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

Day_of_the_Samurai-Title_CardEpisode Number:  44

Original Air Date:  February 23, 1993

Directed by:  Bruce W. Timm

Written by:  Steve Perry

First Appearance(s):  Kairi Tanaga, Master Yoru

 

“Day of the Samurai” is basically the follow-up to “Night of the Ninja.” The plots for the two aren’t necessarily connected, which is why it didn’t necessitate a two-parter designation, but both feature the ninja character Kyodai Ken and hinge on his rivalry with Bruce Wayne. Ken (Robert Ito) has returned to Japan following his defeat at the hands of Bruce Wayne and is seeking an ancient scroll in order to strengthen himself presumably to exact his revenge on those who have wronged him. It will have direct call-backs to the prior episode while also bringing in Wayne and Ken’s sensei, Master Yoru (Goh Misawa), in a proper fashion (he was previously only featured in a flashback sequence). It also loosely introduces Yoru’s new star pupil Kairi Tanaga (Julia Kato), who will go on to make a follow-up appearance in the sequel series Batman Beyond as a much older woman.

Day_of_the_Samurai_Fight

Get ready for an episode of weird looking art, by Batman standards.

The episode opens on a dojo in Japan. Kairi is alone at night practicing her martial arts when she’s visited by the ninja Kyodai Ken. Ken is not there on a social visit, and the two square-off for battle. In a nice touch, they both speak in Japanese and the image is subtitled, even though they’re just exchanging typical pre-fight banter. Ken is no match for Kairi, and he takes her out rather quickly and efficiently with a roundhouse kick to the head. The camera is cleverly positioned so that we can see that Ken is administering a kick, but we don’t actually see it strike the young woman in what I hope is for obvious reasons. Ken scoops up the unconscious Kairi and leaves a piece of rolled parchment affixed to the wall via shuriken. The following morning, Sensei Yoru is shown finding the document.

The setting shifts to the Batcave and Alfred is shown bringing the phone to Batman. He tells him it’s his sensei and Batman answers in his Bruce voice. We quickly leave those two behind to jump back to Japan where Ken is explaining his intentions to Kairi. He intends to ransom her, for what we don’t know. Bruce and Alfred are then shown arriving in Japan and Bruce meets with his old sensei. Yoru lets him know that he’s aware that Ken returned from Gotham in shame having been defeated. Bruce insists it was Batman’s doing and Yoru goes along with it, but I suspect we’re supposed to understand that Yoru has deduced the identity of this Batman. Either way, Yoru needs the help of the Batman in saving Kairi and hopefully keeping his family’s secrets away from Ken.

Yoru

Master Yoru seeks the help of Batman is recovering his star pupil.

It’s those secrets that Ken is after in return for the safety of Kairi. Yoru’s great-great grandfather uncovered the secret to a fighting style called Kiba no Hoko, which translates to The Way of the Fang. Part of that discipline includes the o-nemuri technique, otherwise known as  The Fatal Touch, or if you’re Bart Simpson, The Touch of Death. Yoru’s ancestor determined the discipline was too dangerous and refused to teach it to anyone. Instead, he wrote down the art’s secrets on a single scroll and hid it in a cave. He told only his family and they’ve kept it a secret these past few generations. Yoru has no sons though, so when he dies the secret dies with him, forcing Ken to act now if he wants to find the scroll (why the ancient master didn’t just let the discipline’s secrets die with him is a mystery).

Bart Touch of Death

Beware! The Touch of Death!!

Yoru, citing his strict adherence to the code of Bushido, refuses to lie or deceive Ken and gives up the location of the scroll by giving Bruce a map to exchange with Ken for Kairi’s safe return. Bruce is, of course, supposed to then give the map to Batman who is to confront Ken, which he does. Ken is quite happy to see Batman once again, and their brief banter allows Kairi a chance to get the upper hand on Ken and attempt an escape. It’s a good try, but Ken is able to give chase and knock her from the rooftop their meeting is taking place on. Batman is forced to drop the map and dive off the roof after Kairi. He saves her, and in doing so does a neat trick with his grapple gun in which the cable disengages from the firing mechanism so that they don’t swing into the side of a building. Batman then goes back for Ken, but the slippery ninja is able to escape.

Day_of_the_Samurai_Find

The scroll, just before it crumbles in Ken’s hands.

Ken is able to follow the map to a volcanic region. Unfortunately for him, Father Time has seen to it that the scroll is barely legible and crumbles at first touch. Ken is angered at first, but then smiles as he picks up a larger piece of the scroll that didn’t completely fall apart. Following Ken’s departure, Batman finds the cave himself and the crumbled scroll. He brings it back to the dojo where Bruce and Yoru are shown examining it. Bruce thinks they’re in the clear, but Yoru notices a large piece of the tattered document is missing and he apparently knows it’s the portion that contains the information for The Fatal Touch.

