The Other Side of Animation 260: Tekkonkinkreet

(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

There was an article going around in Japan that talked about the current climate of animated films that aren’t big anime franchise films. After Your Name was a smash hit in 2016, the industry has been trying to find the next big Your Name hit, and unfortunately, or what was apparent from that article, the returns haven’t been promising when the big franchise films like Demon Slayer: Mugen Train and Jujutsu Kaisen 0 have been smash hits. That isn’t all true, with Belle becoming a financial hit, but it makes you hope that they do not regress into doing big IP-driven ONLY films. Now, we could talk about the fact that the industry all over the world keeps glomping onto the next big hit and trying to replicate it, and how chasing the trend first and making a good film second is always going to end in tragedy, but you know how the industry works. It takes action first without thinking about the long-term game. It’s a shame, because while making money is important, letting the art and the teams make something distinct is also important, because most franchise-based films are underwhelming. When you want to see something that looks like it goes off the beaten path, then you need to see films like Tekkonkinkreet

Directed by Michael Arias, one of the first non-Japanese directors for a major Japanese-animated film, this film is written by Anthony Weintraub, and was animated at Studio 4°C. The story follows two young boys named Black and White, dubbed by Scott Menville and Kamali Minter. They live on the streets of Takarmuchi, a once-thriving metropolis that is now bloated and overrun with criminal gangs trying to take down one another. Black and White try to take control of the streets by protecting everyone from said gangs. Can the two boys survive these dangerous times inside a crumbling city? What else is this character-driven city hiding or dealing with? 

While this is the part where we talk about the plot of the film, let’s instead focus on the standout feature of the film, the animation. If you were looking for something unique, then it would be tough to find something as distinct-looking as this film. The art direction was handled by Shinji Kimura, who also helped out in films like Children of the Sea and The Portrait Studio. Character designs were handled by Shojiro Nishimi, who also did character designs for MFKZ. They were able to translate the immensely detailed buildings and city life and blocky character designs from the original manga by Taiyo Matsumoto to life. Some moments in the film even go into this dream-like imagery that looks like it was all drawn by colored pencils. Even the action beats are as fluid as ever, despite the designs being blocky at points. The city feels intensely lived-in with so much of the city feeling like it’s falling apart. Most of the metal and buildings are covered in rust or chipped paint. There doesn’t seem to be much that isn’t overrun by industrial factories as the many civilians from the typical citizens, the different gangs, and everyone in-between give off vibes of Tokyo, Hong Kong, Colombo, Sri Lanka, and Shanghai, which were the direct inspirations for the city as they were looking for a Pan-Asian look. Even with the grime and roughness of the overall city via its visuals, there is a lot of love put into the world and how people love living there. The voice cast is also distinct because it’s more US-animation-driven than the usual anime dub casts you see in most Japanese animation. You have the likes of Scott Menville, Maurice LaMarche, John DiMaggio, Tom Kenny, Phil LaMarr, Dwight Schultz, Rick Gomez, Kamali Minter, David Lodge, Quinton Flynn, Alex Fernandez, Yuri Lowenthal, Kate Higgins, Steve Blum, Matt McKenzie, Crispin Freeman, and Dave Wittenberg. It’s a nice mix of what you would normally see in US and Japanese animation. The music is composed by the group Plaid, and they bring this minimal touch to the world mixed with some industrial and fantastical beats. 

