What a show, what a show… It’s not really a rare occurrence to find animes in the action genre that can really grip you and take you on a ride unlike any other, mainly because there is a lot of quality anime out there and “Tiger & Bunny” most definitely belongs in that category! Intrigued? Then read on…
This is a relatively recent release (2011) from Sunrise studios, the company that started making anime in the 1970s and has brought us shows such as “Cowboy Bebop”, “City Hunter”, “Gintama” and many of the mecha animes (something they have actively specialised in) that have become household names including “Mobile Suit Gundam” and ALL the spinoffs and Code Geass to name a couple. “Tiger & Bunny” is an original concept which also includes mecha elements, which is why it was directed by Keiichi Satou who has worked on many mecha anime in the past. Apart from the anime, there have been plenty of additional projects including 2 animated movies, a manga, a stage play (with the voice actors taking up the roles), video games and it has also been announced that there will be a Hollywood adaptation of the show which will be done by Imagine (Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s production studio). Although relatively unknown in terms of being a big name hit, this show undoubtedly has loads of potential – something Sunrise is obviously well aware of.
Some of the hit shows that have come out of Sunrise studios
The skeleton of the show is based on a rather simple concept: superheroes fight crime to protect the city. To elaborate, the show is set in a fictional time (the year NC1978) and place (Stern Bild City) and some years previous to NC1978 people with superhuman abilities were being born – these people were labelled as NEXT – Noted Entities with eXtraordinary Talents. Having these gifts, there was obvious prejudice against them initially but over time public opinion slowly changed which was helped along by some of these NEXT choosing to become superheroes and save the city in times of need. Moving on, this superhero business became just that – big business! A television programme known as Hero TV was created which broadcasts the exploits of the heroes while they fight crime and the heroes themselves belong to various companies who negotiate deals for sponsors to advertise on the suits that the heroes wear. Essentially, they fight crime whilst promoting their sponsors with advertising, get awarded points depending on whether they stop a crime or arrest a criminal etc. and at the end of the season the winner gets crowned the King of Heroes.
The business of saving lives
Our 2 main heroes of the show are Kotetsu T. “Wild Tiger” Kaburagi and Barnaby “Bunny” Brooks, Jr. – an unlikely, unusual but complementary team up. Kotetsu is the older of the 2 and is considered a “veteran” of the trade, having fought on Hero TV for many years. When his sponsor company goes belly-up, he thinks that it may be the end for his career as a hero, but luckily for him he gets picked up by a new company and is allowed to continue to be a hero but under one condition – he must team up with the new member of the hero squad, Barnaby. Barnaby is the quintessential Batman of the group: an only child from a wealthy family who was orphaned as a boy when his parents were killed. He has everything money could buy, is good-looking and has super-powers but his real goal in life is to find out who murdered his parents and carry out his revenge. Kotetsu (Tiger) and Barnaby (Bunny) couldn’t be more opposite – whether it be in age, personality or the way they view what being a hero means – but they get paired up as the first hero team combination (their points are awarded on both an individual and team basis) and now have to figure out a way to work with each other while they save the city from numerous threats. This is where the fun begins as we watch this odd couple trying to figure out their dynamic.
Can’t teach an old dog new tricks
Apart from the main heroes, there are 6 other heroes and 1 anti-hero also involved in the show: Karina “Blue Rose” Lyle, Keith “Sky High” Goodman, Nathan “Fire Emblem” Seymour, Huang “Dragon Kid” Pao-Lin, Antonio “Rock Bison” Lopez, Ivan “Origami Cyclone” Karelin and the anti-hero Yuri “Lunatic” Petrov. Each has their own powers, whether it be creation of ice or shape-shifting, which they use to help save the city whilst earning points for Hero TV.
The show is divided into 2 arcs – one which spans about half the episodes and ties in to the other arc which spans the entire show as a “slow-build” arc. The season-long arc revolves mainly around Barnaby trying to figure out who killed his parents as he tries to remember what happened on that day and investigates various leads which eventually leads us to the main conclusion of the show. Tied into that is the smaller arc where Tiger & Bunny have to face off against a madman NEXT who believes NEXT to be superior to normal humans and thus wishes to lord over everyone. The tie in here has to do with the crime syndicate named Ouroboros that Bunny believes killed his parents. Jake is thought to belong to the syndicate and so Bunny goes after him to try and get some answers. Apart from this, we also have the season-long appearance of Lunatic that the boys have to deal with from time to time – a NEXT that believes in his own sense of justice, which he executes to the letter. All in all, a lot of interweaved stories that makes for an interesting plot.