Bruce is then left to decide if he can risk pursuing Ken. Kairi pops in to basically pass on her admiration for Batman (she doesn’t seem to be in on the double-identity thing) while Alfred is sort of surprised they can’t head home just yet. Alfred is then shown the next day in the local market shopping for goods, when a suspicious character pursues him. Batman is also able to find Ken’s hideout. He’s looking for information that could help him understand The Fatal Touch, since no one knows where the touch has to be administered (Yoru never allowed himself to view the scroll). He comes across Ken’s practice dummy, which he lingers on, until a phone call interrupts him. It’s Ken, and he’s calling to let Batman know that he’s taken Alfred hostage and desires a final battle. Batman is able to trace the call (which shows an American number, even though they’re in Japan), and our final showdown is all set and ready to go.

Ken Death Touch

We call that a bad touch.

Ken has chosen a volcano, one apparently near eruption, as the setting for their showdown. When Batman arrives, he expresses a desire to fight as men and the two remove their masks. Batman also removes his cape, and Ken his shirt since he has that large demon tattoo on his back to show off. The two fight, and Bruce tries to keep his distance. Ken notices and taunts him, asking if he fears his touch. Ken is able to gain the upper hand, his fingers thrust forward hunting for Bruce’s chest. Turns out, the special spot for The Fatal Touch is basically right where you would expect, and when Ken plants his two fingers on the Batman logo on Bruce’s chest, Bruce lets out a howl. His eyes roll back into his head, and his limp body hits the ground. Ken, satisfied with himself, begins to walk away, until a gloved hand clamps down on his shoulder. It’s Bruce! He’s not dead after all, and he soon dominates Ken in hand-to-hand combat. Ken is aghast that his touch didn’t work, and forced to regroup, he begins to retreat. The erupting volcano splits the terrain in two, and the combatants find themselves separated by the river of lava. Bruce tosses a rope to Ken, imploring him to take it and jump across. Ken kicks it into the lava, takes a bow, and becomes engulfed in an explosion. Bruce then frees Alfred, and explains how he survived Ken’s touch. By examining the practice dummy, he was able to figure out the spot Ken struck repeatedly and assumed that was where The Fatal Touch had to be administered. He placed some sort of padding over his chest, under his shirt, to protect him from the attack.

Back at the dojo, Yoru expresses his admiration for Batman to Bruce. When Bruce questions why since Batman is more ninja-like than samurai, Yoru explains his reasoning and it’s pretty obvious he’s speaking to Bruce with the knowledge that Bruce is Batman, in case anyone was still wondering. It’s a nice little pick-me-up for Bruce as he’s basically gained the endorsement of his old sensei on top of his recent victory.

Kyodai_Bows_to_Bruce

Kyodai Ken takes a bow before departing the series for good, though no one really requested one.

“Day of the Samurai” marks the last appearance of Kyodai Ken. He was created just for this show, and he’s basically just remained confined to these two episodes. As an old rival from Bruce’s formative years, he’s fine. What I don’t like about him and the episode is the approach to Japanese culture and placing this hokey, fantasy, martial arts story onto it. The idea of a touch of death just feels like a western viewpoint of Japan, and it was mocked by The Simpsons, which feels like the proper approach as opposed to this sincere one. It also felt kind of dumb to play the angle that no one knew where the touch had to be administered, and yet it ends up being the center of the chest. Isn’t that basically where one would assume? Maybe a little off to the side and over the heart, but pretty much that general area. As we went over in the “Night of the Ninja” entry, ninjas were rather popular at the time so it was hardly a surprise to see one show up in Batman. I guess in short, no one likely missed Kyodai Ken following this episode and his apparent death.

This episode was also the second, and last, episode animated by Blue Pencil, S.I. Previously, that company had worked on the Riddler episode “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?” and I wasn’t a huge fan of the visual style present there. It’s much the same here, with the whole thing having more of a “toon” vibe. Here it’s more apparent as we’re dealing with a pretty mature plot and the cartoonish visual flair works against the episode’s aura. Bruce Wayne even looks off model at times, and not really for the better. Batman himself looks all right though, as his cape has a little more personality and flair. The movements are kind of floaty, but they are frequent, so in some respects this style was ambitious. Everyone just kind of looks like they’re made of water though, so it’s a give and take. There’s a few animation gaffes as well such as attire changing color from one shot to the next and a few instances where a character’s mouth isn’t moving even though they’re speaking. I did like that they didn’t shy away too much from the physical style of Ken, and allowing him to assault a woman is a rather bold move. The sequences were story-boarded and executed well to please the censors while still retaining their impact. Lastly, the final fight between Batman and Ken gets a little slapstick following Bruce’s bounce-back from apparent death, which just didn’t work as comedy or within the context of the fight and I have no idea why they went that route. Maybe someone got cold feet and felt they needed to dial back on the tension of the scene.

Kairi_Old

This may be the end for Kyodai Ken, but Kairi gets to show up in Batman Beyond.

As a send-off for Kyodai Ken, I guess this one is fine. Since no one was really looking for one anyway. I’m not sad to see Blue Pencil go either, though I couldn’t dig up anything online about them regarding why they were never asked to animate another episode. Bruce Timm, who directed this episode, expressed a displeasure with the animation when it gets too “anime,” so it wouldn’t surprise me if he wasn’t a fan of their work here as well. This episode also gave us a break from weird mutated monster enemies, but apparently we’re in for another one of those next week so I will see you then for “Terror in the Sky.”


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