Now that we’ve got the talk of the visuals out of the way, what is this film actually about? It’s not that it’s a complicated story, it just follows more of a vibe or mood-like approach to its storytelling. It’s vastly different from what you would see back in 2006 and some would argue even now. Then again, with a film from the same studio that made Children of the Sea and is usually the origin of those fantastic anthology films like Genius Party and Genius Party Beyond, you should expect something off the beaten path. It’s more flowing and not in your face as we follow the two brothers and the police chasing after the multiple gangsters trying to squeak out a living in a world that is constantly changing. It brings back historical moments like the change from 1970s New York when it was filled to the brim with sex, drugs, and violence before it was cleaned up. The city around them is dying and pushing them out, but some love the city as it is, while reminiscing about what it was like back in the day. The loss of childhood innocence, freedom, and dealing with your personal demons is rampant throughout this film, as there are tales of kids that run and fight freely throughout the bustling city streets. Corruption slithers its way through the alleyways, and this is all while the two brothers at the center of this story are both at the forefront and at points on the sidelines to focus on everyone else. It results in a story that is working on a more emotional than logical level, and that will definitely turn off some people. It’s not the most cohesive story as it goes through the different seasons, and much of what can be interpreted by the audience is either hidden within the dialogue or through visual storytelling. You might not want to focus too much on a film’s plot to get everything, and it’s not the best-told story, but with everything listed above, it’s one of the easier to follow films, whereas the similar-looking Mind Game, which Masaaki Yuasa directed, was a touch more complicated to follow exactly what the story and themes were without breaking them down yourself. However, sometimes, you may want to simply watch a movie that’s an experience and hits a certain part of your brain that likes those less straightforward stories.

 

While its visuals and atmosphere may overtake the story and how the story is told, Tekkonkinkreet is a film that you don’t get too often and should be celebrated when we are all, as of right now, looking for films that are different from the big franchise fodder or tentpole releases. Yes, they might not always work out 100%, but no film is ever going to be quote on quote, “perfect.” Yes, that would be nice, but then every film would be boring. Wouldn’t you rather talk about a film that has some big hits and maybe some misses of varying sizes? At least you have more to talk about than just, it’s good, it’s bad, or something in the middle that doesn’t leave that much of an impact on your filmgoing experience. As of writing this film, there has been no re-release and there is a Blu-ray and DVD release, but the Blu-ray seems like it’s hitting that out-of-print situation where it is hitting absurd prices on Amazon and the like. It’s a shame, because this is a fantastic film, and you would hope a company like Discotek or GKIDS would re-release the film. Still, if you can get a hand on a copy out in the wild, you are in for one of the many examples of why animation is such a vibrant medium, and how it’s not just for kids. Now then, the next time ya see a review, you will be hanging out with DreamWorks The Bad Guys

Rating: Go see it!

The Other Side of Animation 210: The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Well, it’s finally out. If you have been following me and my cohost on Renegade Animation (on Renegade Pop Culture), we have made it a running joke to take a jab at anything SpongeBob-related due to the constant delays and radio silence around the US release of this film. We come off rather harsh, but only because Paramount acted like this was supposed to be this major release that just had to be in theaters. I mean, it got to be in theaters in other countries and got a Blu-ray release, but the US, for one reason or another, well, I know the reason, but still, had to wait until 2021 to finally see this movie. Really? Can you ever imagine that a company like Paramount would hold out for something like The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run? Well, they did! It’s finally out. 

Directed by Tim Hill, this CGI animated feature based on the long-running franchise went through quite a rocky development. It was originally announced back in 2015 after the release of Sponge Out of Water. You can read up about it as it went through titles like It’s a Wonderful Sponge, it had cat aliens at one point in the plot, and then it was supposed to mostly be an overall origin story for everyone’s favorite undersea characters. Granted, some of these elements would turn into the now notorious Kamp Koral spin-off series, but we are here to talk about the film. So, it was supposed to come out in 2019, but got pushed to 2020, and then it was pushed from the June 2020 release due to the pandemic, and then taken off the release schedule altogether. It got an overseas release and a theatrical release in Canada, but finally got released in the states on March 4th, 2021 to mostly above-average reviews. It just happens to be released alongside the Paramount+ Original, Kamp Koral. So, what do I think about this movie? Well, you will have to read on to find out! 

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We follow everyone’s favorite underwater fry cook SpongeBob, voiced by Tom Kenny. It’s mostly a typical day for our favorite yellow sponge as he hangs out with his friends, goes to work, and gives his pet snail all of the love in the world. So, what’s the real plot? Well, on the other side of the ocean at the Lost City of Atlantic City, King Trident, voiced this time by Matt Berry, wants to keep up his looks, and part of that process is using the slime that is produced by snails. Unfortunately for him, the snail that he was using is all dried up. Furious at this news, he sends out a royal announcement and bounty for a snail to be delivered to him. PLankton, voiced by Mr. Lawrence, decides to take advantage of this coincidence and kidnap SpongeBob’s snail, Gary. After coming back from work, SpongeBob realizes that Gary has been snailnapped and sets off on an adventure with his best friend Patrick Star, voiced by Peter Fagerbakke, on an adventure with a robot-driven boat voiced by Awkwafina to get Gary back! 

