The World's Finest Presents

A comprehensive review of Batman: The Animated Series on Blu-Ray
Written by Matt from Batman: Animated, Proofread by ShadowStar


Batman: The Animated Series has been out on Blu-Ray for months now. Usually, reviews coincide with the Blu-Ray’s release date. So what’s the point in typing one up so late in the game? Well, this series has 109 episodes. I guarantee that almost no-one went to the trouble of watching all of these episodes when they reviewed this set! And that’s understandable. Watching 109 episodes is a huge undertaking and time-consuming task, and concurrent reviews needed to be put together quickly! That’s where I come in and that’s how my comprehensive review differs from nearly all of the other ones out there. I finally watched “Judgment Day” (the last episode in this collection), so I am at last poised to go into great detail in reviewing this set, its quality, the ways in which the episodes differ from their DVD versions, and more. I should note that I have the UK version of the set. It’s essentially the same as the Deluxe U.S. version, but it doesn’t contain the Funko pops or the lenticular cards, neither of which I had any desire to own. I won’t review the episodes themselves; we all know that Batman: The Animated Series is amazing.

Packaging, Artwork & Disc Art

The first thing to mention is the first thing you see: the artwork and packaging. The discs are contained within in a 24 page ‘book’ that holds 12 discs. It’s worth noting that the U.K. version exhibits a vertical shape while the U.S. version is more horizontal. The cardboard box encasing the book is great: it’s very thick and feels hard to the touch. It feels as though it’s not going to break or wear out any time soon.

Artwork on the box is very simple, yet effective and downright perfect: the classic Batman silhouette from Batman: The Animated Series, in nothing but black and red. The book has lettering in bright red and various characters floating around. The artwork inside the book is another matter entirely. It’s comprised of very generic pictures of the characters, some of which have been used before in other releases and in promotional artwork. One of the worst offenders is the The New Batman Adventures design of the Joker (which is seen here with Batman: The Animated Series coloring); this is something that is never seen in the series itself. It can be seen on the disc 3 (Batman: The Animated Series, Season One) disc art. Batman: The Animated Series artwork is also used on the The New Batman Adventures episodes pages, and on top of that, the original Scarecrow design from “Nothing to Fear” makes a random appearance… incorrectly colored, too! It’s a headscratcher if ever there was one. Likewise, I would have expected the Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero page artwork to at least include Mr. Freeze, or maybe Batgirl (both of whom are crucial characters in the movie), but neither of them appear. All of the pages also have the same background (various Gotham City buildings and structures) in the background. More planning and thought could have gone into this, especially considering that fans have been spoiled by the incredible artwork that the DVD sets boasted.

The discs themselves are probably the worst of the bunch though. In this deluxe complete series collection, all of the discs have the same basic artwork, a silver background and some buildings. That’s it. Worse still, the U.K. version doesn’t even showcase the buildings and all of the discs are light-blue colored. It’s rather ugly looking, to be honest, but not a deal-breaker. Compared to DVD artwork, which was nicely colored and showed off great character models and art work, the Blu-Ray set falls short of expectations.

Menus

Here we go - time to insert the discs! Following the WB logo, we get to the main menu. It’s basically the same artwork from the cardboard box and it’s good enough to measure up to the standard set by other Blu-Rays these days, especially those that are released by WB. Gone are the days of great DVD menus that made you want to surf through them for a while before watching whatever your film or TV program of choice.

The menus themselves feature a very bizarre choice of musical underscoring. I say that not because of the music itself, which is the The Adventures of Batman and Robin theme - composed by the great, late, Shirley Walker - but rather because the music seems to have been lifted directly from the Batman: The Animated Series - Volume Four DVD menus - which included a sound effect to match the DVD menu’s visuals. That same sound effect is heard in the Blu-Ray menu, without the accompanying animation. It’s very off-putting, a bit annoying to hear this sound effect in isolation, and very surprising that nobody noticed this while putting this set together.

Video Quality/Differences from DVD

Putting those minor complaints aside, let’s get to the main course! Let’s tackle one of the most important issues - how do the episodes look? Well, at this late stage in the game, I’m sure that most of the people reading this review already know, but these episodes look so, so good. It was a pleasure watching all 109 episodes once again, having not watched any of them since before the Blu-Ray set was first announced. I loved picking up on details that I never noticed before, which contributed to my enjoyment of them in an entirely new way.

It must have taken me at least 10 or 15 episodes to get used to the enormous step up in quality from the look of the DVD releases. Those first episodes caused my jaw to drop in response to how good they looked. Remastering 109 episodes from the original negatives was a monumental task and I still have to pinch myself to remind myself that this has happened, especially since Bruce Timm loved nothing more than to destroy or tarnish our hopes and dreams for Blu-Rays of anything Batman: The Animated Series-related, long maintaining the argument that the series would lose something vital in the transition to high-definition.

