The Matt Signal – Episode 35: Night of the Ninja

Plot summary: A ninja is targeting Wayne Enterprises and Batman suspects the culprit is a former rival from his days training in Japan.

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Each Saturday and Sunday Matt Waters recaps an episode of the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!

Notes

Episode Title: ‘Night of the Ninja’

Original Air Date: October 26th, 1992

Directed: Kevin Altieri (10)

Written: Steve Perry (1)

First time series writer, Steve Perry, has a background in martial arts, as well as having penned fifty novels, some of which are in the Star Wars, Alien and Conan franchises.

One of only two episodes to show Bruce’s pre-Batman training days.

Recap

If you find my leftist sensibilities too much you may want to skip this one because I’m going to start off by saying even the stereotypical music behind the title card made me roll my eyes.

Anyway, an employee burning the midnight oil at Wayne Cosmetics falls victim to gas under his office door and passes out. Moments later a full-on ninja breaks in, cracks a safe and loads up a sack with fat stacks of cash.

A security guard arrives late and traces the thief to the roof where his gun is immediately knocked away by a shuriken. Our unnamed ninja then slices the guard’s flashlight in half with a katana and just like that… he’s gone.

Meanwhile at Wanye Manor, Bruce is kicking Dick’s ass in a training session. Bruce is of course a black belt, while Robin is only a green… Unless this is intended to reflect their colour schemes… Alfred interrupts to inform them of the seventh robbery of a Wayne business in two weeks.

Jim Gordon confirms the details match the other break-ins. Bruce makes an appearance and when asked if the shuriken means anything to him, he goes silent…

Flashing back many years, we see a younger Bruce getting his butt handed to him as the only white boy in a dojo. His opponent, Kyodai Ken playfully mocks him for being the pampered son of a rich man, so their master promptly embarrasses him to point out there’s always somebody better and to not get too cocky.

Past Bruce makes note of Ken’s large (and terrible, truly awful) back tattoo, and then snaps out of it in the present when Summer Gleason (remember her?) grills him about the robberies. He declines comment and makes himself scarce, a lot on his mind.

That evening, Batman heads out on patrol, rejecting Dick’s offer to join him. He again delves into his memories, training alone after hours. Yoru Sensei dismisses his obsession with becoming the best, telling him he can learn more from defeat than victory.

The present day ninja makes his way across the rooftop of another Wayne Enterprises building, but this time Batman is waiting for him in the shadows. He bows, claiming to be honoured to meet him, but warns he will kill him if he does not stand aside.

Battle of course ensues, with the ninja getting the better of it thanks to a smoke bomb, requiring Robin to disarm him with a Batarang. The ninja flees, but Robin wings him with a second Batarang, exposing his back. You will never guess what… The tattoo matches! The rules of Scooby-Doo remain undefeated.

Robin mocks Bats’ lack of a thank you by doing an impression of him. It’s pretty funny. What’s not funny is him proceeding to call the ninja a samurai. Thankfully Bruce corrects him before I have to, and confirms that he knows Ken, referring to himself in the third person because he’s wearing the Batman costume. Neat.

Summer (remember her?) ponders what anyone knows about Bruce Wayne, suspicious of his Boy Scout persona. She calls him ‘The Bruce’, which I assume is a reference to a certain President’s former nickname. Wonderful. She endeavours to find out more at a charity event that evening.

Dick grills Alfred about Bruce’s time in Japan and we learn that Ken was the only man who could consistently defeat him one on one, with Dick speculating he is afraid of him. Right on cue, Bruce walks into the kitchen in a tuxedo, terrifying the pair.

The museum hosting the event conveniently has a wing devoted to Japanese weaponry, allowing Bruce to zone out while gawping at some swords, taking us back to another flashback.

Kyodai Ken snuck into their dojo after hours and tried to steal a sword, but Bruce caught him. Before the two can battle, Yoru Sensei catches them and banishes Ken, who naturally vows revenge.

Intrigued, Summer follows Bruce outside, but our hero has naturally been aware of her presence all evening. Undeterred, she hops into his car, pressing him about his time in Japan and if it might be connected to the ninja thief.

Before Bruce can lie, Ken gets the drop on them, disguised as a valet, and gasses them! When they awaken tied up in a museum back room, he and Bruce exchange barbs, with Ken claiming to have gained access to his bank accounts.

Robin saves the day yet again though, tripping an alarm that draws Ken’s attention away before he can murder the pair. Confronting the Boy Wonder on the roof, Ken cuts the legs out from under a water tower, seemingly washing Dick over the edge and to his doom…

But of course, Robin landed safely on a window ledge, allowing him to head back inside.

Bruce is able to free himself by knocking over a sword-wielding statue, using the blade to cut his restraints, but Ken returns before he can untie Summer. The two battle once again, with Ken utterly dominating him with takedown after takedown.

Robin realises the problem and covers Summer with a red carpet, giving Bruce a triumphant thumbs up. Cute.

No longer having to maintain a charade of ineptitude, Bats immediately mops the floor with Ken, who promptly leaps out the window.

