It is documented fact that the epitome of Batman animation, from an overall standpoint, is, was and forever will be Batman: The Animated Series. With such acclaimed writing, pioneering, great animation, quality music-score, unmatched voice work and overall cinematic presentation, it defined exactly what a superhero cartoon should be.
And then came various animated Batman films, The New Batman Adventures, Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Justice League and the godlike Justice League Unlimited, altogether making the Animated DC Universe, which is overall a thing of greatness. But like all greatness, it has to end sometime. So what do you do after that? Go into other areas.
And this, Batman: Gotham Knight, is one of them. Since Justice League Unlimited (and the whole Animated DC Universe) sadly came to its end back in 2006, Warner Bros. have done series like The Batman, films like Superman: Doomsday and various other direct-to-video releases with no continuity linking them together or anything else.
Gotham Knight is the latest original project from Warner Bros. and also does something a little bit different from before. Basically this is a collection of six short films, all produced by different, independent Japanese Manga studios. The premise of the films is that they take place in-between Batman Begins and its sequel The Dark Knight. While no major events happen, the stories are separate, very enjoyable one-offs with a continuity that nicely links them all together.
Right away, the whole thing screams `Animatrix', and like The Animatrix, it gets a lot of stuff right. First of all, is the fact that they've brought in Kevin Conroy to reprise his role as THE voice of Batman. And it's as though nothing's changed at all. Conroy has still got it, the darkness, the brooding, the menace; his Batman remains as perfect as it ever was.
Another merit for Gotham Knight is that they've brought in such acclaimed talent like David Goyer, Brian Azzarello, Alan Burnett, Greg Rucka, Josh Olsen and Jordan Goldberg to write the different stories, and they all deliver some cracking stuff, each pinning down the basics of what makes the Batman (and Bruce Wayne) such a fascinating character; the urban myth of the Dark Knight, his relationship with the police, his `mask' as Bruce Wayne, the road he embarked on to become what he is, his war against crime, the developing and refinement of his technology, hard learning curves and his code of honour.
The films also use the continuity established by Batman Begins to great and creative effect. Along the way, we see how great the ramifications of the events in Batman Begins truly are. The Arkham Asylum breakout making the whole Narrows island abandoned to madness is such a haunting premise, along with the Scarecrow's reign of terror and still-at-large threat. The realistic approach established by Batman Begins is also utilised brilliantly, as we get fantastic incarnations of Killer Croc and the assassin Deadshot to provide the Dark Knight a real challenge.
As for the supporting cast, we obviously have our favourites Lt. James Gordon (now in full swing with his alliance to Batman) and Alfred. We also have Detective Crispus Allen (a great favourite of mine from the comics) and Detective Anna Ramirez (a new character that appears in The Dark Knight). Both characters are used very well in the films, becoming nicely established as a result. Lucius Fox also plays a guest role here, and his sardonic friendship with Bruce Wayne is mirrored to great effect. We also have local crime bosses Sal Maroni and The Russsian serving as minor antagonists, with their war acting as a good little sub-plot.
So...writing is excellent, soundtrack is excellent and the voice-work goes without question. But how does the animation fare overall? I have a great deal of respect for Anime and the whole Manga style. While it personally isn't my favourite, it can be truly spectacular, especially when it has the strong story to back it up. It's the same here, more-or-less. Although the animation style in the first film, "Have I Got A Story For You," is the weakest out of the lot, and I dislike how Batman is drawn in "Field Test", it's very, very good indeed overall, capturing the whole feel of the Dark Knight nicely. The presentation is excellent.
For Special Features, you can expect a nifty trailer for the Lego Batman game (that plays as soon as you pop the disc in) and Audio Commentary for the whole feature film, provided by Gregory Noveck (DC Comics Senior Vice President/Creative Affairs), Kevin Conroy and legendary former Batman Editor/Writer, Dennis O' Neil. The commentary is very good, as we get discussions over inspirations for the films, the premises and some interesting outside, real-life stories relating to Batman. It is a shame though that that's all we get. Surely there could've been room for the trailer and documentary on the disc, as that would've rounded everything up rather nicely.
As I said before, the epitome of Batman animation is The Animated Series, Mask of the Phantasm, Return of the Joker etc but this isn't trying to be anything like that. This is something new and while not perfect, it's truly a thing of high-quality. I would really recommend Batman: Gotham Knight to all fans of the Caped Crusader and Japanese animation itself. It's a great tie-in product to the film franchise, and at such a bargain price, there's no real reason NOT to get it. The ideal thing to purchase until The Dark Knight comes out on DVD.