From "Gotham Knight" to Rising Sun: Discovering Anime via Gotham City
Walking into the anime section of your local video store or retailer can be a rather intimidating experience. It’s like walking into the jazz or classical section of the CD section: without a little bit of knowledge, the breadth of the selection and the many similar-sounding names can result in confusion, bewilderment, and a lot of wasted time and money in blind experiments.
However, the release of Batman Gotham Knight can be a perfect hook into the anime section for those who want to explore its riches, but don’t know where to start. In this article, we’ll take a look at the studios and creative staff behind each of the chapters of the direct-to-video movie, pointing out some of our favorite anime that was produced by the same people. Where appropriate, we’ve linked in to relevant Toon Zone News reviews as well.
“Have I Got a Story for You” (Directed by Shojiro Nishimi)
“Working Through Pain” (Directed by Toshiyuki Kubooka)
Animation Produced by Studio 4ºC
The first short of Batman Gotham Knight, “Have I Got a Story for You,” was produced by Studio 4ºC and directed by Shojiro Nishimi. Nishimi was the character designer for the bizarre anime Tekkonkinkreet (Sony, read review here), and the distorted, slightly grotesque human figures from that movie are dead ringers for the characters in this chapter of Gotham Knight. The movie also featured a Tokyo depicted as an insane, overgrown, and incredibly detailed urban jungle that is strikingly similar to the depiction of Gotham City in this chapter.
Studio 4ºC has done a huge variety of more conventional anime than Tekkonkinkreet as well, although very little of it is currently available in region 1 DVDs. Other than Tekkonkinkreet, the other major release from the studio is Katsuhiro Otomo’s Steamboy (Sony, read review here), a wild alternate history set in a steampunk Europe. “Working Through Pain” was directed by Toshiyuki Kubooka, whose major credit before this was as chief animation director for the Gunbuster OVA (original video animation, the Japanese anime term for a direct-to-video movie), a classic giant robot anime from 1988 available in a deluxe boxed set from Bandai Visual.
“In Darkness Dwells” (Directed by Yasuhiro Aoki)
“Deadshot” (Director unknown)
Animation Produced by Madhouse Studios
Another of the busiest studios in the Japanese anime industry, Madhouse Studios provides the animation for Death Note (VIZ Media, read reviews for volumes 1-3 and volume 4), one of the most popular anime in Japan and the United States today. Focusing on a cat-and-mouse game between a high-school serial killer who calls himself “Kira” and a quirky but brilliant detective known only as “L,” the series currently airs on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block and is frequent fodder for “Who’d Win” debates between Kira and the Batman.
Madhouse is also behind Black Lagoon (read reviews of volume 1 and volume 2), soon to be re-released by FUNimation, which is a beautifully animated and darkly comic look at a Japanese salaryman who falls in with a gang of modern-day South Pacific pirates. Both Death Note and Black Lagoon will be quite accessible to the average Batman fan, although Death Note tends to be wordier than an average Batman cartoon and Black Lagoon is far more violent and mature-themed. Finally, video game fans may have already encountered Madhouse’s work through the Devil May Cry anime (currently ADV Films, but recently acquired by FUNimation) that was released along with the deluxe editions of the latest video game.
It’s not anime, but it’s worth pointing out that Madhouse was also the studio behind Spawn: The Animated Series. With its American superhero comics pedigree, it might be another, more accessible stepping stone into the world of anime.
“Crossfire” (Directed by Futoshi Higashide)
Animation Produced by Production I.G.
Production I.G. is another of the busiest and best-known production houses in the anime industry. The major franchise that they provided animation for is Ghost in the Shell, starting with the original theatrical feature film and running all the way through the many follow-up series (all available via Manga Video, read review of Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex Solid State Society). The dark, strange view of the future the series presented has been one of the most influential anime ever made, especially with its shadows visible in The Matrix. The studio is also behind Blood+ (Sony), a stylish and exciting series that’s something like the Japanese anime version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as a Japanese teenaged school girl leaps into a centuries-long war between humanity and the vampiric Chiropterans.
“Crossfire” is marked by the adrenaline rush of a massive gun battle and heavy fisticuffs between Batman and two sets of mobsters. Such action sequences shouldn’t have been much trouble for sequence director Futoshi Higashide, who was the animation director for Baki the Grappler (FUNimation, read round-up review of season 2). At its best, the series turns up some of the finest animated violence available, with distinctive fighters beating each other bloody, repeatedly. If Batman Gotham Knight seems too restrained, maybe a few sessions with Baki will satisfy those desires.
“Field Test” (Directed by Hiroshi Morioka)
Animation Produced by Bee Train
Bee Train doesn’t have the pedigree of the other anime studios in Batman Gotham Knight, with the major credit to its name (and of director Hiroshi Morioka) being the .hack series of anime (all available from Bandai, read review of .hack//SIGN). Based on a PlayStation video game, the series uses the device of a massive on-line video game to range far and wide, jumping across environments and characters in a multi-volume journey that crosses over from anime, manga, and the video games.
Special thanks to the Anime News Network Encyclopedia for invaluable research assistance, and to the many Toon Zone News staffers who know more about anime than I do and whose reviews (some of which are linked here) served as guides for my own explorations into anime.