Friday 25 November 2011

Anime REVIEW: Tiger & Bunny

Traditional Western superheroes aren't something you often see in anime. In a universe populated by mecha, vampire and magical girls, there just didn't seem to be much demand for costumed heroes with a variety of superpowers. Other than Marvel's poor effort at bringing four of their properties to life as anime over the last year, no series really spring to mind. Until Sunrise's Tiger & Bunny came along that is. Released this year, Tiger & Bunny is a 25 episode TV series that saw two heroes with the same power (but VERY different personalities) team up in a futuristic world when superheroes are part of a reality TV show.

Taking place in the fictional Sternbuild City, superpowered individuals known as NEXT have been around for around 45 years, with some of them becoming heroes. Each of the city's most famous superheroes work for a sponsor company and their uniforms also contain advertising for real-life companies. Their heroic activity is broadcast on the popular television show "Hero TV", where they accumulate points for each heroic feat accomplished (arresting criminals or saving civilians, for example) and the best ranked hero of the season is crowned "King of Heroes". The story focuses on veteran hero Kotetsu T. Kaburagi (aka Wild Tiger) who is assigned with a new partner following a company buyout - the young Barnaby Brooks Jr (nicknamed 'Bunny' by Kotetsu, much to his dismay). However Barnaby and Kotetsu have very different opinions on what being a hero really means, and while competing for points against other heroes such as Blue Rose, Rock Bison, Sky High, Dragon Kid, Origami Cyclone and Fire Emblem, the two also try to crack the mystery of the Ouroburos organisation and the murder of Barnaby's parents - the event that set him on the path to becoming a hero.

The series's main storyline is split in two - with various one shot episodes scattered in-between. While the two halves deal nicely with a overarching plotline with two very different sorts of antagonist, the one shot episodes are great at expanding the diverse range of character on show in the series. The supporting cast are equally as deep (and memorable!) as Kotetsu and Barnaby, and in many cases often stole the show for me.

For the more keen comic book fan, there are a lot of references (some definitely intentional, some maybe not) dotted around to look out for. I thought Wild Tiger's transition from a classic silver-age style costumed hero to armoured suit not only played on the strength of the current popularity of Iron Man but was also a good commentary on how comics have shifted towards a more armoured look for their characters (the new DC 52 is an excellent example of that). As far as the more blatant references go - Blue Rose's secret identity is "Karina Lyle". Enough said.

One of the surprising factors of the series is how obvious product placement actually works in it, in fact I'd say it thrives on it. Each hero has their own sponsor, with many real life companies like, Pepsi, UStream and Bandai (alongside their S.H. Figuarts line). While some of these have obvious impact on the marketing of Tiger & Bunny (the main toyline is S.H. Figuarts - which have been in extremely high demand), the series has a lot of fun with others. Each episode's commercial segment contains a specially animated advertisement for Pepsi Nex (a zero-calorie version of the drink available in Japan) featuring Blue Rose. It's extremely well done, and only a shame that other companies didn't jump on this idea with their respective heroes. In many ways the show is both a celebration and parody of modern media.

The animation is of the usual Sunrise quality - crisp, clear and never boring on the eyes. The show also blends CGI and animation better than most series in the past have, despite it not being the best design choice in the world for some moments (it works well for armoured characters like Wild Tiger and Barnaby, but not so much for costumed heroes like Fire Emblem). The character design is excellent - with each hero having their own visually distinct look and at the same time being distinguishing from each other outside of costume too.

Tiger & Bunny is not just a fantastic series that stands apart from other anime due to its subject matter, but it also would make a fantastic transitional anime for those who are fans of Western comic books but are yet to try anime. While superheroes is a predominantly Western affair, with Tiger & Bunny Sunrise have gone and shown that the genre not only can work as an anime, but can also grow from it. A refreshing and much needed take on both anime AND the superhero genre.

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