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BATMAN Reanimated – Robin Goes Through ‘Growing Pains’

BATMAN Reanimated – Robin Goes Through ‘Growing Pains’

One thing I’ve always loved about the Batman work of Paul Dini is that he isn’t afraid to go way, way out there with his ideas. These out-of-the-box concepts would often lead to the best episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, and later The New Batman Adventures. While I didn’t really care for last week’s episode, “Joker’s Millions,” I do concede that it was an episode like they’d never done before, and that’s almost always a good thing. This week, Dini co-wrote the story with Robert Goodman and it’s one of the weirdest episodes they ever did…and I kind of love it. It’s “Growing Pains.”

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As I’ve already said about a million times already in this column, I do not enjoy the uber-kiddie version of Robin in New Batman. They just made him too young, too whiny, and too precocious. Now as an adult, I can’t really stand this version of Tim Drake. However, if any episode thus far has made me like Robin, it’s this one. Not because he isn’t whiny–he certainly is–but because we get to see his almost obsessive desire to help orphans, which stems from the fact that he basically is one himself. If the show’s going to force a kid on us, then making that kid the champion of other kids is the best way to go about it. And in an episode that’s flatly nuts, you need to have faith in your ostensible lead.

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While out on patrol with Batman, Robin spies a girl about his age, running away from some thugs. He runs after her and she seems scared–terrified even. He tells Batman about her, but Batman says they can’t do anything for her if they don’t know who she is or where she’s going. The next day, Tim is lamenting being treated like a kid (HA!) to Alfred in the town car, and spies the girl in an outdoor marketplace. He quickly puts on the Robin costume and runs after her. The weird thing about this is that nobody seems to even look in the direction of the child vigilante running through a mall in the middle of the day. He eventually catches up to her, and finds out she has amnesia and that she’s running from some scary guy. He decides to call her Annie after seeing a Raggedy Ann doll.

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The guy she’s afraid of catches up to them and Robin attempts to fight him, but does literally nothing to the massive dude. When Batman arrives (having tracked Robin via device), Robin and he split up to look for the burly bruiser, but they can’t find him, or Annie after she scarpers off. Batman finds some residue and wants to go back to the cave to analyze it, but Robin defiantly goes off to look for Annie on his own, saying he doesn’t have time for Batman to study dirt. But he should have, because Batman very quickly realizes that the “dirt” is actually the villain…

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Yep! The big, brawny man is actually Clayface, and as Robin and Annie run away, they learn the truth: Annie is ALSO Clayface. Following his last encounter with Batman, Clayface was left a pile of amnesiac gunk. In order to ascertain where he was and if it was safe, he created a small, separate being out of part of his own physical matter, made it look like a little girl, and sent his goop-child off into Gotham. Once he regained his memory, he wanted to re-engulf Annie to make himself whole again. Robin tries to save Annie–even knowing what she is–but eventually, Clayface succeeds just in time for Batman and the Commish to show up and arrest him. Robin then heads off, believing one of the charges against Clayface ought to be murder.

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WHAT A WEIRD PREMISE! It’s fascinating. I know Clayface’s whole bag–at least in the cartoons-is that he can turn himself into whatever shape and solidness he wants, but I’m fascinated that he could create a fully sentient portion of himself that somehow doesn’t remember that it’s part of him. How bonkers! Nutter butters, even.

What makes the episode really work for me, though, is the direction by Atsuko Tanaka, an animator with a very esteemed oeuvre including the nightmare fuel that is Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland and Hayao Miyazaki‘s Princess Mononoke. (He later went back to Studio Ghibli to work on Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle as well.) That anime influence is present during the episode’s large sections of dialogue-free visuals and its much more fluid sense of movement. Parts of “Growing Pains” (like the GIF above) look like they were animated for TAS and not the much more rigid, angular New Batman Adventures. This series employed quite a few anime directors and animators, and those episodes are usually much better-looking than the rest.

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For a Robin episode, “Growing Pains” is quite good, and we’ll maintain that trajectory in next week’s episode, “Mean Seasons,” which was directed by another anime person, Hiroyuki Aoyama, who’d directed three episodes of Superman: The Animated Series. What anime credits does he have? Oh, just being a key animator on Akira, four Studio Ghibli movies, three Mamoru Hosoda movies, and freakin’ One Punch Man. We’ll get into it next week!

What’s your take on “Growing Pains?” Tell me in the comments below!

Images: WB Animation


Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. He’s written the animation retrospectives Batman: Reanimated, X-Men: Reanimated, Cowboy Rebop, and Samurai reJacked. Follow him on Twitter!

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