Batham: Gotham Knight

If The Matrix did one thing right, it was spawning an anime anthology. A prestige project that turned out to be the perfect way to help sell the wide appeal of anime in the West. It got others thinking and it led to some very interesting cross-overs along the way. Batman: Gotham Knight was one of DC's attempts to cash in on the hype, and the result is nothing to sniff at. With the help of Madhouse, Studio 4°C, and Production I.G, some of Japan's leading animation studios, they crafted several alternate versions of the Batman universe, gathering them into one tight anthology film.

screencap of Batman: Gotham Knight

It's not that the Batman franchise has stuck to one core style over the years, but Batman is one of the most "American" superheroes of the bunch and the art styles associated with his adventures have always reflected that. It makes it extra interesting to see a franchise like the Batman one mangled through the eyes of manga/anime, as it shows the impact a mere visual makeover can have on such a property. Suddenly this isn't your all-American superhero anymore, but a mere man in a bat costume, which opens up a whole new realm of possibilities, happily explored by seven Asian directors.

Have I Got a Story for You is one of the two Studio 4°C entries present, and those who are familiar with Tekkonkinkreet will no doubt recognize the art style. The backgrounds are meticulous, the different takes on Batman as told by each character are interesting and the animation is nothing less than stunning. It's maybe not the ideal way to open the anthology, as you're starting with one of the very best entries, but the people at 4°C are absolute masters at nailing these types of 10-minute long shorts and it shows. A perfect example of why I'm such a big anthology fan.4.5*/5.0*

Crossfire is second in line and is still very much worth a look. It's a Production I.G short, and while not quite as good as its predecessor it illustrates how even minor touches can make a big difference overall. The short looks and feels way more like a traditional Batman animation, but thanks to the music and the meticulous direction it's obvious we're dealing with a Japanese production. The story is a bit basic, but the art style and animation are quality and the music adds plenty of atmosphere in the right places. A very nice glow-up. 4.0*/5.0*

screencap of Batman: Gotham Knight

The third short is Field Test, produced by Bee Train. It's one of the lesser shorts of the bunch, as it fails to set itself apart in any meaningful way. Yes, the art style is a bit more detailed and the animation feels like a step up from the usual Batman fare, but the story is basic, and the short struggles to craft any memorable moments. In projects like Gotham Knight, you must fight hard to stand out, otherwise you disappear in the background. On the other hand, when the worst short film of the bunch is still a solid entry, that's nothing to scoff at. 3.0*/5.0*

In Darkness Dwells is a big step up from the previous two and is somewhat reminiscent of Studio 4°C's Detective Story short featured in The Animatrix (this one is handled by Madhouse though). It sports a somewhat similar grainy and noir-drenched art style, one that fits the Batman universe like a glove. The plot is very elementary, pitting Batman against a monster hiding in the crypts of a cathedral, but combined with the moody visuals it proves to be the perfect setting for this film. Anthologies are ideal for a bit of style over substance filmmaking, and that's exactly what you're getting here. 4.5*/5.0*

Working Through Pain is the second Studio 4°C project, and it's a slightly more conceptual one. Batman finds himself seriously wounded in the sewers. He treats the wound and slowly tries to get himself back to safety, remembering several moments in his life that had him working through worse pains. The art style and animation quality are fine but don't quite measure up against most of the other shorts here. It's more than decent anthology filler and it provides a nice break from the traditional Batman tales, but it's not entirely successful. 3.5*/5.0*

screencap of Batman: Gotham Knight

Deadshot is the final entry in the anthology, and it's a signature Madhouse production. It is said Yoshiaki Kawajiri helped out with this one and I wouldn't be surprised at all. From the buff, squarish art style to the polished animation and typical use of CG, this just oozes classic Madhouse. I'm quite fond of their older work so I definitely enjoyed the film a lot. It's one of the simpler ones, with Batman confronting one of the villains, but having a mindless action short to close off a tightly packed and varied anthology certainly wasn't the worst idea. Good stuff. 4.0*/5.0*

If you're an anthology nut like me and you appreciate the work of Studio 4°C, Production I.G, and Madhouse then you should seek this one out, regardless of how invested in the Batman franchise you are. The animation is top-notch, the art styles are bold and out there, and with six separate stories to tell there's plenty of variation. Batman fares well in anime land. Gotham Knight isn't the best in class, for that the competition is a little too steep and the film does lack that one incredible standout short, but if you're looking for a classy anime anthology, you won't be disappointed.