwriter Kazuki Nakashima, character designer Takashi Okazaki and director Jumpei Mizusaki, along with English-language writers Leo Chu and Eric Garcia, plus voice actors Eric Bauza (Two-Face), Tom Kenny (Penguin), Yuri Lowenthal (Robin and Red Hood), Adam Croasdell (Nightwing and Alfred), Fred Tatasciore (Gorilla Grodd and Deathstroke), Tony Hale (The Joker) and Roger Craig Smith (Batman).
“When you think of Japan you have three stereotypes,” Nakashima said, discussing the origin of the project. “You’ve got your samurai, you’ve got your ninjas, and you’ve got your transformations or combining. So we decided to put all of those ingredients together in one place and this is what we got.”
Okazaki said that he has loved Batman since childhood and when he got the job, “I immediately started drawing. All of these ideas came flowing into my mind. Batman is a ninja. This is how it has to be.”
Mizusaki said they wanted to fill the film with a lot of Japanese tropes. “In anime, there are always giant robots fighting each other, so we know we wanted to put that in,” he said. “Looking back, I think we made a mistake in not putting in enough female characters in the film — because if you look up at this panel, we are all men.”
“Barely,” Kenny joked.
The Japanese team also picked what their favorite characters in the film to work on were. Nakashima said definitely Joker and Harley Quinn, while Okazaki went with Bane, and Mizusaki picked Gorilla Grodd. “He was drawn very handsomely,” he said.
Despite the inclusion of so many Batman characters, Nakashima and Mizusaki wished that they had the chance to include The Riddler in the film, while Okazaki wanted to include Ra’s al Ghul.
Chu and Garcia discussed the process of changing the Japanese script into an Americanized version. “First of all, it’s not a translation. It’s more of an adaptation,” Chu said. “Anime is a very different production process than the traditional Western animation process. We got the film in bits and pieces. We got a very rough translation of the Japanese dialogue, and then we got little sketches and storyboards and stuff and then we were told, ‘OK — now go!’ Warner Bros. was very good about leaving the entire production alone. They trusted the Japanese team to make something authentically anime, and they trusted us to make something authentically Batman. Our job was to take what was done, and to make everyone seem like Batman characters and Batman villains.”
“I’m very interested to see what the fan reaction to the film is going to be,” Chu said. “Especially when they watch the Japanese subtitled version versus the English version. There are scenes and dialogue which are remarkably different, because anime is primarily a visual medium and the visuals are driving everything, and for us Western audiences we have a different storytelling tradition. We want more themes, and narratives and character arcs.”
Chu cited one example of the differences between the two versions. “In the fight between Batman and the Joker, in the Japanese version they are talking about real estate and Japanese traditions and some of those jokes may not have translated into the western version. We thought the swordfight between the two was one of the most badass things we have ever seen, so we gave it a slightly different flavor.”
“We tried to keep things primarily Japanese, though,” Garcia said. “All of Bane’s lines we kept the same from the Japanese version.”
The voice talent then spoke about their reactions to seeing the movie.
“Monkeys and bats… living together. Mass hysteria!” Bauza joked, referring to the very anime character of Monkeychi featured in the film. “Rodents and simians… come together… right no,” Kenny sang, to the tune of The Beatles’ “Come Together.”
“I thought it was breathtaking. Job well done,” Bauza continued. “I’m now afraid of Tony Hale after seeing his Joker.”
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Kenny said the process of recording the voices for the film was different than normal. “Normally, we record the voices first and then the film is animated to our voices. It was a little unusual in that the (Japanese) voices were already recorded and then we had to stick our voices into those existing holes. Boy, that came out wrong.”
Hale said he was brought in late in the process. “I just acted insane and laughed a lot.”
The Japanese team said the film is full of Easter eggs throughout the film, with the coin that Two-Face flips used as an example. “One side is Japanese and the other is Canadian,” Mizusaki said.
Batman Ninja arrives on Digital on April 24, and Blu-ray/DVD May 8 from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.