Reviewby Theron Martin, Mar 1st 2013
Tiger & Bunny
Blu-Ray - Set 1
Stern Bild City is a focal point for the inhabitation and activity of NEXT, humans who have been born with some kind of super-powers. (Think a socially-acceptable version of mutants from the Marvel Universe.) Some have become Heroes, costumed, corporate-sponsored crime-fighters who defeat bad guys and rescue civilians to earn points on Hero-focused reality programming aired by Hero TV. The most veteran of the current heroes is Kotetsu “White Tiger” Kaburagi, whose Hundred Man power increases his physical abilities a hundredfold for five minutes at a time, but his prioritizing of justice and saving people over scoring points, and propensity for property damage while doing so, has left him as one of the lower-ranked of the current batch of heroes and earned him a (partly deserved) reputation as something of a screw-up. When his former sponsor folds, he gets absorbed into a new one and paired up with brand-new hero Barnaby Brooks, who has the same power as Kotetsu but quickly earns a more favorable reputation. Despite their clashing personalities and Kotetsu derogatorily nicknaming Barnaby “Bunny,” the two must struggle to get along and work together against common criminals and more super-powered threats to Stern Bild, including a lethally powerful vigilante and a secret criminal organization that may be connected to the much earlier deaths of Barnaby's parents.
Series about costumed super-heroes done in a Western comic book style have been quite rare in anime beyond direct adaptations of Western properties, with their places typically occupied by sentai teams and magical girls. That is the lesser of the two major factors that makes this original 2011 Sunrise production so distinctive, however. The angle that the series takes is a fresh and intriguing one, enough to inspire interest in the series solely on its own merits. And, for the most part, it is executed pretty well.
Conceptually, the series is a brilliant blending of trends seen in different aspects of the real world. Reality TV has become so pervasive that reality programming focused on the actions of super-heroes in a setting where such individuals actually exist makes perfect sense; what could be more dramatic than live footage showing them swooping down on bad guys and/or rescuing civilians? That Heroes would be corporate-sponsored, have showy costumes and kitsch catch phrases carefully crafted by support teams, and wear advertising logos on their suits just like NASCAR drivers do also makes perfect sense in a world where athletes commonly sign lucrative shoe deals, and why wouldn't there be trading cards and even Hero-themed bars in such a setting? The seeming very bad taste of assigning point values to rescues and capturing criminals also seems somehow appropriate, as what would the modern world be without spectacle to feed on?
The series also makes an excellent choice with its lead protagonist. Kotetsu's heart is certainly in the right place, and he does have flashes of brilliance, but he is hardly the big star in the Hero scene, is only borderline-competent much of the time, and regularly comes up short on earning respect. While the series may play up his misfortune a little too much at times, the way he takes his lumps - to both body and ego - and still keeps pressing forward is very endearing. Giving him a 9-year-old daughter that he cannot live with because he is trying to keep his daughter from knowing about his job is another interesting angle, as combining super-heroism and parenting is an issue all-too-often dodged in comic book portrayals. (The series has only sporadically given that any attention so far, though.) Other Heroes are more of a mixed bag; Barnaby is satisfyingly defined (if rather boring) as a straight-laced type obsessed with revenge who would rather be a loner, and Blue Rose and Origami Cyclone both get feature episodes which expand out their characters, but Fire Emblem is little more than a bad pun (he has fire powers and is “flaming” gay, you see), Dragon Kid does not get much development despite a feature episode, and Sky High and Rock Bison have little definition beyond very basic character traits. Bad guys so far have been fairly standard extremists and Hero TV producer Agnes has yet to show anything beyond being the stereotypical ratings-above-everything-else producer.
The story structure so far primarily consists of one-shot tales which either completely stand alone or vaguely fit into one or both of two larger story threads: the appearance and actions of the killer NEXT vigilante Lunatic and Barnaby's hunt for Ouroboros and the man who killed his parents. While the Ouroboros thread gets feature treatment in the last few episodes of this half and does ultimately get conclusively resolved, the Lunatic thread temporarily fades into the background and looks like it will linger on into the second half. Along the way the series mixes action and ostentatious displays of super-hero aggrandizement with generous amounts of character-building, occasional humorous moments, and some insights into the way that a world where Heroes are commonplace might function. The latter aspect could stand more attention, but overall it makes for an entertaining mix.
