Tiger and Bunny by tsulala (aka Rem)
Ordinarily, I’d be further along than halfway through a series like this, but the boyfriend and I are watching this together and out of habit, we can only watch in two-episode chunks. Somewhat related, Justin and Zac at ANN featured this show in their weekly podcast and talked about how they couldn’t get past the early episodes to really fall in love with the show. I honestly don’t know what’s wrong with them, it took me less than three episodes to fall in love with this anime and the only reason we’re taking it slow is because I don’t know what to do once I have no more T&B to watch.
I must not be the only person who finds it curious that this series still hasn’t made it on American television — that is, Cartoon Network or G4 or whatever other U.S. cable channel still airs anime. While I don’t believe that an anime needs to be aired on television to be considered successful, Tiger & Bunny is a series that will undoubtedly appeal to the ‘casual anime fan’ of yore. As other anime reviewers have mentioned, it’s a show that was made with Western sensibilities and aesthetics in mind. If Avatar: The Last Airbender was successfully able to co-opt anime tropes to tell its story, then it could rightfully be said that Tiger & Bunny co-opts American superhero tropes to show us its interpretation of what a world with heroes could be.
Image credit: Zerochan
Tiger & Bunny sets us down in a world where superheroes have gone the way of the (Japanese) pop idol. In Stern Bild, heroes exist for entertainment. HERO TV is the reality show that follows each hero’s exploits and awards them with points based on whether they’ve caught a criminal or rescued an victim or bystander. At the end of each season of HERO TV, points are tallied up and each hero is ranked on their successes for that time period. This is not Metropolis, where Superman rescues damsels in distress or fights alien invaders for free. Being a hero is a job — their costumes are plastered with the names of corporate sponsors (mostly Japanese companies, because hey, this is still anime) and if a hero’s ranking falls too low, its sponsors may drop him/her altogether.
I’m falling into an anime blogger trap, but I love that even that initial hook is subversive to what has been the prevailing paradigm of the superhero. Traditional comic heroes aren’t supposed to be profiting from their powers, they’re supposed to be helping humanity or at the very least, fighting off other super-powered beings who want to harm humanity.
At the center of Tiger & Bunny, is Kotetsu T. Kaburagi, aka Wild Tiger. Kotetsu is an aging hero, probably in his mid-/late thirties, who’s not doing as well as the rest of the bunch. After finishing last in the last season’s rankings, Wild Tiger’s new sponsor decides to pair him with by Barnaby Brooks, Jr., a young hotshot who possesses the same abilities at Kotetsu.
Admittedly, when it comes to the characterizations of its central cast, Tiger & Bunny moves back to familiar territory.
Being a hero is all that Kotetsu has ever wanted to be, and with each new crop of heroes coming on the scene, his market value isn’t as high as it used to be. He has the added dilemma of being a single father; worse, he can’t even tell his daughter what he really does for a living. Despite all of the chips stacked again him, Kotetsu remains one of those idealistic and noble hero-types. He does genuinely want to help, but if he gets to be popular and sell a lot of trading cards, that’s great too! He’s the character that I find the most fun to watch: he’s goofy, makes jokes at inappropriate times, and affectionately treats everyone else like they’re his kid.
Bunny, on the other hand, is Sunrise’s take on Batman. Barnaby’s parents were killed by an unknown NEXT when he was merely a child, so his adult life has been devoted to finding that man and getting his vengeance. When he first partners up with Kotetsu, he’s cold, closed off, singularly focused on his mission and finding his off-beat partner a nuisance. My boyfriend and I laugh at the scenes when they show his version of the Batcave: a mostly empty apartment, furnished with a chair, a small table, a tablet computer, a framed photo of him and his parents, and a big-ass wall projection screen. Awesome.
Tiger & Bunny is a fitting homage to the superhero genre. The creative staff took great efforts to ensure that even the small details in this universe are coy winks to recognizable comics tropes. The superhero school, the city of Stern Bild as a futuristic version of New York City, Kriem’s harlequin-inspired outfit — you and I have seen this before and the creators want to make sure that we notice that we’ve seen this before. I think it’s the same concept as watching the Avengers movie; if you’ve seen the individual movies that Marvel’s released previously, then you’ll love the Avengers even more so than Thor or Iron Man on their own. But if you haven’t seen the ‘prequel’ movies, your enjoyment is in no way diminished since the movie is strong enough to stand on its own merit. You don’t need to be an avid fan of the hero genre to like Tiger & Bunny, but if you are, then even better.
Maybe with the inclusion of Tiger & Bunny in Viz’s new Neon Alley venture (where it’ll actually be dubbed for those who thinking reading subtitles is hard), it will finally find the fan love that I think it deserves.