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I know on the podcast that I have been very critical about the release of this film, but I don’t hate this film. I have a few praises for it. First up to bat is the animation. If this film can lay claim to something, it is that it has some top-quality animation. I love the fact that the CGI looks like stop-motion. We are in an era where CGI animation is evolving with projects that are expanding on the ways we can use it with more cartoony physics and expressions without it looking weird. It’s some of the most expressive animation of 2021. They somehow made this all work by converting the 2D elements to CGI, and no matter how I feel about the rest of the film, it’s incredibly impressive. I would love to watch a behind-the-scenes look at how they made this animation work. It’s a film with an incredible and distinct visual identity, and I will always respect that. Outside of the animation, there were quite a few jokes where I found myself laughing. Even if all of the jokes didn’t land for me, the animation backed it up to still give me a chuckle. It’s still very zany, but it had the right vibe for my comedy preferences. The story itself is flawed, as we will get to that soon, but while it is partly connected to the spin-off, it does have a rather nice ending, and the overall idea of realizing how important someone is in your life is a solid idea for a theme.

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The overall story feels very non-existent. It’s incredibly bare-bones, and it feels like either there was supposed to be more but it was cut, or maybe there was a different story, but it got cut and they had to keep the story simple, I’m not sure. The dialogue also comes off like they had a few meta-joke/commentary setups, but then while lampooning the tropes or the topic at hand, they fall back into said tropes. It feels like they wanted to avoid certain story tropes, but then indulged in the ones they were making fun of. Some elements are a touch messed up. For example, early on in the film, Sandy builds a robot prototype for Mr. Krabs to essentially put SpongeBob out of a job. Sure, it can sort of play off of the themes of the film, but I find it shocking Sandy did not have a second thought about putting her best friend out of a job! That’s horrifying. Luckily, that plot point doesn’t go anywhere, but the fact that there are a lot of plot elements that are introduced, quickly solved, or dropped throughout the film feels like there were some problems with producing the story. I also find it amusing that whole the franchise has never cared about continuity, the Kamp Koral stuff seen in the film doesn’t add up to the spin-off. I don’t care, but I find it an amusing observation. I wouldn’t mind a weak story, but the film’s comedy is very miss than hit. That’s a problem when your film is partly a comedy. 

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After all of this build-up and after all of this frustration with having to wait a literal year for an already finished film when the film would have made its money back if it went through a virtual theater/theatrical/on-demand release because it’s SpongeBob, I just can’t find myself being mad about it. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a weak film, and I think the animation is the only thing that carries the experience, but after all that I went through with 2020 and this film having a flawed release, it’s not the worst film out there. I think if you are curious, it’s now on Paramount+ and the spin-off is there as well. Otherwise, maybe wait to find a Blu-ray of the film. I know it’s always a little deflating to build up all of this anger for a film that is in the end just okay, but it’s good to remember that there are worse things in the world than a middling SpongeBob movie. I’ll be back with a film that I consider the worst of 2021 so far, and you will have to wait to find out what it is! 

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!




Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 205: Kid Cosmic Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

HEADS UP: I was able to review this show early thanks to a screener.

It’s a brand new year, and that means brand new cartoons! It’s always exciting, worrying, and stressful to encounter new shows every year. You don’t know what they might unfold into, but you can also get excited for them because you are traversing into a new world made by creative individuals. I am always pumped when I see a new show from a creator I have been a fan of since I was a kid. It’s fun to watch their careers evolve and what shows they come up with. For example, one of my favorite creators, Craig McCraken, the brains behind some of the best cartoons of the past few decades, has a new show on Netflix called Kid Cosmic!

