DCAU #32: Night of the Ninja

IN THIS ONE... A ninja who once trained with Bruce Wayne comes to plague him in Gotham.

CREDITS: Written by Steve Perry (started on The Centurions, would write a good number of BTAS episodes); directed by Kevin Altieri.

REVIEW: Little of the show covers Bruce Wayne's pre-Batman life, so I'm happy to see any of it at all. The flashbacks have a nice desaturated look that evokes grindhouse presentations of old martial arts films. But while the fights are very well choreographed, this is nevertheless Dong Yang Animation's weakest effort, almost impossibly so given the work they've done before. Interaction between elements is soft, characters pull bizarre expressions, and animated objects have a fidgety quality. It's rather distracting.

The plot works well enough, with Kyodai Ken a prototypical bad student who turns to the dark side and is expelled from his dojo, now returns to take revenge on the "good student" he blames for his dishonor. But for all his rhetoric against "fat cat" Wayne, Ken is still just a common thief, driven by greed. (Or it could be financial revenge, I'd buy that, though the scheme itself doesn't actually make sense to me.) Eventually, his arrogance proves his undoing and he flees rather than get beaten by Bruce Wayne, never knowing he and Batman are one and the same. We'll get to see him again, I like it, and not too far from now. Summer Gleason gets the biggest role she's yet gotten, in Bruce's face all the time about his businesses getting hit, and forcing Bruce to let himself get beaten up to protect his secret identity. Intense!

But I think it's the Robin subplot that takes this one up a notch. Tested in Robin's Reckoning, the Dynamic Duo's relationship is still strained, especially when Bruce shuts Dick out for "personal" reasons. Robin is at his most insolent, doing Batman impressions and pulling faces in the background, and I absolutely love the moment when Bruce catches him and Alfred gossiping and gives them the death stare. Though shut out, Robin does of course save the day several times, a reminder of his important to Batman, and most crucially, lets Batman take care of business. The Bat wants to do this himself? Robin acts as facilitator. He's not that clichéed kid who gets in the way anymore (if he ever was). Their issues aren't resolved, but Robin is that bright light who can LET THINGS GO, and that's how he's a contrast to his mentor.

IN THE COMICS: Kyodai Ken does not exist in the comics, nor did Bruce Wayne train with a martial arts master called Yoru. Just who trained Batman in the martial arts varies from continuity to continuity, but Master Kirigi was once the answer to that question. In the New52, he's been trained by various masters in different styles.

SOUNDS LIKE: Robert Ito plays the Ninja, a name fans of classic TV will recognize as Sam Fujiyama's from Quincy, but he's done tons of TV and animation work since. For Yoru, they got Chao-Li Chi, a regular on Falcon Crest whose most memorable modern-day role was in The Prestige.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A cool look at Batman's training, an original villain I'd want to see again, and a great Robin subplot. Only animation problems keep this one from reaching the top.


American Hawkman said...

It still astounds me we never got Kyodai Ken in the comics.

Siskoid said...

I guess Batman Begins more or less filled the role with Ra's.

Oh man, we haven't gotten Ra's al Ghul yet, have we? Put him on the list of surprisingly late arrivals with Riddler.

Invid said...

Something that always makes me chuckle when I watch this episode anymore, thanks to my rudimentary knowledge of Japanese, is that Kyodai Ken can be translated as "enormous sword."

Mainly, of course, because it could easily be interpreted as, well, a bit of a dick joke.

Siskoid said...

Well he is *that*. ;)

Anonymous said...

"My" Bruce Wayne went to college, and got a law degree and a minor in psychology, but also studied every subject he could. These days, I'm not even sure Bruce Wayne went to college, because he spent so much time learning from martial arts masters, race car drivers, and so forth.

If only Kyodai Ken didn't have that ill-advised tattoo from his youth, he could probably get an office job.

Siskoid said...

Who works in a office shirtless?

LondonKdS said...

I have a big plot problem with this episode. We are told that in the distant past the founder of the martial arts school where Bruce and Ken trained discovered a lethal pinpoint spot on the human body where any mild blow would cause instant and unavoidable death, and he and his successors have hid the knowledge from everyone but their successors ever since for fear of its misuse. However, at the climax, Ken uses the secret blow on Bruce and fails because he padded the spot with a fairly small and unencumbering piece of material. If blocking it is that easy, surely anyone who gets in a fight can just pad themselves there? Which makes one suspect that the old sensei really just wanted his successors to know a secret way of disposing of anyone who they didn't like...

Siskoid said...

I think you're confusing this episode with its sequel, Day of the Samurai.

LondonKdS said...

Oops, yes. Maybe shows this one wasn't that memorable.

LiamKav said...

Robin is somehow familiar with Samurai but not ninjas? That seems... unlikely. I'm also amused by his "how does he do that?" comment after Ken disappears, as I'm fairly sure it's a trick he must have done several times himself by this point. (Although I am imagining the pair of them in Gordon's office, getting information on a crime. Gordon goes to the filing cabinet, and when he turns Batman has disappeared, but Robin is just slowly walking out the door.)

Regarding Ra's being such a late arrival, I don't think he's a good comparison. Nowadays we expect to see him everywhere, but until this series I don't think we'd ever had Ra's appear in non-comic media. He was created after Batman '66, after all.

Siskoid said...

Only surprising in the context of having watched the show before and remembering Ra's as a part of it. I thought he would show up earlier.

Not surprising at the time.


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