Sunday, June 26, 2011

tiger & bunny: redux

About two months ago, I commented on the first episode of an anime I was watching on Hulu called Tiger and Bunny. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to keep up with it on Hulu because apparently Hulu doesn't carry the right license to stream the show to the UK.[1] Thankfully, I've managed to find a number of UK sites that carry it.

A word about the broadcast. It looks like Viz Media has a license to re-broadcast the show in the States right after it's shown in Japan. What that means, practically, is that most websites the newest episode of Tiger & Bunny available for streaming on Saturday with subtitles. It's an interesting experiment in bringing current anime to the rest of the world quickly. Tiger & Bunny, a show about the super heroes of Bild Stern who competed for points to be crowned King of Heroes, seems both an odd choice and yet timely, what with the huge popularity of movies based on American comic book licenses in recent years (Spider-Man, Batman, X-Men, Thor...)

FYI... there are tons of anime as well as movie and tv shows available to stream for free through youtube. Tiger & Bunny, however, is not one of them.

I've made it up to episode 14. If it's going to be a one season and done series, that means I'm just over half-way through (26 episodes total). But the show has just cleared it's first major story arc so now seems as good a time as any to revisit and review it.

Before, I said the team-up of Tiger and Bunny as the first NEXT crime-fighting duo presented elements of the buddy cop genre. That's not entirely true. Whereas the veteran cop is usually by the books and perhaps a little bit surly, both Wild Tiger (Kotetsu, the veteran) and his rookie parter Barnaby Brooks, Jr. (Bunny) have moments of the recklessness element that usually defines the rookie partner trope of this genre. Wild Tiger is generally reckless, always sticking his neck out to save people, which he sees as the one and only purpose of being a hero, disregarding the property damage he inflicts or the toes of his fellow heroes he may step on. Barnaby is more reserved, focused and the number two point getter behind King of Heroes Sky High as the next season of Hero TV progresses.

Barnaby can be set off, however, by his single-minded drive to hunt down the man who killed his parents. This drive is the reason he alone among the heroes has chosen to publicly reveal his face and identity to the public. He has taken his father's name so that when he finds the murdered, his father will symbolically be there extracting justice.

Barnaby witnessed the fiery murder of his parents when he was a child but cannot remember the face of the killer. However, the image of a tattoo has been seared into his memory. A super rich billionaire loner (Batman, anybody) with only his nanny to look after him (::kaff, kaff:: Alfred), Barnaby has taken it upon himself to sift through information to find a lead. A man with a similar tattoo turns up, revealing the name Ouroboros, which Barnaby takes to be the name of the organization behind his parents' murder.

Several episodes were devoted to exploring the backstories of some of the other heroes. For instance, in "Fear is Often Greater than the Danger," the beautiful ice queen Blue Rose decides to quit being a hero to pursue her desire to be a singer full time. She has been performing secretly out of costume in a lounge. But a lecture by Kotetsu brings her back to heroing and she swoops in at the last minute to save the heroes from an inferno.

In "Fire is a Good Servant but a Bad Master," Tiger and Bunny team-up with Fire Emblem to clear him of murder charges. Another NEXT has been killing criminals with fire powers that point to Fire Emblem. Fire Emblem is unique among the heroes not only because he doesn't have a corporate sponsor, he is actually the CEO of the company behind Fire Emblem, but he is openly and flamboyantly gay. Yes, the flamer character is flaming. But this doesn't seem to be mean-spirited, just the source of some rather silly humor. In a later episode when he is dispatched with Blue Rose and Dragon Kid to save the city, he talks about "girl power" and seems confused when Blue Rose responds that only two of them are girls.

Gay and ambiguously gendered characters are quite popular in anime and manga. No, I'm not just talking about the long-haired pretty boys, either. Because of the lack of religious sin and other cultural forces, homosexuality is not condemned like it is in the West. Notice I didn't say it's more accepted. But this topic is fodder for another entire blog post. If you're interested in the topic, let me know in the comments.

