Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions, Tiger & Bunny > Tiger & Bunny Episodes 1 and 2 – Hero, Inc.

Tiger & Bunny Episodes 1 and 2 – Hero, Inc.

Tiger & Bunny did not come to my attention with much to recommend it. Sure, it’s produced by the venerable studio Sunrise, but with a rookie director and series composer, that doesn’t mean much. The animation in preview videos looked pretty and professional, but perhaps with too much fanservice. Worse yet, the show promised to introduce a new form of product placement, by having the outfits of the main characters laden with corporate logos. I didn’t know what to make of that mix (particularly with the ridiculous title), but I didn’t see how the result would be good.

Looks, and titles, can be deceiving, and I am happy to declare with Tiger & Bunny that my initial negative impressions appear to be completely unfounded. This show isn’t just good, but vies the exceptional Darker than Black for one of the freshest presentations of superpowers in an animated (or any) medium.

Of course, the one unanswered question of any superhero story is: If all the superheroes are in one city, why don't all the criminals cede the ground and commit larceny elsewhere?

Darker than Black took a cynical, Watchmen-like approach to superpowers, rather than being heroes, its “contractors” were employed as spies and ruthless government agents. Tiger & Bunny takes an approach more akin to Mystery Men or Astro City—accepting the absurdity of the comic book world and then running with it in a distinctly post-modern direction.

In the futuristic city of Stern Bild, superheroes aren’t just protectors, but an industry. All licensed heroes have corporate sponsors, and compete for points taking down criminals and saving civilians on a live, reality TV-like program that films their every act of crime-fighting. Like sports teams, different heroes have their own fanbase and each is trying not just to rid the city of evil, but best their competition and look cool while doing it.

The opening scene of the show is one continuous chain of super heroes trying to capture a trio of criminals. As they are just as interested in upstaging their competitors, the villains last for a surprisingly long time

This openly cynical take on how the information age world would treat people with superpowers allows Tiger & Bunny to have its cake and eat it too. Sure, it points out how corporate sponsorship naturally corrupts the heroism of heroes, but those are still real companies and products being advertised on those superhero costumes. Yes, Blue Rose’s scandalous costume and over-the-top theatrics is perfectly in keeping with both classic superhero conventions and a desire to drive up ratings, but that guess which show’s ratings are really getting the boost?

In the middle of all this is Wild Tiger, a.k.a. Kotetsu T. Kaburagi, a superhero with over a decade of experience, whose age and adherence to traditional methods of heroism serve as hindrances in a media-driven world. Wonder of wonders, he actually thinks that being a hero is more important than making good television, ignoring stage directions (and concerns about property destruction) in pursuit of justice.

Agnes Joubert, the current producer of Hero TV, isn't above ordering heroes to delay their efforts to raise dramatic tension. Saving lives takes a backseat to ratings

When his sponsoring company goes under and he is “traded” over to new management, he’s naturally unhappy, particularly when it becomes clear that his new boss is interested in branding more than heroism. He’s made enough when his costume gets “updated;” things get worse when he gets paired as a sidekick to the new hero Barnaby Brooks Jr., who defies all hero conventions by refusing to use an alias and showing his costumed face in public.

Brooks has the exact same powers as Wild Tiger, yet operates with a completely different world view. His every action—including putting up with Wild Tiger, whom he considers to be a hothead past his prime—has the purpose of driving up his star power. His rational, calculating mind would be something I’d find admirable if it weren’t directed toward self-aggrandizement.

Wild Tiger is none to thrilled at being relegated to the side car. The "bunny" from the title comes from a derogatory nickname he throws at Brooks based on the design of his armor

For all its cynicism, I suspect that the show will have Wild Tiger’s idealism win out in the end. The character focus he gets in the first two episodes, the fact he’s the sole Japanese hero, heck, just getting first billing in the series title, reveal that he’s the main character. He’s just flawed enough to keep from feeling too perfect as a hero to fit in the setting, but not enough to make him hard to cheer for.

The main question for the show will be whether it can find the right balance between homage and cliche. Some of the story arcs in the first two episodes, such as Tiger trying to convince a super-powered teenager that it’s okay to be different, or struggle to make it to his daughter’s figure skating performance with the demands of his job pulling him away, seem a bit overdone even in normal comic book context. In the fresh and jaded worldview of Tiger & Bunny, these elements are just a bit too hokey to fit.

Tiger got his heroic inspiration from a hero from his youth, Mr. Legend, who embodied nobility and courage in his every action. For that, as much as for his obesity, there's no way Mr. Legend would make it in the an era of media-driven crime-fighting

That this is my only real complaint about the show, however, just shows how much else Tiger & Bunny gets right. The backroom corporate infighting, the cynicism of the entertainment industry, the heroes’ own mixed feelings about the nature of their work—all this fits right into the setting. And that setting, whatever else it might be, is something utterly unique in anime. I’ve never seen a show quite like Tiger & Bunny before.

Get used to hearing “I’ve never seen a show quite like [x] before.” It looks to be a running theme for this season.

Even at a cocktail party, the male heroes refuse to take off their masks. The female heroes never wear masks in the first place; perhaps they expect that their fans aren't looking at their faces?

You can watch the show here.

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