Superheroes have long been a staple of popular culture, especially in the West, and over the years characters like Superman, Batman, Spiderman, and even The Hulk have become household names. With their popularity at an all-time high thanks to video game tie-ins and movie adaptations, it's only natural that pretenders to the thrones that Marvel and DC sit upon should crawl out of the woodwork.
The most obvious attempts to capitalise on the success of these comic-book creations have come from television and cinema, but while shows like "Heroes", "Chronicle" and "Misfits" have found a degree of success, the majority of attempts to reinvent, reboot or revamp the superhero genre have ended in ignominy.
Which is where Tiger & Bunny swagger onto the stage.
Set in Sternbild City (a fictional version of New York), the story begins 45 years after super-powered humans known as NEXT first began to appear. In the decades that followed, individuals with superhuman abilities took on the roles of heroes and villains, and over time the constant to and fro between both sides became a form of entertainment. Fast forward to NC 1978, where the forces for good have their own specialised broadcast - "Hero TV", corporate sponsorships, and a chance to accrue points in order to win the coveted title of "King of Heroes".
Every day brings new challenges for these intrepid do-gooders, but Sternbild City has been built upon many secrets, and when Barnaby Brooks Jr. takes his place amongst those who stand for truth and justice, the shadows of the past begin to move once more.
At first glance Tiger & Bunny may seem like nothing more than a super-powered "buddy" show, and to a certain degree that's a fair assessment. The plot is relatively straightforward (but also rather predictable), and although there are several elements that add a veneer of complexity, none of these affect the pacing or progression of the storyline - mainly because it has been split into two major chapters. This has the effect of setting a "deadline" for the conclusion of certain arcs, which in turn adds a brevity to the narrative that prevents the atmosphere becoming stale.
Unfortunately some viewers may find themselves annoyed by the fact that certain episodes appear to deviate from the main plot by focusing on one or more of the supporting characters. Now while this usually a valid complaint, these "fillers" often serve as a platform to introduce themes, characters or events that may have a lasting effect on the story proper. In addition to this, the episodes in question have very little impact on the flow of the narrative, and in a very real sense this show is a good example of how "fillers" can add to the whole story.
When it comes to the visuals, Tiger & Bunny certainly looks the part, but it's not without its flaws. The artwork is of a good standard, with a nice variety of character designs, settings, and outlandish costumes that uphold the reputation of superheroes everywhere. The series is well animated for the most part, and while there are the usual (and very minor), anime-related problems when it comes to wardrobes, one particular issue continues to crop up throughout the show.
Technology has progressed to the point where computer generated imagery can often be blended with more traditional animation to good effect, but for some reason Sunrise has decided to be a little more ostentatious in its approach - which has led to a few complications. The main problem lies in the movement of the heroes after they don their costumes, and in several action sequences the studio's attempts to exaggerate the actions of the characters can make the entire scene look more than a little ... odd.
That said, many viewers may forgive the slightly weird feeling they get from the CG, but only because the overall look is decidedly refreshing and the show makes very good use of some rather nice visual effects.
Tiger & Bunny features two opening sequences, both of which introduce the main heroes (with particular attention paid to their sponsors), alongside a few short scenes that display their powers. The only real difference between the two OP's are the songs attached to them - "Orion o Nazoru" by Unison Square Garden (a rather upbeat rock song), and "Missing Link" by Novels (a surprisingly bittersweet rock ballad). The series also features two closing sequence, the first of which is a fairly simple affair that focuses on the characters of Kaburagi Koutetsu and Barnaby Brooks Jr. while "Hoshi no Sumika" by Aobozu plays out. The second ED is much more in keeping with the great traditions of the anime industry as it uses still images of the characters alongside some fairly basic visual effects - all to the J-Pop stylings of Tamaki's "Mind Game"
When it comes to background music it seems like Tiger & Bunny is on firmer ground, and much of the soundtrack is littered with anthems that echo of heroism, action, and good old comic-book cheese. In addition to this there are a wide range of well defined audio effects, and overall the series is remarkably balanced in terms of its choreography.
As one might expect from a superhero tale, the dialogue is awash wish one-liners, catchphrases and other sentences that tend come out of the mouths of costumed vigilantes. That said, the script is surprising in both its intelligence and humour, and although there's the ever-present shadow of cheese, it's not enough to deter the voice actors from delivering some fine performances. Hirata Hiraoki and Morita Masakazu are in good form as the laconic veteran Kaburagi Koutetsu (a.k.a. Wild Tiger), and the fiery young Barnaby Brooks Jr., but while the two have a good on-screen rapport, the cornerstone of the dialogue is the camaraderie between the heroes as a group.
One of the nice things about Tiger & Bunny is that the characters represent a wide range of ages and backgrounds, and although the majority of them are adults, the show also tries to offer some insight into the personalities of the more prominent teenaged heroes. Koutetsu is a particularly interesting individual - a widowed father who rarely sees his ten-year old daughter (who lives with her grandmother), because of his "work", and this lays a very strong and unusual (for anime that is), foundation for development. A big plus is that rather than travel down the Ikari Gendou route towards a "bad end", the writers have decided to adopt an approach that's more akin to "Lethal Weapon", with Koutetsu in the role of the aging veteran.
On the other hand, Barnaby Brooks Jr. is Batman.
The problem is that where Barnaby is concerned, nobody has tried to think outside of the box (as they do with Koutetsu), and it's for this reason that his background is one of the biggest stereotypes in the world of superheroes. Because of his origins, many of the changes in his personality over the course of the series can feel derived, and this is especially true where his relationship with Koutetsu is concerned. Thankfully the show has a pretty good set of supporting characters, and unlike many other anime, the series uses the relationships between the majority of the characters rather well.
If one compares Tiger & Bunny to its Western counterparts then it manages to hold its own, but only just as the weight of the superhero genre in America and Europe is enough to crush almost any challenger. That said, the series is a refreshing change from the shounen fare that's being served these days, and one of the most laudable aspects is that Sunrise haven't been afraid to take inspiration from Western media.
Which brings up one small but important point.
The majority of popular heroes were created decades ago, and since then there have been many attempts to update them so that they always appear to be in keeping with modern trends and tastes. Unfortunately these changes are only skin-deep, and aside from recent titles like "Heroes", "Misfits", "Kick Ass", "Chronicle" and "Super", the majority of Western tales don't really serve as a good reflection of modern times, even if their core message remains valid. It's in this particular area where Tiger & Bunny stands above many other stories, mainly because of its focus on "reality TV", celebrity culture and corporate sponsorship. In a very real sense the anime highlights a direction that has been blatantly ignored, and while the whole concept may seem alien to diehard fans of Western comic-books, the simple fact is that modern superhero stories tend to follow the same formula that has been the mainstay of the industry for decades.
Overall, Tiger & Bunny is an enjoyable take on the genre that blends several old ideas and puts them in a setting that, while futuristic, is more a reflection of modern society than many people might initially believe. The mixture of super-powered shenanigans, comedy and drama is very much in keeping with the best traditions of action movies everywhere, and in all honesty that's probably the best way to approach the series.
But that doesn't automatically make it no-brain entertainment.