Batman: The Animated Series

The first season's color palette
JLG at 6:31PM, Jan. 6, 2010
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Or at least, my remembered impressions of it. I haven't really seen the series in a long time, so what follows are my impressions from memories.

The last time I saw the series at any length was in 2000-2001, when WB used to run it on weekday afternoons alternating with Superman. They seemed to avoid showing the earliest episodes most of the time, sticking largely with the second Batman series and the later days of the first one. But from what I remember, the first season episodes look very different from the rest in terms of color palette. Those earliest episodes are dominated by blacks, browns, yellows and reds. I love the look created by that palette—the hot colors and deep black shadows create a great sense of drama and tension. By contrast, the later episodes are dominated by black, blue and gray. Very different—almost the opposite, since it's moved from hot to cool.
Now, I loooove me some black and blue. (It's one of the things that I love, at least graphically, about much of 1980s/early ‘90s anime—so many night scenes are rendered with these saturated blues and deep black shadows) But next to the hot, intense reds and browns of the first Batman season, the blue dominance feels much more generic by comparison.

And, of course, those blue-dominated ones are an interesting contrast to the second Batman series, which was dominated by muted reds, grays, browns and greens (it seems to me there was a lot of green). The second series had some moments of great writing, but the visuals and designs were so watered down that to me they’re just outright bland. (Bruce Timm considered the second series a visual improvement, which I just don't get.) When I think of those red-sky episodes, I don't think of black, they way I do with the first series. That alone makes it less visually dramatic, to me. In general, the absence of hot colors and stark contrasts contributes to the relative blandness.

What do you think? Since you've obviously got the series close at hand, I wonder if you agree or disagree with my impressions (and, at that, how accurate my impressions are. It HAS been almost a decade, after all. XD)
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harkovast at 6:14AM, Jan. 7, 2010
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Ooooh thats a really interesting point.
Unfortunately my copies of the shows are organised into volumes, not by the seasons in which they were originally aired. I will have to do some research to look into this and study the different art styles.

Undoubtedly there are changes in the art as it progresses and I think it does become cleaner and the animation sharper as it goes along. As for the colour palette though, I will do some research and get back to you.

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EssayBee at 12:50PM, Jan. 7, 2010
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Ah, the DCAU–one of my passions.

The first 3 seasons of BtAS use similar color palettes. Going into the 4th season, Bruce Timm and co. did major redesigns of the characters and, to a lesser extent, Gotham (for example, making the sky red to make it more hellish). The redesign was to further simplify and streamline the characters (like with Superman: The Animated Series). As far as I know, all seasons used airbrushed backgrounds painted onto black paper, which is a major part of the “dark” look of the show.

Listening to the commentary tracks on the DVD sets, Timm was upset with the animation quality (and characters falling off-model) in many early episodes, and it was apparently the fault of the Korean animation company that handled the animation. I can't remember if it was in the 2nd or 3rd season that they switched animation companies and the show's look became a bit more cohesive (and the animation quality also improved). Not sure if this would cause a change in the show's color palette, though.

Justice League, however, marked a major change in colors for Bats.
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harkovast at 5:49PM, Jan. 7, 2010
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Essasybee yes but the forth series (also know as the “Gotham Knights” episodes) also showed a marked decline in the quality of the writing and stories.
Though there were a couple of stand out episodes, mostly they were either average but nothing special or in cases horrifically, embarrassingly awful! (Critters…I'm almost afraid to review that one, and what was that stupid one with the demonic kid with the cat that turned into a woman? Seriously, what the hell?)

There were smaller shifts in animation earlier on though, as the animators found there footing. You can tell an early episode from a later episode of the original, non-gotham knight episodes.

