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Otakon2011: The "Tiger & Bunny" Panel

On Sunday morning, an impressive crowd filled up a great part of Otakon’s immense panel 3 room to attend the panel for Tiger & Bunny, an original superhero action series from studio Sunrise that has been aired and simulcasted outside Japan since its premiere in April. In the show a group of metahumans battle crime in the futuristic metropolis of Stern Bild while competing on Hero TV, a reality show that follows their exploits. The heroes are all supported by assorted sponsors—most of which exist in the real world—whose logos appear on their individual costumes. Central to the story is the buddy partnership between Kotetsu (the hero “Wild Tiger”), an aging but earnest and idealistic veteran hero, and Barnaby Brooks Jr (nicknamed “Bunny” by Kotetsu), a young newcomer that outshines Kotetsu and starts out with a different worldview and very personal motivations for being a hero.

The panel was hosted by Sunrise producer Masayuki Ozaki and moderated by Christopher MacDonald, the CEO of Anime News Network. Mr. Ozaki greeted the audience by noting that this was the first official Tiger & Bunny panel anywhere in the world, prompting robust applause from the crowd. He also thanked them by using Sky High’s “thank you, and thank you!” catchphrase, to the audience’s amusement. Fans were treated to a prolonged video clip recapping the highlights of the series up to its current point; cheers were particularly vigorous for the heroes Sky High and Origami Cyclone, as well as the villain Lunatic. After the video Ozaki inquired about whether Sky High was well liked in America, a question the crowd boisterously said yes to. Ozaki expressed surprise, remarking that he couldn’t imagine the character having such popularity.

MacDonald stepped in at this point to point out that while Ozaki is a producer for the show, he is also a co-creator of Tiger & Bunny. MacDonald went on to ask several questions of Ozaki before the panel opened up to general Q&A. MacDonald first asked about the inspiration for creating the series. Ozaki responded that the idea for Tiger & Bunny came three years ago, when they knew they wanted to do a show with Keiichi Satou (Karas, Big O). Satou wanted to do a hero show, but Ozaki commented that knew that a “plain old superhero story” would not go over well. To address this, they decided to use the gimmick of corporate-sponsored heroes along with human drama. As for what inspired the sponsorship idea, Ozaki related an anecdote from the time of the Beijing Olympics when he noticed a Japanese swimmer in tears over not having Speedo sponsorship.

MacDonald then asked Ozaki to discuss the troubles that Tiger & Bunny had to overcome to get into production; Ozaki quipped that if he started on that ninety minutes would not be enough to cover everything. Ozaki first acknowledged the financial crisis, stating that at the time it was difficult to get sponsors for the series. Hiatus for the project was said to have been considered “several times.” In addition to that, certain elements of the program were called into question and thought to be a “bust.” For instance it was thought that an anime hero with facial hair like Kotetsu’s would not fly, and Ozaki noted that superheroes are not very popular in Japan.

MacDonald then inquired about the audience Tiger & Bunny was meant to target. Ozaki responded that they were aiming for two groups, the former anime fan that quit watching and Japanese adults in the workforce that enjoyed live-action, primetime American television. Ozaki further commented on the importance of a well-written script, containing elements of comedy and witty dialogue. And since they wanted to appeal to a worldwide audience, they made Stern Bild a “Manhattan-type city” and included racially diverse characters. MacDonald remarked on the female “fujioshi” (female otaku) audience that the show had found, which Ozaki acknowledged while expressing surprise that the series achieved that appeal. In response to a question about the themes in the show, Ozaki identified two: the “never give up!” attitude that characterizes Kotetsu’s spirit and the bonds connecting people, particularly Kotetsu and Barnaby.

MacDonald asked Ozaki to discuss trouble that Tiger & Bunny had with sponsors. Ozaki related that one company was lined up to sponsor the hero Fire Emblem, but backed out once it learned more about the scenario and the fact that he was gay. The audience was dismayed at this anecdote, but the mood quickly lightened when the subject matter turned to how sponsorship reflects the motifs of certain heroes. Ozaki singled out how they sought out a company to match with Rock Bison’s ox motif, ultimately settling on the Korean Barbeque chain Kuukaku. In the case of Blue Rose’s Pepsi sponsorship Ozaki noted that the hero got her name to entice their Japanese agent, SUNTORY, the first company in the world to genetically engineer a blue rose.