Created by Craig McCraken, Kid Cosmic is his and his team’s brand new venture into the world of animation that hit Netflix with a cool retro art style, out of this world adventures, and a cat with psychic powers. Anytime a creator I have a lot of respect for comes up with a new cartoon, it’s always worth being pumped for. It’s especially true when you have one heck of a team making the show, and a stellar voice cast. Any show that has a distinct look from the other shows coming out always gets more attention from me. Let’s stop wasting time and jump right in with Kid Cosmic

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Our story plops us right down in the middle of nowhere. I’m assuming somewhere like New Mexico/Nevada desert location. Maybe West Texas if we want to extend it. Our main character is Kid, voiced by Jack Fisher. He lives with his grandfather Papa G, voiced by Keith Ferguson. The kid has a wild imagination that is filled with comic books and sci-fi. He lives with a small group of people that include a teen named Jo, voiced by Amanda C. Miller, a little girl named Rosa, voiced by Lily Rose Silver, and a few others. We also must make sure to include the best character of the show, Tuna Sandwich, a chunky cat voiced by Fred Tatasciore. One night, an alien ship crashes in the mountains near the small town, and a couple of space rocks fall out of the ship. Kid gets his hands on them and finds out that each of the stones has special powers. They include multiplying clones, portals, growing giant, being psychic, and telekinesis. The kid then gets the idea to make a superhero team to protect the town from alien invasions and maybe an unknown force you will meet later on. 

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So, let’s start with this review talking about the animation. This is easily one of the strongest looking visual looks for a cartoon this year. It has a strong retro comic book style that matches the tone from Dennis the Mennis and Richie Rich, and that should be no shock since that is where a lot of the inspiration came from. It looks distinct from many shows that are coming out, and the fact that a still frame of this show looks like it came right out of a comic book illustrates how fantastic this art direction is. I know some may find the limited movements distracting since this is kind of the same style we see in shows like Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, but for me, it still looks great because of the posing and movements. They aren’t limited, they are more snappy, and each character has distinct movements. This would be a great show to study in an animation class to teach character design and character animation. Each design is so lively, and I just adore the looks of everyone. The aliens, the townsfolks, and the characters we see later on are all memorable. When the action does begin, the animation kicks a lot of tail as it’s wildly creative. 

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The music has a cool underground rock sound to it. The voice cast is also stellar all around. You have your usual quality performances from the likes of Tom Kenny and Keith Ferguson, but I also really enjoyed Fred Tatasciore and Amanda C. Miller. Jack Fisher was also a strong performer when Kid needed to be whimsical, but grounded. I shouldn’t expect anything less from Craig and his team, but they always do a fantastic job at casting their shows. As for the writing, as a comedy, it has some of the typical jokes and gags you would find in this kind of show, but it also has a lot of fun with the different powers and the situations the characters find them in. When Papa G gets the stone that makes him able to clone himself, it leads to some of the most gruesome dark comedy in a cartoon aimed at a kids audience. Quite a few of the jokes have a sharper edge to them that adults will enjoy, but the overall show has a vibe and energy to its writing that anyone can enjoy. I admire that the show does slip in little details and story beats that offer a more substantial story, but even when we get into the second half, you never feel like the story halts in its tracks to stop all of the fun comedy and action just to focus on the story. I like these characters and the fact that they weave story beats into the foreground and background while keeping up the same energy throughout the entire story. They all feel fleshed out and realized. 

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While we might be early in the year, I think Kid Cosmic is a frontrunner for one of the best new cartoons of 2021. It’s full of fantastic humor, incredible designs, vibrant animation, a pitch-perfect cast, and an overall delightful and entertaining experience. It’s a show that hits all of the right notes for me, and I can’t recommend it enough. If you have Netflix and have been craving some new original cartoons, then please watch this show. Well, this was a great show to write a review for, and I can’t wait to see what Craig does next and what a second season will bring. Next time, we will talk about a new film by the director of Long Way North. That’s right, we will be talking about Calamity


Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!



Rating: Criterion/Essentials 

The Other Side of Animation 193: Fe@rless Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

2020 has been an underwhelming year for theatrical animation. The obvious reason being COVID-19, and COVID-19 is awful. Everything has either been pushed back or is now having to either do small limited screenings at safe places like drive-thru theaters, or virtual screenings that are only viable through a computer, and requires some tedium and such if you don’t have a smart TV. As an animation critic, it’s not hard to find stuff to review. I have an immense back-catalog of films I need to write reviews for, and I’m a co-host of Tooned Up! podcast where we mostly talk about the TV shows that are on streaming services. Unfortunately, in between the major show releases and the bare-bones film releases, you will have to scavenge for any new features that may go under the radar, for both good and for bad. Guess which side Fe@rless stands on? 

