Batman of Shanghi
Produced by Ben Jones and Sandi Yi-Trimble
Production by Warner Brothers Animation
Co-Production by Wolf Smoke Animation Studio
Distributed by Cartoon Network
Character Designer and Storyboard Art by Jin Roh
Designed by Clover Xie
Catwoman played by Stephanie Sheh
Batman & Bane played by Kirk Thornton
Though this is a character who's origin is of American descent, he's still a worldly known being that's treated as more than a guest in the respected countries that take on creating wonderful homages and interpretations of Batman. That's the spirit of Manga Mecha Movie, that we journey all over Asia and celebrate its culture and the creative individuals, studios, and media that comes from a place different than where we at Cartoon Cyborg Cinema are stationed. There's plenty within our culture, but it never hurts to go beyond the borderlines and search deeper into interests that envelope characters that we've grown up with and share a history that's personal and different than each other. Now we get to share this personal journey with another culture and with an alternate media than what we first discovered the adventures of Bruce Wayne. Join us as we travel to China in 1930's Shanghi as we focus for about one minute and fifteen seconds on a thief, a muscle bound rickshaw venom abuser, and a man made of shadows and mysteries.
Wolf Smoke Animation Studio are the same folks that made Kungfu Cooking Girls, a short animation made in 2011 both this and Batman of Shanghi were crafted by Jin Roh and Clover Xie. Sadly there's no cover, since this was a special during DC Nation, it was cut into three parts, though it's better to be seen as a long short, well it's still 3 minutes and 45 seconds, so it's not that long. Though it is that great, that beautiful, that exaggeration is complementary. Each part is a focus on a different character from Batman, well the first two parts are based on rogues of the Dark Knight, though the final episode is on the Caped Crusader. Though the setting isn't the traditional Gotham that we know, it's a Chinese inspired 1920's -1950's Gotham. So like the Bruce Timm Animated Series, this Batman is a period piece that has no true time, though an amalgam of eras in a China inspired Gotham, it's a wonderful detail that blends well not only into the secondary designs, but also with the main characters. This is what good design looks like, since the characters not only fit within the short, but also they are natural in the film. Especially their actions in the three part shorts, everything they do, their movement, their motifs, their speech it's well, let's dive into each minute of Shanghi Gotham and look a little closer into their lives.
Part 01 - Catwoman
The opening is the setting and already I'm wrong from the first part of the introduction, it plainly says that this is Shanghi and it's 1930, no amalgam, this isn't Gotham, it's China in the 30's. I guess watching these again isn't such a bad idea. Anyhow with my imagination placed back into the corner, let's proceed.
We really don't have much of a transition, it's just straight forward and sudden, straight into the fray of action and plot. There's a guy holding a scroll, his name is Boss, though we'll never see him again, so we can assume that the lady that walked through the door is Catwoman. And with a second for a little flirtation she transforms into our feline friendly fiend. Her tail in this series seems to be apart of her, which gives the idea that her character is less of a costume and more apart of the occult. Giving way that everyone in this DC world with an animal themed name will be part animal in some manner.
Moving on the plot thickens with the introduction of a familiar face. who is being yelled at to follow as one of the bodyguards chases after Catwoman. The fight between the first bodyguard is great very well planned and a lot of choice movements, this was skillfully composed and had beautiful choreography. With their fight becoming more intense this part of the tale finishes with the bodyguard in mid-attack, while Catwoman with whip in hand defends herself.
Part 02 - Bane
A little review, showing the bodyguard chasing after Catwoman. Then we go back to our masked foe. In a previous life he broke Batman's back and in different interpretations was a well suited villain within the Batman rogue's gallery. Though today isn't so respected, but this is what happens when a full character is stripped down to their most basic idea. Bane equals muscle and with his special venom flowing through his veins, he is the epitome of that statement. This is one of those moment that needs this being of muscle and brawn. They have a minute to explain why he's stronger than anyone and convoy this being's worth to the gang members (it's not really said if they are bad guys, just that Catwoman stole something from them).
Anyhow Bane is a rickshaw taxi, pulling his clients where ever they need to go. It seems that the skinny Bane, personally seen as a homage to Batman Forever, needs more muscle to move the cart with the rotund woman and her many packages (who appeared from the sky, quite literally). With her exclaims of Bane's failure (though at this time is unnamed, but it's implied from the title and by the mask) he depresses the button on his hand actives the serum that gives him his strength.
It seem Oona Kulte has found her favorite animal or weapon of choice.
Though both decisions rest within one of the World's greatest cat burglar or at least the best in Gotham.
This is really where this animation company comes into power. With the first part they show Catwoman with a Cheongsam inspired dress, very similar to her attire form the 1940's, though it has red hues within the white fabric. Her movements are quick and agile, which gives her a very sleek and elegant animation. Then we have Bane a character of lower class, a muscle with a hat, though when transformed becomes this mad scientists fantasy. The bulging muscles appear, though it's the hoses and body expansion that really show off the talent of the animator and the designing team.
With his expansion he totally forgets the passenger and heads off into the City, like a Gorilla (never skip leg day kids). A lot of fun animation of Bane climbing and hunting his pray, though this being we know nothing about nor about his focus. Then for a change Bane doesn't use his muscles to take out the surrounding police, not sure why there's police, all he did was climb a few buildings then got down. Suddenly he turning into a ball and rolls over the officers. Then in events that make no sense he bounces into the air and we return to the proceedings from the previous part. The bodyguard in mid-flight attacking our fighting feline foe, when this muscle bound monster craters the scene. Knocking the scroll away from the two and sending it spinning off into the alley to Bane's shoe. And with his first line he speaks the last words of this part, it's "the scroll of destiny" they're all after.
