Must Watch Anime: Tiger & Bunny

What if superheroes had corporate sponsors? What if whenever they were called into action, their exploits would be televised for the world to see with the “top hero” being the one that scored the most points? Those are the questions that a new anime, Tiger & Bunny, happily answers.

The first episode gets down to brass tacks by quickly introducing us to the world of the series, a fictional super-city where special beings called NEXTs have appeared with mysterious powers nearly forty years earlier. Since they had first appeared, a television show started up showcasing their exploits and scoring them on how well they save the day depending on who shows up first on the scene to who catches the villain.

Poor Tiger...no one wants to buy his trading cards except for him. But he loves being a hero.

There’s Rock Bison, a huge, armored hero who relies on his super-strength and his horned helmet. Fire Emblem, an effeminate hero that controls fire (yeah, yeah). Dragon Kid, a young kung fu artist with thunder powers. Sky High, the perennial winner of the title “King of Superheroes” who flies (like you couldn’t guess from the name) and is the embodiment of the ‘dashing’ hero. Origami Cyclone whose special ability seems only to appear in the backdrop of whoever is being broadcast at the time. Blue Rose, an singing idol who specializes in freezing powers.

And then there’s Wild Tiger, a guy who can summon super strength and become uber powerful for only five minutes. He’s past his prime, though, and younger heroes like Blue Rose are starting to show him up in the ratings. Things don’t get any easier when a flashy new NEXT, Barnaby, appears and ends up saving the day quickly becoming the new crowd pleaser. In the midst of a corporate takeover of Tiger’s old sponsor, Tiger now works for a new boss – a boss that wants him to team with the young Barnaby as the world’s first superhero duo.

Barnaby is the slick eye candy that has ratings going wild. He also doesn't think much of his partner who leaps into danger before analyzing the situation like a "proper" hero.

The sponsorship plugs are everywhere. Blue Rose advertises for Pepsi, Sky High pimps UStream.TV, and Tiger’s new uniform is emblazoned with SoftBank’s name. If anything, it’s free ads if not for helping to probably defray the cost of producing the series. Whatever the reason, though, it’s a nice touch that lends a weighty feel to how integrated corporate hooks are into the lives of these heroes. When Tiger wrecks a train to save people (he’s an ‘old school’ hero who is more committed to saving lives than doing certain things just to raise ratings), his company gets hit with covering the costs – something his new bosses aren’t to keen on.

Tiger’s also part of the focus for the series. His daughter, Kaede, is completely unaware of his true identity as Wild Tiger and he finds himself trying to balance his private life, plummeting popularity, and crime fighting all at once while maintaining his heroic principles in the face of a ratings war. It doesn’t help that he’s forced to team up with Barnaby, someone who apparently is willing to tow the company line on being a hero – but also isn’t above doing certain things to make himself look the best at what he does. Also nice to see an older hero in the lead as opposed to another teen-aged magic girl/guy. That’s an automatic win in my book.

He's still pretty spry for an old guy. Here, Tiger just leapt into the air to save this kid's balloon even while out of costume. And then the kid gave him a Sky High trading card. He just can't win...

The animation quality is pretty good – Sunrise and Bandai Visual are handling this one – and is directed by Keiichi Sataou whom some aficionados might recall from his other work (The Big O, City Hunter, Giant Robo, Mazinkaiser). But it isn’t clean. The cell-shaded CG stands out, especially when it appears to move like molasses, contrasting to the far superior hand-drawn animation everywhere else. It’s pretty jarring, but at the same time, it’s not terribad.

I’m keeping an eye on this one and you can actually catch the episodes streaming in from Hulu if you don’t mind commercials. There are already rumblings about secrets in the past which could end up in a nice twist later on, but so far, it’s fun eye candy that doesn’t take itself way too seriously.  The only worry I have for a series that starts out this strongly, any series really, is when it starts to fill in everything else in between with crap – you know what I’m talking about. Not the kind of filler garbage that Blue Water’s island sequence brought to the series, but something close to it. I hate it when a series nosedives like that before righting itself later on.

So it’s so far so good! Let’s hope the series keeps this momentum going.

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