Batman: The Animated Series, “Day of the Samurai”

09Jun11

This one is a hell of a sequel.

For the most part, there’s not a lot of continuity between Batman episodes. There are exceptions, of course-most of the villains get some kind of origin story, and there was the establishment of Harvey Dent before he became Two Face. But after their introductions, there isn’t really an end point for the Joker, or the Penguin, or the Mad Hatter. They create new schemes, they’re foiled in the same episode, and they go away for a while. There’s nothing wrong with that, since this is a kid’s show, no matter how ambitious and appealing it remains; you don’t want to be dropping multi-season continuity on them when you never know what episode will be broadcast when. But it means that when you do get direct sequels like this, it’s a pleasant surprise. At least, it is when they’re this good.

Our episode opens at night, at a dojo in Japan. A female student is practicing, when a familiar ninja confronts her. They spar for a bit, before the ninja declares (with amusement) that she’s good…but not good enough. A moment later, he stops playing with her, and takes her out with one savage kick to the head. It’s a tense and effective scene, but somewhat marred by the fact that as she loses consciousness, there’s a clear “losing power” noise, making it seem like she’s the latest Japanese robot instead of a real person. After slinging KarateGirl 3000 over his shoulder, the ninja leaves a message.

This is where Batman gets called in by his old teacher, Yoru-sensei. He doesn’t know Bruce Wayne is Batman, but he’s not stupid: Kyodai Ken was attacking Bruce Wayne’s finances, and then Batman showed up to beat him. As Yoru-sensei puts it, Bruce Wayne knows Batman somehow, and he’s polite enough not to voice any suspicions about an insanely dedicated former student. He also reveals Kyodai’s reason for kidnapping his star pupil…a secret martial arts scroll, containing an unbeatable technique, going so far as teaching someone how to kill with a single touch. Yoru-sensei is the last descendant of the man who invented it, and Kyodai wants the technique to use against Batman. Bruce floats the idea of giving a false map, since there’s no way Kyodai would be able to know if it as real-but his teacher shoots it down as being dishonorable.

Batman goes to meet Kyodai and his hostage on a rooftop in a bad part of town, and here is where Catwoman is put to shame. That may sound a bit out of left field, but consider this: Batman and Kyodai are at a standoff over who gives away their bargaining chip first. While they’re focused on each other, Yoru’s pupil knocks the sword away from her throat, trips Kyodai, and starts running towards Batman. This is a character with only three scenes in the entire series, and she does not take being kidnapped passively. Admittedly, being a star karate student would incline you towards taking action in a dangerous situation, but it’s nice that the tension gets broken by the supposedly helpless victim taking matters into her own hands. Things can’t go that smoothly, though-Kyodai kicks her off a building, Batman has to save her, and Kyodai both gets the map and manages to stave off Batman long enough to escape.

Alfred (who’s come along with Batman to Japan) asks if they’ll be leaving soon, but Batman says no. He went after Kyodai to find the scroll himself, and it had crumbled to dust…but the section showing how to kill with a touch is missing, so they’re still in danger. How Yoru-sensei would know this is a good question, since he also says he never read the scroll…but maybe one of the remaining fragments was Japanese for “Here’s how to kill someone! Step….” After discussing the fragments with Yoru-sensei and telling Alfred about the bad news-the poor guy is just the exposition dump throughout this episode-Batman then lets Alfred go out shopping on his own. You can guess what happens next.

The fight that happens next takes place on the slope of an active volcano, and it’s probably one of the best in the series for sheer spectacle. It has the kind of grand scale a battle like this needs, and the danger of the location itself plays well. Of course, Batman also points out that they might all be killed by the volcano, regardless of who actually wins the fight-but Kyodai is kind of crazy, so he doesn’t see a problem with this! Thanks to some sleuthing before actually going to meet Kyodai, Batman is able to protect himself from the deadly tickle, and he’s almost beating Kyodai when the ground breaks between them. Batman throws Kyodai a rope, to save him…but Kyodai pushes it into the lava instead, then bows to Batman before he’s engulfed in another explosion.

I’ll be honest, that scene blew my mind as a kid. I knew the rules. People don’t really die on this show. Oh, they get hurt, they’re put in danger, they can almost perish…but they don’t die! They certainly don’t choose to die! Here, though? Kyodai’s dead. There’s no secret ninja trick for surviving lava. He basically killed himself, when his sworn enemy tried to save his life. That set my mind reeling, and in some ways, it’s never quite recovered from that sudden change.

This is one of the high points of the whole series, and I’m glad that it held up to my memories. Some small details bother me about it-and while I hesitate to say the soundtrack isn’t good, I do wonder if some of the overtly “Oriental” music cues were necessary. But as a whole, it’s a beautiful thing, with a different animation style that works great for all of the martial arts that happen. It also feels like a real place-we’re never told which Japanese city it happens in, but unless they’re speaking to Bruce Wayne, everyone is speaking Japanese with subtitles, a touch that I’ve appreciated in different ways; as a kid it emphasized the fact they were in Japan as an exotic land, and now I see it as just being accurate. Not that I could pick out if the Japanese being used is accurate or not, but I recognize enough of the individual words to know it’s not total gibberish.

To sum it all up, Kyodai Ken gets a grand finish in this story, and we get a great episode out of it. I highly recommend it. Even if you didn’t watch his first appearance (and you should have), you need to see this one.

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One Response to “Batman: The Animated Series, “Day of the Samurai””

  1. 1 Carlos

    Awesome episode and great recap!


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