Now don’t kill me, but I’ve yet to watch Tiger & Bunny. I know it’s a very popular show, and like a lot of people I enjoy superhero stories, but I just haven’t got around to it yet. However, that does make me an apt choice to look at the semi-compilation movie Tiger & Bunny: The Beginning.
Sternbild City is a futuristic metropolis that for decades has been home to NEXTs, humans with inherent super powers. In order to make a career out of their abilities, select individuals become company-sponsored costumed superheroes, competing for points and airtime via their exploits combating local crime, which are broadcast by television network Hero TV. One such hero is down on his luck Kotetsu T. Kaburagi, a widower and single father who uses his strength and speed enhancing abilities as the generally scorned hero Wild Tiger. When an economic shift means that only the strongest companies can continue to sponsor superheroes, Kotetsu finds himself unwillingly partnered as a sidekick to aloof newcomer Barnaby Brooks Jr. The younger Barnaby, who has the same powers but a very different set of ethics, welcomes the new mandate just as little as Kotetsu. Can this pained partnership really become a force for justice?
Mixing footage from the initial episodes and new footage to reward returning viewers, The Beginning ventures into the always varied market of the anime compilation movie. Gundam fans alone can tell you just how much of a mixed bag the concept is, more often producing glorified Cliff Notes for existing fans than a workable digest. So with relish, I say The Beginning avoids this and puts out something viable for fans new and old. This is achieved primarily by keeping the content from the early episodes that introduces us to the world and its characters, and then naturally easing into a brand new super villain to be fought.
Odd couple crime fighter stories have long been popular, possibly because issues of law and morality inspire such strong and varied opinions from person to person. Kotetsu works well as a guy who may not have the greatest ability or luck, but a strong and honest heart, tied very much to a seemingly by gone era when NEXTs freely used their powers to save lives and fight crime. In contrast, Barnaby is a product of more modern times: willing to play the system of Hero TV and sponsors to achieve his long term goals and own ideas of justice. Between them, the film offers an interesting look at the value heroes hold not only to save lives but to also inspire others.
The overall flavour of the production is a very successful mix of elements of Japanese and American superheroes. In particular there seems to be a few hat tips to The Incredibles, including a direct nod to the famous costume testing chamber. The influence seems to extend to the politics and personas of being a hero in this world, though Samuel L. Jackson’s Frozone is traded in for the deliciously camp and flirtatious Fire Emblem. Indeed each of the heroes has a distinct character, from Sky High’s earnest boy scout to Blue Rose’s career minded veteran. In turn the film has a strong air of comedy, especially in the way Tiger & Barnaby handle their awkward partnership and the former getting used to his new Iron Man-style gadget laden armour. It’s perhaps well summed up as being like a cross between the aesthetic and coolness of Kamen Rider and the drama and self-parody of Spider-Man. Additionally, any sequence involving the varied heroes crossing paths gave me mild memories of The Tick.
The blending continues into the design work and animation. While you could recognise this as anime, there’s a seemingly intentional swing to the layered straight shapes that have long been the style of American superhero shows like the DC animated superhero shows and movies. The animation is consistently fluid and the locales are gorgeous, especially when we get to see life in the city at night. Sternbild looks like Joel Schumacher’s vision of Gotham done right: a beautiful blend of statues, skyscrapers, monorails, and bright lights to create an appealing harmony of past and future. With regards to character animation the choice has been taken to generally animate the costumed heroes using cell shaded computer models. This seems mainly done with consideration to the logos of the real world sponsors visible (including companies such as Amazon, Bandai and Domino’s). Both the CG and the sponsorship are distracting at first but I quickly found I bought into it, helped by this being the rare case of good CG composite animation and the sponsorship idea working for the story being told.
Audio tracks consist of Japanese and English, both in 5.1 DTS-HD MA. I opted to watch the film dubbed, getting a feel for the original cast across the extensive extras. I realise this is subjective but I found I actually preferred the dub cast. Like any anime fan I’m familiar with the issue of getting used to the Japanese actors and then awkwardly having to deal with eventual English ones. But for me, this is genuinely a case where I think the dub cast is stronger and that the two leads are a great example of why. Wally Wingert’s Kotetsu worked better for me as a simple and kind hearted goofball trying to survive as a valiant superhero. Similarly, Yuri Lowenthal plays off him perfectly to make Barnaby the cold and cool rookie with hidden depths. The original performances by Hiroaki Hirata and Masakazu Morita aren’t bad but fell flat for me in comparison. Rather than feeling like mismatched but similar champions, Hirata just seems to overact as much as Morita under acts.
The lead extra is a subtitled variety show running over 2 hours long, taken from the original world premiere of the film. The feature includes appearances by the main voice cast, musical performances, and even suit actors in recreations of the hero costumes from the show. It’s rare that we are lucky enough to see such things ported over to Western anime releases, which makes one like this all the more appreciated. I’m sure longtime Tiger & Bunny fans in particular will enjoy it. The rest of the extras are the more standard library of trailers, commercials and promos. These are still welcome however, especially some theatre etiquette shorts reusing the costumes from the main extra and an audience poll to determine which hero would get the post-credits honour (complete with in character commentary for each rank).
Tiger & Bunny: The Beginning was a really intriguing introduction. I’d wanted to watch the show for a while now and this film convinces me I’ve been missing out by putting it off. I enjoy a mix of entertainment from East and West so to see a production that unifies the best elements from both is highly welcome and seemingly creates the perfect gateway to the full show. Any fan of superheroes is in for a treat with this one.
Tiger & Bunny: The Beginning is available to order on Blu-ray/DVD combo from Amazon UK.