I’d like to thank the guys over at Reverse Thieves for organizing this project. It’s my first time doing this.
The joy in watching completed anime is the opportunity to compare it to currently airing anime, and perhaps anime you have also watched. I’ve iterated before that this may interfere with how unbiased my opinion is of the actual show in question, but when the comparisons end up being positive, it’s a fascinating exercise. In fact, it’s a fun exercise. Which anime does this particular concept better? Which anime executes this particular theme at the right moment? How do their differences contribute to each anime’s success? I like thinking about these sorts of things when watching anime that interest me.
During my marathon of Tiger & Bunny I made a lot of comparisons with this season’s Samurai Flamenco, both of which are anime that deal with heroes, heroism, and their application to modern society. While Samurai Flamenco focuses specifically on Japanese heroes such as super sentai and magical girls, and the Japanese attitude towards heroism in ordinary life, Tiger & Bunny opt for the western comic book approach towards heroism, featuring bulky and ripped superheroes in tights and capes, though these days they’ve upgraded into Iron Man-esque mech suits and their exploits are literally exploited by the media; each registered hero is subject to aggressive corporations seeking sponsorship, product placement, and reality TV opportunities.
Of the two anime, Tiger & Bunny feels more like a show I would watch alongside other Saturday morning cartoons, because its content is a lot more basic and lightweight in execution. There is nothing quite as visceral as, say, a ballstomping Precure, nor does anyone’s limbs or heads get chopped off like they do in Samurai Flamenco. The closest this anime ever gets to being squeamish is people being burned alive by Lunatic, and even then there’s barely any topical damage. Definitely not a point against the anime. Soft censoring the violence contributes to the optimistic, silly nature of the story.
The animation in Tiger & Bunny is impressive for its time as it almost seamlessly incorporates CG into the superhero models and giving them a surprising amount of life, a kind that cannot be easily imitated with traditional frame-by-frame animation. Tiger’s silly running style in his new suit still gets me every time, as does a number of other superheroes’ silly mannerisms even when suited up. It also helps that I chose to watch the series dubbed. Tiger’s voice sounded a bit young in comparison to Bunny, but everything was spot-on, especially the anchor for Hero TV.
There’s… very little to be said besides that, honestly. It’s a silly and fun superhero show, and it parades this banner every chance it gets, but Tiger and Bunny doesn’t evolve past this standard. I didn’t mind the portrayal of the scary flaming black man, or a certain villain’s plot-breaking powers, or that superheroes not named Tiger or Barnaby Brooks Jr. were never given ample development. Their static personalities were already entertaining to watch, and the protagonist duo was a much more interesting place for development anyways. That didn’t stop the anime from dedicating full episodes to each side character, though. On one hand, I don’t mind it. As I’ve said before, it’s opportunity to flesh out how the world of Hero TV works while giving the supporting cast a chance to characterize themselves a bit more. Blue Rose in particular is given the most treatment out of all of them, as she’s a potential romantic interest for Tiger. The others played their role as a supporting cast relatively well. On the other hand, it grabs attention away from more interesting things the anime could have done.
The thing about comparing anime to other works is that I end up placing a lot of expectations on the anime. Most of the time I’m disappointed that an anime ends up not reaching those same expectations, but whose fault is my own disappointment? Is the the anime for not reaching it, or my own for setting it up in the first place? I thought of a lot of possibilities for Tiger & Bunny’s plot direction and I’m afraid that my judgment towards this anime is based more upon “it could have been so much better” rather than “did it do well what it aimed to do?”. I much prefer to evaluate something on its own terms, but it’s hard for me to do that with this particular anime.
Specifically, it’s the tone of this anime that gives me the most trouble.
Tiger & Bunny’s serious arcs straddle this line between dark and gritty territory and the positive, light-hearted territory it stomps upon so often. No matter how dire the situation gets or how much the stakes rise, there’s very little actual danger present and resultant of the story’s progression. Therefore, Tiger & Bunny doesn’t really treat the maturity of its own premise seriously. Lunatic is a great example of how the anime sits on the fence for this particular issue. The whole purpose of Lunatic is that he introduces the threat of killing criminals, that he exists outside of Hero TV’s jurisdiction and the jurisdiction of the Sternbild itself (ironically). However, Lunatic ends up posing very little threat and does not make quite a splash on the plot compared to the likes of Jake Martinez and the final villain in the second half of the anime. And even then, both of those villains end up not doing a lot!
So I’m left with this question: is it to Tiger & Bunny’s benefit or detriment that it does not quite take itself seriously? For me personally, it is a detriment. Therefore, this is a point against how I judge this anime.
Keep in mind, however, that this doesn’t make the anime inherently bad. Think back to Samurai Flamenco for a moment, and how episode 7 conspired. Not only was that a drastic change in maturity, but it was also a drastic shift in tone. This was polarizing to viewers, and a very, very risky play. Tiger & Bunny, on the other hand, sticks to its own status quo. Sternbild does not change. The superheroes do not change drastically, either. If anything, Tiger & Bunny succeeds in being doggedly consistent. So consistent that it leaves room for neither mistakes nor improvements. I believe that ultimately hurts Tiger & Bunny’s potential to be a great anime. It’s certainly a fun anime, much more an entertaining anime, but it’s not great. And I’m okay with that.