New York Comic-Con 2017 News Roundup
New York Comic-Con 2017: First Look: Batman Ninja
by Rai Kelly,
Anime News Network's coverage of New York Comic-Con is sponsored by Tokyo Ghoul: The Movie
For generations, Batman has been enjoyed by fans of all ages. Although it originated in North America, the series has been popular all over the world, including Japan. At the same time, anime originated in Japan and has become a phenomenon globally, especially in the United States. Now, these two beloved mediums are joining together in an amalgamation of Western and Eastern culture. Batman Ninja, set to release in 2018, is a Japanese animated movie about Batman.
The leading team on the film is Junpei Mizusaki as the director, Takashi Okazaki as the character designer, and Kazuki Nakashima as the writer. These three Japanese artists along with Leo Chu and Eric Garcia, who are in charge of the English version of the movie, appeared as guests at a panel at New York Comic Con on October 5th. After all of the guests appeared on stage, the panel began with introductory discussion about the film.
Mizusaki, Okazaki, and Nakashima were approached by Warner Bros. and asked to make a Batman film a few years ago. As fans of Batman, they all agreed to the project and have been working on it for the past three years. The synopsis of the film is that modern day Batman time travels (as well as the other characters) to medieval Japan during the Warring States. This allows for a story with both Batman and a traditional Japanese atmosphere. However, Mizusaki explained that they never consciously wanted to make it “Japanese” or anime style. Because all of them have much experience in the anime industry, the art style and other anime elements came naturally to the film. Additionally, Batman has been very famous in Japan for decades, so the crew was already familiar with his character and background. Nakashima did his best to preserve the original character's personalities in his writing, and Okazaki was very conscious of his designs. He purposely made the character designs ninja-like, but made sure to still leave some of the character's original physical elements so the audience could still recognize who it was.
And the result is phenomenal. A never-before-seen teaser trailer was played at the panel. The moment the animation appeared on the screen, the crowd erupted. The animation style is in 3D and is somehow both languid yet strangely realistic. The colors are dark, reminiscent of Batman's dark aesthetic, but also eye-popping. Throughout the trailer, Batman's suit was clad in traditional samurai armor. As for the Joker, his outfit is very recognizable with his iconic purple jacket and crazy green hair. His facial features are very exaggerated, but in a way that perfectly fits the Joker. And his voice was probably the most impressive. Deep, sinister, and insane, but still believable. His voice echoed throughout the room, along with the sound effects from the fight scenes. And there are a lot of fight scenes. The trailer showed snippets of Batman and Joker battling in several different ways. Batman was shown wielding both a katana and cool tech. Joker used his usual tricks to aggravate Batman, such as explosions and other ruses. Besides those two, Robin and Harley Quinn were shown in the trailer. And apparently, they aren't the only other characters making appearances.
After the trailer was shown, the Q&A continued with more specific questions about the film.
What was it like using so many different Batman characters and were there any you particularly liked?
Kazuki Nakashima: I can't tell you everything because I don't want to spoil anything, but there is a scene between the Joker and Harley Quin that is very close to my heart.
Takashi Okazaki: I love all of the characters, but I love Batman the most because he is the main character.
Junpei Mizusaki: I have to say it would be Gorilla Grodd. Because he is my favorite character, I wanted him to appear strong and sexy.
Eric Garcia: The designs were so incredible… I guess I really liked Robin. It was just really new and interesting and fresh.
Leo Chu: We wouldn't be here if it weren't for these three guys here. My favorite, besides the Joker who might be the best Joker I have ever seen, is the Penguin. I say that because I feel like there is a lot of hate for the Penguin and I'm on Team Penguin.
Kazuki Nakashima: My favorite character is the Joker, but he was the most difficult to write. I also would have to say Gorilla Grodd, but he was the most difficult character to direct.
How do you go about choreographing the fight scenes?
Junpei Mizusaki: If we want to make it look real, we have to do it in real life. What we do is take two actors who are both proficient in using the katana and have them face off against each other, act out the scene that I have envisioned in my head. We film it in live action and then we have the animators and myself review it on film. Then we go from there to actually drawing it in animation.
How did you guys go about translating and putting this story in the English language?