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EssayBee at 6:13PM, Jan. 7, 2010
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harkovast
Essasybee yes but the forth series (also know as the “Gotham Knights” episodes) also showed a marked decline in the quality of the writing and stories.
Though there were a couple of stand out episodes, mostly they were either average but nothing special or in cases horrifically, embarrassingly awful! (Critters…I'm almost afraid to review that one, and what was that stupid one with the demonic kid with the cat that turned into a woman? Seriously, what the hell?)

There were smaller shifts in animation earlier on though, as the animators found there footing. You can tell an early episode from a later episode of the original, non-gotham knight episodes.

Yeah, a lot of people didn't like the fourth season, but I really enjoyed it (including the sheer oddity of “Critters”–which is also a favorite of Bruce Timm, by the way). “You Scratch My Back,” “Over the Edge,” “Mad Love,” and “Beware the Creeper” (I think those are the titles) are some of the best episodes of the entire series, in my opinion (well, maybe not the last one, but it's impossible to watch Harley Quinn ask, “Wanna try some of my pie?” and not crack a smile). Also “Girls Night Out” was tons of fun. Plus the introduction of Tim Drake and Nightwing (one of my faves) was great to see. I think this was a season where the crew just sat back and had fun with the characters (kind of like the last season of JLU), even though episodes like “Over the Edge” did seem to push the limit violence-wise. But, like you, I'm not a fan of the Etrigan (sp?) episode, even though it was fun to see him turn up again in Justice League, and I have to concede that there were a lot of average episodes too.

And you're exactly right about the improvements in animation as the show went on. I use to record episodes and watch scenes frame-by-frame to take frame counts. (Yes, I can be that big of an animation geek.) There were some instances where they actually filmed in ones! (I think the Worry Men was one of those episodes–if I remember correctly, when the giant mask thing swoops down after some of its support lines get cut, the mask is filmed in ones.) That's Disney-level animation for a daily toon. Crazy. Compare that with the awful Marvel toons of the 90s where they frequently filmed in fives (possibly more sometimes–I couldn't stand the shows so I only watched a few episodes).

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harkovast at 5:02PM, Jan. 8, 2010
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Essaybee we will have to agree to disagree on some of those later episodes, but hopefully with my reviews I can put forward what I don't like about them and you will have a place to offer up defences for them.

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EssayBee at 10:05AM, Jan. 9, 2010
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harkovast
Essaybee we will have to agree to disagree on some of those later episodes, but hopefully with my reviews I can put forward what I don't like about them and you will have a place to offer up defences for them.
Sounds good. Although for some of them (such as “Critters”) I really can't offer a good defense other than the fact that sheer weirdness and quirkiness amuse me.
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harkovast at 10:34AM, Jan. 9, 2010
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As an episode of Batman, no one could defend Critters!
How ever, I will admit it has a certain “so bad its almost good” charm!
I cant help but laugh at just how damn stupid it all gets.

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JLG at 7:47AM, Jan. 14, 2010
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EssayBee:
So you don't see the difference between the early episodes and the later days of the first series that I've been remembering? Like I said, it's been almost a decade, but I had very strong impressions at the time of those color differences.
(By “first series” I mean everything before the Tim Drake/red sky episodes)

At any rate—-wow, no kidding? They really animated some scenes on ones? Now that I wouldn't have expected. Not for TV. Surprising enough for back then—definitely can't see that happening today. (The most well-animated American series I can think of is Disney's “Lilo and Stitch” of a few years ago. I thought it was pretty dull series for such a great foundation, but it was noticeably more lavish than everything else around it—even other Disney series.) TV animation is in decline again—hopefully it will climb out of this current rut before things get as bad as the 1970s.

I can understand Bruce Timm's frustration with overseas sloppiness with the designs, but I never liked his boiled down “solution” to the problem. The graphics in the second series just lacked any real physical presence to me. They had no bite.
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harkovast at 8:00AM, Jan. 14, 2010
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JLG I agree about the Gotham Knights episodes look.
I don't hate it, but it is not as good as the classic look of earlier episodes.
It seems kind of sterile, if that makes sense?
It worked better for Batman Beyond, since sterile shapes for a futuristic setting seems to make sense.

