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Anime Reviews: Tiger & Bunny
Solid action, unique settings, gripping plot hooks, and likable heroes are a Sunrise tradition that Tiger & Bunny is more than happy to follow.
Title: Tiger & Bunny
Series Length: 25 episodes
Air Dates: 4/3/2011 to 9/18/2011
Age Rating: 13+ (mild violence, dark or disturbing thematic elements)
Summary: In the near-futuristic city of Sternbild, there exist spectacular people known as Next who possess incredible powers, many of whom have decided to become superheroes and fight the never-ending stream of crime within the city. Now, in the year NC 1978, a smash-hit TV show called HeroTV has struck the airwaves, pitting our heroes in direct competition with each other and their opponents' sponsors to earn points based on their arrests and rescues, with the winner being crowned King of Heroes. Among the competitors is Kotetsu Kaburagi a.k.a. Wild Tiger, who adamantly believes in delivering justice, though he consistently loses the competition for massive amounts of property damage. Kotetsu is in luck, however, when his sponsors take on a young Next named Barnaby Brooks Jr., making them the first hero duo in HeroTV's history. As Kotetsu fights for justice and Barnaby fights to find his parents' killer, the two discover that their duo career won't be as simple as it first seemed.
The Good: Visually and aurally pleasing; intriguing characters, setting, and story
The Bad: Some weak episodes and characters; 3-D animation doesn't mesh perfectly
The Ugly: The lack of any announcement for a second season
Have I mentioned yet that 2011 was a great year for anime? Because 2011 was a great year for anime. Undoubtedly, based on sheer popularity (and fanbase lunacy), Tiger & Bunny was the big hit of the year, and it's not for no reason--this was a fun show and it kept me interested every step of the way. The fact that the series' producers had the testicular fortitude to slap real-life sponsors on the characters, right out in the open, and incorporate it into the story without feeling forced is both a stroke of genius and a show of audacity. Because, if you can smear corporate logo feces everywhere and avoid making the show feel unnatural and sleazy, then you deserve every dollar (yen?) those sponsors netted you.
But enough about that. Let's talk about the show itself, shall we?
Now, it should come as absolutely no surprise given that it's a Sunrise production with hefty bags full of cash, but Tiger & Bunny is a great-looking series. Aside from an off-model shot here and there, the artwork is extremely vibrant and suitably detailed, while the animation is typical Sunrise high-quality. The character designs follow suit, being simultaneously attractive and varied, and often (dare I say) quite cool. Even though Kotetsu is supposed to be as uncool as Aquaman in-universe, you tell me you wouldn't want his sweet goatee or that spiffy hat. I dare you. Oh, and I suppose it also should be mentioned that the action sequences are intense, fun, thrilling, and all that jazz. But this is Sunrise we're talking about, so that's a given, I'd say. (Just be sure to remind yourself that the debacle known as Inuyasha was nothing more than a nightmarish fluke.)
On a similar note, there's a lot of great music and voice-work in the series, too! And to pull us in right away, we have the first opener "Orion wo Nazoru" by Unison Square Garden, which probably ranks in my Top 10 Anime Theme Songs for its incredible ability to get me fired up. And the first ending theme, "Hoshi no Sumika" is pretty superb as well, giving off a feeling of purpose and reflection. Although the second half's themes, "Missing Link" by Novels and "Mind Game" by Tamaki, aren't quite as good as the first half's, that doesn't make them bad by any stretch of the imagination; they're just good songs overshadowed by spectacular ones.
As far as voice acting goes, the Japanese cast is near iconic and incredibly talented, with particularly memorable performances from Hiroaki Hirata and Masakazu Morita as our two heroes. I can't think of a single weak performance, and that's including incidental side characters. But for all you dub fans out there, keep your eyes out for the upcoming English dub, which will truly be a thing of beauty. Wally Wingert, Kari Wahlgren, Patrick Seitz, and Liam O'Brien are already big names that have delivered big performances in the past, but when you add the Holy Quad-fecta that is Steve Blum, Yuri Lowenthal, Laura Bailey, and Beau Billingslea, there can only be the stuff of legends. And they will deliver. They will deliver my ears straight to Dub Heaven, where titans like Cowboy Bebop and Black Lagoon reside. But that aside, whether you want to watch it now in Japanese or wait for the official English release, you cannot lose.
Moving onto the meat of the show, I've already discussed the setting a bit in the intro, but I'll elaborate. While anyone familiar with the X-Men franchise will no doubt notice the many similarities between the eponymous heroes and the Next, they will also recognize the different ways the societies in both series view their mutant saviors--the X-Men are largely feared and hated by the world around them, whereas the Next are largely upheld as celebrities and (go figure) heroes. While that aspect of the series has an obvious parallel in the world of pop culture, the idea of HeroTV and corporate-sponsored superheroes is a much newer one, with very few parallels to be drawn. The city of Sternbild itself is a sight to behold, resembling a multi-tiered New York City held together with tremendous amounts of scaffolding, home to both breathtaking manors and dingy slums, stacked on top of each other like ironbound pancakes. Final Fantasy VII fans may notice a resemblance in this structure to the city of Midgar, and much like that dystopian vision of corruption and deception, so too does Sternbild have its share of darkness.
I've mentioned before how I love stories that involve big fat conspiracies, betrayal, corruption, and all that kind of thing, so it comes as no surprise that Tiger & Bunny appealed to me greatly. What at first seems like a simple buddy-hero murder mystery quickly escalates into...well, all that stuff I mentioned I said just now. Throw in possibly one of the best stinger endings I've seen in any anime, and you've got a series that has my attention and my money (when it comes out). But naturally, you need a good cast of characters to pull off a story like this, and so it's fortunate that we get some of those, too! As with any other Sunrise production, the characters begin as familiar archetypes (Kotetsu is a traditional go-getter hero, Barnaby is a cold and logical utilitarian, Karina is a girl who acts tough to avoid being perceived as weak, etc.) and grow naturally as the series progresses. This way, the audience has something solid to initially hang onto, making them comfortable in time for the twists and changes to come. It's a simple writing technique that works wonders.
But now, it's time to point out those few moments where the series doesn't quite shine. Firstly, not every episode has the drive the rest have and not every character is interesting. Sometimes these things go hand-in-hand (Origami Cyclone's episode is almost painful). In total, there are about 3-4 episodes (including the one just mentioned) that feel either lazy or aimless, and that precious time could have been devoted to developing some of the characters who never get much screen time, like the criminally underused Rock Bison and Fire Emblem. But alas, we'll have to wait for the second season for that--oh wait, we're not getting a second season. Dammit, Sunrise! What're we paying you for?!
Last and probably least of the series' problems, the 3-D animation doesn't quite fit in perfectly with the 2-D animation around it. It's not bad, per se--the cel shading is quite nice and it's never outright intrusive--but seeing a 3-D figure interacting with a 2-D object doesn't quite look right. While it's easy to ignore and doesn't weigh the series down too much, it's still jarring the first few times you see it. It's just weird, man!
But weird 3-D animation and some bumpy episodes aside, Tiger & Bunny is yet another immensely satisfying Sunrise action anime which more than deserves the second season the ending obviously implicates. And that's why I need you, readers! Support Sunrise in their quest for more money by picking this series up as soon as it hits the shelves! Not only will you inevitably have a great time watching, you'll also be letting Sunrise know that a second season would not only be proper, but also profitable!
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10. Though a couple episodes and a few characters are lackluster compared to their peers, Tiger & Bunny is more than qualified to be included among the titanic titles that made 2011 the last great year in anime (so far).