You might think “it’s all been done before”, but the simplicity of the concept is where the true genius lies in roping viewers in. Nothing beats watching a show where it’s the good guys versus the bad guys and we watch in anticipation to see how things will unfold. Truth be told, when I first happened across the title of this anime I was a bit dubious and passed it over. But after seeing that a new OVA is due to come out soon (“The Sound of Tiger & Bunny”) I went back and did a little digging and found that perhaps this was a show I should be taking a 2nd look at. Do I have any regrets? Absolutely none! Like I said, the show has a simple concept and is very reminiscent of watching cartoons after school – like coming home and watching Batman at 3pm on your local channel (for us in SA that would have been SABC 2). The show has that kind of feel and it has been noted by critics that it has that kind of “American cartoon” vibe about it, but not in a bad/cheesy way.
Every good bromance has their troubles
But in the end, that’s the guy who’s got your back
The show is essentially a buddy comedy with action, mecha suits, mysteries, conspiracies, characters in the shadows, crime syndicates, petty criminals and power players all set against the backdrop of a major metropolitan city. If it sounds like a replication of Batman, you’d be forgiven for thinking so, but this show has a much lighter feel (and colour scheme) to it where the heavier aspects are offset by the characters themselves. Every now and then we have episodes which showcase each of the different heroes which gives you a better understanding of their personalities and a bit of their history. And because the heroes work for a tv show, they tend to spend a lot of time together at the studio, working out at the gym and doing promotions. That kind of camaraderie and competition puts an interesting spin on things and brings a group dynamic that most superhero shows never have. In addition, there is also a motley crew of supporting characters, e.g. Agnes Joubert (the director of Hero TV), Ben Jackson (Tiger’s former boss) and Doc Saito (the genius mastermind behind Tiger and Bunny’s suits), who keep things interesting. Doc Saito was one of my favourites and when you hear what he has to say, you’ll definitely be able to figure out why…
Heroes can be regular folk too… Drinks after work, hanging out at the gym
I will give credit to the show in being able to maintain a balance between the deeper, heavier stuff that they deal with in the show and the comedy aspect of having Tiger and Bunny trying to get along. Rather than just keeping it strictly crime fighting, they delve into the emotions of the characters and the problems that they’ve dealt with or are currently dealing with. Barnaby is our main vehicle for that aspect but there are others with deep stories, one of which even touches on the issue of domestic violence. I found that these moments keep the plot grounded and the characters and make them relatable as we sympathise or empathise with their experiences. It also leaves you feeling conflicted at times because now that you know why someone behaves the way they do, can you really fault them? The best of example of this is given by our anti-hero, Lunatic, but you won’t get any spoilers about that from me!
The dark past of Barnaby Brooks, Jr.
The production itself gets no complaints from me. The animation style is in keeping with Sunrise productions and the special effects with regard to the mecha suits and bikes etc. are what one would expect from a company that has specialised in mecha anime. There is plenty of use of vibrant colour and the OP and ED tracks are catchy and fun whilst the OST itself is in keeping with that “superhero” feel. The other aspect of the show that deserves special mention is the use of sponsors. The concept of the show is that each of the heroes wears advertising from different sponsors on their suits and rather than just making up sponsors, this anime uses companies that exist in real life! I thought that was a classic idea and it was rather well executed too! Some of the companies that serve as sponsors include: Bandai (toys and gaming), Pepsi (softdrinks), Amazon.com.jp (online retailers), Animate (anime/manga retailers), SoftBank (Japanese internet provider), FamilyMart (Japanese convenience store chain), UStream (video streaming), Namco (gaming), Kronos (restaurant chain), Gyu-Kaku (restaurant chain), Sukiya (restaurant chain), Livedoor (Japanese internet provider), FMV (part of Fujitsu), Calbee (Japanese snack manufacturer) and Namco Namja Town (amusement park). I loved that they kept it real here with names that we recognise because it brings an element of realism to the show that keeps it fresh and relevant.
Fictional anime. Real-life sponsors
This show may have flown under the radar but it breathes new life into the standard mecha genre by extending the scope beyond the machines and to the people wearing the suits. I almost regret not having watched this show sooner, but at least my delay has allowed for both movies to have been released in the meantime which means no need to wait for it! This show has a little bit of everything in it (even a spot of romance here and there) so that anyone could watch it, no matter how old or young, and be satisfied that they were entertained and that that enjoyed spending their time watching the show. Some of the themes might be a bit more adult, but this isn’t much different from most superhero cartoons out there, and it’s done in a way that doesn’t make you feel weighed down, it just gives you reason to think. Incidentally, the voice actor for Tiger, Hiroaki Hirata, was recently given the spotlight in Dups’ first review on seiyuus and the roles they play (you’ll recognise him by the “Kotetsu” outfit he has on) so check that out! Tiger & Bunny highlights the best parts of a superhero, mecha and comedy anime and blends it all together to create a show that’s entertaining, gripping and exciting and well worth watching (and buying, if you’re into figurines)!
Image credits: Shueisha, Sunrise Studios