The Matt Signal – Episode 44: Day of the Samurai

Plot summary: Kyodai Ken seeks revenge on Batman after mastering the fabled Onemuri death touch.

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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: ‘Day of the Samurai’

Original Air Date: February 23rd, 1993

Directed: Bruce W. Timm (3)      

Written: Steve Perry (2)

There are only five voice actors in the whole episode, making it the smallest cast in the series.

When Bruce traces Kyodai Ken’s number it displays in an American format.

Kairi appears in a two-part episode of Batman Beyond, now an elderly woman who teaches Terry martial arts at Bruce’s behest.

Recap

Same blanket warning as before as in ‘Night of the Ninja’ if you find a leftist complaining about #problematic content annoying.

A young woman practicing martial arts alone in a Japanese dojo is startled by the appearance of a ninja. They exchange dialogue in actual Japanese with subtitles! Colour me impressed.

The ninja critiques her technique as they fight, knocking her out with a kick, pinning a scroll to the wall and kidnapping her. Yoru Sensei, Bruce’s mentor from the flashback scenes in ‘Night of the Ninja’, reads the scroll and gasps.

In Gotham, Alfred informs Batman that Yoru is on the phone, but before we can hear any of the conversation Kyodai Ken unmasks and laughs at his hostage (after slicing some fruits with his sick katana skills).

During their flight to Kurihara, Bruce and Alfred exposit about “giri” which means… sigh… “honour, duty, obligation.” Huzzah. Bruce finishes drawing Kyodai Ken’s terrible tattoo only to immediately looks at it with disgust and screw it up into a ball.

Bruce pledges his help to Yoru, who claims to see right through the playboy façade. It’s up to viewer interpretation if he knows Bruce is Batman, but Bruce of course plays coy.

Alfred interrupts Bruce’s meditation with an offer of green tea and is rewarded with a story. This guy. Bruce explains that 500 years ago a martial arts master invented a style called Kiba no Hoko, a ki (the Japanese equivalent of chi) technique that made him unbeatable. There was even a touch of death.

Deeming his style too dangerous, he hid the only instructional scroll in a cave, passing its location down through his family to… Yoru Sensei. Thus Kyodai Ken wants to trade Yoru’s star pupil, Kairi, for the secret. Plus Bruce is convinced Ken knows his secret because a fighting style is like a fingerprint. Gosh that’s a lot in under ten minutes.

Kyodai Ken arranges a meeting in a rough part of town. Bruce suggests handing over a fake map, but gets lectured in the way of bushido. Ninjas lie and cheat, samurai do not. Honour!

The exchange of course goes terribly, with Ken kicking Kairi off a freakin’ building, forcing Bats to leap over the edge after her, allowing the villain to snatch the scroll with a kunai. After lecturing an enamoured Kairi in Japanese, Bruce returns to the rooftop to give chase. Naturally, Kyodai Ken escapes thanks to his ninja trickery.

Following the map, Ken navigates the mountain (which is of course an active volcano) and uncovers the ancient scroll… which disintegrates in his hands!

It’s not a total loss though, as he makes off with an intact section that Yoru later reveals is the secret of the touch of death (or “eternal sleep” because it’s a children’s cartoon).

Feeling confident after practicing on a training dummy, Kyodai Ken kidnaps Alfred while he’s out shopping and calls Bruce to gloat and arrange another meeting, confirming he knows Bruce’s secret.

Bruce trains a little before snooping around Kyodai’s abandoned hideout (he traced the call) to try and determine the part of his body he desperately needs to guard.

Thus the stage is set for the two to battle beside the mountain amidst dangerous volcanic activity. Ken is even able to convince Bruce to unmask as the two debate the merits of ninja vs samurai.

With lava raining down on them the rivals exchange blows, with Ken getting the better of it and murdering Bruce with the Onemuri touch!

Oh wait, Bruce is fine it turns out. He tells him the technique is useless and they fight some more, with some impressive silhouette shots that likely cemented this episode into the nostalgic minds of many fans.

The rock formation the two are standing on splits apart, leaving Ken adrift in a sea of lava. Bruce tosses a rope to him in lieu of an olive branch, but Ken kicks it away, bows and vanishes in an explosion.

(Swipe for dramatic effect)

Bruce reveals to Alfred how he survived the Onemuri touch; by finding the soft spot on the practice dummy he was able to ascertain the required location and pad it with some kind of protective material below his costume (in which there is now a jab-sized hole). Cute.

Bidding farewell to Yoru Sensei, Bruce is surprised to hear his mentor praise Batman as a samurai despite his ninja techniques. Yoru points out that Batman offered aid to his opponent and refused to use the death touch against him. They bow to each other.

