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This Week in Anime
Is Suicide Squad ISEKAI DC's Best Anime Adaptation to Date?

by Christopher Farris & Steve Jones,

Suicide Squad ISEKAI is DC Comic's latest journey into the world of anime and manga but it's far from the first. So how does it stack up to previous attempts? And what about the anime-inspired critical darling My Adventures with Superman?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

Suicide Squad Isekai is currently streaming on Hulu, while Batman: Gotham Knight and Batman Ninja are available to rent on Amazon. My Adventures with Superman is available on Max, while Joker: One Operation Joker and Superman vs. Meshi can be read on DC Universe Infinite.

@Lossthief @BeeDubsProwl @LucasDeRuyter @vestenet

Steve, it's time for the Fourth of July, meaning it's time to celebrate possibly the only hero who can save us. That's right, I'm talking about a classic comic book icon—that red, white, and blue symbol of the free-spirited American way who has captured the hearts of millions with feats of strength and some wholesomely attractive appeal.

Happy Independence Day from Harley, anime fans!
Let me tell you, Chris, I have never felt better about the state of this beautiful nation we call our home. There's nothing America can't do. Our possibilities are limitless. We're number one. So why shouldn't one of the two largest comic book publishers try their hand at the anime/manga thing? What's the worst that could happen? America always bounces back.
We're a column for commentary on anime, not politics, which is probably best for both our and our readers' blood pressure, and means we have the benefit of getting to be cautiously optimistic about the output of one "DC" in this country.
Ah, DC Comics. They've had an interesting past decade or so, to put it gently. While Marvel built a cinematic universe monolith brick by brick, DC spent a lot of time on a lot of fits and starts that never coalesced into a legitimate competitor. And even though Marvel's movie empire seems more or less cooked by now, DC ceded the floor and bowed out early last year. C'est la vie, right? Now, though, we can perceive the true machinations behind that decision. In giving up on dominance in this universe, DC set their eyes on...another world.
Man I couldn't even keep up with the flagrant fulfillments of self-insert Japanese teens, now they're letting actual superpowered comic characters into the isekai!

It makes sense when you think about it though. There's a not-insignificant overlap between the types of viewers who imprint the wish-fulfillment isekai protagonists and those who think the Joker is the most revelatory, inspirational character out there.
There are lots of good reasons why an outfit like DC might see greener grass on the Japanese side of the media. For one, the manga market veritably exploded in the past decade. Despite box office numbers in the billions, American comic publishers weren't really able to capitalize on that success and have it trickle down into their print media. Clearly, manga and anime are doing something right that they aren't. And if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
I don't know if it was a unified look at manga and anime methods on behalf of the whole company. Lord knows it seems DC has never been able to do anything on a "unified" level. But it's interesting to see the various angles their different departments arrived at their release of classic comic stories collected in "Compact Comics" versions: 5.5" x 8.5" trades sold for $9.99.

That's right, at long last, Western comics publishers have discovered the power of tankoubon!

Like, duh! It's the perfect format. I mean, I'm obviously biased. Not only am I currently writing for a website with "anime" in its title, but I never really got into comics as a kid. And I think the high barrier of entry was a big factor in that. If I had easy access to cheap, full volumes of those stories, I might have found the magic in those spider boys and bat guys.
Incidentally, I did go through a pretty strong DC phase back in the day, and was already pretty heavy into anime at the time, too. Ironically, this meant I wasn't terribly receptive to the aggressively anime-styled Teen Titans 'toon of 2003, which I felt was a downgrade from the Titans comics I was following at the time. Still, that show, complete with a J-pop theme song, stands as an example of DC having had an eye toward the Japanese influence for a while.
Yeah, most of my affection for DC characters stemmed from their cartoons in the '90s and early '00s. And, having no frame of reference from the comics, I actually really dug Teen Titans for a good bit because it was so anime. And because Raven was in it.
Maybe I'd enjoy Teen Titans more today. I've settled down in my old age enough now to realize that there's plenty of fun to be had with a distilled down, anime-styled adaptation of a storied DC property, especially if there's an introductory cute cartoon lady up front to draw me in.
My Adventures with Superman really tapped into a lot of uncharted neural territory, at least in the circles I run in. When the first season aired last summer, I saw people who never once mentioned Superman suddenly and viscerally understand the whole appeal of his character. Turns out, you just gotta make him moe. And destroy his shirt sometimes.
Real ones know that the best versions of Clark have always had him as a big teddy bear, and the anime aesthetic is pretty much perfect for showing that off. It also helps the contrast that we've been waist-deep in angsty, angry Supermans in live-action format for a while now, so a version that's a big goofy sweetie stands out in the best way.
Anime technology is not to be trifled with! And, DC or not, I think it's good we're seeing more and more Western animators embracing those influences and wearing them on their sleeves. But anime-inspired is also distinct from anime proper. And if we rack our focus back to DC's dalliances with "true" anime/manga, that too takes us back to the mid-2000s. Anybody remember CMX, DC's long-defunct manga imprint?
I do! I mostly remember not realizing it was from DC for a good while, which either speaks to how up-front they wanted to be about their own branding or my overall awareness of publishers back in the day. Looking through their catalog, CMX scored some not-insignificant licenses in its short, six-year run. It seems they also scored some controversy for thinking people would be happy with bowdlerized Tenjho Tenge.
That's basically the only thing I vaguely remember CMX for. Obviously, that was a terrible decision, but it goes to show just how much the market has changed since then. It's also an understandable point of friction, though. I mean, that's kinda the crux of this column. How does an all-American comics/cartoon powerhouse like DC square the circle when it comes to anime/manga? What kind of balance do they try to find? Should they even be trying?
It feels like the opportunity was always there. I mean, Superman may be all about truth, justice, and the American way, but he's still such a worldwide icon that the likes of Akira Toriyama were shoutin' him out. And anime and manga have been enjoying waves of popularity over here on DC's home turf for generations. It makes sense that not five years after Teen Titans premiered, ol' Detective Comics Comics would try a medium marriage in earnest with actual-factual Batman anime.

