July 8, 2008
As a big fan of Batman and an obvious fan of anime, Gotham Knight was definitely something I had been looking forward to. While fun to watch though, this series of shorts kind of left more to be desired… then again, considering it’s to lead into The Dark Knight, that may be a good thing.
STORY – It’s kind of hard to review six standalone works all at once while simultaneously trying to be succinct, but I don’t think I have the attention span right now to detail each one individually (and I’m long-winded enough as it is). The shorts collected within Gotham Knight are supposed to take place in between the events of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight; to that end then, they work okay, avoiding major villains and touching on various lesser themes within the Batman franchise. Each short sort of reminded me of a summarized version of an episode of Batman: The Animated Series, especially the first one, Have I Got a Story For You, which I swear has the exact premise if a TAS episode. Each story is self-contained, but vague, and even though it was possible to draw connecting threads between some of them (always nice), such as In Darkness Dwells and Working Through Pain, I wasn’t really wowed by any of them. At best, they were just decent episodes, not good enough for real praise, but not bad enough to trash.
The final short, Deadshot was probably my favorite, if only because it had all the elements of a classic Batman — action, mild suspense, and a demonstration of Batman’s awesome skill (though he is never without weakness). Working Through Pain and Field Test are runners up because they contribute at least a little bit to Batman’s very complex personality and psyche, and as morality and the mind in general are very prevalent themes in Batman, those two shorts felt rather necessary in helping to further develop and prepare the character for The Dark Knight. Bruce’s line at the end of Field Test is especially memorable: “I’m willing to put my life on the line, but it has to be my life.”
CHARACTER – There seem to be two central goals in Gotham Knight: one, describing Bruce/Batman’s progression as a character in between the two live action movies, and two, detailing the public’s perception of the Batman as he rises in both fame and infamy. Each of the six shorts meet at least one of these two goals, though I’d venture to say that none of them do it particularly well. The complexity of Batman’s character is one of the main reasons I’ve always been a fan. Sure, his backstory is one tragedy in a world of many, but the determination he has to both make up for his weakness as a child and to grow up past the sadness is admirable. It’s incredibly interesting to see him in conflict with everything that stands in his way — criminals, the police, Gotham’s society, and of course, himself and his own mind. Batman has always been a great character, but the real question is whether Gotham Knight do him justice. The nature of the shorts — basically, the fact that they are indeed short — limits the depth of exploration; they do okay with what they’re given, but they had so much more potential that it just ends up being a little disappointing in the end.
The other characters that make appearances, Gordon, Fox, Ramirez, and Cassandra, get even less time for development than Batman, so it makes sense that they don’t really get any depth. Still, the shorts establish or re-emphasize their relationships to Batman, and for Gordon and Fox, this is valuable as material leading into The Dark Knight since they only just made allies out of the Batman in Batman Begins. It’s passable.
ARTSTYLE & ANIMATION – Each of the six shorts employed their own animation style, but I wasn’t really impressed with any of them. Have I Got a Story to Tell had some gorgeous urban backgrounds, but the characters were depicted in that rounded, lazy-looking style that really contrasted with the detail of everything else. It isn’t bad, per se, but I’m personally not a fan. For Field Test, it was actually kind of disturbing to see Bruce Wayne as a generic bishounen. It’s perfectly understandable, seeing as he’s supposed to be a playboy and all, but that didn’t stop it from being disturbing. Especially with Lucius Fox winking at him every other scene. D8 Other than that, the only real thing to note artwise is the variety in costume design. Batman’s suit does from having actual heavy armor to looking pretty true to its movie design; once again, none of them really struck me as particularly impressive, but none were flat out hideous either.
MUSIC – The usual Batman theme stuff for the most part. Awesome, but nothing really to note.
VOICE ACTING – I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was psyched to see that Kevin Conroy was going to reprise his role as Bruce Wayne/Batman for Gotham Knight. His is easily the most definitive and recognizable voice for the character, and it just wouldn’t have been the same without him. For those who don’t know, Conroy started as the voice for the role in The Animated Series, and then went on to play almost every animated appearance of Batman, including roles in the Batman Beyond, the Justice League, subsequent movies, and guest appearances in Superman: The Animated Series and Static Shock. In any case, Conroy does a great job once again; he sounds exactly as he had ten years ago, and that familiarity is really great.
The rest of the cast, while not from TAS, seem to mimic their predecessors very well. For me, since TAS played such a big part in my Batman fandom history, I’ve come to view most of the voices done in the series as “canon,” and so when the cast in Gotham Knight seem able to pick up their parts so well, I was happy.
OVERALL – Gotham Knight was good as filler material between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and it’s always great seeing these grand collaborations between American and Japanese companies. But as a standalone work, I would consider it a little disappointing. The technical aspects were all on the high ends of things, but its very specific timeframe gave it little wiggle room as far as story goes, which is really too bad. So yeah, in the end, I guess it just depends on how you look at it. In either case, it’s worth a watch.