Tiger & Bunny is a 2011 anime about superheroes. It’s flashy, it’s over the top and it’s just fantastic. The series isn’t just about heroes defending justice but also about selling out, with each hero having their sponsors’ logos stamped on their uniforms, and not fictional companies but real ones like Amazon.jp or Pepsi and Bandai. The heroes themselves are also a part of a TV Show airing every time there’s a major crisis or crime happening, with the camera crew following their exploits and awarding points in a reality-show-esque competition for the title of King of Heroes.
It’s product and brand placement in its most shameless and unapologetic form and the show revels in it, mocks it and even lampshades it. You see the heroes complaining to their sponsors about their catchphrases being too silly or even commenting to the show’s producers that saving lives should take precedence over dramatic tension and ratings.
Tiger & Bunny The Movie I – The Beginning is split in two parts. The first half is a retelling of the first couple of episodes, and the 2nd part is a new story altogether but instead of moving the story forward from where the show left off, it’s more of a side story that would’ve fit quite perfectly between episodes 2-3 of the main show. Being a fan of the original show, I felt this movie was more of a catch-up before the 2nd movie, which from the trailers I’ve seen is in fact a continuation of the story.
The movie begins where the show begins, with a live transmission of Hero TV, the show I mentioned, the camera crew on a helicopter flying behind a van with bank robbers. One by one the different heroes make their appearance and show their powers, with the exception of Origami Cyclone (yes, that’s his name) who’s only job seems to be to stand in the background of shots and pose to show his sponsors’ logos. It’s this type of nonsense that really breathed life into the characters and the show in general, but more on that later.
Two of the criminals are quickly captured but one escapes and that’s where one of the two main characters comes in, Koutetsu Kaburagi aka Wild Tiger, a guy in a blue spandex. His power is actually pretty cool, he can augment his physical “stats” (speed, strength, stamina, etc.) a hundredfold for five minutes at a time, needing some sort of cooldown period afterward. Every one of the heroes has their own power as do many people in Sternbuild City, the setting for the story, a multilevel spanning metropolis. Super-powered people are called NEXT, and most of them end up as either heroes (and there are Hero Academies to boot) or villains.
Back to the story, Wild Tiger does his thing but ends up failing because his time runs out. In fact his power stops working in midair, but he’s saved from going splat on the ground by a newcomer, Barnaby Brooks Jr., a hero decked in a high-tech armor. The other day, the company that sponsored Wild Tiger gets absorbed by one of the city’s major ones, and so does their hero. His new boss gives him an ultimatum, join Barnaby as his partner in the first superhero team in history or lose his job. He reluctantly agrees and as part of the deal, he has to ditch his old spandex suit for another high-tech armor.
Koutetsu and Barnaby each expose different points of view. One’s in it for the justice, to be a hero and protect everyone and to fulfill the promise he made to his dying wife, “Be a hero!” and is very old school superhero, like keeping his identity secret. Barnaby on the other hand doesn’t care about any of that and is just using the superhero gig as a way to find information, a clue, on the man responsible for killing his parents. Koutetsu carries responsibilities and sadness and loss and masks them with an extroverted easygoing personality, while Barbany is tunnel-vision-focused and comes off abrasive and uncaring and frankly quite rude. Two opposite personalities and at the same time are very much alike.
As you might expect, they clash, disagree and argue with each other. It doesn’t help that Wild Tiger keeps referring to Barnaby as “Bunny” because of the odd shape of his helmet (hence the name Tiger & Bunny).
The second half of the film is an entirely new story with a new villain, an international NEXT criminal. A master thief in rollerblades who’s gone after some of the most high profile objects in the world and has this time stolen Sternbuild City’s prized Godess Statue (a miniature version of the massive monument at the metropolis’ center), taken once before and recovered by the city’ first hero “Mr. Legend” some years back. The story, while simple, is a good “starting” level case for the duo and fits well with the introductory nature of the film.
Beyond the case, the 2nd half not only explores the partners’ difficult relationship and trust issues, but also their interactions and relationships with the other heroes, with Tiger doing his best to be the bridge between them, even tricking Barnaby and the others into a group outing with disastrous results, giving the secondary characters some time under the spotlight, something not easily done in a summary movie like this one and for which I commend the writers and director since it’s the whole of the cast (heroes, producers, managers and villains) and not the main characters by themselves that make the world of Tiger & Bunny so enjoyable, from the shy kabuki-actor Origami Cyclone to the over the top flamingly gay man Fire Emblem to the songstress-heroine Pepsi-hype girl Blue Rose.
For those who saw the show, this movie won’t have anything new for you, not much really. You’ll feel nostalgia during the first half and will enjoy the 2nd half very much, but there’s nothing there for those of you (us) waiting for a continuation to the show’s main plot. You will however tear up with Koutetsu’s memories of his wife. I wept like a baby. For newcomers, this is a perfect movie to join the fandom. In fact, I bet you’ll go on a get the show after watching the movie, wanting more of what “Tiger & Bunny” has to offer and I promise you, there’s a lot of that.
Sadly, the second movie won’t release until 2014, so there’s still a bit of a wait to go, but let’s hope time flies by!