On several occasions in the past decade studio Sunrise has been on the cutting edge of CG artistry in anime TV series, and Tiger and Bunny just continues that trend. The project is helmed by Keiichi Satou, who was also responsible for Karas, and the influence of that project shows clearly here in the sleek CG renditions and animation of the battle suits that Wild Tiger, Barnaby, and certain others use throughout most of these episodes. Non-CG Heroes also get richly detailed renditions, from the sexy cuteness of Blue Rose in her skimpy costume to Fire Emblem's ostentatious outfit. Some of the neatest touches here are the flashbacks which portray founding Hero Mr. Legend as a paunchy older man who still has the powers to be a hero even though he does not really fit the traditional sleek image of a hero anymore. Seeing how different some of the Heroes look when not in costume is also a treat, although the 1970s-themed clothing styles worn by Barnaby and Kotetsu seem a bit incongruous with the much more advanced technology base. The setting design for Stern Bild City, which takes some cues from the live-action Batman movies for monument aesthetics but creates a much brighter and cheerier city, also produces some fantastically-imagined architecture, including a multilayered construction that becomes a plot point late in this half. Non-CG animation and rendering sometimes slips a bit in quality control, but all of the glamor and plenty of well-staged action scenes more than balance that out.
A heavily orchestral score also suits the series well, using grand numbers to evoke the overblown drama and action typical of Western comic book fare. Both opener “Orion wo nazoru” and closer “hoshi no sumika” are disappointments by comparison, however.
The English dub for the series comes courtesy of STUDIOPOLIS, Inc., the same California studio which dubs Naruto, Bleach, Digimon, and the Marvel Comics titles, amongst others. The casting choices are generally good ones, with actors for the Hero roles typically able to replicate some approximation of the verbal flair that the original Japanese performances had. Wally Wingert, who is otherwise probably best-known for voicing Renji in Bleach, is an especially good fit as Wild Tiger, Patrick Seitz perfectly makes Sky High sound like a vacuous goody two-shoes, and John Eric Bentley plays Fire Emblem to the hilt in his first substantial anime role. Laura Bailey's performance of Dragon Kid loses a bit of the tomboyish masculinity heard in the original role, but that would not have translated well anyway. The script at times takes great liberties with the original dialogue (more than it sometimes needs to) and is usually on the loose side; while this does not result in any significant characterization or plot changes, it does give a slightly different flavor to some scenes.
Viz Media's Blu-Ray release uses a 1080p transfer via AVC MPEG-4 encoding, one which brings out the visual appeal of the series quite well. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 lossless audio tracks do well enough, though this series in particular probably could have benefited from a more robust surround-sound mix. Viz accompanies the 13 episodes in this set with a respectable array of Extras, including clean opener and closer, Japanese trailers, and limited sets of concept art. The feature Extra is a roughly 24 minute “making of” piece which looks like it was made as a series preview. Its most interesting revelation is that the series was, indeed, made specifically with a male audience in their 20s and 30s in mind and as a partial effort to keep anime fans who normally start drifting away from the hobby at those ages still involved.
While the series may be aimed at slightly older male audience, its fan service quotient is pretty much limited to Blue Rose's sexy costume and it offers a bevy of studly male characters for its female audiences to ogle, too. (This is more Western-style studliness than Japanese-style pretty boys, though.) Although people do occasionally get killed, the graphic content on the whole is also relatively mild and the content has enough flash, humor, and action to keep the attention of those who care little for the characterizations, subtle jabs at real-world institutions, and mechanics of the settings. Thus the series has a broader-than-normal appeal for an anime title, and its first half has the production and writing merits necessary to draw and keep attention.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Usually looks great, takes an interesting angle on super-heroes, endearing lead.
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