Investigating the fiery murders with Fire Emblem introduces the anti-hero Lunatic, a masked vigilante who shoots fiery bolts from a crossbow. He criticizes the justice delivered by the point-collecting stars of Hero TV. Certain hints seem to indicate that he is a certain long-haired judge Yuri Petrov seen hanging around the offices but as of episode 14, Lunatic's identity has not been positively revealed.

Lunatic figures into a few episodes as he murders various criminals, leading Barnaby, Kotetsu, and others to believe he works for Ouroboros and is eliminating loose ends, possibly people who could lead Barnaby to his parents' killer.

"There is Always a Next Time" delves into the past of Origami Cyclone, a sort of ninja-esque NEXT whose powers have never been shown. He is mostly known for just showing up in the background at most TV encounters and working very hard to make an appearance on Hero TV. Notably, he is the only NEXT to collect fewer points than Kotetsu.

Kotetsu, Barnaby, and the Origami Cyclone have been dispatched to a training academy for NEXT to prepare them to be the next generation of heroes of Bild Stern and the next generation of stars for Hero TV. When Kotetsu's class wants him to judge their abilities and let them know if they have what it takes to be heroes, he manages to politely encourage them even though most of them have powers more useless than Cypher, Skin, and Beak.[2] Origami Cyclone then asks Kotetsu to judge his power, which is the very Mystique-like power to copy appearances. Kotetsu encourages him by saying that he was chosen to become a Hero because there is something only he can do (starting to catch a theme yet).

In "Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child," the mayor of Bild Stern assigns Kotetsu the job of babysitting his child while he and his wife go out of the city. Even though Kotetsu has a daughter, Kaede, and thus has experience with children unlike any of the other heroes, the baby takes a liking to Dragon Kid, a tomboyish Chinese girl with lightning powers. Her parents sent her to Bild Stern to be a hero. The baby and Dragon Kid are kidnapped, and one of the kidnappers states that their parents (she mistakes the baby and Dragon Kid to be siblings) will pay a good ransom because they obviously love their children as revealed by what the flower on the baby's hat means. Dragon Kid takes this language of flowers idea home after she defeats the kidnappers and finds out the flower hair clip her parents gave her means "thinking about you." Going against her tomboyish nature, she finally decides to wear the pin, garnering a compliment from Kotetsu.

The next four episodes are the culmination of the plot. Barnaby finally remembers the face of his parents' killer and tracks him down to a prison in Bild Stern. Before I discuss those episodes, a few brief, overarching comments.

As unpopular with the public as he is, Kotetsu is the heart and soul of the Heroes. Barnaby and Blue Rose don't show him much respect and even Dragon Kid has some unkind things to say about his words and deeds sometimes. However, Rock Bison and Fire Emblem always stick up for him, often pointing out that what Kotetsu says isn't always exactly the truth because he is protecting somebody else or trying to do the right thing.

He is often the one with the right words of encouragement for the other heroes, serving as a mentor to them. He may not earn the points but he lends moral support and often the insight that allows the others to succeed.

And he's much brighter than almost everybody gives him credit for. It's his memory for faces that produces a lead in the Ouroboros subplot. And his ability to connect various bits of information to uncovers Jake Martinez's second power... Now, the close of the story arc.

The heart of Ouroboros leads to Jake Martinez, a mercenary currently in prison. Barnaby is on his way to see him when trouble breaks out in Bild Stern. This trouble also prevents Kotetsu from going home to see his daugher for the first time in an undisclosed length of time. He never takes vacation and every time he tries to make it home, a super-hero crisis happens. How inconvenient!

Mecha have appeared all over the city and starting blowing things up. The heroes are all called in to action and dispatched to various parts of the city to deal with multiple incursions. Kotetsu tells Barnaby to go ahead and go to the prison because he has been waiting his whole life for that confrontation.

The mecha attack, however, is just the opening move and a distraction from the real aim. Ouroboros villain Kriem has sent them out so that she can break her boyfriend Jake Martinez out of prison. Threatening to destroy the city if the mayor doesn't comply with her demands, Bild Stern releases Jake Martinez. The city complies but Origami Cyclone has used his shapeshifting powers to infiltrate the group as a human henchmen.

