Anime Reporter takes a close look at Tiger & Bunny, Director Keiichi Sato’s (Karas – director, Wolf’s Rain- animation director) quirky superhero anime series. No, this isn’t a cartoon about a mismatched tiger and rabbit. Well, not exactly.
Welcome to Hero TV, the show that pits Sternbild City’s star superheroes against each other to see who will be crowned King of Heroes. These heroes are all NEXT; people who, over the preceding 45 years inexplicably developed superpowers at different times in their lives. This is the premise that starts the show off, with superheroes desperate to outperform each other in any crisis situation, earning points for anything from rescuing citizens to being the first hero to arrive on scene and of course, for catching the bad guys. Each hero is in constant communication with Hero TV producer, Agnes (voiced by Yuhko Kaida (Blue Exorcist, Code:Breaker) in Japanese, Tara Platt (Bleach, Naruto) in English) to ensure that the show is action packed and crowd pleasing. What’s more, each hero’s costume is quite unsubtly branded with company logos of their sponsors, not quite reaching the levels of Mystery Men’s sell out champion, Captain Amazing, but enough to remind viewers that these heroes have endorsements and pay checks to motivate each act of heroism. The only hero more interested in justice than ratings is veteran superhero Wild Tiger, (Hiroaki Hirata of One Piece and Air Gear acclaim in Japanese, Wally Wingert of Bleach and Naruto in English), who quickly becomes the main focus of the series as he racks up massive fines for damages in the name of protecting his city.
Tiger’s unwillingness to play ball with his producer and keep his sponsors happy leaves him poorly ranked in the competition and less popular with fans around Sternbild. When the company representing Tiger is taken over, he’s forced to relocate to Apollon Media, where he’s obligated to debut in a high tech new costume as one half of a team with the impressive new hero, Barnaby Brooks Jr., (Masakazu Morita (Ichigo from Bleach) in Japanese, Yuri Lowenthal (Sasuke from Naruto) in English). Both heroes are immediately resentful of each other and have fundamentally different views about what it means to be a hero. Wild Tiger insists on labelling Barnaby, who has made his identity public knowledge, as ‘Bunny’ (“Because you hop around and have cute little ears like a bunny rabbit”) while Barnaby refers to Tiger mainly as ‘Old man’. At the start of the series, the relationship between Tiger and Bunny feels very much like the makings of a buddy comedy and it is, but it’s also something much more interesting.
Barnaby’s interest in being a hero come from his desire to find Ouroboros, a crime syndicate responsible for the murder of his parents and his ambition to please his benefactor, Mr. Maverick (Nobuaki Fukuda in Japanese, Jamieson Price (Ergo Proxy, Bleach) in English), whereas Tiger fights out of a strong sense of justice, all the while struggling with his responsibilities to his family and the popular opinion that he’s past his prime as a hero in comparison to Bunny and the other, more pragmatic heroes. When Ouroboros raises its head and the stakes by threatening all of Sternbild, the two are united at last in their dedication to bringing these evildoers to justice. However, this series is much more than a simple tale of good guys vs. bad guys, throughout the series individuals heroes are given the spotlight and exposed in terms of their motivations and desires as a hero, though this does not extend to every hero in the series.
Characters and relationships are given enough depth that the first few episodes feel like stepping into the middle of these characters lives, which is, arguably the goal. Rather than being laboured with lengthy introductions to each character, these early episodes show the characters acting as they do throughout and simply allow the viewer to form an opinion along the way. Of all the crime-fighters in the series, Fire Emblem and Rock Bison are given much less exposure and depth than others, with Rose Blue, Dragon Kid, Sky High, Origami Cyclone and of course Tiger and Bunny receiving at least one episode detailing their own personal conflicts and back-story. Even the delightfully disturbed vigilante/serial killer, Lunatic has more history told than some member of Hero TV. However, all of the characters are given distinctive and dynamic personalities so it’s rare for any character (with the occasional and bizarre exception of Origami Cyclone) to simply become an extra in the background of any scene.
The show’s pace develops significantly as it progresses, with storylines becoming darker and more intricate as it leaves behind its more rudimentary superhero premise. While there is emphasis on humour in each episode, it undoubtedly becomes more subtle as events unfold. Tiger and Bunny develop mutual respect and the dysfunctional relationship plot is eventually discarded in favour of more challenging foes and obstacles to overcome. Justice is a theme touched on regularly throughout the 25 episodes though it is emulated and aspired to quite differently by a variety of characters. On the surface, Tiger & Bunny may seem like a standard Saturday morning cartoon, but it is subtly layered with suspense, drama and character depth enough to interest a more refined audience as well.
Visually, the show is stunning, utilizing a very satisfying blend of anime-style renderings and CGI, making characters and costumes striking and futuristic in effect. Sternbild City makes a delightful setting, with an archaic sprawl of Olympian statues across the landscape and zeppelins dotted throughout the skyline contrasting nicely with the bright lights and a plethora of advertisements not unheard of in the modern age. Action sequences are split between fast-paced action and slow motion strikes which manage to appear regularly without feeling heavy-handed. Characters powers and their corresponding visual effects make sleek use of CGI, making each skirmish a delight to watch.
The voice acting is impressive, though noticeably different in approach between the Japanese and English speaking cast. In particular, Tiger feels more like a childish oaf and less like an earnest hero in the English version with Hirata using a more understated and grounded approach to the character’s voice, allowing the character’s comedic moments to speak for themselves without feeling forced. That said, Tiger & Bunny and its characters are deeply enjoyable in either language.
Part 4 of the series, which is now available on DVD and Bluray, brings the show to a heart-pounding, gripping climax, forcing Tiger to fight as never before to prove himself worthy as a hero to himself and the world. These final six episodes provide a thrilling and entertaining experience, both creating a distinct feeling of loss that it’s over and providing a satisfying feeling of a story very well told. Anime series can pick up an unfortunate habit of not knowing when to stop, so it’s refreshing to see a show that leaves the audience wanting more, though arguably in this case, leaving the audience with a strong case of Tiger & Bunny withdrawal. Oh well, at least there’s the upcoming film, Tiger & Bunny – The Rising to look forward to.
Action – 9
Humour – 8
Likeable characters – 8.5
Story – 8.5
Suspense – 8
84% – “We have a winner!”
Look beyond the misleading title and find a series that packs a lethal punch.
Tiger & Bunny proves to be more than just a good story, rather a great story very well told.
Tiger & Bunny is available on DVD and Bluray from Manga Entertainment
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