Tiger & Bunny - Volume 2 Review

A rare venture into the superhero genre for Japanese anime, the second set of Tiger & Bunny contains a further six episodes that not unexpectedly build on the comedy/parody premise set up in the first seven before taking it into slightly darker territory. As a progression of the storyline, this makes it every bit as entertaining, action-packed and funny as the first part, but it doesn't as yet significantly take the genre - which is definitely more American than Japanese - into any new direction.

The intentions of the series however were always to be popular and entertaining, aiming for a wider international market than the traditional anime audience. Superheroes are where it's at and Tiger & Bunny doesn't so much pick up the best elements of the genre as use as many of them as it can. A small proportion of the citizens of Sternbild City exhibit unusual NEXT powers, usually during adolescence, which if not properly controlled, used unwisely or maliciously, can have devastating consequences for the population. There's an X-Men feel then to the way that young people, particularly those with powers that don't appear to have any great use (the ability to sweat buckets at will doesn't seem all that practical), can be regarded as freaks and shunned by society.

Like X-Men or The Avengers however, the series here also benefits from the superhero team dynamic, with a diverse selection of characters with different abilities, backgrounds and personality traits - Blue Rose, Fire Emblem, Rock Bison, Dragon Kid, Origami Cyclone and Sky High - backgrounds and personality traits that make for entertaining and action-packed adventures requiring team-work to save the day. It also makes great viewing for the public of Sternbild City, who watch follow their heroes' exploits on Hero TV channel, follow their favourite characters on the leader-board, and buy all the merchandise from the corporations that sponsor them.

There's a little bit of satire then of the superhero genre and the superhero comics/movie industry in Tiger and Bunny then. Those elements fall into the background somewhat in the second part of the first half of the series however, as does the character exploration that only extended to one or two of the team members, because, as you might have noticed from the title, the main focus of Tiger and Bunny is on the other staple of the genre, the hero/sidekick team. That dynamic is perfectly captured in the mismatched but complementary buddy-team pairing of wise-cracking, seasoned veteran (and last season's thing at that) Wild Tiger with the brightest, most popular and talented new kid with powers on the block Barnaby Brooks Jr, aka "Bunny". Despite the nickname, Bunny however is deadly serious about his superhero responsibilities and even has a dark, brooding, melancholic side (in the style of the Dark Knight), on account of the murder of the deaths of his parents when he was a child.

It's this element that comes to the fore in the six episodes of the second half of the series. There's a little more consolidation of the characters and the nature of "a superhero's work is never done" in the first three episodes. We get some more consideration of the nature of vigilante justice and capital punishment in the activities of the extremist Lunatic, and we also see more of the industry, the need for corporate sponsorship, public appearances, promotional activities and the setting up of NEXT academies for young talent. The dangers and the personal cost of being caught up in the industry and the dangers associated with falling short of expectations are there in the background of Origami Cyclone, and in Wild Tiger's responsibilities as a father. Those elements - even Lunatic - have to be put aside however when an even greater threat manifests itself in the latter episodes. Ouroboros.

The mysterious Ouroboros organisation alluded to in the earlier part of the series make their presence known here in a big way, holding the city to ransom unless one of their members is released from prison. This person is also, it just so happens, someone that Barnaby wants to question in relation to the murder of his parents, so there's a personal element to the context of the threat as well as a general very serious threat to the entire city. The means of resolving the issue is typical of both the American-style superhero comic - the villain throwing down of the gauntlet in a challenge to his adversary - and the traditional tournament battling convention of Japanese fantasy anime series, as he takes the NEXTs on one at a time, humiliating them into defeat live on Hero TV. This set-up is somewhat lacking in some originality and credibility then - when you see what abilities this member has, you have to wonder just how they've managed to capture someone like Jake Martinez and hold him in a cell at all - but it's a perfect situation for the way that it brings all those various elements explored so far together (publicity, personal issues, teamwork) and it brings the battles to a conclusion much more quickly than the multi-episode battles of, for example, Dragonball Z. I'm sure however that we'll see longer battles with even greater powers exhibited as the series progresses.

