If you are a comic book reader you know that a huge portion of the stories out there revolve around Superheroes. Unfortunately a lot of the more popular stories out there in comic books just aren’t that great. It feel like the writers and artists in the larger publishers out there just stopped caring about the stories and have focused on shock factor through killing primary characters or getting as many alternate versions of the same titles out there as they can. I have felt this frustrations lately with Marvel and their multiple publications of the X-Men (once a favorite, now hardly a shadow of its former greatness), Avengers, and the seventy-five teams that Spider-Man is now a part of. The characters are still the beloved ones I grew up with in the 90’s and early 2000’s, but recently I have been extremely dissatisfied with their treatment of the characters, stories, and company overall. DC had the right idea in realigning the universe, unfortunately I never really got into DC, so to me that huge event didn’t really concern me too much (however I’m thinking of diving in…Batwoman here I come!) So I have been desperately looking for a superhero story that satisfies my hunger for great characters, unforgettable story lines, and villains that you can understand, but still hate. I never thought that my desires would be met by an Anime that pokes fun at the superhero genre while paying homage to it at the same time. If you haven’t taken the time to catch Tiger & Bunny and are a superhero fan like I am…SHAME ON YOU! Let me introduce you to one of the best animes AND best superhero stories I have come across since Marvel introduced “The Age of Apocalypse”.
The year is “NC 1978” (NC = New Calendar) in Sternbild City (a re-imagined version of New York). The city is a hyper technological megalopolis that thrives on business, money and power. However crime in Sternbild is a huge problem; terrorists, robbers, and psychopaths are using that technology to their advantage taking what they can from the innocent citizens. Luckily several years prior to the main story, groups of super powered people began manifesting a wide array of powers, they were named NEXT. Many of these people used their powers to help protect the city and help the people. As the popularity of superheroes soared, companies decided to jump on the band wagon and sponsor the heroes that were fighting for justice, having the hero sport the company’s name on their costume (some include Bandai and Pepsi). Before too long, a TV company also entered the picture and created a TV reality show called, “Hero TV” that follows the heroes as they fight to stop the criminals that plague the city. Depending on how many people each hero saved, if they caught the criminals, the style in which they use their powers and other factors, they are awarded points. Unfortunately, “Hero TV” cares more about the ratings than actual human lives. At the end of each season they are ranked, and the hero with the most points is crowned the “King of Heroes”. However, just like any good super hero drama, some NEXT believe that they are the next step in human evolution and are fighting to destroy “normal” humans. This is the essence of “Tiger & Bunny”.
Just like any superhero drama it is the heroes themselves that drive the story. We relate to heroes like the X-Men, Batman, and Spider-Man because under their spandex costumes they are real people with real problems that face real losses after they fight Magneto or the Joker. The characters of Tiger & Bunny are no different. Like many superheroes the heroes in T&B choose to keep their identities a secret for their and their family’s safety. The “Hero TV’ line-up consists of:
Kotetsu Kaburagi/Wild Tiger – He is the most veteran hero of the group, and the main character of the series. He is the oldest and is constantly referred to as “Old Man” or “Grandpa” by the younger heroes. He has a deep seeded feeling of justice and, against the TV Company’s desires, prioritizes human lives over ratings. After his sponsor goes out of business, he is forced to join another company willing to sponsor him…but only if he teams up with Barnaby Brooks, Jr. (Bunny). Kotetsu is able to increase his physical attributes hundredfold, known as the “hundred Power”.
Barnaby Brooks, Jr./Bunny – He is the newest addition to “Hero TV” and is a break out success after he singlehandedly apprehends some criminals in the first episode. He is the only hero who chooses to reveal his real identity. Barnaby, much like the TV Company, only cares about earning points and getting good ratings. He is forced to partner up with Kotetsu, and because of their opposing views of being a hero they are constantly arguing. However there are other reasons he decided to become a hero, and although he doesn’t let it show, he is suffering and searching for answers about his past. He shares the same powers as Kotetsu, hence their partnering up.
