Tiger & Bunny - Volume 3 Review

There's a moment in Episode 16 in this third collection of Tiger and Bunny when a presenter on Hero TV announces "Lunatic is back! Ratings will be through the roof!". In a way this comment encapsulates the commercial interests that are the focus of this uncommon take on the superhero genre by a Japanese anime, but in a way it also expresses a similar attitude on the part of the series' creators. When things are starting to slow down and personal problems are getting a little boring in any SF show or comic, the introduction of the hero's nemesis - whether it's Doctor Who and the Daleks or Batman and the Joker - is usually a fool-proof strategy to distract the fans from the fact that the show is basically running out of ideas.

That doesn't mean that the return of Lunatic, albeit in a very brief appearance in only one of the six episodes here, isn't welcome. He is indeed an excellent creation that still has an air of mystery and intrigue about him, bringing as he does an element of danger that more than enlivens proceedings. His appearance even inspires the animators to more dramatic, dynamic and almost poetic images of his fearsome figure in silhouette against an enlarged blood-red moon in the dark gothic neon-lit surroundings of Sternbild City, spewing green flames of vigilante justice. The downside to the appearance of such a character however is that it only highlights even further the relative banality and the lack of ideas evident elsewhere at this stage in the series.

The uncommon venture into US superhero territory ought to make Tiger & Bunny an intriguing proposition. The intentions of the series have been clearly laid out in the preceding episodes, with some amount of style and entertainment, if not exactly with the freshness or originality that this perspective ought to have brought to the genre. There's a degree of satire in the series at the "industry" that must have a part to play in any modern take on the superhero genre. There's a lot of money to be made from advertisers and sponsors who can latch on to a popular trend, and realistically someone's got to pay for all those fancy costumes, gadgets and technology, not to mention the clean-up that must be done after the wholesale destruction of buildings and infrastructure that usually comes along with defending the city from evil-doers.

The other avowed consideration of the series creators however (one made clear from the abundance of behind the scenes interviews on the DVDs) is simply to make an entertaining anime series. There's no question that Tiger & Bunny has delivered on that front, even if it's not with any great originality. The superheroes fight superpowered villains and there's been a worthy set of adversaries so far - from Jake Martinez, the Ouroboros organisation, and Lunatic - but there's recognition here that it's not all glamour, that fundamentally it's a job like any other, that there are good days and bad days and sometimes you have to deal with the small-fry as well. The familiar Watchmen theme of superheroes having the same kind of problems and issues in their personal lives as everyone else is also there (Mr Legend), as well as the recognition that the kind of personal problems are slightly more magnified by celebrity status and by the very fact that they have to deal with extraordinary powers.

Not so original then but these issues have to be covered. By this part in the series however we ought to be expecting something a little more, but Tiger & Bunny begins to lose momentum somewhat and starts wallowing in "family issues" between Kotetsu (AKA 'Wild Tiger') and his daughter Kaede. This coincides with Wild Tiger's powers starting to exhibit some worrying anomalies, forcing him to take some time out, spend some quality time with his daughter and reconsider his position. "Time out" kind of sums up the position of Tiger & Bunny in episodes 14 to 19. "Quality time" however as far as the series is concerned, it most certainly is not. Getting wrapped up in personal and family issues, taking a break from repetitive battles with villains is perhaps to be expected at this stage, but it's not handled particularly well. Blue Rose's crush on Wild Tiger in episode 14 as they make a music video together with Bunny to promote their new CD is simply embarrassing. Sky's High's love affair with a girl in the park is predictable and pointless. The issues between Kotetsu and Kaede and a situation that draws them together meanwhile is just maudlin and contrived.

Thank goodness then for Lunatic. It might be a bit of a cliché to have an amoral vigilante killing machine as an adversary to the hero, and it may be even more of a cliché for them to have motivations that are somewhat mysterious and ambiguous that could account for their actions, but Lunatic is all the same a welcome diversion from the banality of the other episodes here. It's really all that makes this section of the series still worthwhile, and it's a little more exciting than Bunny's Dark Knight-style brooding over exacting justice upon the mysterious figure who killed his parents. That's resolved to an extent here, but it leaves other questions to be answered with relation to the motivations of Ouroboros. This, along with some more Lunatic appearances, means there's still hope that Tiger & Bunny can pick up the pace in the remaining six episodes of the series. It's looking increasingly unlikely however that this Japanese take on the superhero genre has anything new to offer.

Tiger & Bunny: Volume 3 (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 wasn't seen this time either, but previous releases were on a BD25 disc, with an AVC encode at 1080/24p. The Blu-ray works for Region B (UK and Europe), but was not tested for multi-region compatibility. The single-disc Blu-ray contains episodes 14 to 19 of the first series, while 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 DVD, as with previous Blu-ray releases, 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. I stuck with the English dub as it generally works very well for a series that doesn't have a typical anime look and feel. The American pronunciation of some words however ('Ouroboros' and 'Kaede' for example) can be quite unusual and irritating however.

There are no extra features on the Blu-ray disc. Disc One of the DVD set however contains the second part of an incredibly long series of interviews with the Tiger & Bunny production team and voice actors. The previous part was nearly an hour long and 'UStream Mini Corner Volume 2' on this set is about 35 minutes long. I don't think the series merits this kind of detailed analysis, but a little (or a lot) of self-promotion probably does no harm. Disc 2 includes the alternative Opening 2 and Closing 2 credit sequences.

Three quarters of the way through the Season One of Tiger & Bunny and the series appears to have run out of ideas, or rather it's used up all the ideas that have already been extensively explored in US superhero comics like Watchmen and Astro City and has found that it doesn't really have anything much of its own to offer. There's perhaps too much "time out" in the six episodes of Part 3, with only Lunatic briefly enlivening proceedings, but that may only be a temporary lull to set up the concluding episodes in Part 4. Whether the series delivers anything above and beyond the limitations of the standard superhero fare then remains to be seen, but a good conclusion (and more Lunatic) would at least go some way towards making this a rewarding series nonetheless.

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