Review: Capes, Tights, Free Rays, and Mech Suits In Japan With ‘Tiger and Bunny: The Beginning’

More awesome than The Avengers! Higher flying than The Amazing Spider-Man! Greater than Green Lantern! If Tiger & Bunny studio Sunrise were into the sort of old school style comics, hype, I’d hope this is the approach they would take with their superhero series, whose animated heroes’ adventures get the digest treatment in Tiger & Bunny: The Beginning.

A fresh take on the corporate sponsored superhero (it’s been done before–it’s just a little more fun here), T&B sees a pair of mismatched partners attempting to dispense justice and earn big ratings in the futurist Sternbild City along with other members of the costume set. What makes the feature so fresh is a handful of creators seeming to discover and fall in love with the superhero concept for the first time, and that gives T&B a lot of heat which goes a long way.

 

In Sternbild City, a handful of superheroes, called NEXT, have come up over the last 45 years. In that time, real-life corporate sponsors like Pepsi have put their financial clout behind these branded heroes, who appear on nightly broadcasts where they’re ranked based on the number of civilians they save and how many arrests they make (superheroes are quasi-cops in this world, legally authorized to bust criminals). Sponsorship comes with its rewards: money, a nice place to stay, replacement costumes. That corporate support comes in handy when a little recklessness catching a group of kidnappers ends up wrecking the local monorail system (the city just garnishes the heroes’ earnings). Each of the heroes keeps their identities secret from the public (if not, necessarily from each other), and act one part performer in the spotlight (gotta get those ratings), one part put-upon employee (they argue with their bosses and get hassled about their performance like the rest of us).

Our heroes are Kotetsu T. Kaburagi (aka “Wild Tiger” aka “Tiger”) and Barnaby Brooks Jr. (aka “Bunny,” but he wouldn’t want you to call him that). Kotetsu is an old hand at suiting up, inspired as a kid by one of the first superheroes in Sternbild City, he’s the hard-luck type: he means well and prioritizes saving civilians over ratings–although the end result is that his ratings are dismal. As Wild Tiger, his power is to get a burst of super strength for five minutes, powers augmented by a zipline device he uses to swing around the city.

At the start of the movie, in spite of taking down a group of kidnappers, Kotetsu comes in last again, upstaged by a mysterious NEXT in an armored suit. It turns out this is his new partner, the much younger and callous Barnaby, who has the exact same power as Kotetsu, but is using the superhero fame thing as a path to find out who killed his family. The Beginning sees the mismatched pair butting heads as the old-timer tries to guide the rookie in the ways of being a real hero.

The feature follows the recent approach of taking a handful of episodes from the televised series and either editing them into a film or creating an all-new feature based around them. The Beginning takes the latter track, with all-new animation and some truly spectacular CG-assisted action scenes as the city’s heroes use their powers.

Given that this is a Japanese take on the superhero, they’re more Kamen Rider than Captain America, so each of their costumes is truly that–a costume and not a uniform. Bright, colorful (garish when you come to the gay panic character, Fire Emblem), it’s cool to see heroes not hammered into the armored New 52/Ultimate-ized versions that has been a big draw in comics, but look increasingly same-y to me.

And it feels like rediscovering superheroes in a way: the show is all about the virtues of having great power and being greatly responsible for it. Kotetsu is a screw up but above all else, he sees what he does as a duty, and he attempts to pass that along to his younger, more popular partner. Likewise, (and stop me if you’ve heard this one) it’s only when the heroes learn to work together that they’re able to actually save the day in the end.

This is all stuff from comics 101 and it’s still as effective and true now as it was when Superman was just leaping tall buildings.

Tiger & Bunny: The Beginning was shown as part of a special screening by Viz. You can catch the series on Hulu and Viz’s streaming service Neon Alley.

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