Best Performance

With only five choices to consider we can assess every one of them. Julia Kato’s delivery is much better in Japanese than English, but she barely has any lines. Likewise Goh Misawa does nothing but compliment Bruce, which is boring. Speaking of which, Efrem Zimbalist Jr.’s fish out of water shtick is vaguely fun, but Alfred only barely has more lines than Kato and Misawa combined (which is still not many).

That leaves our two bitter rivals. Robert Ito is solid in two languages, but solid isn’t enough. By process of elimination, Kevin Conroy wins yet again. It’s not one of his best outings, but he again makes a commendable effort at Japanese pronunciation, graduating from single words and names to an actual sentence at one point. I’m obviously no expert, but I’ve heard worse. He’s also the best of a lacking bunch, so go figure.

Ranking

While it’s far from perfect, I am again surprised at the restraint of a children’s cartoon made in the early 90s when it comes to the portrayal of Japan. If anything it goes a bit far the other way, with Alfred calling it Nippon and wearing a kimono. But the use of actual Japanese with subtitles and not feeling the need to explain terms like gaijin are refreshing touches.

Speaking of touches, the entire plot revolving around a forbidden technique feels unnecessary given a rivalry was already established between the two, and only leads to more stereotypes about ancient knowledge and hidden scrolls. Sure it leads to Bruce outsmarting his opponent and his refusal to use the skill on others earns him praise, but I feel we could have gotten to the same cinematic standoff a different way. You already had the kidnapping of Kairi, who they could have spent more time developing instead of tossing aside.

The highlight is of course Batman fighting a ninja on the side of an active volcano, which I won’t try to tell you isn’t a dope visual. But I could have done with some more substance to surround that aesthetic with, and in a perfect world a less fetishized handling of Japanese culture.

Still, even with all that it’s a better episode than ‘Night of the Ninja’, and the two do compliment each other quite nicely. The biggest improvement is in the visuals, which serve up some more memorable fight scenes, as well as a much less anticlimactic ending. It’s the kind of episode I think I would have loved as a child, but enjoy less through the eyes of an adult.

  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. Heart of Steel Part II
  12. Vendetta
  13. Appointment In Crime Alley
  14. Two-Face Part II
  15. Heart of Steel Part I
  16. On Leather Wings
  17. Pretty Poison
  18. Feat of Clay Part I
  19. It’s Never Too Late
  20. See No Evil
  21. The Clock King
  22. Joker’s Wild
  23. The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne
  24. Eternal Youth
  25. Day of the Samurai
  26. The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
  27. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  28. P.O.V.
  29. Christmas with the Joker
  30. Fear of Victory
  31. Be a Clown
  32. Night of the Ninja
  33. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  34. Nothing to Fear
  35. Prophecy of Doom
  36. Tyger, Tyger
  37. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
  38. Dreams In Darkness
  39. The Last Laugh
  40. Cat Scratch Fever
  41. Moon of the Wolf
  42. The Under-Dwellers
  43. The Forgotten
  44. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

Kyodai Ken (Robert Ito) (second appearance)

In his first appearance Ken presented the skeleton of a good character but there wasn’t enough meat on his bones. And while nothing is really done to flesh him out in his sophomore outing, his sense of physicality is certainly memorable. There’s also a feeling of legitimate rivalry with Batman that only Joker can really top so far. Plenty of the villains hold a grudge, but it feels like there is real venom here.

Still, I feel some people get a bit carried away with praising what amounts to little more than a generic cartoon ninja. I’ll bump him up a bit for the feud, but not being able to top a mutant tiger who learns morality in ten minutes isn’t great.

  1. The Joker
  2. Mr. Freeze
  3. Two-Face
  4. Clayface
  5. Mad Hatter
  6. Poison Ivy
  7. Catwoman
  8. The Riddler
  9. Clock King
  10. HARDAC (and Ronda Duane)
  11. Killer Croc
  12. Rupert Thorne
  13. Lloyd Ventrix
  14. Josiah Wormwood
  15. Scarecrow
  16. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  17. Tony Zucco
  18. Harley Quinn
  19. Hugo Strange
  20. Red Claw
  21. Arnold Stromwell
  22. Mad Bomber
  23. Tygrus
  24. Kyodai Ken
  25. Man-Bat
  26. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  27. Cameron Kaiser
  28. Penguin
  29. Dr. Dorian (and Garth)
  30. Professor Milo
  31. Romulus
  32. Sewer King
  33. 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.

Star Wars week starts December 14th. Stay tuned for podcasts, listicles and reviews.

Speaking of my podcasts, There Will Be Movies continues tomorrow with Booksmart.

Kevin & Jerome’s Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul podcast, Reel Bad, will be dropping its final episode (for now) before the end of the month.

Speaking of Jerome (twice), now that he has at last completed his 100 favourite movies of all time, all that remains is to rank them. Stay tuned…

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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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