Part 03 - Bat Man
First thing before we get into the last part, it's interesting that they titled this one Bat Man. This is the official title (or at least the official title on the official YouTube Account) what I'm saying is the implication that this isn't Bruce is there, that this could be another Batman or a Bruce that came into his alter-ego as the Bat Man and not Batman. Personally I think it's a reference to Dr. Robert "Kirk" Langstrom, since he was the original Man-Bat and the Batman of the Justice League: Gods and Monsters series, but it's hard to say who it is, since it's not rightly stated nor implied, since Bruce has that "everyman" face. Sometimes I wish Bruce had something about him that stood out, like Superman's curl, he'd have a different colored eye or a snaggletooth, something that would be identifying, though hideable. It'd be a good reason for the mask or why he never smiles, even something like Jason Blood where it's a bit of white in his hair, showing age and something distinct. Again that's me, I'd really like to see this change in the character, if there could ever been an update to the character that's the one thing I'd love, though the joke that he's the most handsome billionaire and still gets into fist fights with a large crocodile murderer and an acid squirting clown, it's funny.
Like the last part we pick up from where we last left off, it's Bane with the scroll, though the cratered man is seeing stars or will-o'-the-wisp. Catwoman on the other hand has a chance to deal with her enemy first and an implied shadow comes across this dazed victim with a Cheshire cat grin. Then a cut that felt disjointed and out of no where we see a man. Just standing there, he has no reason for being there and was never introduced into the series of shorts, but we get to see him transform with his bats of shadows. Then he turns into our grumpy neighborhood Batman, cape, cowl, and blood red eyes… I think the part that bothered me the most is his track suit. It didn't feel like something someone from 1930's Shanghai would wear or a billionaire in China would don. Still this man knows Bane's name and it seem his reason for wanting the scroll, since Batman goes in for the attack.
Running head first into battle Batman pulls out two clubs and starts sparing with Bane, taking on the monster's strength and defending against his blows, then the clubs of light turn into nunchaku. The direct blows from the clubs aren't enough to stop the beastly man, but the quick as lightning swings of the chained sticks fumble the scroll from the hands of the sausage fingered Bane. The scroll goes flying into the air, where it is retrieved by Catwoman. It's interesting that she doesn't just leave the scene, like a thief would do, but stays to best her challenging opponents. It seems more like an honor among fighters than stealing something.
Anyhow a tour bus appears out of nowhere which transitions and keeps movement within the minute and fifteen second short. Also it shows on the side of the open-air bus that there's a battle between bats, a bear, and a cat. The implication is clear, though it makes me wonder if there's something other than shadow puppetry that's at reference here (which was created in China). Back to the fight at hand, Batman and Catwoman are teaming up to fight this giant of a man, though his body is absorbing a lot of abuse. And this sets Batman into a bad mood, Bane throws a punch which is grasped by the inky hands of the dark knight. Then a punch that sounds as if one's arm would break and another to the chest and head, the brawny behemoth has been set to rest. As Catwoman lands the final blow, directing Bane toward his pillow of cobbled rocks. Her hand extended with scroll in palm Batman kicks it out of her grasp and leaps into the air. Batman snatching it from the wind and taking hold of the rolled paper. Tucking it tightly into his gloved hands descending backwards toward the full moon and exploding into bats. As he enters with no reason so he leaves with nonsense.
Here's the part that's the hardest, I love this animation, everything that's placed into this short is beautiful, from design to fluid movement, though there are problems. The pacing of the shorts are expertly controlled, it's the plot that I feel left the hands of the one plotting the three parts. We see in the first part a collection of people and a beautiful woman that then transforms into a Cat Lady and proceeds to steal from the head man in that room, running away with merchandise in hand and bodyguards chasing in tow. Then we see what this studio is known for, amazing fight scenes and elegant women that know how to defeat anyone with their limbs. This is where it's excelled, though after part one it's all down hill from here. There is a few quick saves that could be added or could have been a better choice than what was used. For example, instead of the lady in the rickshaw, it could have been the Boss in the seat yelling profanities and that he'd "Pay anyone anything to get that scroll back", then Bane would depress the button that gives him his strength and zip all over the City looking for the fearsome feline fraud. Or as simple as just yelling that from the window and Bane still going through his actions within the short. Then it would make sense that the police were there, since he's rampaging through the City, without stop or worry for people's lives. Then Batman, if we play off of this last section it would be news flooding about one the scroll and two the ruckus. I'd have the classic Batman move of being one of the bodyguards in the room, so it's established that he knows about the scroll and wants it to be take back to either its owner or to those that know how to keep it safe. Pretty much we never have a formal introduction to Batman and even having him fly out of the sky and someone exclaiming that "it's Batman" as the Batmobile smashes into the pavement turning into thousands of bats. His form slowly rising from the shadowy beings he road in on. I can think of a ton of more ways that the third part could have changed to entertain the first part of the shorts, but that's my major critique of the series is its final episode.
All in all if you're like me you saw the Catwoman part and the Kungfu Cooking Girls short and just fell in love with this Animation Studio. Everything from their designs to the way they visually construct a story with action and designs that not only compliment the characters within the short, but also the background that fits the setting like a glove. So if you're like me you've seen this short a bunch of times, a ton of times, you've written a blog about how many times you've seen it and want others to enjoy it. If you're a person that saw the thumbnail or the title implying that there will be Batman, then you'll like it too, since most who enjoy Batman and his many adventures love his fighting prowess. And the final short shows this ability, though if you're looking for more than art and kinetic story telling then you've found the right presentation. Far from perfect, but it's at the line of perfection that, though I'm bias I will tell you to see more of their work, but if you're going to add plot into how one should see stories (which you should), then this needs more work.
I trust you enjoyed the inspection, thank you for reading.
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