“Day of the Samurai”
Written by Steve Perry
Directed by Bruce W. Timm
Music composed by Carlos Rodriguez
Animation Services by Blue Pencil, S.I.
Original Airdate—October 30th, 1992
Plot: Kyodai Ken kidnaps his old sensei’s star pupil, and demands the location of a scroll containing an unstoppable fighting style. The sensei, in turn, calls in Bruce Wayne (and Batman) for help.
“Day of the Samurai” is a stylistic departure for the series. Except for a quick (and unnecessary) shot of Batman getting a phone call in the Batcave, it takes place entirely in Japan. Director Bruce Timm allows the setting to set the tone, and the measured pace recalls Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films. The style extends to the stylized “flashback” of the legend of the scroll, the watercolor back backdrops, and Carlos Rodriguez’s woodblock and flute heavy score.
Steve Perry, writing the sequel to his own “Night of the Ninja,” clearly did his research and wants the audience to know that he did too. In a welcome change, the Japanese characters actually speak Japanese to each other, and Bruce and Alfred drop Japanese into their regular dialogue too. Alfred even insists on calling the country “Nippon,” the Japanese name for Japan. The dialogue is peppered with characters explaining Japanese terms to each other, Giri, Bushido, and especially Samurai.
The emotional conflict of the episode is whether Batman is a ninja or a samurai. It seems a little silly, because he’s clearly a ninja. Arguments in favor of ninja, his black costume, his reliance on stealth and shadows, his hidden identity. (Kyodai Ken says Batman can’t be a samurai because samurai don’t wear masks. Well, brother, let me google that for you.) Arguments in favor of samurai: samurai are honorable. And that’s about it.
That’s what it comes down to, samurai are good, ninja are bad, and if Batman is good, then he must be samurai. Batman even says “ninja” as if it were a dirty word. But that ignores that one of the large appeals of Batman is that he uses the tools of evil people for good. He’s the criminal who fights for the law. The devil on the side of the angels. The ninja that fights with honor.
In his second and final (very final) appearance, Kyodai Ken fulfills all the functions of a minor but memorable Batman villain.
He discovers Batman’s true identity.
He trains himself to be the deadliest foe Batman has yet faced, by inventing the game Fruit Ninja and finding an ancient scroll. (In a touch of realism, the scroll disintegrates as soon as Kyodai touches it, because it’s 500 years old and Kyodai’s not exactly an archeologist).
He sets up a death trap, on an erupting volcano no less (Batman calls him out for his poor choice of battlegrounds, because Batman apparently has no sense of drama).
He fails, as Batman learns something important about himself. (And in another neat touch, Bruce defeats Kyodai not by being a ninja, or a samurai, but by being a detective, deducing how the touch works and how to block it, though why he had to pretend that the touch worked is beyond me.)
And then Kyodai Ken dies, as permanently as any cartoon character can. Notably, he does not refuse to be saved because his need to kill Batman overwhelms his own self-preservation, but simply because his honor will not allow him to accept the aid of his foe. Kyodai is also a ninja with honor, it’s just a very particular form of honor that involves a lot of kidnapping.
The minor characters are well-written. Sensei Yoru never admits that he knows Bruce Wayne is Batman, so their dialogue is full of knowing remarks, “if you see Batman tell him…” type lines. And Kairi, Sensei’s pupil, makes an impression in her few scenes. She fights Kyodai as well as Robin had, and manages to fight her own way free on the roof top, even if she then gets kicked off.
My one complaint is that I wish the animation was better for the episode. Timm’s direction is top notch, especially the fight on the roof and the volcano battle, but Blue Pencil’s animation is stiff and blocky. I wish Spectrum, who animated “Robin’s Reckoning, Part 1,” had done the job here. “Day of the Samurai” could have been one of the all time great episodes. As this is the last episode they were hired to work on, I’m certain I’m not the only one who felt that way.
“Terror in the Sky”
Story by Steve Perry, Mark Saraceni
Teleplay by Mark Saraceni
Directed by Boyd Kirkland
Music composed by Shirley Walker
Animation Services by Dong Yang Animation Co., LTD.
Original Airdate—November 11th 1992
Plot: Man-Bat returns, but Kirk Langstrom swears he hasn’t taken the mutagen. Is he lying, did Batman’s cure fail, or is someone else the Man-Bat?
Despite Batman being “the World’s Greatest Detective,” it’s actually really hard to write a good mystery with Batman’s foes. If a rare plant is stolen, or twins are kidnapped, the audience has a better than average chance of guessing who done it. And if a giant furry flying creature appears in Gotham, Kirk Langstrom is the number one suspect.
“Terror in the Sky” creates the rare genuine mystery because everyone, including Langstrom, agrees that it must be Langstrom, and everyone is wrong. The audience is led down the same false trails that Batman and Kirk go down, including Dr. March returning as the red herring suspect, just as he did in “On Leather Wings.”
Steve Perry and Mark Saraceni don’t play entirely fair with the audience, however. For every Man-Bat showing up in pink pants, hinting that maybe Man-Bat has a feminine side, there’s the stressed out and unshaven Langstrom looking like he’s in mid-transformation. There’s the fact that Francine is blonde, and so her Man-Bat form should be too (as Selina was in “Tyger Tyger”). And then there’s the opening, where Man-Bat flies to the Langstrom’s house, Kirk awakens from a nightmare, finds fruit on the floor, and assumes he must have left it there before he transformed. But as he isn’t Man-Bat, then he’d have no way of knowing what the fruit meant, and should have assumed that Francine was simply careless after getting a midnight snack, which, after all, would have been true.
This is another episode where Batman has to deal with failure and his own limits, though in a much more subtle way than “Dreams in Darkness.” Batman is completely wrong about Langstrom, and his accusations inspire Francine to leave Kirk. While he cured Kirk in “On Leather Wings,” Batman hadn’t shut down Dr. March’s research, which allowed another Man-Bat to be created. Batman’s half-hearted attempts to apologize are shot down as they don’t fix the problems he made.
Not that Batman’s incompetent in this episode, he does save a plane full of people and finally realizes a good jump kick is a better anesthesia than an antidote. He’s just faced with the limits of his skills, namely his ability to relate to people. The final line is rather telling. Both cured of the mutagen, and Dr. March having finally burned his notes, Kirk tells Francine, “the nightmare is finally over.” That’s what Bruce said when he thought he didn’t have to be Batman. So Batman turns his back on the happy couple because he knows for him the nightmare will never be over.
On the technical side, this is one of the better episodes. Boyd Kirkland is such a proven talent it sometimes gets boring saying he does a phenomenal job with the action scenes, both the chase on the Bat-Cycle and the titular terror in the sky plane rescue and bridge fight. Similarly, Shirley Walker has a great score incorporating the snowy setting and the “Night on Bald Mountain” theme from “On Leather Wings.” And the usual gang of voice actors, Kevin Conroy, Marc Singer, Rene Auberjonois, and Meredith Macrae handle the whole episode well, especially the more nuanced, emotionally complicated story of a marriage torn apart by secrets and stress, on top of the Batman parts of fighting hulking man creatures in the park.