The next morning at breakfast, Bruce tells Dick he told Summer a lie about Batman arriving to save the day. They ponder Ken’s whereabouts and Bruce thanks his protégé for his assistance.

Best Performance

Nobody really stood out to me here, as series regulars Bob Hastings, Elfrem Zimbalist Jr. and Mari Devon were all on form, but their roles were too small to merit real praise. Episode guests Robert Ito and Chao-Li Chi didn’t really blow me away either.

That leaves a two horse race between Batman and Robin. Loren Lester’s work has improved with each outing, and I did enjoy his surprisingly decent Batman impression. But as is tradition, when in doubt I’m going with Kevin Conroy.

Not only did he take a commendable stab at his Japanese pronunciations, I think he broadly succeeded at trying to sound a few years younger during the flashback scenes. It’s not a million miles off, as Bruce was an adult at the time, but he came across as not quite fully grown. I also enjoyed the way he talked about Bruce as a separate person without drawing too much attention to the affectation.

Ranking

I’ll say this: I was pleasantly surprised with how they handled the subject matter. Bruce states the difference between ninja and samurai, Kevin Conroy does his best to pronounce Kyodai Ken authentically, and Steve Perry may be white but he does at least have a legitimate understanding of martial arts. They even got a Japanese-American voice actor to play Kyodai Ken, which was the biggest surprise in my opinion given the time, audience and budget/schedule.

As for the episode itself, it’s Very Okay. It was fun to get a quick look into Bruce’s past, and we rarely get to see him in a truly vulnerable position, with Ken presented as his superior before he put in his reps under the Cape and Cowl. It also continued the subtle theme of Batman and Robin’s gradual falling out, and furthered the idea of our protagonist thinking of himself as Batman, with Bruce serving only as a cover story based on a past life. This went hand in hand with his efforts to hide his skill from Summer in the final fight, only truly cutting loose when her vision was blocked.

All of that makes for good mythologizing of the character and even serves to do a little world building, which I appreciate from a series-long perspective. But it’s decidedly middle of the road stuff, with the audience guessing the ninja is Ken long before Batman does. The animation is fine, but not notably slick or stylish, with the fight scenes a little underwhelming given the premise.

  1. The Laughing Fish
  2. Heart of Ice
  3. Robin’s Reckoning Part I
  4. Perchance to Dream
  5. Two-Face Part I
  6. Joker’s Favor
  7. Feat of Clay Part II
  8. Robin’s Reckoning Part II
  9. Beware the Gray Ghost
  10. Mad as a Hatter
  11. Vendetta
  12. Appointment In Crime Alley
  13. Two-Face Part II
  14. On Leather Wings
  15. Pretty Poison
  16. Feat of Clay Part I
  17. It’s Never Too Late
  18. See No Evil
  19. The Clock King
  20. Eternal Youth
  21. The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
  22. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  23. P.O.V.
  24. Christmas with the Joker
  25. Fear of Victory
  26. Be a Clown
  27. Night of the Ninja
  28. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  29. Nothing to Fear
  30. Prophecy of Doom
  31. Dreams In Darkness
  32. The Last Laugh
  33. The Under-Dwellers
  34. The Forgotten
  35. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

Kyodai Ken (Robert Ito) (first appearance)

The skeleton of a good villain is in here, with just a hint of class/racial tension between Ken and Bruce. People love when bad guys have a point, but I suppose it might be a tall order to try and explain to children why it’s problematic for white billionaire Bruce Wayne trying to quickly learn martial arts in Japan.

What we actually have is a cocky, materialistic hypocrite who derides Wayne for his company’s corporate greed, despite his own penchant for petty theft. It’s nice that his motivation isn’t honour, and while I don’t oppose stealing from a billionaire, dude also tried to rob an old man.

The most interesting part about him up until the end was that appeared to be better than Bruce in the past and the present, but that goes away too. So… all you’re really left with is a generic ninja. Some cool points, but that’s all.

  1. Joker
  2. Mr. Freeze
  3. Two-Face
  4. Clayface
  5. Mad Hatter
  6. Poison Ivy
  7. Catwoman
  8. Clock King
  9. Killer Croc
  10. Rupert Thorne
  11. Lloyd Ventrix
  12. Josiah Wormwood
  13. Scarecrow
  14. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  15. Tony Zucco
  16. Harley Quinn
  17. Red Claw
  18. Arnold Stromwell
  19. Mad Bomber
  20. Man-Bat
  21. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  22. Kyodai Ken
  23. Penguin
  24. Sewer King
  25. Boss Biggis

Plugs

Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie and delved a tiny bit into the animated series.

Speaking of my podcasts, There Will Be Movies continues Monday with Annihilation

Kevin & Jerome’s Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul podcast, Reel Bad, drops new episodes the first Tuesday of each month.

Jerome & Brian’s Pantheon Plus returns this week.

Speaking of Jerome (twice), he continues to bring you his 100 favourite movies of all time, posting between 3 and 4 per week.

Published by

Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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