Reviewby Carlo Santos, Sep 15th 2013
Tiger & Bunny Comic Anthology
In the futuristic city of Stern Bild, superheroes are a part of everyday life, even appearing on a reality show that covers their exploits. Middle-aged Kotetsu "Wild Tiger" Kaburagi seemed to be on the downside of his hero career ... until he got a jump-start by teaming up with charismatic young upstart Barnaby Brooks Jr. (whom Kotetsu has taken to calling "Bunny"). In public, Tiger and Bunny are portrayed as a dynamic duo—but in truth, they rarely get along. How do they deal with their personal differences behind the scenes? This anthology looks at the lighter side of superhero life with Tiger and Bunny, as well as interactions with fellow heroes like flight specialist Sky High, super-strong Rock Bison, ice-wielding Blue Rose, flamboyant Fire Emblem, shapeshifting Origami Cyclone, and martial artist Dragon Kid. There's more to being a superhero than just fighting crime!
Let's call the Tiger & Bunny Comic Anthology what it really is: a book of company-sanctioned fanfiction. Which is not to say that it's messy or amateurish—in fact, there are certain standards that keep this collection looking reasonably professional. The artist roster runs the range from industry veterans to fresh talents who may have just gotten published, and the stories stick close enough to the original canon that we don't have to deal with made-up superheroes or plot-derailing flights of fancy. In other words, it's a "safe" collection of stories based on and inspired by the series—but those safeguards also force it into some unfortunate corners.
The main problem with this anthology is that it has an eight-page limit that forces everyone to keep their stories short. No matter how creative the idea, it has fit into that framework; dramatic arcs are out of the question when every artist is fighting for a fair share of space. Consequently, only certain genres work well within the format, with humor and slice-of-life being the most common entries in the collection. Some resort to screwball premises, like "What if Bunny was suddenly three inches tall?" or "What if everyone had to dress up for Halloween?", while others try to take a more thoughtful approach by looking at family and friendship issues.
Being a published manga artist doesn't instantly make one a master humorist, though, and a lot of the comedy pieces are just awkward punchlines at the end of a rambling scenario. The idea of superheroes trying to solve daily-life problems is a good base for a joke, but it can't be the whole joke—that's the mistake that many of these stories make. Equally bad are the mindless character stereotypes: "Blue Rose is such a typical high school girl!" and "Barnaby is so aloof!", to name a couple. These are observations, but they're not actual jokes.
Despite such flaws, the Tiger & Bunny Comic Anthology still succeeds on some fronts. Secondary characters who never got enough screen time in the anime finally get a chance to shine: if nothing else, readers will gain a greater appreciation for the long-suffering Origami Cyclone, with his illusory abilities and goofy obsession with Japanese culture. The outgoing, individualistic Fire Emblem also emerges as a fan favorite, taking various roles as a mentor, all-around friend, and comic relief. In addition, some of the more serious pieces are genuinely heartwarming, like when Kotetsu plays with a class of grade-schoolers as part of a publicity event. With an eight-page limit forcing every artist to keep things short, it's easy to move on to the next story if one simply doesn't click.
The anthology format also makes it easy to check out different styles of art. Obviously, there are no wild experimental attempts in this book—the "professional and semi-professional artists only" barrier makes sure of that—but even so, there's plenty of variation. On one end of the scale are the comedy artists who rely on a flat, simplified look that distills the characters to their basic forms: Barnaby is easily identified by his glasses, jacket, and hairstyle, for example. Then there are the action artists who hew closest to the canonical style, making the heroes look crisp and glossy and throwing in an occasional fight scene to show off (or it might just be Sky High getting into an airborne mishap). Some contributors also lean toward the BL look, portraying Kotetsu and Barnaby as gorgeous, stylish men who might be more than friends—although the story content stays strictly family-friendly. No matter what the genre or style, all of the artwork maintains a certain level of polish, with easily readable page layouts and character designs that respect the original. A handful of color illustrations at the start of this volume and the halfway point also serve as a nice bonus.
Despite this variety in story ideas and art styles, the dialogue is bland almost to the point of monotony—every character talks the same way, even with their wide-ranging personalities. Some of that can be blamed on the translation, which basically just gets the words down with no concern for inflections or speech patterns (even the super-soft-spoken scientist Saito doesn't get the "tiny font" treatment). Fans, of course, already know in their minds how flamboyant Fire Emblem sounds or how pumped-up Wild Tiger can get—but it's a shame to not see that come across in the script.
Although Tiger & Bunny has won over plenty of fans with its modern, action-packed premise, only the most serious devotees need to pick up this anthology. The stories are entertaining, but not essential, and at eight pages each there's little room to explore any of the deep thoughts that one might have about the heroes of Stern Bild. The hit-or-miss attempts at comedy (leaning mostly toward miss) are a disappointment, and the lack of any grand story arc makes it hard to feel truly invested in this collection. In the end, most of the enjoyment comes from seeing various artists interpret the same work visually, and exploring the lives of minor characters who didn't get a fair shake during the run of the anime. But these bite-sized fragments of the Tiger & Bunny universe are no substitute for the real deal.
Overall : C
Story : D
Art : B-
+ Secondary characters get a chance to shine, various art styles are all enjoyable, and the stories are fun without departing too far from canon.
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