Anime and Manga — Reviews and Previews
And now for an episode of “the most innocuously-named anime series in the history of… ever.”
Chances are, you took one look at the phrase Tiger and Bunny and were wondering why I’d decided to cover a children’s program. What I bet you didn’t expect is that I’m actually discussing the best thing to happen to the superhero genre since Christopher Nolan got his hands on the Batman franchise.
Of course, as the title is indication, Tiger and Bunny is more a self-effacing parody than a gritty, dramatic reimagining, and it remains tongue-firmly-in-cheek with its aspects of reality television and definitive anime stylings. Its premise is simple: in a world where superpowers crop up in a select few people, costumed heroes are drafted into a televised competition to see who can earn the most points by saving civilians and arresting criminals. At the end of each season, one of the competitors is named the King of Heroes, earning copious amounts of fame and corporate sponsorships. The two main heroes of the story are Wild Tiger (Kaburagi Kotetsu) and Barnaby Brooks, Jr., who doesn’t use an alias but whose (initially derisive) nickname is “Bunny.” Hence Tiger and Bunny.
It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly is so entertaining about Tiger and Bunny. Is it the novel and fresh premise? That’s certainly what got the attention of a lot of industry bigwigs, with sites like [Anime News Network] and [Hulu] lauding and airing the show respectively. That doesn’t explain why viewers are sticking around, however. Is it the slick animation and CGI fight scenes? Eh, maybe not. The animation is always passable and can be downright gorgeous in places, but it and the CGI have a tendency to clash in high-action sequences. It’s very distracting in the first episodes but fades as the viewer grows accustomed to the disconnect.
Okay, so it is the odd-couple combination of anime and western superheroes? That’s worth noting, for sure, as some of the superheroes are your classic cape crusaders with powers like shooting fire and super-strength. The two main heroes, however, are a strange combination of superheroes and mech pilots, donning suits of mechanical armor that augment their particular talents. Some people are going to love the mish-mash; other people (die-hard superhero fans and die-hard anime fans) are going to be put-off by it.
So, is it the likable and surprisingly deep characters that are keeping viewers’ attention? This is where I’d put my money – I’d say it’s the first time since 1998’s Cowboy Bebop that I have felt so much genuine sympathy for an anime’s cast.
It doesn’t matter if it’s perpetually clumsy but well-meaning protagonist Kotetsu (center); his partner Barnaby, who fills the avenging-my-dead-parents Batman role (bottom); or Karina Lyle (aka Blue Rose), the young girl who only wants to be a pop idol and not a savior of humanity (top) – you want every character to come out ahead in their personal struggles.
The series’ sense of humor is top notch as well. Sight gags, puns, situational irony – all abound in a show that tries to cram as much as it can into every episode (stick around after the ending credits, or you’ll be missing pieces of the plot). Tiger and Bunny aims to be over the top in everything it does, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the sponsorships flouted by the superheroes.
Yup, Tiger and Bunny are sponsored by SoftBank and Bandai respectively, both very real companies that probably paid very real money to be featured. There’s an accurate iPhone in the show’s second opening, and the character Fire Emblem is sponsored by—wait a minute, Fire Emblem? Isn’t that a game series that I already [talked about]? …I see what you did there, Tiger and Bunny…
In some cases, this beating-you-over-the-head approach to advertising would be egregious and annoying; in Tiger and Bunny, it’s perfectly in keeping with the show’s aesthetic, and it helps draw attention to one of the show’s central conflicts.
The show can’t be all fun and games, after all, and it explores just what it means to turn crime-fighting into a profitable business. Do you ignore the common man in need if a more bankable opportunity comes calling? Do you aim to be a good superhero or do you aim to be the winner of the competition (the two of which do not coincide as often as they should)? Do you please your sponsors or appease your own conscience? What happens to your familial relationships when your job takes up your every waking moment, but you can’t tell them what it is you do?
These are the conflicts that keep the characters evolving and make every episode fun to watch.
I’d like to say that the show maintains such a high level of quality throughout its entire run, but the fact of the matter is I don’t know. Back when I first planned this column, Tiger and Bunny only had 15 announced episodes, meaning this essay would have been published a little less than a week after the show’s finale. Since then, at least four more episodes have been announced, and it’s likely that Tiger and Bunny will see a full 24-episode season, if not more.
Frankly, I’m glad that I was wrong – I’m perfectly content to sit back and watch more Tiger and Bunny, and I recommend that those interested in the show watch it on [Hulu], where they help keep track of Western demand for anime titles. Support good shows like this one, and hopefully there will be more in our future!