Karina Lyle/Blue Rose – A teenaged piano prodigy who only agreed to become a hero so she could be a pop-music idol. She is the second most popular of the heroes, and is not afraid to remind everyone else about that fact. Although she has a cold exterior she is actually a very fragile and internally conflicted girl. She has the power to produce ice which she uses to freeze villains and propel her by making an ice slide (Much like Ice-Man from the X-Men).
Keith Goodman/Sky High – He is the current “King of Heroes”. He is highly enthusiastic, optimistic, and extremely dramatic. He can fly with the use of a rocket pack and is able to control the wind.
Nathan Seymour/Fire Emblem – A flamboyantly gay hero who uses a highly maneuverable race car to get around. He is highly skilled at controlling his powers, able to produce fire and manipulate it into shapes and forms that can chase after the criminal he is pursuing. He is constantly hitting on the male characters in the show and referring to himself as “one of the girls”.
Huang Pao-Lin/Dragon Kid – She is a young tomboy who lives on her own in Sternbild. She is equipped with a long staff and is proficient in Kung Fu. Her powers enable her to generate strong electricity through her body.
Antonio Lopez/Rock Bison – He is Kotetsu’s best friend and constant companion. His powers render him invulnerable to any harm while activated.
Ivan Karelin/Origami Cyclone – He is constantly ranking last in the competition as his sole desire is to be featured in shots and pictures with his many advertisements on his costume to please the companies sponsoring him. Aside from being proficient in ninjitsu, he is able to shape shift into anyone and several inanimate objects.
As a whole several of the powers that the characters possess are re-hashes of heroes we have seen before – Strong-Guy, Mystique, Human Torch, Superman – but it is how the characters interact with each other in the field, with their families, and in hilarious scenes in the “Hero Gym” that make them stand apart. What I love about them is their powers are just another portion to the person underneath. Each of the heroes have demons that they are fighting with through the series. It isn’t just the heroes that make the series great either. The series heavily relies on the supporting cast of characters to bring depth that otherwise couldn’t have happened. Despite being an animation I felt like the characters were real enough that I connected with all of them for different reasons, even the villains. This feat is hard to accomplish in 30 minute episodes, but they pull it off.
Tiger & Bunny is a series that melds the best things about the superhero genre that I have loved since I was a kid. There isn’t a character that I didn’t like in the story. Don’t get me wrong I definitely have my favorites (Tiger and Origami Cyclone) but I like some of these characters more than the heroes I grew up with. The series is only 25 episodes, and it uses each of those episodes to push the story forward and into places you never thought it would go. The scripting by Masafumi Nishida, and directing by Keiichi Sato are what made this series the shining gem that it is. Each episode is filled with revelations and excitement that I haven’t felt from a super hero comic series in quite some time. Unfortunately the series ends on somewhat of cliffhanger. Luckily though, two films are being produced, the first being released in September 2012. There is also a second season that is going to be produced, but no word on when.
For anyone who is frustrated with the modern day superhero and the stories that are being pumped out of the big names in the industry, this is something you need to check out. Tiger & Bunny takes a leap of faith into a market that is so saturated with superheroes and their related media that it is so easy to conform to the mold that already exists. This series is so drastically different in key points, but similar enough to make it feel comfortable that I found it easy to become quickly obsessed with it. Also much like other superhero stories, it deals with hard topics like abandonment, suicide, love, sexual orientation, murder, and domestic violence with grace and integrity. The excellent blend of super powers, drama, comedy, action, and flawless animation make this series easily one of, if not the best superhero story out there right now. It is available on Hulu, Viz Media, and Anime News Network for viewing. It is also going to be available on DVD and Blu-Ray in North America, but there is no release date as of this article. I definitely recommend making this one of your must see titles! Once you start, you won’t stop, and you will beg for more Tiger & Bunny!
By Justin Hopper