Tiger and Bunny
Among NEXT superheroes featured in Apollon Media's "reality" crime fighting show Hero TV (which is THE show to watch when in the city of Stern Bild), a hero named Wild Tiger (real name Kotetsu Kaburagi) is infamous for the collateral damage he causes, AND he's now beginning to wonder if he's losing his touch- he seems to be losing out in the competition between his fellow superheroes in catching the bad guys. After destroying one piece of property too many, he's demoted to being sidekick to a younger, more energetic hero named Barnaby Brooks, Jr. (who fights under his real name.) Kotetsu disparagingly nicknames Barnaby "Bunny", partly from his name, partly from a fancied resemblance of his mecha suit's headpiece to rabbit ears. At first they don't get along at all (Kotetsu's resentment about loss of his own status is a large part of this), but as a personal quest of Barnaby's exposes deeper and deeper levels of wickedness (and inexorably leads to more highly-placed individuals), these two may have to form a real partnership to root out the corruption that ultimately threatens Kotetsu himself- and those closest to him.
Here we have a show that borrows from superhero genre shows and comic books as diverse as Marvel's X-Men, several incarnations of Batman (with a particularly obvious lift from The Dark Knight), and the first The Incredibles movie, though in turn THIS show anticipates, by several years, a portion of the plot of The Incredibles 2. Kotetsu's own "Hundred Power", which gives him a hundred times his own strength for just five minutes, reminded me of a similar time-limited Golden Age hero named Hourman. In short, comic fans will LOVE this show.
The show boasts a lot of nifty 3D CG, and the costumes of our heroes are as vibrantly colorful- and as weirdly designed-as one could wish. And Stern Bild City strongly reminded me of the Tim Burton take on Gotham City, including its affection for giant statuary.
I also admire the thought that's gone into the conception of the NEXT, even though it owes a substantial debt to X-Men. The show says that "45 years ago" mutant children began to be born who developed an incredible variety of super abilities; they began to be referred to as the NEXT. These kids were often shunned or persecuted out of fear by their normal peers- maybe a LITTLE justified, since these kids are a hazard to others until they can master control of their own powers. Some of the kids succumb to this mistreatment, or commit some unpardonable act by accident or bad judgment, and may turn supervillain. Some are lucky enough to find a good mentor. (Kotetsu did, and it looks like he might be a good mentor in turn, even if he's a lousy father- details a bit further on.) One way the "good" NEXTs can make an honest living out of their difference is by becoming crimefighters in reality-show Hero TV's competition, being awarded points (and we assume extra cash) for being particularly proficient at rescuing people or catching the bad guys. Further enhancing the resemblance of all this to sporting events is the fact that the heroes each have their own sponsors, and sometimes wear the insignias of those sponsors. (The Wiki article on this show goes into great detail about this, including identifying the "sponsors", many of which are real firms.) But it turns out that at least some of the NEXTs may not be able to continue as superheroes, no matter how much they want to, because their powers fade over time.
Let's meet our main cast. Kotetsu himself is quite idealistic as far as heroism goes, being motivated by a genuine desire to help others and fight crime- and is considerably less motivated by commercial considerations than some of his peers are. He's our POV character, and is amiable enough, if a bit too flippant, somewhat dense, and having a tendency to tell lousy jokes, in addition to that habit of trashing public and private property. Oh, and he's an absentee parent toward his 9-year-old daughter Kaede (she'll turn 10 during the course of the show); his wife's deceased, so she's being raised by Kotetsu's mother. Kaede's not one bit happy about his apparent neglect of her, but he feels he must keep his REAL job a secret from her. I WILL say that I liked his original costume more than that mecha suit he's stuck with during most of the show, even if the mecha suit IS more durable. (Superhero costume designers seem an odd lot: I don't need to say more about The Incredible's Edna Mode, but our designer in the current story, a Mr. Saito, takes "soft-spoken" to a ridiculous extreme.) (A random thought here: if Kotetsu had kids with either member of the Dirty Pair, the mind boggles at the destruction those progeny might wreak.)
