If there is one anime series that has been made that can get the love from both current Japanese animation fans and those American comic book fans who occasionally look at anime, it certainly is Tiger & Bunny. Not since Cowboy Bebop has there been such a mass accessible series for folks of all types here in North America, but with its slick action animation, homage to American superheroes, and interesting series of twists and turns between its core story of our two main heroes, Tiger & Bunny blows it out of the water, hitting a home run as it delights all sorts and adding them to its ever growing fan base.
The setting is sometime in the future in Sternbild City, a metropolis on the water reminiscent of NYC or Chicago. Here all crime and villainy is combated by a group of superheroes called “NEXTs,” who use their powers to save the day. The twist to them is that to be a superhero and use “NEXT” power, a hero must be approved by the Justice Department, where he is then sponsored by a corporation and his exploits are followed and broadcast on Hero TV. As folks are saved and criminals are caught, Hero TV awards points, and at the end of the year crowns a King of the Heroes, which not only provides entertainment, but causes a sensation that has helped gain the public support for letting these superheroes protect them instead of the police or military. Veteran hero Kotetsu Kaburagi, known as Wild Tiger, hasn’t been so hot in the hero rankings lately, causing more damage to city property than saving folks. As fate would have it, his corporate sponsors switch, and he is forced to partner with a new hero, Barnaby Brooks Jr. Barnaby not only doesn’t use a secret identity, but he also has the exact same power as Kotetsu, which is a 100 times increase in strength and speed for five minutes. The team-up of the new duo is easier said than done, and the two have to learn the hard way to get over the arguing if they want to save the day, as well as score points for Hero TV.
Set 1, which features the first 13 of the 26-episode TV series, packs an addictive punch for viewers while providing a story that is a little bit of everything, yet tying it all together and avoiding any mess, a tricky feat which the production team pulls off with ease. The overall concept is great: superheroes whose exploits are followed on a reality TV show to gain points for a prize and public support. It is such a smart commentary on American society in itself, providing a priceless mirror of what could very well be a real life situation if super-powered folks did suddenly appear one day on Earth. On top of that, the fact a corporation sponsors each hero, so the corporate logos appear on their costumes, as a way to advertise on TV is hysterical. The story that unfolds against the clever backdrop is the one between Kotetsu and Barnaby. Kotetsu is getting older, his wife has passed and he uses the excuse that he is traveling on business so his 9-year-old daughter doesn’t learn what he really does for a living. As a hero, he’s going down in the rankings and is losing public support, as he wrecks more public property than any other while trying to save the day. Then we look at Barnaby. On the surface, he is younger and brighter, and seemingly only cares about scoring the points for attention and his sponsor. However, as the series gets a few episodes in we learn there is more to him, as his parents were murdered by a villain with “NEXT” powers when he was a child, causing him to dedicate his life to revenge. When combined we do get an unlikely duo tale, reminiscent of a buddy-cop story, with sprinkled hints of X-Men, Ironman, Batman, and more. The arc provided in the first 13 episodes is a great ride that takes us from their growing pains to Barnaby confronting his parents’ murderer, a bastard with “NEXT” powers named Jake who is part of a terrorist organization named Ouroboros. Everything flows at a natural pace, not feeling rushed, yet still somehow impressively fleshing out all the characters and relationships between the multiple plot points.
Viz Media took a little longer to get this on DVD here than its die-hard fans would’ve liked. Initially it was simulcast online at the same time with Japan with English subtitles, but I think the delay was to make sure the English dub was done right. The American voice team on the set, dubbed in Burbank, CA (sorry Vancouver-dub fans), has done a great job rendering everything for the North American ears or those who’d rather watch in English than the original Japanese audio. The only English dub that wasn’t thrilling was the superhero Fire Emblem who is an effeminate male. The dub isn’t as offensive to the LGBT community as it is just way too goofy in the direction they took the vocals on this gay male. Luckily, the story and writing of the Fire Emblem character makes up the balance for the mis-dub and doesn’t hurt the overall product.
To sum it up, Tiger & Bunny is a growing hit, and why shouldn’t it be? It is an amazing series that is full of visual goodness and provides great characters in an exciting plot. From Japanese anime lovers to American comic book fans, there is something here for everyone.
Tiger & Bunny DVD set 1 is out now from Viz Media.
[Editor’s note: Neon Alley subscribers can watch Tiger & Bunny episodes streamed on the service; the entire series airs in scheduled time slots, fully dubbed in English.]
Review copy provided by Viz Media.