Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Aug 31st 2011
Tiger & Bunny
Episodes 14-20 Streaming
Ten months have passed since Kotetsu and Barnaby saved Stern Bild from the maniac who killed Barnaby's parents. Things are about as calm at things can be for superhero reality television stars. Kotetsu and Barnaby are working great as team, crime is being properly fought, and even the homicidal vigilante Lunatic has been kept in check. Naturally, that can't last. When Kotetsu gets some bad news about his powers and Barnaby learns that the maniac he defeated wasn't his maniac, their lives start to unravel. Very bad things are brewing in Stern Bild, have been for a long time, and Barnaby and Kotetsu are about to pay the price for stirring the pot.
Tiger & Bunny's second half begins much the way its first did: with a light, fun and self-contained tale of hero life in the age of media exploitation. This particular one is about Blue Rose's nascent crush on Kotetsu. At least, officially it is. Despite having a fantastic romantic opportunity in Rose's impossible May-December crush, Tiger & Bunny is less concerned with exploring the emotional consequences of her feelings for a man who isn't just much older, but a widower with a half-grown child, and completely clueless, than it is with just having a good time. The whole thing takes place during a hilariously improbable musical collaboration between Blue Rose and Tiger and Barnaby (oh, the choreographed dancing), ends with a silly chase, and naturally banana peels come into play somewhere along the line. The truth is, despite—or perhaps because of—the occasional cheesy stab at feeling, Tiger & Bunny doesn't really have much of an emotional life. It tries gamely, as when the following episode finds Sky High in a tragic relationship with a girl who obviously isn't human, yet somehow we always end up engaging its characters at arm's length.
That changes when Kotetsu gets his news. Kotetsu has long been Tiger & Bunny's human center. He's easier to like than pretty much any hero in recent memory—strong, funny, principled, and far cooler than a dorky old dude who slips on banana peels should ever be. So it makes sense that the series' first real emotional connection should come thanks to him. The news that his powers are decreasing is nearly as bad of news for us as it is for him, but it's when he goes to his hometown to consider his next move that Tiger & Bunny's emotional life finally comes alive. Seeing his home life, and particularly how his daughter needs him and vice versa, puts us in a pretty little pickle. We don't want Kotetsu to quit, for sure, but we don't want to see him break his little girl's heart either. There's a depth and complexity of feeling to the dilemma that is definitely new for Tiger & Bunny. His decision is a bittersweet one, and when circumstances force him to go back on it, as they must, we're devastated...and yet relieved at the same time. That's not something one would have thought possible just a couple of episodes before.
Those circumstances, of course, stem from the other half of the Tiger/Barnaby duo. While Kotetsu is grappling with his future, Barnaby is grappling with his past, and when the two collide, their lives upend themselves—along with the series. To say much more would get the spoiler police on my case, so suffice to say a new villain reveals himself, along with some long-awaited truths about both Barnaby's past and Stern Bild and HERO TV. None of it is particularly unexpected—the revelations about Stern Bild have been a long time coming, and you'd have to be blind not to guess the villain's identity—but the complete upending of the status quo that it precipitates is. After the revelation, the series moves with startling speed and audacity, and what emerges on the other side is not what went in. Sure, these episodes aren't perfect—there are gaping logistical holes in the villain's schemes, past and present, and the Barnaby/Kotetsu material isn't nearly as affecting as its melodramatic treatment would have you believe—but, holy crap, do we want to see what happens next.
Kotetsu's material is more internally focused and the new villain more insidious than confrontational, so there are fewer opportunities here for the series to flaunt its fantastic action sense. The very best battle—a spectacular aerial match against a rampaging android—is actually in the disposable Sky High episode. That doesn't mean that the series looks anything less than great at any given time, though. Masakazu Katsura's character designs are a delight, the 3DCG power-suits move with fluid ease, and director Keiichi Satou couldn't have done a better job of shunning shortcuts if he thought they carried plague. The work that went into detailing Stern Bild is positively stunning, lending it a sense of place that few animated environs ever achieve. There's some stiffness in the characters' faces, making more complicated expressions problematic, and maybe a little bit of repeated animation here and there, but overall the series has remained remarkably consistent in its technical quality.
Yoshihiro Ike's appropriately big score handles Kotetsu's scenes with surprising sensitivity, but otherwise remains the same. The new opening and ending themes have the same energy and general lack of distinguishing characteristics as the previous ones.
There are so many anime series out there that you can just smell the stink of fear on. They cling to successful formulas and to the status quo, scaring themselves into stasis, resetting the plot whenever it progresses too far. It's rare, thrilling even, to find a series with the courage to just wade into the plot fists swinging and start messing things up. I wouldn't have guessed Tiger & Bunny was one of them by its first half, which just makes it all the more gratifying to find out that it is.
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : A
Music : B+
+ Great Kotetsu material; lots of big, bold changes; never less than a heap of fun.
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