In my honest opinion, it didn’t come to that. The show still feels “old,” the details are there, the backgrounds are a delight to see in each and every episode. Only the experience itself has been elevated to a new level. Colors have been intensified and allowed to ‘pop’ very nicely onscreen; a special mention should go to the middle episodes of the first season, such as “Robin’s Reckoning Part 2” and “Zatanna,” both of which had a very grey-ish feel to them. Now, all of the episodes feel quite similar to one another in both quality and color. On a slightly negative note, banding can often be seen during these episodes, though it’s never too much or too much of a distraction from the episode itself.

I’m now going to go into a lot of detail with regard to some of the changes that were made to some of these episodes (for better or worse). Some mistakes have been corrected, which is greatly appreciated, but some mistakes have also been made, which is not something to cherish.

Let’s start with one of the most iconic animated Batman sequences of all time: the intro. First of all, there is a great improvement in quality with respect to the image’s definition. The lines are much more clear and the colors have been corrected. The red - heavily present in the intro - is now a more appropriate shade of blood-red, whereas on the DVDs, it had a slight orange tone to it. That said, it feels colder, and some things are brought to light because of it, such as the shades of blue near the Gotham skyscrapers:

Images: Left - DVD, Right - Blu-Ray
Click on the thumbnails for a closer look!

The fire has a more… fiery feel and texture to it and bright colors lend some additional support:

The Batmobile literally steps out of the shadows, standing out as brighter and more colorful:

The infamous white mole has been removed:

And now for one of the most controversial changes. The stark black silhouette of the building where Batman and the bank robbers duel is now completely visible:

According to a review posted by notonbluray.com:
“It is my understanding is that the series was shot on film, then telecine-d to video tape, during the telecine color corrections were applied, and brightness levels adjusted – it’s here that the variance between the Blu-ray and DVD/broadcast-master comes from.”

This helps to account for these changes. As is seen on the original storyboard for the intro, the building is now completely visible instead of all black; this change may have been introduced at some late stage, rather than on the original negatives themselves. But why didn’t they replicate the same effect for the remastering? I have no idea but, in my opinion, they should have tried.

Finally, the shot of the lightning behind Batman is less bright for some reason, though it is instead more detailed and less saturated:

Leaping ahead to the end credits, the difference in quality is amazing:

Worth mentioning as well is the complete mess that has been made with regard to the different intro and end credit sequences. In the show’s second season,Batman: The Animated Series was retitled to The Adventures of Batman and Robin, and some of the episodes had a featured a new intro which spotlighted clips from the original intro alongside clips from various episodes. This intro has been included at the start of some episodes that are traditionally not associated with it, and it has been omitted from episodes that are synonymous with it. The Adventures of Batman and Robin also featured its own end credits picture and music, and while this picture - the silhouettes of Batman and Robin, against an orange background - is retained in all its glory, the score is not. Instead, the classic end credits score, written by Danny Elfman, plays during this sequence. Very strange. I have been informed that this has been corrected for some of the digital versions.

Let’s now take a look at some of the episodes. One of the first things to note is how this scene from “On Leather Wings” has been vastly improved upon:

The Joker is now slightly visible while he hides in the shadows, in this scene from “Be A Clown”:

The strip of wood that Batman uses in “Robin’s Reckoning Part 2” no longer fluctuates in size: it remains small. I have been told that this was first corrected at the time of the episode’s second airing on Fox but for some reason, the original version was used on the DVD release:

Two very welcome corrections: the ‘Two Years Later’ sign in “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?” now sits in the center of the screen, and the Riddler’s grey mask and gloves have been changed to their intended color (purple):

The flashback scenes from “Night of the Ninja” have lost most of their tone; however, at the very moment that the below screenshots were taken, the background would move in sync with Bruce Wayne during the DVD version of the scene. This has been corrected here:

In “Joker’s Wild,” the Joker-mobile sign has been changed from ‘Wan The Cirin Gnal Joker Nocile’ to ‘Win The Original!’ It beats me as to why they decided to omit “Joker-mobile” in the correction, but nevertheless, it’s a welcome change:

The opening scene from “The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne” looks brighter and the colors have been slightly changed, as is evident from the characters’ different skin tones:

One of the episodes with an abundance of animation errors was “Moon of the Wolf”, but all of those mistakes have been corrected, including the color-changing clothing and Batman’s emblem, which was devoid of yellow in one shot:

“Shadow of the Bat, Part One” features several scenes in which the tone of the picture appears suddenly more yellowish. This happens in many episodes but it’s usually not particularly noteworthy or distracting, as it is here:

When Bullock visits Summer Gleeson in “A Bullet for Bullock,” the colors are very different to how they appear in the DVD version. The sequence was previously colored with a light blue tone, but now the characters are in black and white and the background is green:

On to The New Batman Adventures, and it seems as though all of the titles for the episodes were re-done for this release. The titles exhibit a slightly different font:

“Sins of the Father,” displays a light blue tone from the moment that Two-Face broadcasts his message on television, right up until the very end of the episode. A head scratcher:

Last but not least, the color of Bane’s mouth has been reflected to coincide with his appearance from when he is first seen in “Over the Edge”:

There are a few honorable mentions when it comes to the remaster. First, it seems as though the rainy scenes in “Riddler’s Reform” could not be remastered in HD, as they look exactly the same as they do on DVD. Next, the title card from “Catwalk” looks very pixelated. Finally, a very curious thing happens during “Double Talk.” In the DVD version of the scene where Batman walks into the factory, we see him move from one side of the screen to the other as he hunts for the Scarface imposter. But in the Blu-Ray version, we see him keep to the middle of the screen as he walks. The background also appears less fluid here, as though the animation frames are missing. I’m not sure why this has happened.

