Last year I reviewed Anime Limited’s release of Tiger & Bunny: The Beginning, a compilation lead in movie to the popular superhero anime. It left a strong impression on me and I commented it had increased my desire to finally watch the full show.
I have to confess that’s an ambition I haven’t fulfilled in the time since. So some might rightfully ask how can I review the second movie which serves as an actual sequel to the show? Hey, if I could watch Avengers: Age of Ultron while having cherry picked Marvel Cinematic Universe movies beforehand I’m sure I’m safe here.
Luckily, a pair of extras found on the disc do a solid job of recapping all the key plot points for folks like me. I acknowledge it doesn’t fully replace having watched the show, but it’s a good primer, helped by the fact the transition from The Beginning to The Rising is pretty easy. Partner heroes Kotetsu and Barnaby had grand adventures and finally became a functioning duo by shared experience. The pair currently work in the Second League, handling less extreme crime while mentoring a quartet of rookie heroes whose desire to help people is stronger than the questionable powers they’ve awakened. A key reason for the placement is that Kotetsu’s own power has started failing him, leaving him only able to boost his strength and speed for a minute.
Things change when a rich entrepreneur buys out the city’s superhero business and announces plans to return the pair to the spotlight. This proves to be a ruse as it’s Barnaby he wants, partnering him with the newly transferred hero Golden Ryan. A brash egotist who wields the power of gravity control, Golden Ryan views superhero activity simply an avenue for riches and acclaim. Kotetsu finds himself out of a job. At the same time Sternbild finds itself under attack from strange gravitational phenomena in a campaign that seems to be copying the legend of the city’s founding.
It’s to the film’s credit that it manages to juggle the best elements of unresolved plot threads from the show while telling a mostly self-contained story. You’ll benefit from having watched The Beginning before going into this, but this is essentially a standalone case/crime around which we explore how characters have evolved and changed. The obvious focus is on the relationship between the titular heroes. Having started out wanting nothing to do with each other, the bond they share as friends and co-workers is now so strong that being separated by corporate masters doesn’t sit well with either of them. Kotetsu in particular brings an angle of a past his prime sports player, wondering if his time in the sun is over as his power/body fails him, while also suppressing his own disappointment for the sake of his friend and pupil who is only just starting his career. It also continues his rejection of the commercial driven reality of modern heroism, with him wanting to continue solely because he believes that justice means heroes saving people who can’t protect themselves. The story is nowhere as pointlessly cynical as some Western deconstructions of the superhero concept, but you can see why superheroes in Tiger & Bunny were factored into the economy and the flaws that have resulted.
Without giving away the meat of the plot, Barnaby’s angle focuses on what he’ll do with himself now that the mystery of his parent’s murder is closed and if pursuing such a vendetta is noble or not. Of course the other beloved regular heroes from the show appear throughout the film, all with their own subplots which range from impressive to endearing. Possibly the most intriguing is that of Fire Emblem, the flirtatious camp gay hero. He finds himself placed in a coma in which he must combat his demons, charting the long painful path that has been realising his sexual identity and how difficult finding acceptance for it was. Given that anime often seems to promote homosexuality as simply cheap titillating fanservice I was genuinely surprised to see the movie dive into this subplot and explore it with a high amount of respect. Animation as a field of entertainment has been ahead of the curve in presenting gay people as a healthy and welcome segment of society, so hats off to the movie for adding to that.
With the film being just over a year old it packs quite the visual punch. Animation is slick and dynamic, with a beautiful range of colour and tones. CGI elements are also top notch. Anime has had a weird experimental phase with CG since the century began, with a lot of awkward attempts to blend it and 2D. Tiger & Bunny shows that that experimental stage has thankfully bore fruit as the CGI used for the hero armour and vehicles actually works really well here. I have to wonder if it would be the case in a production where the foundation 2D animation was less vibrant but the CG elements work well to go that one step beyond and actually provide a nice visual metaphor for larger than life heroes vs the more human and relatable civilian forms.
Japanese and English 5.1 audio tracks are presented. As with the first film, my preference is still to the dub cast. Every so often we get an anime production that strikes a tone so particular that one can believe the Japanese cast aren’t best suited to it and things just flow better in English. Cowboy Bebop is often the poster child for this sentiment but I think Tiger & Bunny follows it too. The influence from western superhero stories is clear (though Japan’s own live-action superheroes clearly carry influence) and the dub cast just bring the story to life better for me as a result.
As expected with a release of a theatrical production, most of the extras consist of trailers and commercials for the film’s Japanese release. There’s also an art gallery reel consisting of promotional and production art in addition to the ability to watch clean versions of the animation seen in the film’s opening and closing. These are well-done sequences worth a watch, though the former does focus on the real life sponsors that emblazon the heroes armour. I mentioned earlier that two extras cover the events of the television show for newbies like myself. One of these is a concise digest while the other is a series of shorts that cinemas would play before other films in the weeks leading up to the premiere. The final extra is in a similar vein, with live action Tiger and Bunny returning to teach good theatre manners. Sadly there’s nothing quite as elaborate as the promotional variety show seen on The Beginning but this is still a strong set of extras. The retail release also comes with a DVD copy of the film and four art cards. More details can be found in Anime Limited’s unboxing.
Tiger & Bunny: The Rising is the rare sequel that can work without being completely immersed in the lore. If you’re an interested newbie like myself I do think it’d be beneficial to pick up and watch Anime Limited’s release of The Beginning at the same time but I can’t say it’s essential. To go back to my MCU comparison, this emulates that successful franchise by openly showing what has made people love superhero stories for generations. I’m sure there are levels to the film I’m missing out on but what I did get was a fun, wild, emotional ride with clever ideas, loveable characters and beautiful visuals. This easily competes with if not surpasses Hollywood superhero outings.