Tiger & Bunny is a cartoon series that sees the anime world try its hand at the superhero genre, which has been all the rage since Marvel cracked the formula to producing successful films based on its comic book properties. Japan has its fair share of costumed champions of justice (Ultraman, Kamen Rider, numerous Super Sentai shows etc) but Tiger & Bunny stands apart from those by trying to recreate the feel of western comic book heroes. Set in a futuristic world, the series tells the tale of super-powered individuals (known as NEXTs) who use their unique gifts to protect the citizens of Sternbild City from evildoers.
One unique selling point that the series offers is that the show's costumed vigilantes have their crime fighting exploits chronicled live on the network station Hero TV. Good deeds, such as foiling robberies, earn the heroes points that are used to determine who will be crowned the King of Heroes at the end of the current season's run. Think Big Brother meets Avengers. It's an interesting premise that gives a realistic reason as to why someone would want to don a pair of tights and risk their life preserving the peace. Hero TV is big business offering plenty of incentives for joining the superhero game such as fame, lucrative corporate sponsorships and even the opportunity to promote a fledgling musical career.
The show's main character is the veteran hero Wild Tiger (real name Kotetsu Kaburagi) who has the ability to greatly enhance his strength and speed for a period of five minutes, before the effect wears off and needs to be recharged. Tiger joined the superhero ranks years ago after the world renowned Mr Legend inspired him, as a boy, to harness his powers for the good of mankind rather than fear them. Unlike his fellow caped colleagues, Tiger has no interest in following Hero TV's tune of playing for points and is merely motivated by a keen sense of justice. He'll for example ignore orders to pause his heroics for a commercial break and cares little if saving the day results in costly property damage.
Frustrated by the repair bills Tiger's antics generate his sponsor decides to sever their ties with him. Thankfully a new company wants Tiger to mentor Sternbild City's newest hero - Barnaby "Bunny" Brooks (who coincidentally shares the same power set as Kotetsu) and sign him to their payroll. Hilarity then ensues as the pair don't see eye to eye. Despite his age, Tiger is gung-ho and wreckless, much to the annoyance of the younger Bunny who is more composed and prefers to plan out strategy before rushing into battle. Can the not so dynamic duo patch up their differences and form a successful hero team? Time will tell.
I have to say that, as a fan of Marvel and DC comics, I had great expectations for Tiger & Bunny especially given the positive buzz the show was generating over in Japan. Having watched this opening volume I however have to say that I was a little disappointed. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a bad anime but I was expecting a little more than what we got. The interesting concept of Hero TV is only superficially touched upon, which is a missed opportunity. In an age were reality television dominates the airwaves I would have liked to have seen the show comment on how a noble career (like being a superhero) can be perverted by greed. If you think about it, how is this story any different to TV doctors who shun the position of helping the sick to make dosh on TV and by selling books?
Aesthetically I also didn't like how the anime followed the recent trend of incorporating 3D computer effects with traditional 2D hand drawn work. Whenever the heroes go into combat they switch from a regular cartoon character to a CGI representation, much like the action sequences in the recent Berserk movie. This isn't too bad for characters like Tiger who don mechanical power armor (similar to Ironman) but the effect really stands out for the likes of Fire Emblem who wears a spandex outfit and colorful cape. I've said it before and I'll say it again - 2D or 3D animation. Pick one. They both have their positives, but mixing the two just doesn't mesh well.
My biggest complaint with the series however is the Tiger and Bunny dynamic. The series is pitched as a superhero odd couple, but there is hardly any chemistry between the leads. I cannot fault the animated Tiger whose accident-prone exploits are fun to watch, but Bunny is just a dull pretty boy with no charisma. His subdued demeanor gives Tiger little to play off as Bunny rarely loses his temper. No sparks fly between the two as Bunny's feelings towards his partner seldom grow beyond a mild irritation. I cannot help but wonder if the series would have worked better had Tiger joined forces with one of the other supporting characters.
Pretty much all the fringe superheroes are more entertaining than Bunny. Fire Emblem, who is literally a flaming homosexual, for example has some funny flirty interactions with Tiger. Then there's the female heroine Blue Rose who has no passion for being a superhero. As a teenage girl she is irked by how playing hero interferes with her regular high school life or how she has to utter cheesy catchphrases at the insistence of her sponsor. Making her Tiger's sidekick would have opened up many story possibilities such as Tiger showing Rose that helping others is worth the personal sacrifice. It would also setup a plot of how Tiger is in effect raising Rose whilst having to neglect his real daughter who he has kept his hero identity a secret from.
One thing I can praise this first volume on is the stellar job Kaze has done with the packaging. The release comes in a combo pack housing seven episodes on two DVDs and one Blu ray. If you own a DVD player the Blu ray is nice as you won't have to double dip when you eventually upgrade. Blu ray owners on the other hand have a backup DVD copy they can loan out to friends. All that said I suppose some consumers would prefer separate DVD/Blu ray releases with more episodes at the expense of a disc format they do not use. Another nice addition to the combo is the inclusion of trading cards and booklets with series information contained within the box. Animes tend to get bare bone releases so it is always nice when a distributor makes the effort to give us something extra.
If you like shows with comedy and action Tiger & Bunny is an entertaining romp, even if it may not wow you due to the reasons I mentioned previously. Perhaps things will pick up in the later episodes once all the characters are finally introduced. At the end of this volume we get some information about Bunny investigating his parents' killers along with the reveal of a rogue NEXT who murders criminals as opposed to apprehending them. If those storylines are handled correctly we could get a more deep and meaningful series than these opening episodes seem to suggest. From what I have seen thus far though I am in no hurry to use my super speed to dash out to the store and purchase volume two once it comes out.