This summer Sunrise released an anime set in a futuristic New York with mutants stopping criminals on a televised live reality show. Yes, Sunrise has made a superhero anime set in the slightly cynical camp of the early ‘90s that dares asks what real supers might look like if they were treated like celebrity sports stars.

It seems odd that a Japanese company would want to do such an American story. Doubly strange that they would do it in the vein of what would supers really be like in our media-saturated, celebrity-obsessed and reality TV hungry world. And yet it’s a very brilliant idea. You can have characters with real world sponsors and product placement. You get to explore a sub-genre of an American classical storytelling that few Americans tell stories in. You can critique East vs. West, modern vs. Silver age,… The premise seems genius, but the devil is in the details.

I was intrigued by the idea of western supers through an anime lens, but it wasn’t until I heard buzz comparing it to Cowboy Bebop that I really started to put it on my radar. (Sunrise put out Cowboy Bebop and if you don’t know what Cowboy Bebop is then rectify that before continuing reading this article. ^_~ )

The Basics
The first episode of Tiger and Bunny comes off as very surfacey. I have to I’d forgotten how slow a lot of anime is. Your first few episodes are all to set up the show and then once we know what we need to we can more on to the actual story. So we learn that in the future in a city called Sternbilt there are people who have strange powers. They are called NEXTs. Some of them are signed by sponsors to take down criminals and score points on a live reality show.

Kotetsu T. Kaburagi/Wild Tiger
Wild Tiger is an old school hero. He’s past his prime and most of the other heroes think his attitude is far too old school. He believes in truth and justice and that being a hero is more than just ranking up points like NASCAR to see who “win” the season. Tiger has silver age sensibilities because his inspiration to become a hero was very much the four-color archetype, truth, justice, etc. He is impetuous, doesn’t plan ahead and has very little regard for property. Most adventures end with him doing large amounts of collateral damage and often getting no points for apprehending bad guys, saving innocents or such. He’s not very sympathetic to his sponsor as he believes his priority is to protect the city’s inhabitants. He also has a ‘tween daughter who doesn’t know that he is a hero.

Barnaby Brooks Jr/Barnaby
Barnaby, who Tiger calls Bunny due to mishearing his name and the fact his costume’s helmet has what looks like bunny ears on it. He is the new kid on the block. Barnaby is the consummate professional who understands his sponsor’s needs, the needs of the TV show and works to maximize his points in criminal encounters. He is a foil for Tiger. Bunny at first comes across as a corporate tool. We quickly find out that despite appearing to be the poster child for Hero TV, he actually has his own agenda. Barnaby has definite shades of Bruce Wayne: wealthy, parents dead due to criminals, public persona meant for consumption and misdirection. He quickly becomes a much more interesting character as he starts chasing the Ouroboros syndicate who he believes is responsible for his parent’s death.

Karina Lyle/Blue Rose
Blue Rose is a teenage girl who mainly provides fan service both in the reality TV show and the anime. She comes off as a bit aloof. Her story revolves around reluctantly being a NEXT in an effort to be a singing star. She is a high schooler with the ability to freeze things.

Nathan Seymour/Fire Emblem
Fire Emblem is, well… flaming. He seems like an amalgam of the appearance of Dennis Rodman and the personality of RuPaul. He is the typical anime stereotype for a gay man, but otherwise is just another hero in every other aspect. He has the ability to make and affect flames. His own company sponsors him.

Keith Goodman/Sky High
Friendly and popular, he is the longtime consecutive holder of “King of the Heroes” title. He flies with a jetpack and can affect wind and air currents.

Pao-Lin Huang/Dragon Kid
Young Chinese girl far away from home who can manipulate electricity.

Antion Lopez/Rock Bison
Kotetsu’s best friend from high school whose power is invulnerability.

Ivan: Karelin/Origami Cyclone
A ninja-like hero who often photobombs into shots of other heroes. He has the ability to look and sound like other people.

Hero TV
Hero TV is a reality show that follows costumed NEXTs (the setting’s name for supers) as they fight and apprehend criminals. Each hero has a suit, a sponsor and a schtick. Criminals are often pursued after the initial crime with heroes arriving at various times and scoring points for saving people and arresting criminals. At the end of a season the one with the most points wins the title of King of the Heroes. The actual pursuit of the criminals is often violent and materially destructive. Sponsors of the heroes and the show even have to pay damages if the destruction wasn’t deemed necessary to save lives or protect others. There is a fair amount of theatricality on the show and very much an influence of professional wrestling showmanship, posturing and monologuing. The show’s producer is a hard-driving woman who looks like she could handle herself at 3am at a biker bar. The show is all about ratings and showing that NEXTs aren’t a threat to normal people. One part entertainment, one part propaganda.

The Story So Far
Wild Tiger is a hero past his prime. He believes in truth and justice and protecting the innocent. Those are outdated views for the younger heroes who view their job more akin to a pop star than an extension of law enforcement. Blue Rose, a high schooler who wears a very revealing costume, and Barnaby, a hero who has no secret identity, epitomize the new breed of hero who is in it for fame, glory and ulterior motives. The first few episodes set up the series and characters. Sternbilt City is plagued with crime. Powered individuals called NEXTs fight the rampant crime in the city. But slowly little bits from seemingly unrelated crimes start to weave together.

Barnaby’s parents’ killer had an orouborus tattoo on his hand. So does a man who tried to blow up a building in one of the early episodes. Then someone is killing criminals that have been apprehended on Hero TV while in prison. In episode six the bomber with the ouroborus neck tattoo is killed by a costumed NEXT while he is about to kill the producer of Hero TV. A NEXT villain isn’t new to Sternbilt City, but a costumed one killing other criminals is.

Thoughts
If you were to only see the first episode you’d be forgiven by writing it off as a light-hearted action show. In the second and later episodes we start learning the back stories of the central characters. This is when stuff really starts to get fun. All the characters have different motivations and goals. The slower start allows the producers to introduce the setting and little pieces of the plot. Within the first six episodes what you thought were unrelated events start to weave together.

The real question though is if it can be held together until the end. I still have bittersweet memories of Last Exile being a really great shown until the last few episodes. I guess that’s the risk of becoming attached to a show and putting your faith in the creators to know where they are going and to get there with style.

Tiger & Bunny is available to watch streamed at Hulu in the United States.

Iain McGregorAnimeanime,First Look,Hulu,NEXT,Sunrise,superhero,Tiger & Bunny
This summer Sunrise released an anime set in a futuristic New York with mutants stopping criminals on a televised live reality show. Yes, Sunrise has made a superhero anime set in the slightly cynical camp of the early ‘90s that dares asks what real supers might look like if...