Tiger & Bunny
by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Tiger & Bunny ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Tiger & Bunny ?
As someone who read Marvel Comics on a weekly basis for more than 20 years and still owns probably north of 4,500 comic books, Tiger & Bunny was high on my priority list when it first hit in the Spring 2011 season. I watched it through subtitled at the time and later rewatched with the English dub (and reviewed both halves of it) when it first came out on Blu-Ray in 2013. However, I don't think I have revisited the series since its second movie came out on Blu-Ray in 2015. For this return, I will be looking at the franchise two episodes at a time and focusing more on its episode-to-episode development than the overall picture, so this is a great opportunity for franchise newcomers to jump on board.
Tiger & Bunny is an original anime creation by Sunrise. Its premise can almost entirely be summed up with one short phrase: super-hero reality TV. The longer version is that Stern Bild City is a place heavily influenced by the appearance a few decades earlier of NEXT, individuals who possess super-human abilities. (They are roughly analogous to mutants in the Marvel Comics setting, though none are shown with physical transformations.) While some NEXT gravitate towards using their powers for criminal purposes, others aspire to become heroes. Currently the top heroes operate under the auspices of Hero TV, a popular reality TV program which broadcasts the crime-fighting exploits of heroes. The heroes score “hero points” for successful completions of heroic deeds, and the heroes are ranked by score, with the top scorer in each season awarded the title King of Heroes. Conceptually, this melding of American-style super-heroes and reality TV is a brilliant and wholly believable idea – you have to think this would actually happen if super-heroes existed in the real world – so the series starts with a good foundation.
Over the course of episode 1 the eight regular heroes are introduced, each colorful both figuratively and literally. The aging veteran is Kotetsu “Wild Tiger” Kaburagi, whose power allows him to enhance his strength and toughness to that of a hundred men, but only for five minutes. Fire Emblem is an ostentatiously gay black man who wields fire-based powers, Sky High is a clean-cut guy with wind powers who is the reigning King of Heroes, Rock Bison's powers are uncertain but he wears a spiked suit and seems a bit of a klutz, Dragon Kid is a boyish-looking Chinese girl with lightning powers and a martial arts motif, and Blue Rose is a sexy young ice generator who also sings. The seventh, Origami Cyclone, also has uncertain powers and seems on the young side. He doesn't do much, instead focusing entirely on visibility (which is what his sponsors seem to want). The newest arrival is Barnaby Brooks Jr., a young man with the same power as Kotetsu.
Such a flurry of activity occurs between the first and second episodes that, aside from co-protagonists Kotetsu and Barnaby, the others only get the barest snippets of development; we know that Blue Rose is dissatisfied with having to use a corny tag line, for instance, but nothing else at this point. Amid scenes of battling armed robbers and giant moving statues, we learn that Kotetsu was inspired down this path by an older hero named Mr. Legend and is likely the most pragmatic of the heroes. He doesn't care about grandstanding; he just wants to get the job done. That is implied to have contributed to why he is sagging in popularity and effectiveness, as he is a hero for simpler times rather than the reality TV world. Barnaby, who becomes his partner (or Kotetsu becomes Barnaby's partner, depending on who you ask), is the opposite: he's primed for playing to the show and seems to have his act much more together than what Kotetsu does. Understandably, that immediately causes friction between the two.
That friction, and how the two are going to have to learn to work together, is one of the many factors which make this series great. Kotetsu may come off as the incompetent fool of the two, but he also understands people better, leading to a more peaceful resolution to the animated giant statue incident in episode 2 than Barnaby could have managed. He also seems to appreciate better than anyone else what it really means to be a hero, hence making him the soul of the story. Unlike Barnaby, he's also shown to be a family man – or at least he was. He has a daughter who lives with her grandmother (because Kotetsu doesn't want her to know that he's a super-hero) and he is implied to be a widower, but the story on that is going to be a while in coming. Because his work gets in the way, the relationship with his daughter Kaede is strained, too.
But the burgeoning relationship between the two leads is only part of what makes this series stand out. The reality TV angle is handled very cleverly, including each hero having corporate sponsors and wearing advertising on their suits much like auto racers do. At least for now, there is also a light-hearted, sometimes almost comical spirit to everything; the production team seems to fully understand that the concept cannot be taken too seriously. Clearly one goal here was to capture the free-wheeling spirit of American comic books, and the production nails that, too.
And I certainly cannot discuss these two episodes without delving into the technical merits. The series looks like nothing else out there in anime, whether it's the sharp full-body battle suits of Kotetsu and Barnaby or the more flamboyant outfits of Blue Rose and Fire Emblem. (And notably, Mr. Legend in the flashback actually looks like an old-of shape older man in cosplay, beer gut and all.) Satelight's use of CG in design elements is probably most similar in aesthetics to its work in Bodacious Space Pirates (which debuted two seasons after this one ended) and it integrates with the regular animation better than most series which have come along since. The real wonder, though, is the art design. Stern Bild City is an eye-popping creation, a reimagining of New York City done in multiple tiers and scattered with giant art pieces reminiscent of DC's Gotham City. Its futuristic design clashes sharply with clothing and hair styles that look like holdovers from the 1970s (which is, I believe, supposed to be the actual date in this setting despite tech too advanced for that era), but that's just part of the series' charm. On the downside, non-CG animation can be a bit erratic, and some of that shows in crowd scenes between both episodes.
The English dub for this one is provided by STUDIOPOLIS, Inc. Performances and casting choices are very solid so far (especially Wally Wingert as Kotetsu), but the translation is a little loose, emphasizing smooth flow at the expense of perfect accuracy. We'll see how that goes as the series progresses.
Specials included on the Blu-Ray releases make it clear that men in their 20s and 30s who may have been drifting away from manga/comics was the target audience for this series, but it has also proven popular with female audiences due to Kotetsu and Barnaby being viewed as an eminently-shippable duo. I never got that on earlier viewings, but I can certainly see now how a scene in the first episode, where Barnaby ends up rescuing Kotetsu princess carry-style, could contribute to that. Hence this is a series which can have appeal regardless of gender and shows a lot of promise for being an entertaining ride.
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