So, depending on what you watch you’ve probably seen a buddy cop movie/series. If you haven’t (either ’cause you’re young or just watch anime or whatever) just think of it as guy on guy tsundere except you’re substituting actually doing your job for yaoi. Here’s a normal scenario: you get an older, down on his luck professional who’s partnered up with a young, up and coming hot shot. The two don’t get along but they’re forced to work together. Slowly, they start to rub off on each other and end up working together to solve a big case. That’s the basic idea behind the “buddy cop” trope and it’s the basic idea behind Tiger & Bunny.
In Tiger & Bunny, the our lead characters aren’t buddy cops, they’re superheroes. To be specific, they are people referred to as “Next”. “Next” are individuals who develop super powers and some of them become heroes. The hHeroes have special suits and sponsors (some of which are real world companies like Pepsi or Bandai) and compete with each other on a reality TV show called “Hero TV”. The point of the show is to earn points by stopping real life crimes. The protagonists of the story are Kotetsu T. Kaburagi (aka “Wild Tiger”) and Barnaby Brook Jr. (aka “Bunny”). In case you’re wondering, “Bunny” is not a super hero identity, just a nickname Tiger gives Barnaby because of the similarity between the words “Barnaby” and “Bunny” when pronounced in the Japanese accent.
The first few episodes of the show follow a familiar formula for anime. There’s an introduction, then some back story is laid out for Tiger, Bunny, and a couple of the other heroes. That’s followed up by some episodes showing Tiger and Bunny starting to work together and, honestly, things get a little boring. Fortunately, around episode 6 or 7 is where things start to pick up. These episodes reveal the existence of a larger criminal organization that has ties to Bunny’s past and introduces some more consistent antagonists. It also becomes less about the Hero TV competition and more about the heroes working together to actually…be heroes. The series itself is 25 episodes long with the first major story line resolving around episode 13.
I won’t go too much more into it in order to avoid spoilers. As the show continues, it seems to take on a darker tonal shift. Starting around episode 9, they start to deal with some more substantial villains that aren’t as cartoon-ish as the initial villains, even if they are still over the top in some ways. Unfortunately, the back half of the series feels cut short as two big mysteries of the show are never really resolved. There are two movies that pick up the Tiger & Bunny story, but the second is being released in 2014 and, to this point, there’s reason to believe that it will resolve any of these stories.
At times the show seems like a commentary/satire on American super heroes or super hero cartoons. They make light of some tropes like secret identities and catch phrases. However, they also take a deeper look at some superhero themes like the ethics of being a hero; when it’s appropriate to use excessive force; and the reality of how childhood trauma can negatively affect a hero. I watched the show in both dubbed and subbed. Because of that I’m not completely sure of what the tone of the show is supposed to be satirical and serious or just satirical. The dub does a good job of conveying the different satirical and serious tones. The original language version feels like the voice actors are always stuck in satire mode. So, maybe it’s supposed to be only satirical or, maybe the dub is just translating some of the nuances to be more obvious. Oh and BTW, episodes 10-13 introduce a character that makes some of the super hero satire really obvious. It was already pretty clear that they were making Bunny out to be a little like Batman, but just in case you didn’t get it they introduce a villain that’s pretty much the Joker (he even has a Harley Quinn).
Ultimately, this series wears a lot of hats and doesn’t really do a bad job of it. Satire, action, comedy, buddy cop, heroes as people and symbols, social commentary, conspiracy theory, public perception and trust, etc.; the show dabbles in all of these things and it feels solid wherever it goes. The character design is good and doesn’t feel derivative of anything else I’ve seen. I actually love the more comic-art style designs that they show during the opening sequences. The music isn’t particularly special and I actually prefer the first intro that they had instead of the one that picks up in episode 14. The animation is solid (outside of a few issues with scenes that happen at night early in the series) and uses CG pretty effectively and seamlessly in the animation. However, pretty much everything it does with its story feels like there’s something else that does it better. Granted, when a big chunk of what you’re doing is satire or playing off of tropes, that’s to be expected. Still, it’s hard to really feel like the show stands out because of it’s reliance on tropes. It comes off feeling more like something that would end up on Saturday morning television.
The show was produced by Sunrise and released in mid-2011. It was later licensed by Viz Media for its dubbed release. This is a show that I think actually works better as a dub than as a sub. Initially, I only watched the first 6 episodes of the show. I actually stopped at that point before picking the show back up again months later. I stopped watching the show because the episodes up to that point felt a little formulaic. However, the show does pick up around episode 7. I’d say that if you get to episode 9 or 10 and you’re not at least intrigued it’s probably not worth sticking around for this series. If you do stick around, just be advised that the story does wrap up, but doesn’t tie up all the lose ends when it does. That said, if you find yourself with nothing to watch, give it a whirl to pass the time. If you get past the first few episodes you’ll find something worth while especially if you’re a casual fan of American super heroes. Just don’t get too attached or you may find yourself wanting more with no place to get it.