Barnaby seems much more focused than Kotetsu, in addition to being younger (AND more handsome, which helps make him a media star), but Barnaby's actually got the SAME "Hundred Power" (again, good for only 5 minutes) that Kotetsu has. He's secretly driven by an obsession all too familiar to superhero fans, but as noted it all leads to the exposure of deeper and more pervasive villainy (and more and more danger to everybody), until we discover who the "final boss" is. THAT person, our evil mastermind, becomes the center of one of the most ingenious double plot twists I've ever seen; parts of this show's writing are pretty innovative, even when repurposing superhero clichés.
Our other heroes include:
Blue Rose (Karina Lyle)- she's a highschool girl whose power is freezing (a la Batman's Mr. Freeze and The Incredible's Frozone.) She's also an idol singer (remember, no matter WHERE it's set, this show's an anime, and therefore equipped with the familiar Japanese tropes) who has a career choice to make. Oh, and she develops a crush on Kotetsu (along with the customary pretense that she doesn't like him at all.) I thought both Blue Rose and Dragon Kid (see below) looked more attractive in street clothes than in their superhero costumes, and personally would have preferred Karina's face to be designed a bit differently, but that's just me. I was not too impressed with Blue Rose's stems though- and no, I'm NOT talking about her LEGS, but part of her costume. They seemed a bit impractical in a fight. (I was thinking of The Incredible's Edna Mode's similar argument against capes.)
Fire Emblem (Nathan Seymour) is our LGBTQ character. Nathan fits the flamboyant, campy stereotype that's typical in anime, and is often used for comedy, but in fairness these characters are not always used ONLY for comedy in anime: one ALSO finds, as here, that transsexual characters are frequently presented as having positive, compassionate, and strong personalities as well- think Hana in Tokyo Godfathers, Momoko in Shangri-La, and Nathan here- and, in the case of Fire Emblem, all this comes with a fierce superpower (casting fireballs), and with a cool set of wheels to boot.
Sky High (Keith Goodman) has the manner of an ultra-Boyscout. He's supposedly one of Hero TV's most popular heroes. His private persona is as ingenuous (and oblivious) as his public one, and it might be a long time before he realizes the lady he fell in love with is not EVER coming back. Or that she wasn't even really a lady. He controls wind, and has a jetpack for flight.
Rock Bison (Antonio Lopez) gets the least treatment of his personal life of any of them (except maybe Fire Emblem), though I understand this was remedied in the OVAs. He wears a hefty green suit with a horned helmet (the horns keep getting stuck in things) and has, for some reason, drills mounted on his shoulders.
Dragon Kid (Huang Pao-Lin) does have one episode where we see that despite her "tomboy" image she has an unexpected maternal charisma. She's a martial arts expert and has an electrical-discharge power she uses to stun foes.
Origami Cyclone (Ivan Karelin) takes FOREVER to show us his power. He goes to great lengths to get caught on camera (the sponsors would insist), but he doesn't show us what he actually DOES until we're some ways into the show. His reluctance is connected to his past, which we WILL be shown.
That's the heroes. Besides them, we have Albert Maverick, who runs Apollon Media; Agnes Joubert, the ruthless producer of Hero TV; and Alexander Lloyds, who becomes Kotetsu's boss at Apollon Media and whose favorite phrase is "If you don't like it, you can quit".
And finally there's Lunatic, a costumed vigilante who simply wants to EXTERMINATE the bad guys rather than arrest them. He has quite an interesting (though horrifying) backstory, and while his principles may be extreme, he at least applies them consistently, which- in a few rare instances- might actually do some good (or at least do what's necessary.)
I was sorely tempted to go five stars here. But the Second Season (and especially the last six episodes of it) is mostly a continuous storyline which would have benefited from a break or two; I wanted backstory on Rock Bison and Fire Emblem (dealt with in the OVAs, I understand, but not HERE); and while the show puts together some familiar parts in novel ways, they're STILL familiar parts. I might have also wanted to see a little more of Karina's pursuit of Kotetsu (even if just for comic purposes) but we're shonen here rather than shoujo after all. But the show is bright, colorful, the characters are memorable, and there's plenty of action, and if that's not the recipe for a great comic book adventure, I don't know what is. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: The violence includes wife abuse (and the injuries are graphically depicted), and murder of an elderly lady, as well as some human incinerations (by Lunatic). Rightstuf rates the DVD 13+.
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on Netflix
Review Status: Full (25/25)
Tiger and Bunny © 2011 Sunrise/T&B Partners, MBS
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