Thursday, 22 September 2011

タイガー&バニー / Tiger & Bunny

I was a bit cautious about Tiger & Bunny. When everybody tells me this is the next big thing, I tend to get sceptical, especially as there have been a lot of very popular anime in the last few years I’ve not liked one bit.

But Tiger & Bunny was not only superb in concept and execution, but the perfect series for Sunrise to make. It fit their style perfectly, and the hilariously understated ‘Sunrise ending’ was both poking fun at expectations and fulfilling them.

In a future metropolis in what is pretty clearly the United States (Sternbild’s money still has the motto ‘In God we trust’), superheroes are celebrated as reality TV stars. A whole industry has grown around the core superstars – the ice-powered Blue Rose, who wants to be a singing idol; big powerhouse lummox Rock Bison; lightning-slinging Dragon Kid with her adorable Mickey Mouse ears; flamboyantly gay businessman Fire Emblem; the unintentionally goofy but very successful Sky High; the silly inexperienced Origami Cyclone, who mostly wants to be in the background of important scenes to please his sponsors – and the stalwart veteran a little past his prime, Wild Tiger, who can greatly boost his strength, speed and agility for five minutes. Into the fray comes Barnaby Brooks, Jr, with no secret identity or sponsorship – but the same powers as Wild Tiger.

He is quickly picked up and given a deal, but their similar powers mean that Wild Tiger and Barnaby are put into a double-team, paving the way for an odd-couple set up that works brilliantly. The first major arc of the story revolves around the two gradually coming to accept and respect one another and to work as a team, while helping the various other heroes with their various problems. Tiger gives Barnaby the nickname ‘Bunny’, as especially in Japanese they sound similar, and soon finds out that his new partner’s purpose in life is to track down the murderers of his parents, who apparently work for a criminal organisation called Ouroboros. Inexplicably, almost nobody seems to have heard of the symbol.

More about this organisation comes to light, but in the wake of a confrontation with the man Barnaby believes killed his parents, it becomes apparent that his memories may have been tampered with. With Wild Tiger facing his own problems – waning powers – the series reaches its final climax…albeit leaving plenty for a follow-up.

This is a classic example of what anime does best – takes a rather daft concept and comedic characters, but develops them to be taken very seriously, so that you care about them by the time they are in real danger. It’s the little touches in the characters that make everything work so well, when they get some depth. It’s when Blue Rose realises she has a crush, and when we see Dragon Kid’s thoughts about her parents. It’s the shocked reaction Sky High gives when he realises people think he’s goofy and when Fire Emblem drops the ridiculous pouting to become serious. It’s the funny scientist man whose voice is so quiet he needs to amplify it to be heard, and the way Kotetsu always gets it wrong with his daughter.

And the look of the thing is great throughout. The mixture of CG and cel animation is obvious, but hangs together better than in any other series I’ve seen use CG so extensively, and allows for some impressive fluidity. I like how the character designs have the usual signifiers for black and white people from anime, yet without them looking too absurd to be major characters. I like the music and the crazy design of the city and, in fact, the whole world of Tiger & Bunny.

Neither what I expected nor something startlingly new for Sunrise, Tiger & Bunny did a superb job with a good, solid idea. There’s plenty to expand on yet – Ouroboros, Lunatic, young Kaede’s developing power – so I both expect and hope for more!

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