Leo Chu: It was extremely difficult, but we have a long history of working with Japanese animation and anime in particular. Something that Warner Brothers did very right in this process is that they very much left the film makers alone, so what you are gonna see is something very authentically anime. They asked us to make it authentically Batman, at least the Western understanding of what Batman is, so we approached it from that point of view.
Eric Garcia: We aren't seeing Japan through the eyes of Batman. We are seeing Batman through the eyes of the Japanese. What we have seen from the teaser trailer is that there was so much love for Batman in this and basically every frame has some great surprise visually and story wise. It's really an art.
Leo Chu: During our process, we get a very rough story board and a very rough translation of the Japanese. Then we kind of start weaving your story and themes and all that stuff. It's very much the art adaption as opposed to a literal translation.
You also had a degree of difficulty having to write the words to match what is already animated. What was that like?
Leo Chu: It's pretty tough. From my understanding, most anime is sort of dubbed. The process is Japan is different and a lot of the voice recording comes at the end. That's what it was like when we worked with Miyazaki. He would animate it and figure out the dialogue later. The US audiences are very exacting about sync and the tradition of anime in Japan is much looser.
Eric Garcia: As tough as it was, it is exciting pretty exciting. What made it difficult was the really long scenes where a character speaks for a while because you have to try to catch some kind of rhythm. But one thing that really helped it was that the animation was so great.
How did you guys get the music and the group that put it together? It is really strong.
Junpei Mizusaki: In fact, we didn't get around to working on the music until the art was almost complete and once we had that, we were pretty confident that what people would think of it. So I asked Warner “Please get us the best person out there.”
Junpei, I have read that your personal motto is “Compromise means death.” How did that translate to your direction in Batman Ninja?
Junpei Mizusaki: For example, when I got the initial character designs from Okazaki, there would be incredible detail, and I thought if I had to take away some these lines, I would rather die! In terms of the screenplay, it would be nonstop continuous action with one climax after another and if we were to put it all on the screen, the poor animators would suffer from all of the work they had to do. But if I had to cut out any of this, I would rather die!
Next, the panel allowed members of the audience to ask questions, and some were very interesting or insightful.
Who would you want Batman to interact with from your culture of heroes and villains?
Kazuki Nakashima: Naruto
Takashi Okazaki: Afro Samurai
Junpei Mizusaki: Jojo!
Can we expect anything in terms of new characters or villains?
Kazuki Nakashima: The classical characters are the majority of those that appear.
Leo Chu: I would add that the classic characters are so reinterpreted that they feel really new.
What was the most difficult part?
Leo Chu: Translating cultural storytelling traditions. There is a different narrative tradition in Japan. Trying to create a cohesion that would work not just with anime fans but also Batman fans who may not be fans of anime. Also, a lot of humor is difficult to translate and adapt into another language.
Eric Garcia: The imagination of these Japanese artists is incredible. When they put all of these characters into a story and all of the elements… it kind of mind-blowing. There is just so much in there. So our job is to make it accessible, to make more narrative cohesion and make it a story American audiences can latch on to… that was really the challenge. To make all of those elements sing and come together.
After this project, what is the next super hero adaption are you going to do?
Kazuki Nakashima: I am afraid that we did such a great job on this and worked so hard on this project, I think we are going to be fired and different staff will be put together for the next project.
Leo Chu: If this is successful, I think Warner Brothers will want to make more.
You brought your experience from other projects, so I was wondering what were the major elements that contributed to this film?
Junpei Mizusaki: For me myself, in terms of directing this work, this is probably one of the longest pieces we have worked on. I wanted to make sure to produce something of good quality, so I gathered top staff in every category from everywhere I could and they all brought their prior experience. There is not one title or project that I can name personally but it is an accumulation of all of the staff's varying projects and experiences
Kazuki Nakashima: There are things I incorporated and learned from Gurren Lagan that I have adapted for this project.
Takashi Okazaki: I would say I pitched everything, not just Afro Samurai but everything I have ever worked on, into this project and put 200% of my energy into designing Ninja Batman, so I would be more than thrilled if all you enjoy it.
After this final question, they played the trailer one more time and the crowd erupted once again. The film is expected in 2018, and will include both Japanese and English releases on Blu-ray and DVD.
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