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.