Animated by Vanguard Animation, and directed by Cory Edwards, this is the newest film from the notorious low-budget feature studio that had no real marketing outside of a trailer on “not Netflix”’s main YouTube channel. For some reason, I have searched the internet, and there are no real news stories or press release articles about this film. I learned about it last month before its August 14th release, and to no real shock, the film has very few reviews, and what reviews are there are universally negative. If you want to hear me talk about this film, you can go to this link here to listen to me and my co-hosts talk about it. For now, though, these are my written thoughts and my review of the film. 

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So, how do I explain this story to everyone? We follow our lead, a young male gamer named Reid, voiced by Miles Robbins. He is the only gamer in the known world to get far in a game, Captain Lightspeed, that is notoriously difficult. He beats the second to the final level of the game as the titular hero, voiced by Jadakiss, who also happens to have three babies with superpowers. Well, within the game itself, the villain known as Arcannis, voiced by Miguel J. Pimentel, attempts to steal the babies with his henchman named Fleech, voiced by Tom Kenny. They succeed in kidnapping the babies, but then the babies end up escaping and going through a wormhole. By the way, all of this is happening while Reid is playing the game. Anyway, the wormhole opens up into the real world, and Reid has to take care of the babies, alongside his classmate who he ends up roping into the situation. It’s up to him to protect the babies and avoid the grasp of both the military and Arcannis. 

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So, while the story summary that I have given is as good as I can offer, the film goes out of its way to make this setup way more complicated. The entire story comes off like it’s the first draft of a premise that didn’t have time to go through a second or third run. Why does Captain Lightspeed need to be a videogame character? There is nothing in this film that required him to be a videogame character or having to do with games. He could have easily been a human-like alien from another galaxy. Also, the video game elements don’t come into play a whole lot for the entire story. They are brought up, the film tries to have a “don’t waste your days away playing video games, do more!”, and then the day is saved because Reid played a video game. The film doesn’t do a good job showing off how Captain Lightspeed gets from his video game realm to the real world, and somehow gets connected to one of Reid’s not-shown gamer friends. Another part of the story that doesn’t work is the villain. Arcannis is easily one of the animation world’s most non-threatening villains. He only becomes a threat, because the story, by no will of his own, gives him easy outs in terms of getting far into the plot. The story tries to have something akin to Jack Jack from The Incredibles, but it misses the entire point of Jack Jack’s storyline from the first and second Incredibles film. I know it seems unfair that I’m ripping apart the story of this film, when most bad movies, or films I considered bad, don’t get this kind of under-the-microscope treatment. It’s because in a year where the theatrical film experience has been limited to non-existent, if animated films want to come out this year, then they are going to get critically judged like the rest. It’s also the fact that the characters are bland, and the story is not engaging enough to not make me notice all of the flaws or plot holes. Like how Arcannis does eventually absorb the babies of their powers, but the babies still have their powers during the final fight. So, did Arcannis not absorb all of it? Also, why are Captain Lightspeed’s upgradable weapons, babies with superpowers? Maybe the game he’s in is notoriously difficult, but only because all of your weapons in-game are babies, and babies are, well, not useful in a fight. The film does nothing to keep you invested with the characters, the story, and the writing. This might be yet another Vanguard Animation project, but even then, the studio does have moments where there is a fun idea at hand, like with their still unreleased in the US film Charming. Once again, without really knowing, unless someone from the team wanted to speak up about it to me personally, everything feels like a first draft that got sent into production, and it shows. Everything is so bare-bones from the dialogue, the jokes, to the character dynamics, and how the overall world works. You don’t even see some characters mentioned.

