Mismatched duos have been a staple of comic strips and
animation since Bud Fisher’s “Mutt and Jeff” debuted in 1907; they’re also a regular feature of live
action films, TV and theater. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Cro-Magnons
sat around the fire, telling stories about a tough, veteran mammoth hunter and
the young, rash partner the local chief assigned to him. It’s a story device
that seems infinitely recyclable, and the latest unlikely duo to prove it are crime-fighters Kotetsu “Wild Tiger” Kaburagi and Barnaby “Bunny” Brooks, Jr., in Tiger & Bunny (Viz, sets 1 and 2: $54.97 apiece, Blu-ray;
not-too-distant future, individuals called “Nexts” use their supernatural
abilities to become snazzily costumed Heroes, fighting crime and protecting the
people of Stern Bild City. Their
adventures appear a special TV channel, and crime-fighters compete for points,
titles and endorsements. The Superhero costumes even bear the logos of corporate
sponsors (including the Japanese toy and video company Bandai).
Kotetsu has been a
Hero for 10 years. Although he’d like to think of himself as super cool (and
would like his adolescent daughter Kaede to think so, too), he’s something of a
klutz who may accidentally destroy his surroundings while capturing a criminal.
The enormous insurance charges he racks up annoy Agnes, his rating-obsessed
In his two-tone oxfords,
over-sized sport cap and offbeat goatee, Kotetsu often suggests the superhero
as salaryman. He does his job, and does it reasonably well, although the pay
and benefits aren’t all that great. But Kotetsu is also fierce idealist who
maintains that a real hero will rescue anyone in danger, even a criminal.
In their never-ending
quest to boost ratings, the network pairs Kotetsu with rookie Barnaby Brooks,
Jr. Dashing, handsome and immediately popular, he’s even Kaede’s dream date. Like
Batman, Barnaby is haunted by the murder of his parents. The scientists were
killed by the mysterious crime syndicate Ourobouros.
Of course, the
unlikely partners irritate the hell out of each other on every case they’re
assigned. Barnaby complains Kotetsu’s overdue for retirement; Kotetsu irks Barnaby
by giving him the nickname “Bunny”. Voice actors Wally Wingert (Kotetsu) and
Yuri Lowenthall (Barnaby) give winning performances that bring life to both the
comedy and adventure while keeping the relationship between their characters
During the first
half of the series, Kotetsu and Barnaby grudgingly develop a mutual respect—and
affection–that pay off on screen. In a droll jab at fanboy culture, Episode #14
shows them signing autographs, appearing on talk shows, posing for a swimsuit
calendar and even dubbing voices for other anime characters.
The tone of the
series darkens in the second half, as each character confronts his inner demons. After ten years on the job, Kotetsu realizes
his “Next” powers are weakening. His daughter has begun to manifest powers of
her own, but Kotetsu is too busy to provide much support, which she bitterly
resents. The questions surrounding the death of Barnaby’s parents’ multiply
until they threaten to destroy him and the rest of the Heroes.
Satou demonstrates a real flair for action sequences. When Kotetsu and Barnaby
square off in a protracted series of fights and motorcycle chases, the
excitement and suspense eclipse many big budget Hollywood features. It’s hardly
a spoiler to reveal that Kotetsu and Barnaby triumph in the end, but Satou
keeps the viewer on the edge of his seat, wondering whether they’ll come
through or not.
Tiger & Bunny only ran for one season, but the
characters proved so popular, they returned in the theatrical feature The Beginning in 2012; a sequel, The Rising, is slated for this fall. With
such dubious follow-ups as Smurfs II
and Chipmunks IV in the pipeline in
the US, it’s nice to have a sequel you can actually look forward to.