Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Tiger & Bunny
In the futuristic city of Stern Bild, superheroes are a fact of everyday life, fighting crime and appearing on their own reality show. Kotetsu "Wild Tiger" Kaburagi is a middle-aged hero whose career was in decline until the day he teamed up with charismatic newcomer Barnaby Brooks Jr., whom Kotetsu has nicknamed "Bunny." All his life, Barnaby has been looking for the people responsible for the death of his parents; his only lead is the name "Ouroboros" and a cryptic tattoo. Barnaby and Kotetsu have more immediate problems to deal with, though, when a madman piloting a mecha tries to eliminate them! Could this tech-savvy criminal be an agent of Ouroboros? Unfortunately, every time Barnaby tries to track down anyone linked to Ouroboros, his target goes up in flames—literally. It seems a new, deadly brand of justice has descended upon Stern Bild...
It's time that things started getting serious. After several chapters of light missions and comical escapades (let's throw Bunny a surprise birthday party!), Tiger & Bunny finally bares its teeth in a multi-part storyline that not only spans this volume, but extends into the next. It's an ambitious saga that pokes into the shadows of Barnaby's past, reveals an organized crime ring where nothing is quite what it seems, and—most importantly—leads to some fantastic fight scenes. Between the citywide chases, wild melee battles, and dramatic confrontations, what's not to love? The series is finally delivering on its promise of bold superhero action, with a substantial story to match.
For better and for worse, this story arc hits all the right notes of the action-adventure formula. A simple incident spirals into an all-out battle with multiple combatants; a hint of curiosity leads Barnaby to make a shocking discovery; and towards the end, the heroes encounter a far more dangerous threat than anyone could have imagined. Getting caught up in the flow of the story is easy, with lots of fast-paced, physical moments and new revelations around every corner. However, the "surprises" are really no surprise to anyone who knows their way around the genre. As expected, the obvious villains are never the real villain, and convenient accidents and distractions keep Barnaby from figuring out the evil master plan too quickly. The chases and fight scenes, placed at about one per chapter, also lack any big surprises—the heroes simply keep fending off the bad guys until new ones emerge forty pages later.
However, just because the story follows a standard formula doesn't make it weak. Its content, rather than its form, is what gives Tiger & Bunny meaning. Every chapter has something new to say—especially about Barnaby, who finally gets a chance to go all-out in the search for his parents' killers, rather than just hinting at it. His investigations into Ouroboros don't yield much fruit, but they reveal plenty about his personality and his past. (A couple of brief flashbacks also help.) Barnaby's run-in with a robot-piloting villain also brings up the classic morality question: How fiercely can a hero "fight" for justice before he becomes a monster in his own right? The question is also revisited, with much darker implications, in a volume-ending cliffhanger. This intense focus on Barnaby is unfortunate for the other characters, though—most of them (even Kotetsu) only get scraps of time in the spotlight, either during mission planning or in the heat of battle.
When those battles do come around, though, the dynamic artwork often makes them the highlight of each chapter. Even a one-sided duel can be a visual showpiece, like when Barnaby, completely outmatched by an armed mecha, has to perform acrobatic moves across city streets and buildings just to escape. Of course, it only gets better when the heroes suit up: explosive special effects, high-speed manuevers, and feats of strength provide plenty of thrills once Kotetsu and Barnaby have their superhero gear on. The ultimate high point, though, comes when everyone joins in the fight: a group mission in the final chapter sees the talents of Blue Rose (ice), Sky High (flight), Rock Bison (strength), and others coming together in creative ways. But there's more to a quality manga than just well-choreographed fight scenes, and some of the artistic fundamentals fall short. Many of the scenes are oversaturated with gray tones, and the city backgrounds are often so simple that they look almost fake. The dependence on tones also means that shading and texture are often ignored, making some of the non-action art look flat and lifeless.
Although the world of Tiger & Bunny is complex, with special powers and advanced pseudoscience everywhere, the dialogue smartly avoids any excessive tech talk. And even though there's an unsolved mystery afoot, the dialogue also avoids any of the vague, incomplete sentences that readers often find infuriating. The writing, in short, is the best kind: simple and straightforward, moving the story along without being a distraction. The only place where this simplicity is a drawback is in the discussion of heroism and morality, where short sentences and sound-bite philosophy result in a black-and-white view of the world. The sound effects, which are edited from Japanese into English, complement the action without getting in the way—but the limited font choices (only two or three lettering styles) make them look rather monotonous.
Tiger & Bunny's leap into more serious storytelling comes at an ideal time for the series: the characters and setting are pretty familiar by now, and everyone is ready to move on from the light, episodic content. This is a story arc that isn't afraid to reach out in multiple directions: Barnaby's search for this parents' killers, the discovery of a sinister scheme, and some probing questions about the thin line between hero and vigilante. Granted, some of those directions follow a predictable path: fight a villain here, discover that he's not the "real villain," then keep pressing forward until the next nugget of information sets up another enemy encounter. Still, the entertaining fight scenes and the gradual revelations about Ouroboros are enough to make the story worth it, and if the last few pages are anything to go by, there are even better things yet to come.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-
+ Kicks off a major story arc with fast-paced, creative fight scenes, crucial character revelations, a mystery that demands solving, and maybe a moral question or two.
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