My first impressions of Tiger & Bunny were skeptical at best; a show about mascot superheroes plastered with corporate logos brings to mind some dubious product placement anime. Or even worse, the cutesy title could've foreshadowed some hybrid ecchi fest involving bestiality. Luckily, T&B isn't as shallow as it might suggest; instead, it's an unabashed parody that celebrates its superhero roots as well as deconstructs them.
In the corporatized world of Sternbild City, commercialism is king; heroes not only fight crime, but they also play up for TV ratings, their CEO's expectations, and "profit-points". With the companies calling the shots, these superheroes seem more like walking ads for Pepsi, Amazon, and Bandai rather than selfless Samaritans. Only 30-some-year-old Kotetsu Kaburagi, aka "Wild Tiger", remains the old-school hero who puts peace above profits. As a man "past his prime" (and with a daughter back home), Kotetsu must adapt to the changing times where heroism has become a commodity; all the while, a younger, savvier crime fighter named Barnaby steals the limelight.
Despite the cynical twist in its premise, T&B is an action-comedy first and foremost; the show playfully pokes fun at itself at every turn. The first arc of T&B is your typical buddy-cop show starring the eponymous duo, Kotetsu ("Tiger") and Barnaby ("Bunny"). As expected, the old lion veteran get paired up with the naïve, reckless rookie. There's a clash between ideologies, the odd couple fights, and hilarity ensues. The situational comedic timing in T&B is brilliant, and several scenes made me genuinely "lol". Comic book fans may savor the subtle nods to X-Men, Batman, the Joker and Harley Quinn. Due to its tongue-in-cheek attitude, the anime's first half feels more like a spoof of Marvel comic duos rather than a serious critique on heroism.
Although T&B executes its comedic bits fantastically, the same isn't always true for its drama. The show gradually evolves from the buddy cop antics of the first arc into more serious plot developments and characterization. Barnaby's tragic past involving his dead parents, already an unoriginal angle, comes off angsty and cliché. Kotetsu's conflicts are rarer and more compelling; not only does he face competition from a younger breed of heroes, but he also struggles to be a decent (albeit absent) father. The tension between the two partners in crime becomes a litmus test of trust while a darker, sinister plot brews just beneath the surface.
All too often, the show lapses into contrived situations in order to get viewers emotionally invested. Barnaby just happens to fly in at the right moment to save his falling partner; a miraculous typhoon creates the perfect rescue mission and the duo (surprise!) share the exact same powers. The show is full of convenient coincidences that just deflate the drama and dispel any sort of tension. As such, even though T&B has some genuinely funny and exciting moments, it also has some eye-rolling ones.
Despite the sloppy (and at times illogical) writing, I nevertheless found the show wholly entertaining. Sunrise succeeds in executing the anime well enough to keep it fun, despite its narrative laziness. In the end, I didn't cringe from the cheesiness so much as I enjoyed the show as earnest entertainment. Due to the excellent direction and pacing, T&B manages to juggle action, drama and comedy with great ease.
Sunrise's superheroes look like they were cut straight out of a Western comic book – and that's a good thing. Character designs are refreshingly crisp and colorful; each one is distinctive and bursting with personality. There's also a nice contrast between the heroes' flashy, sponsor-splashed costumes and their unassuming day clothes.
The actual animation is somewhat of a mixed bag; occasionally, the quality drops due to some sloppily drawn stills. I'm not a fan of the CGI transformation sequences, and the clunky costumed fights don't exactly thrill. T&B is packed with these action scenes, but where it lacks in style it redeems itself in fluidity; motions and movements are quite natural throughout.
T&B's soundtrack is smartly placed; slice-of-life portions are accompanied by rustic, bluesy guitars while drama scenes are suitably orchestral. During crime busting sequences, there's a jazzy, heart-pumping theme reminiscent of James Bond or The Incredibles. Newsflash jingles act as constant reminders that we're literally watching a show within a show, and Hero TV buzzes like a proper media microcosm. Although not download-worthy, T&B's score always answers its call of duty.
Shounen fans may recognize Barnaby's seiyuu (Masakazu Morita) as Bleach's Ichigo and Kotetsu's (Hiroaki Hirata) as Sanji from One Piece. In T&B, these two perform flawlessly, playing off each other with hilarious repartee. Even tense, dramatic scenes are well-acted and naturally convincing. Rounded out with a solid cast ensemble, voice acting in this series is stellar.
As expected, Tiger & Bunny's main duo drive the machinery of the plot. The dynamic between the heroes creates the perfect double act; Kotetsu endears himself as the dorky "funny man", whereas Barnaby is the naturally stoic "straight man". Their banter translates into comedic gold, but the show elegantly breaks down this stereotype as the two grow to trust one another. Kotetsu, in particular, is an extremely likable character; he's a washed-up ojisan whom everyone mocks, but his confidence and selflessness make him genuinely sympathetic and easy to root for.
The colorful side cast of superheroes adds an extra layer of perspective; minor characters are given spotlight episodes revealing the person behind the persona. How he/she became a hero and what motivates him/her are explored, forming a group of charismatic, lovable personalities. From the oblivious "King of Heroes", Sky High, to the "Dragon Kid" Pao-lin, T&B sports a lively, affectionate cast of characters. My only gripe is that Rock Bison and Fire Emblem didn't get enough attention while the Blue Rose episodes were by far the weakest; the skimpily clad superheroine seems more like fanservice fodder rather than a fleshed out character.
Alas, T&B's villains are mere caricatures in comparison to their heroic counterparts. The plot begins with a rogue-of-the-week format that fails to develop the bad guys beyond your average thug. The morally warped Lunatic is a disappointing vigilante whose twisted sense of justice feels like a cheap imitation of Light Yagami. Although Jake Martinez is a crafty opponent, his character is stereotypically evil and frankly unmemorable. Not until the final act of the series does a worthy villain emerge.
Tiger & Bunny offers a brilliant twist on the classic superhero genre while remaining faithful to the charm of its conventions. Still, T&B doesn't quite escape the pitfalls of predictability or the bland, uninspiring villains throughout the show. Although it's by no means perfect, T&B is consistently engaging with bucket-loads of energy, a refreshing premise, and genuinely likable characters. In essence, Tiger & Bunny simply feels like good ol' fashioned, "back to basics" entertainment at its prime.
In Sternbuild City, corporate logos not only cover billboards, but also the costumes of the super-powered heroes that act as its protectors. Veteran and newcomer warriors of justice alike compete in a reality TV show that offers points for apprehending criminals while giving champions' sponsors a chance to promote their brand. When the low-ranking Wild Tiger loses his backing after a string of outrageous, botched rescues, he finds himself paired with an up-and-coming spotlight-seeker called Barnaby. But with their wildly different personalities, will the pair be able to save their beloved Sternbuild City and win the game show, or will their constant tension be the undoing of the world's first hero team?