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Speaking of what feels bare-bones and what didn’t get a second or third pass-through, let’s talk about the animation. I know this studio is known for having very small budgets, and you don’t need $75 mil to make a good looking film, but I will not take anyone seriously if they tell me that an Illumination Entertainment film looks worse than Fe@rless. You can make a visually stunning film on a smaller budget, and we saw that with films like On Gaku: Our Sound, but doing straight-up generic-looking CGI fare on a small budget is only going to make the film look worse, and Fe@rless looks awful. It, again, looks like a first run, in terms of animation. They are all very basic textures, movements, designs, and visuals. Normally, other studios would keep rendering, polishing, and doing what they need to in order to make it look visually better, but it’s obvious Vanguard Animation does not have that time or that’s, for some reason, not high priority. It was more important that the budget be used for Lionel Richie royalties than anything else. I know I haven’t talked about the voice cast, and that’s because it’s a mixed-to-mostly-negative bag of thoughts and comments. On one hand, the film has a predominantly black cast, which is rare for animated films, and I think that’s highly commendable. On the other hand, I think only one person gives a decent performance, while everyone else doesn’t know how to act or were given bad direction. Everyone sounds so wooden, bored, or like they aren’t even trying. The only one who is doing anything worth giving credit to is Gabrielle Union, who plays General Blazerhatch. She has one of the few funny or chuckle-worthy lines in the entire film. The problem is that you could have easily gotten voice actors for all of the roles, and they probably would have done a better job with the material. Why the heck did this film even need Susan Sarandon for a voice cameo? It’s a waste of talent that wasn’t used well at all. It’s the most bare-bones example of celebrity stunt casting being used, and the film coming out worst for it. I hate that I have to say that, but the acting is not great in this film. 

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Sometimes, there is a decent line and the character of Captain Lightspeed himself could have been a decent Saturday morning cartoon character, but outside of that, this film is bad. It’s easily the worst animated film I have seen this year, and I wish I didn’t have to say that. Not all animated films are going to be made equally, but after multiple years of seeing nothing but mediocre from Vanguard Animation, it’s disheartening. No real change seems to be at hand with the studio, and the fact that Netflix thought this should have been one of the high points of August is disappointing since Netflix is already under fire for a lot of their business decisions. I would say avoid this film, but I know people already have. If you are 100% curious to check this film out, then do so, but there are so many better films on Netflix and in general that you can watch. Well, we can only go up from here, and you know what? I want to review something I enjoy and it’s time we go back to GKIDS and Keichi Haara with Summer Days with Coo.

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time! 

Rating: Blacklist/The Worst

The Other Side of Animation 129: Batman Ninja Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

You know, there is only so much you can do with a character, before you have to start getting creative. You either find new ways to tackle a character that has been around forever, or you simply stop their story right then and there. There are also tactics and plans to be had in-between those two decisions, but when you are someone like Batman, you have pretty much done it all. Batman Ninja, directed by Junpei Mizusaki, is one of the rare DC animated features to not be tied down to the more strict DC-animated film tropes. It’s a Batman film that decided to take a big shot of anime in its veins, and that is what we got. It also had some big names attached to it, like Takashi Okazaki, who was the creator of Afro Samurai, and Yugo Kanno, who did the music for Blame!Psycho-Pass, and the PlayStation 4 game, Nioh. It’s also one of the more interesting animated features, due to its mix of CGI and 2D animation. So, is it as good as the best action anime out there? Is it one of the best DC animated films out there? Let’s find out.

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The story starts us off with Batman, dubbed this time by Roger Craig Smith, during a mission at night, as he tries to stop Gorilla Grodd, dubbed by Fred Tatasciore, from selling another mighty invention of his to the black market for supervillains. These villains include Poison Ivy, dubbed by Tara Strong, Deathstroke, dubbed by Fred Tatasciore, Two-Face, dubbed by Eric Bauza, The Penguin, dubbed by Tom Kenny, Harley Quinn, dubbed by Tara Strong, and of course, The Joker, dubbed by Tony Hale. After Batman gets into a fight with Grodd, the machine goes haywire, and sends all of them, including some of Bruce’s closest allies and partners, back into feudal-era Japan. Now, along with Catwoman, dubbed by Grey Griffin, his butler Alfred, dubbed by Adam Croasdell, Nightwing, also dubbed by Adam Croasdell, Robin, dubbed by Yuri Lowenthal, Red Robin, dubbed by Will Friedle, and Red Hood, also dubbed by Yuri Lowenthal, must stop the villains, turn back time, and save the day.