As villains as wont to do villainy, Jake backs out of the deal and threatens to destroy Bild Stern if the 7 heroes of Hero TV don't battle him in a one-on-one tournament. Origami Cyclone is discovered and injured. With his force field powers, Jake manages to defeat the King of Heroes Sky High, Rock Bison, and Kotetsu easily. Agnes, the producer of Hero TV, hatches a plot to delay the tournament by telling Jake they can get more viewers if he waits until the next day to fight Barnaby rather than doing it late at night. Jake agrees.

In reality, the ploy is meant to buy time so that signal jammers can be placed around the city to block Kriem's control over the stuffed animal bears that pilot the mecha. The next day, Barnaby fights Jake while Fire Emblem, Blue Rose, and Dragon Kid move into position to destroy the disabled mecha when the signal jammers are turned on.

Barnaby can't land a blow and Jake taunts him that it's because he has a second power, something unheard for NEXT. Kotetsu figures out that his power is reading minds and rushes out to tell Barnaby even though Kotetsu is severely injured. Meanwhile, the plot to disable the mecha doesn't work because they have auto-defense instructions and the three heroes have a difficult battle on their hands.

Kotetsu hatches a brilliant scheme that relies on deceiving Barnaby about the true nature of Jake's power so that Jake can't simply read his mind and avoid the attack. Barnaby believes Kotetsu and he manages to defeat the much more powerful Jake Martinez thank's to Kotetsu's plan. Kriem demands the heroes hand the defeated Jake over, believing she still holds the city hostage. In fact, Fire Emblem, Blue Rose, and Dragon Kid have defeated all the mecha.

Jake tries to escape but Kotetsu stops him. Trying to get free, Jake shoots down the helicopter Kriem is flying. She escapes, probably into Hero custody. However, it looks like the copter crashes on Jake. But I'm no sucker. I know how comic books go. Jake is not dead even though all indicators say otherwise. I fully expect him to figure into the endgame of this season or series. Maybe not as the major villain but somehow working for it. And Agnes will probably be involved somehow, too. But I'm starting to have second thoughts about her. She may have just been a red herring.

And that, briefly, is the first 14 episodes of Tiger & Bunny.

One thing I find particularly weird is how much the mayor of Bild Stern resembles a cross between Barack Obama and Tom Dubois from The Boondocks. Not because anime characters that resemble real, famous people is unusual. I just didn't expect the personality of Bild Stern's mayor to be linked to a Barack Obama-esque image by Japanese animators. The mayor, quite simply, is a huge, indecisive coward who cares more about how the public will perceive the outcome of any decision than how it will actually effect the citizens of Bild Stern. I thought Barack Obama was perceived a lot more positively abroad. It's just a little strange but still pretty funny.

So far, no backstory episodes have been devoted to Sky High or Rock Bison. Rock Bison has been revealed to be one of Kotetsu's friends, a drinking buddy, and somebody who knows about his personal life. He is also one of Kotestu's strongest supporters to the other Heroes. Sky High's history will probably be revealed in one of the later episodes since he is the King of Heroes. Seeing what drives him and why he works so hard to be the best will most likely come out as the heroes are pushed to their very limits as the series wraps up and heroes (and main characters) are killed. But that's just my prediction on how things will go. It's based on watching many, many anime series. I wonder what the Vegas odds would say.

So far, I'm really enjoying Tiger & Bunny. It fits in somewhere between the very serious and heavy-handedness of Evangelion or dark like Gunslinger Girl and something much more light-hearted like Case Closed (aka Detective Conan). It's anime super-heroes, a genre I can't think of any other series belonging to. Though it borrows some tropes from other genres (like buddy cop), it still has a lot of anime tropes (ice queen, tomboy, power suits, mecha) and structure as well. I'm looking forward to what next Saturday's episode will bring.

Episode 14 is titled "Love is Blind."

[1] Apparently a VPN would allow me to deceive Hulu as well as network sites like CBS into thinking my IP address was American. I have not opted to do that even though I'm American and dagnabbit I have a right to watch these shows.
[2] Yes, I did just make an X-Men reference.

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