After these anecdotes, MacDonald asked whether there was any concern about the logos on the superhero costumes being alienating. Ozai acknowledged that it was hard for an audience to sympathize with a blatantly commercial product, but that here it was easier to accept since Tiger & Bunny told a story where the context of corporate-sponsored superheroes is established. Furthermore, in response to a follow-up question about a unique idea to the series that he was particularly proud of, Ozaki stated that he considered the logos and the corporate sponsorship an important element to catching viewers off guard. He related that he knew viewers would stick with the original story they’d created, but a hook was needed to get their attention to the first place. Ozaki further commented that he considered sympathetic characters the most important element, and again highlighted the importance of having a strong script. He asserted that no “curveballs” are needed to catch the audience’s heart, and that a “straight-on attempt” can work.

Before the panel opened up for general Q&A, MacDonald asked Ozaki what he would like to see happen next with Tiger & Bunny. Ozaki responded that the series was “only” twenty-five episodes, but that he strongly wanted to make the next story. He said he hadn’t taken it up with the studio’s financing committee yet, but that this was his personal aspiration. Ozaki pointed out that there is a time jump in the story that leaves a gap with plenty of room to explore, and that he felt some heroes like Rock Bison, Sky High and Origami Cyclone hadn’t received enough attention. After saying that he’d also like to tell stories taking place after the end of the current series, Ozaki asked the audience if they would like to see an episode focusing on Lunatic. After receiving an extremely positive response, Ozaki stated that he would make one. After Ozaki commented that he had no idea what format another Tiger & Bunny production would take, but that he wanted to get started on developing a script and getting into preproduction. Ozaki concluded by asking another well-received question about interest in a live-action version of the show, although he said that Sunrise couldn’t produce this itself and that support was needed to persuade Hollywood to attempt such a thing.

At this point, the panel opened up for Q&A. In regard to why Kotetsu’s identity as a superhero is kept from his daughter, Ozaki said that Kotetsu doesn’t want to risk putting her in danger have her worrying about what he’s doing. In answer to a question about the decision to develop Barnaby’s character in the middle of the series, Ozaki answered that the series was intended to tell the story of the growth of the relationship between Kotetsu and Barnaby. One fan asked about whether any of the “second tier” characters would ever be promoted to full-time heroes, which Ozaki called an “interesting idea.” In response to a question about the control sponsors have over the show and whether they’ve benefited from it, Ozaki said that Sunrise keeps their images in mind and forwards them scripts and storyboards to sustain a good relationship; he also asserted that their sponsors have seen revenue growth thanks to the show. One fan asked whether there was a connection between Barnaby’s character and that of Batman, but Ozaki said the latter was not a “conscious influence.” However he did say that he wanted to depict the “human aspect” of heroes as Batman and Spider-Man do, so to him the comparison was an honor. Another question asked what motivated Sunrise to move Tiger & Bunny did not take after the formula of Super Sentai and Tokusatsu live-action shows in Japan; Ozaku answered that these shows were targeted to children, whereas they wanted to to create a drama for grown-ups. Another answer saw Ozaki-san singling out Kotetsu’s first boss as the character he considered most like himself, while he and scriptwriter Masafumi Nishida both counted Dr. Saito (a scientist and chief mechanic for Kotetsu and Barnaby) as a favorite character they were very proud of.

Other questions highlighted the substantial commercial success of Tiger & Bunny. One query about the Japanese DVD release prompted Ozaki to observe that volume 1 had completely sold out in Japan, going for three times the price on auction websites. It was also revealed that Namco Bandai was developing a video game based on the show, while Bandai Co. would be producing action figures for all the heroes. In addition, Ozaki revealed that they had received “many, many offers” for licensing assorted Tiger & Bunny merchandise. Certain character goods such as Kotetsu’s hat and watch were cited as examples of merchandise that was on the way.

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