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So, what’s so amazing about this film? Well, for one of the rare occasions, DC decided to let someone else take the wheel, and they take the wheel hardBatman Ninja is unapologetically dumb, fun, over-the-top, Japanese, and it will not stand down. Out of many of the DC-animated features I have seen the past few years, this one felt like it had the most consistent tones outside of the Adam West Batman films. It’s Batman in Japan, fighting a version of the Joker, whose grand master plan is to make a giant mech, and rewrite history. It will not let up on how anime this entire film is. From the designs to the action-packed fight sequences, it was clear that they knew what they were doing. Heck, they even have giant robot fights. Again, giant robot fights between the villains and Batman in feudal Japan. While there is definitely a story arc for Batman having to remember to rely less on his gadgets and more on his closest allies and his own skill, it’s balanced out enough within the main plot to keep you invested among the insanity.

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While I was fairly disappointed in how this film was going to be mostly CGI, and CGI on a small budget can be a gamble if you do not have the right creative team, I felt like it worked. Sure, they act like puppets sometimes, but the models used are way more expressive, detailed, and they feel like they have some kind of life to them. I was concerned about how action sequences would be handled, but I never found it distracting that they were CGI. The action is fast, brutal, satisfying, full of energy, and very entertaining to watch. The last fight between Batman and Joker is probably one of the best fights among these animated DC features. I never found myself wondering what the heck was going on during the fights. I think that’s because, unlike the Berserk anime series that uses CGI, Batman Ninja has proper direction in how the fights flow. On top of the crazy action, the color pallet is used well, the CGI models look good on the 2D planes, and they even have an entire surreal sequence done in 2D animation, and it looks fantastic. The music by Yugo Kanno was also matched up well with the film’s pacing and style. The big action theme that plays near the end is quite heart-pounding, and it makes the final fight so intense to watch.

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In terms of the voice cast, I was surprised. While we have some returning faces like Roger Craig Smith, Tom Kenny and Tara Strong reprising their roles as Batman, Penguin, and Harley Quinn, the rest of the voice cast is pretty spot-on. I was curious to see how Tony Hale would do as The Joker, and while a bit off-putting at first, he does a good job capturing that zany crazy nature of the character. As you can tell, many of the actors in this film pull double shifts with voicing multiple characters, but they are each unique sounding enough to not be an issue or a distracting element to the overall film. It was also simply fun to see other villains outside of the main Batman library, like Gorilla Grodd, who is definitely one of the more entertaining aspects of the film.

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While I do love this film in terms of how willing it is to be not only visually creative, but fun with its plot and setting, I do have a few complaints. I get why they used CGI animation, and it’s not the worst I have seen, but it definitely shows itself at times with how limiting it is. Sometimes characters seem more like puppets, and less like actual characters that are on the screen. It’s even more distracting when you can tell that not everyone is a CGI model. It is better than what I have seen Polygon Pictures or the Berserk series use, but I wish they went full-stop 2D animation for this film. For as fun as the action is, the final battle that is not Batman and The Joker is really underwhelming. You have all of these amazing villains and characters with the unlimited creativity of anime fight sequences, and the villains end up losing in under a minute. It’s really underwhelming, because all the other action sequences in the film are great. The one full 2D sequence was fun to see in the film, but it sticks out like a sore thumb. I don’t think I fully got why it was only that one scene, and why it was animated in such a way. The rest of the complaints are minor, like even though I respect how much the film wrapped itself up in the anime culture, some parts were just a bit much, like the little monkey sidekick. Some of Batman’s sidekicks also don’t have a lot to do, or get that many line reads.

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Overall, Batman Ninja is just a fun movie. By the end of the year, it probably won’t be in my top ten or five, depending on what else comes out, but it will be one that people should definitely pick up. If you were burned by their other animated features, definitely pick this one up. I had a lot of fun, and it’s easily one of the most entertaining DC animated films you can get right now. For now, we must move on to the 130th review as we take a look at another film that may be good or bad for infamous reasons. I won’t say what it is, but you will have to see next time! Thanks for reading the review! I hope you enjoyed it, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!