All things considered, the Blu-Ray is now the best possible way to watch these episodes, by far. Despite a few oversights, the picture quality is miles ahead of the DVDs and viewing them in this fashion after experiencing them in DVD quality for such a long time has been a treat. I will go back to watch the Blu-Ray versions again in no time!

Audio Quality

To be honest, I didn’t really detect any difference between the Blu-Ray version and the DVDs. They sound just as good; the voices sound clear; the action and explosions fill the room and listening to every episode’s score remains extremely enjoyable. However, there are a few episodes which feature an inexplicable drop in sound quality, to the point where they’re much worse than the DVD versions. All of a sudden, there’s barely any ambient noise, the dialogue sounds muddled (while also being redirected to the right audio channel at times) and sound effects and music lose their impact. This is the case in “The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy”, “Avatar”, “House and Garden” and “Harlequinade”.Click here to view a YouTube video which compares audio samples from the DVD and Blu-Ray versions of “House and Garden”.

If you’re using a good pair of headphones, you’ll notice the difference immediately. This is another headscratcher for me… I’m not sure how this could have happened, since the DVD audio sounded perfect to begin with. Also, the end theme in the credits of some of the earlier episodes (such as “Two-Face”) is also incomplete, for some reason.

Extras

All of the extra material from the DVDs has been made available on this release - something which will be appreciated by those who didn’t want to hang on to their DVD releases. Although I want to keep my copies of the DVDs, it’s more convenient to have them on the Blu-Rays so I that I won’t have to jump back and forth between different releases in order to watch the special features. The only feature that has not been made the cut is the “Shades of the Bat” featurette from the complete DVD set released back in 2008. It would have been nice to have that on this set.

The main event on the bonus disc is the 96-minute documentary, “The Heart of Batman,” which goes into great detail regarding the genesis of this series and includes plenty of information that I did not know beforehand. It begins with a general look at how animation was made in the 1980s and how it was restricted because of Broadcast Standard & Practices (BS&P), not to mention the typical role play by action cartoons as glorified toy commercials. We are then taken on a journey of discovery that highlights how Batman: The Animated Series came to be and changed everything. The main heroes of Batman: The Animated Series that we all know and love include Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski, Alan Burnett and Paul Dini. They offer great insight as to how the series came to be and they explain their personal involvement. It’s wonderful to see Jean MacCurdy here too - one of the unsung heroes of Batman: The Animated Series. After hearing about her on so many occasions, it’s great to finally hear her speak and sharing her sides of the story. Also included are various directors and artists who worked on the series. Particularly funny are Glen Murakami’s story about walking to Bruce Timm’s office to turn in work, and the old TV footage inside the office where Batman: The Animated Series was being made, with a special appearance by the Dark Knight himself (who appeared to be violating workers’ rights, to say the least).

The documentary also spotlights the three heroes’ voice actors: Kevin “Batman Himself” Conroy, Loren Lester (Robin/Nightwing) and Tara Strong (Batgirl in The New Batman Adventures), along with some archive footage of Mark Hamill; and of course the voice director herself, Andrea Romano. I loved seeing some of the behind the scenes photos of the actors recording lines and hanging around in the studio. I would have loved to hear them talk about other voice actors as well, but hey, this thing is long enough as it is!

This is the kind of documentary that just makes you appreciate Batman: The Animated Series so much more (if that’s even possible) and in fact, I sat down to start typing up this review as soon as I finished watching it. It’s a must-see experience for any Batman fan.

Also included as a separate feature is a minute and a half segment of archive footage of Paul Dini, who discusses the creation of Harley Quinn. This could have been updated with present day footage of Paul Dini but it’s still a nice addition to a set that’s bursting with great special features.

To make this set feel more “complete,” more material could have been added. The “Lost Episode” from the SEGA CD videogame could have been included (link), and likewise the movie Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman and its accompanied Chase Me animated short could have been thrown alongside Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero.

Overall thoughts

To sum everything up, this set is amazing. This is the best possible way to watch Batman: The Animated Series. I might not even use the DVD sets anymore, even though I love them. Perhaps, in the case of the episodes with bad sound quality or jarring visual changes (like “Sins of the Father”), I will consider using the DVD sets, but for the most part, the Blu-Ray is the definitive version of this beloved series. If any fan has yet to buy this set, I would say go and get it now! Despite the flaws, the remastering is worth the purchase and you won’t regret it. Long live the Bat!

Written May 2019


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