Or Batmanime, if you will.
Batman: Gotham Knight is a project I think I respect more than I like. But it's cool we got it. I actually wish we had more Animatrix-style anthologies from this era. Granted, it made more immediate sense for the weeaboo stylings of The Matrix than for the Nolan Batman trilogy, but anything that lets animators stretch their legs beyond the TV and movie formats is a good thing, I think.

It also feels like it still fits a little better than that Halo one they did, anyway. I was pretty much in the perfect place to dig Gotham Knight when it came out, and I was surprised by how much I still enjoyed it on rewatch today. Even if some of the anthology's attempts to tie an overarching story between vignettes are kinda clunky, and I am always unprepared for Bee Train's bishounen Bruce Wayne.

Also, dang if it wasn't nice to go back and get to hear the late, great Kevin Conroy playing Batman in something.
True that! It's also kinda crazy it took so many live-action iterations for them to finally figure out how much you can capitalize on an actor (i.e. Robert Pattinson) who can capture those gloomy bishounen vibes. As always, anime is ahead of the curve.
Granted, the shuffled studio lineup of Gotham Knight means this Bruce spends about as much time in bishie mode as he does basically looking like Sterling Archer, but such is art.

Oh hey, and Deadshot is in this too, that'll be surprisingly relevant a bit later.
Before that, there's another anime pit stop on the way to isekai of the Suicide Squad variety, with the cryptically named Batman Ninja.

There's simply no way to tell what this movie could be about.
Look, given that this one is technically also an isekai, we're probably lucky they went with such a succinct title.
Fair point. And like Suicide Squad Isekai, it's kinda charming how bluntly it commits to its conceit. I'm sure if I fed your brain the prompt "Batman gets thrown back into feudal Japan," it would instantaneously come up with a movie that would very closely resemble this one.
Half the time it feels like it was conceived to sell a line of specially themed ninja Batman action figures, similar to those ones where he was a knight or a pirate or whatever, complete with bringing a bunch of his friends and enemies along for the redesigned ride.

Sidebar: Deathstroke is here, played by Fred Tatasciore in the dub, who's doing a fine job. But I'm already way too attached to the fundamentally insane casting choice of Chris Parnell for the character over in My Adventures With Superman.
Whatever their reasons for making it, it did well enough to garner a recently announced sequel, so the Caped Crusader's adventures in Glorious Nippon aren't over yet.
I know that TWIA alum Nicky really loved this one when she watched it, so I'd been curious to check it out. I don't know that I got into it quite so much, but there is some sense of appreciable artistry here. Kamikaze Douga's bringing their well-known CGI style to things, and you can certainly tell they got Kazuki Nakashima to write it.
Seriously, what's not to love about a feature-length film that looks like a JoJo's opening? Also, any instinct to roll my eyes at how much "anime" stuff they try to cram into this is overpowered by my love for when a big robot appears out of nowhere. If it's stupid and it works, it ain't stupid. I mean, in this case, it still is, but I won't complain about that.
It's very much leaning into the absurdity of it all. There's just a bit of that winking treatment of the kind of ridiculousness general audiences would expect when they hear of a "Batman anime", all giant robots, ninjas, samurai, and animal sidekicks.

