Hero TV Live is the must-watch show in Sternbild City. Producer Agnes Joubert and her indomitable team follow the crime-fighting exploits of the city’s superheroes as they compete to see who can win the most points while arresting dastardly criminals – live on air. But things aren’t going so well for veteran (well, he must be, oh, all of mid to late thirties) hero Wild Tiger. As the rolling news caption keeps viewers up-to-date with the action as it happens, every move he makes goes wrong. And right at the last moment, he’s saved by a new and mysterious hero who speeds to the rescue [seemingly] from nowhere to scoop Wild Tiger up, princess-fashion, in his arms and whisk him to safety.
This is the first – not so classic – encounter between Tiger (real name Kotetsu T. Kaburagi) – and his soon-to-be partner, Barnaby Brooks Jr. Or the Veteran and the Rookie as their promoters try to market them. Tiger is given the stark choice of becoming partners with the dashing newcomer or being dropped. Their relationship doesn’t progress too well, with everyone warmly praising handsome young blonde megane Barnaby. Wild Tiger (addressed as ‘Old Man’ by Barnaby) has to face up to the hard fact that he’s an impulsive klutz; running up huge bills for the damage he incurs, his popularity ratings have taken a nosedive, and his experience counts for nothing. Of course, we also know that Tiger is a decent, easy-going guy, a widowed father with a young daughter Kaede to support, who still remembers his inspirational childhood encounter with the city’s legendary first hero, Mr Legend.
It’s not long before ‘Old Man’ Tiger has renamed his dynamic new partner Bunny, much to Barnaby’s annoyance. Although the two continue to squabble their way through these first episodes, the hints are already in place that this awkward pairing will evolve into an unstoppable crime-fighting team.
So, are these super powers genuine? You betcha! It turns out that some years ago, children began to be born with special genetic mutations that gave them unique abilities. When they use their powers for the common good, these individuals – or Next – are rebranded as heroes and are given a role to play in keeping the city safe. However, their gifts are not infallible; both Barnaby and Kotetsu have only five minutes of super power before they revert to ‘normal’ and have to wait an hour to power up again.
All the heroes, from sexy Blue Rose, through strong man Rock Bison, clean-cut Sky High, flamboyant Fire Emblem, child hero Dragon Kid to the enigmatic Origami Cyclone are sponsored by major corporates and are under considerable pressure to perform well to keep their sponsors happy.
However, it emerges that Bunny has a deeper and darker motive for wanting to become a hero; his idyllic childhood was destroyed when he witnessed the murder of his parents. Adopted and raised by TV tycoon Albert Maverick, Barnaby has only one memory of that nightmarish event, a mysterious symbol that he glimpsed tattooed on the hand of the perpetrator: the Ouroborous. So when a mysterious and sinister Next calling himself Lunatic begins killing off criminals with jets of blue fire, it seems all too clear that someone is trying to prevent Bunny from finding out the truth about his parents’ death.
Plot holes? Well, there are a few, not the least of which being: Why would criminals continue to plague Stern City with these super-powered Next on duty at all hours, and filmed live on TV to boot? Surely they’d just…give up.
Some episodes don’t work; #4, dealing with Karina/Blue Rose’s backstory is cliché and predictable, and, frankly, a little dull. Blue Rose deserves better. But the slow but sure revelation of the main plot works well, hooking the viewer, as the cracks in the too-perfect Barnaby’s cool front appear and facts about his tragic past begin to surface. This is a show with a heart that it’s not afraid to wear on its sleeve.
The sparring between Tiger (Wally Wingert) and Bunny (“Don’t call me Bunny!” Yuri Lowenthal) is genuinely amusing in the US dub (some good scriptwriting) and the voice actors do a great job bringing the prickly relationship to life (as do, of course, the original seiyuu Hiroaki Hirata and Masakazu Morita). In fact, the US voices work especially convincingly here, as the setting owes a great deal to American superhero comics.
Visually, I’m not 100% convinced about the melding of the 3G and more traditional anime styles. When Tiger and Bunny are wearing their 3G hero suits and their faces are completely covered, it’s difficult not to think of the Super Sentai, especially when they use similar grand and over-dramatic gestures. (It’s so much easier to dub into different languages when there’s no lip-sync to worry about.) But this jars; I really don’t want to feel that I’ve suddenly been plunged into a Power Rangers mash-up, even if it’s seasoned with a pinch of irony. However, Sternbild City looks great; neon-lit, with futuristic skyscrapers and huge statues, it makes an impressive backdrop to the exploits of the Heroes. The attractive character designs are distinctive, from Fire Emblem’s delightful yet outrageously camp outfits and make-up to Kotetsu’s signature striped peaked cap, worn at variously jaunty angles.
For me, one of the few let-downs is the weak Opening song “Orion wo nazoru” by UNISON SQUARE GARDEN (and, frankly, the Closing song “hoshi no sumika” by Aobozu isn’t much better.) However, Yoshihiro Ike’s orchestral soundtrack works well, with just the right sound palette for the big moments, especially the menacing theme that appears whenever something sinister is going down.
Even though Tiger & Bunny was unapologetically engineered to appeal to a certain audience, and with the aim of creating an anime ‘take’ on the Western superhero genre as epitomised in comic favourites such as Superman and the X-Men, it’s an entertaining watch. (You can learn who the true target audience is by watching the fascinating Extra ‘Making-of’ in which director Keiichi Satou explains all.)
The UK release can be bought as a handsome Limited Edition Combo Pack (not seen) including 2 DVD discs and 1 Blu-ray disc, 3 collectors cards and 3 collectors mini-magazines, ‘digipak’ packaging and an outer slip cover.
If you, like me, followed – and really enjoyed – this show when it was streamed, there’s a great deal to recommend in this release. The action is fast and furious and the script is genuinely witty. Much is set up in these seven episodes that will be of relevance later on – but it’s the conflict between the two leads that holds the attention. ‘They hate each other – but they’re forced to be partners!’