Shojiro Nishimi, Futoshi Higashide, Hiroshi Morioka, Yasuhiro Aoki, Toshiyuki Kubooka & Jong-Sik Nam | 73 mins | DVD | 15 / PG-13
Gotham Knight is an American-Japanese produced anime — the animation is Japanese and anime-styled, but the original soundtrack is English — that aims to bridge the gap between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. In this case that equates to six short films, with some narrative connections, strung together to make a movie.
Overseen by executive produce Bruce Timm (Batman: The Animated Series, and most of the DCAU) and all with story credits to Jordan Goldberg (Nolan’s assistant on Batman Begins and now associate producer on The Dark Knight), the shorts, in order of appearance, are:
Compiling that list, one has to wonder about the blurb’s claim that these shorts are directed by “some of the world’s most visionary animators”. I suppose the key word is “animators” (rather than “directors”), as some have worked on things like Neon Genesis Evangelion, various iterations of Gundam, and even Akira. Regardless of their level of experience, they all seem to do a fine job here, even managing a couple of vaguely memorable moments among fairly stock dialogue scenes and effective, if occasionally unoriginal, fights.
The six-stories/one-film concept works well enough on the whole. While these are clearly standalone pieces in terms of style and each telling a complete story, they still work best when viewed together — most follow on from the preceding entry and some elements skip across films. These links are nicely varied. For example, while the end of Film 1 merely leads directly to Film 2, there’s a relatively minor action at the end of Film 3 that is picked up in Film 5, and a large chunk of Film 3 is spent on something seemingly insignificant that is picked up on in Film 6. There are some missed opportunities in this respect, such as the transition from the fourth to fifth entries. It would be neater if Batman’s injury in Film 5 was the one from Film 4; based on the settings and their consecutive sequence, I presume this is what was intended, so it’s a shame the wound’s in a completely different place.
Gotham Knight seems to be squarely aimed at fans — who else could work out that the long-haired mustachioed crime lord here is actually Eric Roberts’ character in The Dark Knight! This is just one of several other factors that seem strange considering Gotham Knight is meant to bridge Nolan’s two live-action Bat-epics: Alfred is the traditional posh Englishman; few/no other characters sound like their Nolan-era counterparts; one segment even features the Burton-style Batmobile! It’s also a shame that the Scarecrow short isn’t last as it would lead even more directly into The Dark Knight. On the other hand, it succeeds in crafting a decent-enough ‘real world’ explanation for Killer Croc, which is no small feat, and Kevin Conroy, now in his mid-50s, still makes a good younger Batman. Thankfully he doesn’t attempt Bale’s over-done Bat-voice, though a nod in that direction might’ve been nice.
I’ve managed to get this far without invoking The Animatrix, unquestionably the forefather of this and other similar projects. Gotham Knight takes the concept a step further by linking its shorts so clearly, and while it’s not wholly satisfying in this respect, it’s a successful enough step in the right direction. If we do get a The Dark Knight 2, I’d be quite happy to see another direct-to-DVD effort in this vein.