The actual animation of Tiger & Bunny continues to be excellent. As well as attractive character designs for heroes with strong and distinct personalities, the series brings out their characteristics well in the costumes and their approach to fighting. Action sequences often rely on 3D-CG effects for the suits and the dynamic smoothly-animated 360º flying battles. These are seamlessly integrated with traditional animation and a strong sense of location in the design of Sternbild City itself. Tiger & Bunny is then a very well-designed and planned series then that continues to be both funny and entertaining. It has a little bit of fun with the conventions of the American superhero genre, benefiting from the colourful characters and action associated with it. At the moment though, there's nothing new or distinctive that you might think a Japanese animation studio could bring to the table. Here's hoping then that the second half of the first series has more to offer.

Tiger & Bunny: Volume 2 (of 4) is released as a three-disc BD/ DVD combo set by Manga Entertainment, in a slipcased digipack with 3 collectors cards and 3 collectors mini-magazines (packaging not seen). The Blu-ray is a BD25 disc, with an AVC encode at 1080/24p, that contains episodes 8 to 13 of the first series. The Blu-ray works for Region B (UK and Europe), but was not tested for multi-region compatibility. The same six episodes are spread across two DVD5 discs in PAL format which are encoded for Region 2. Extra features are on the DVD set only.

In terms of the quality of the specifications, the standard is identical to those on the first set. On Blu-ray, Tiger & Bunny looks fine, but it's not an animation series that benefits greatly from High Definition presentation. On the other hand, while the DVD presentation is also of a very high standard, the Blu-ray does very definitely have the advantage in being a little clearer and more vibrant in colour and contrast, and a little smoother in fluidity of movement, which counts for something here considering the amount of fluid CG effects. There are no noticeable issues or artefact problems with either the BD or the DVD however, and either presentation will look just fine.

Prepared by Kazé for Manga Entertainment, both discs have the usual lockdowns in what you can and can't do in terms of selection of soundtracks and subtitles. The soundtrack options on the BD are for the original Japanese track or an English dub, both presented in LPCM 2.0 48k/16bit. On DVD these are both standard Dolby Digital 2.0. The subtitles are white, and come on automatically with the selection of the Japanese track. Rather pointlessly, you can't select or switch between audio track or toggle subtitles on and off. Although a higher-specification surround track would have been a little more dynamic, the audio is nonetheless strong enough for the demands of the series - which inevitably is quite explosive in places. In terms of voice acting, I think the Japanese fits the characters better and has a little more character - the English dub sounding comparatively samey with the standard voice-actors - but with there being so much going on visually, I went with the English dub and found it worked very well for a series that doesn't have a typical anime look and feel.

There are no extra features on the Blu-ray disc. Disc One of the DVD set however contains a 'UStream Mini Corner Volume 1' which, when you get past the confusing title and the introduction by cuddly-toy versions of a tiger and a bunny, is really just a series of 5-minute interviews with the producer, director, character designer, writer and each of the Japanese voice actors for Tiger & Bunny. This totals nearly an hour in length and is probably more information than you really need.

The second six episodes of Tiger & Bunny wrap up the first half of the series well in a way that brings together all the elements that it has developed so far. The background of a city were a portion of the population develop superpowers has been established (if not exactly why), the nature of dealing with those powers, how they manifest, how they are used and how they are misused has been covered, as has the whole issue of exploitation of those powers by the entertainment industry. You've even got some personal background stories and plenty of villains coming form the same source as the heroes. That's all covered very well, in an entertaining fashion, with plenty of laughs, action and good animation. It's just that we still haven't seen anything new from this Japanese anime twist on the superhero genre yet. As it stands however, there's enough here to bring you back for more.

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