It's authentically a DC anime, but it's also the one of these that feels the most like it's doing a bit.
And I think that's what pulls it back from cohering into something actually great. It's at an arm's length instead of a full embrace. But don't get me wrong, I love a good bit. Look no further than one of DC's recent full-bore manga offerings, in which Batman turns into a baby with the Joker as his surrogate father. No, you didn't read any of that incorrectly. It's real.
The bizarrely titled Joker: One Operation Joker is one of those ones that made the rounds a couple of years ago on meme value. "Joker Chance!" and all that. So it's cool to see DC properly capitalize on making it officially available in English on their DC Universe Infinite platform, alongside the Batman: Justice Buster manga and that Superman manga where he tries out different Japanese foods.

They're even getting print releases too! So we're a long way off from the days of CMX.
I think American comics have been playing catch-up with manga for a good while, but now it finally seems like they're trying to catch up in earnest. And if that means making Lois Lane a cute tomboy and having Superman salivate over a bowl of ramen, then so be it.
It's honestly kinda rad that my mostly lapsed DC fanboyism has been able to find a new outlet with all these anime and anime-inspired takes the company has embraced. Like I'm never gonna catch back up with the comics, and I'm pretty sure Batman v. Superman scared me off the movies for good. But a new Supergirl with an Android 18 fit and a Lio Fotia haircut? I'm there.
And I'm also more there for Suicide Squad Isekai than I would have anticipated based on its name, premise, and almost every other facet of its production. The summer's had pretty slim pickings so far, to be fair, but I had a surprisingly good time with these first three episodes.

Yeah, I'm not going to front that this wasn't one I was preparing for with a healthy dose of eye-rolling irony, regardless of my backlog of experience with the company. I mean, it's the Joker and Harley Quinn and isekai anime, how could it not seem like the most naked appeal to played-out trends since that Avengers toys-to-life game?

Against all odds though, Suicide Squad Isekai might really be the most successful of DC's anime dalliances yet. At least so far.
It's charming! In a big dumb way, but that's the right direction to lean into with a premise like this. It also helps that it emits tangible energy and creativity. Like, the opening scene features the Joker driving his getaway car by playing a jazzy piano number on the keyboard he has in lieu of a steering wheel. That's the most fun I've seen concentrated into a Joker activity in at least a decade or two.
He's just making his way downtown, walking fast, faces past, and he's homebound.

For real though, having fun is a good point about what's worked about this show so far. We've all talked at length about how perfunctory the isekai concept feels in so many seasonal shows, but Suicide Squad feels properly irreverent towards these kinds of fantasy riffs instead of just pointing out tropes out of obligation.

Okay it does do that, but it's through this show's version of Clayface and the way it uses him makes him probably my favorite part so far.
It really helps that everyone else in the Squad groans at Clayface's shit every time he starts doing that. Having a cast full of haters is an absolute boon in this setting.
Turns out a self-aware isekai protag is way more tolerable when he's getting owned at every turn.
The show also clicked for me once I realized that it's more or less treating the Suicide Squad like an isekai'd version of Dirty Pair. They get called in, make a huge mess, and leave everything worse off than if they had stayed at home. That's a strong bit that, again, tempers the usual self-absorbed navel-gazing of the genre.
Now that's a comparison that's going to endear me to them even more. Hey, they've even got the gang bumping into people from their pasts they've previously wronged to let more hijinks ensue like the Lovely Angels would!

Here's Deadshot back exactly as I promised, by the way. He's significantly cooler-slash-funnier here than he was in Gotham Knight.
Alas, DC's censors are back too. Significantly cuter this time around, though.
Look, they know they've got something with this Harley Quinn design. I say let them use it.
Harley ended up being my favorite part of the DCEU, and they've transposed her character similarly well into the anime world, i.e. lots of good faces.

I'm sure most people wouldn't argue with an anime Poison Ivy for her to make out with, but so far she seems to be eating well.
I'm also praying that her resemblance to the Isekai Princess means the show is foreshadowing some goofy Turn A Gundam-caliber switcheroo shenanigans.
My god, this isekai anime has me genuinely curious about a princess-and-the-pauper-ass plotline. Maybe Suicide Squad Isekai really is doing things right.
It's cooking! Naturally, there's every possibility in the world that its strong start could fizzle out, but it's an achievement in itself to prompt me to look forward to episode four of an anime titled Suicide Squad Isekai. That's an uphill battle they've won with aplomb.
It certainly seems to confirm that further embracing anime avenues is something DC should keep looking into. As we've uncovered in looking at several of these entries, those influences were the secret sauce it took to bring out the best qualities in so many of their classic characters. If Suicide Squad Isekai is the hit they clearly want it to be, it'll be interesting to see where else they go with it.

Magical Girls Birds of Prey? Secret Six Slice-of-Life? Legend of the Galactic Green Lantern Heroes? The possibilities are endless.
Whether you're in an isekai or a regular ol' sekai, it's an anime world out there. And there's no escape. You're stuck here with us. Embrace it. Or else.

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