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JLG at 4:29PM, Jan. 16, 2010
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I wouldn't go so far as to call Gotham Nights sterile. Sterile, to me, is a large percentage of what's being made NOW. Many of the designs have even less physical presence than Batman's, and the squeaky-clean, flawless digital coloring is lifeless. (Digital color can be great, but so many shows just make it look so bland…)

A lot of stuff coming out lately makes Gotham Nights look like freakin' Akira. XD
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harkovast at 5:37PM, Jan. 16, 2010
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Ah yes, you are quite right.
I've got into my “reviewer” mind set for Batman, so I tend to judge its quality relative to itself.
Certainly it is still great art, and some of the animation gets remarkably good later on.
But the original episodes look will always be the best.

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EssayBee at 8:07AM, Jan. 19, 2010
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JLG
EssayBee:
So you don't see the difference between the early episodes and the later days of the first series that I've been remembering? Like I said, it's been almost a decade, but I had very strong impressions at the time of those color differences.
(By “first series” I mean everything before the Tim Drake/red sky episodes)

Ah, I misunderstood you. I thought, using the DVD box sets as examples, you were talking about shifting color schemes from seasons 1 to 2 to 3. The shift in style from the “original” run of the series and the redesign (season 4) is very noticeable, as you pointed out.

For the most part, I prefer the looks of the redesigned characters, but think the dark, art deco background designs from the original run looks better. I still like the redesign of Gotham with the hellish red sky, but the original design is just gorgeous, and I can't think of anything in animation that can compete with the art direction of the original series.


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harkovast at 1:56PM, Jan. 19, 2010
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Ooooh, original vs gotham nights….that ultiamte show down!
I should do a post discussing my views on it in depth (but first I need to finish looking at the other Clayface episodes!)

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EssayBee at 6:56AM, Jan. 20, 2010
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Ooooh, original vs gotham nights….that ultiamte show down!
I should do a post discussing my views on it in depth (but first I need to finish looking at the other Clayface episodes!)
Would be interesting. You could do individual character design comparisons as well as a general Gotham comparison. Actual episode content, I assume, would be covered in your episode reviews.
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JLG at 11:09PM, Jan. 20, 2010
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Essaybee:

LOL. Actually, you understood me right the first time. I wasn't comparing the “first series” to the “Gotham Nights” redesign, I was comparing the first three seasons to each other. It had seemed to me that red, brown, yellow and black dominated early on, while later it became more black, blue and gray. I'm comparing, in particular, my memories of the “Gray Ghost” episode to a later one involving the Joker and Harley poisoning the fish in Gotham's harbor and hawking them as “Joker Fish.”

But you say the differences aren't really all that much to write home about, eh? I'll have to see them again, but dang. My memories sure were vivid…
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EssayBee at 6:27PM, Feb. 9, 2010
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Hmm. You could be right about shifting color schemes. If there was a shift, I wonder if it was a conscious decision of the design team or if it just happened from the nature of the environments (and possibly a change in animation companies). At some point, I'll have to go back and watch some episodes and pay more attention to the colors. (Still have to finish watching Season 1 of Clone Wars on Blu-ray and Season 2 of Spectacular Spider-Man first, though.)
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Abt_Nihil at 6:31PM, March 27, 2010
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First off: Yes, I think JLG is right - apart from the stark and conscious change in style between the first three seasons of BTAS and “Gotham Knights”, there was some change between the first three. However, I would guess that this mostly resulted from Timm exerting less control over the staff, down to the overseas animation studios. As EssayBee has pointed out, Timm refined the style for Gotham Knights in an effort to have more control over what they'd get back from overseas.

Strangely, I've never read something resembling my own opinion on this matter (and while I try not to spend too much time in internet forums, I do end up reading a lot by sheer chance - sooner or later, you'll find someone who shares your opinion, no matter how obscure). harkovast actually comes closest to my general evaluation of BTAS. Okay, so what is my opinion?

It's that the diversity of the first three seasons that resulted from a lack of control was actually a good thing! They had many different Korean and Japanese studios providing animation, and while that may have been a lot of trouble for the producers, it resulted in much more interesting episodes. As the show progressed, everything was more and more streamlined - not just in the literal sense (the character designs), but also in the production method. It means that basically every episode would feel more or less the same, and ever since Gotham Knights, they all felt average - save for a handful of episodes, namely all those which were animated by TMS (among them “Over The Edge” and the Etrigan and Calender Girl episodes).

Sadly, this way of handling production continued all the way through Batman Beyond, up to what we're getting now as direct to video releases. While they're certainly not god-awful, they all seem lifeless and painfully mediocre to me. (Okay, that's a serious problem of the writing department as well, but in the end, the producers are responsible for picking the writers and telling them what to do.)

So, I guess the change of the color palette during the first three seasons was done bit by bit, on a trial-and-error-basis. I imagine they couldn't really predict how the work they did on WB would end up when coming back from overseas. So they would get back the episodes, decide what they liked and what they didn't, and change tidbits on the next episodes. This way of changing things gradually is contrasted by the complete revamp between the first 85 episodes and Gotham Knights.

I have to add that the diversity I'm praising so much has also produced a bunch of god-awful episodes. But none of them as god-awful as Critters! :P
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harkovast at 6:54PM, March 27, 2010
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Abt excellent observations (damn I need to get back to work on these reviews! I am slacking!)

However I did have to edit your post.
You mentioned the name of the C episode. I cant bring myself to talk about that episode yet so I am banning that word. Its just…too painful….argh.
Sorry, I almost starting thinking about that episode and the pain came back.
Its like Tyger Tyger turned up to elven on the shit amplifier!

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Abt_Nihil at 3:52AM, March 29, 2010
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Haha! But I liked Tyger Tyger! Granted, it was a throwback to a 60s or 70s sci-fi/mystery Batman, but it was handled with the same eye for quality as the rest of the earlier episodes. It may not fit “continuity”, but my POV is that the earlier episodes had little continuity anyway (save for some character development across episodes, like Robin, Two-Face, Clayface, Catwoman, Batgirl…). I view them as stand-alone short movies, really.

You must suspend disbelief when watching Tyger Tyger - you must accept that people can mutate, when in the usual BTAS universe, they'd rather not :P But once you do that, I trust you'll find a well-written story, great design and wonderful animation in that episode.

It's like the difference between “Mad Love” (or the Christmas episode with all the short stories… I don't remember the name) and Cr– um, sorry, “The C episode” - the former being comedic and light-hearted, the latter being ridiculous in the worst way. It can sometimes be a fine line, and not crossing it shows taste and proper artistic judgment. I think that line was not crossed on Tyger Tyger (okay, not between comedic and ridiculous, but between far-out and ridiculous, if that makes any sense :P).
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harkovast at 10:35AM, March 29, 2010
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The problem I had with Tyger Tyger is that its a very silly story, but also very shallow and uninteresting.
There is no complex psychology or insight. The characters were two dimensional and cliche.
People did things “just because” repeatedly and at the end thigns weren't even resolved properly (what the hell happened to the gorilla man?) I hold this cartoon to a higher standard then that!


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itsjustaar at 3:05PM, Dec. 3, 2010
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I like the very early season 1 and 2 episodes. It's like they reunited with those who worked on the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons of yore, freshened them up a bit and darkened the colors a considerable degree (which is fitting considering the nature between Superman and Batman). Where in which the big blue boy scout is very bright in comparison to the enemies and situations he's fighting against, Batman takes on a multitude of characters in a night, brooding and mysterious setting. It could be in a lab, his cave, or anywhere else - point is, the theme fits.
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