Tiger & Bunny - Volume 4 Review

Things seemed to have stalled a little in the previous collection of Tiger and Bunny with the Japanese superhero anime failing to develop any distinct take on the genre and tending to fall back on stock situations involving personal conflicts between family issues and hero duties. If one was charitable and sufficiently optimistic to ignore the lack of innovation thus far, you could have been tempted to put this down as a temporary lull before the resolutions and revelations of the final episodes. While the pace of events certainly picks up in Tiger & Bunny: Volume 4 and a reasonably satisfying conclusion is reached, the final six episodes unfortunately prove to be even more overloaded with clichés and stock situations.

Without getting too much into specifics and introduce spoilers at this stage in a review of the series, Episode 20 sets the tone for how those final episodes are going to unfold. The masterplan of the murderer of Bunny's parents - let's just call him 'evil bad-guy mastermind' - has just been revealed. Just to give you some idea of the level we're operating at here, in just this one episode, we have the old drugged drink routine where the near-victim (Kotetsu/Wild Tiger) keeps getting distracted just as he is on the point of consuming the fatal draught. "Drat, foiled again!", the evil bad-guy mastermind might as well say at the failure of this curiously old-fashioned scheme (particularly when he has Next powers at his disposition), leaving him to come up with another (improbable) plan to get Kotetsu out of the way when he is so close to uncovering his identity.

An improbable plot... let's see... how about framing Kotestu with a murder that he never committed and then somehow managing to convince all the other heroes that he's an imposter pretending to be Wild Tiger? Sample dialogue from Kotetsu: - "This is some kind of nightmare. You've all forgotten who I am!" And since we're piling on the clichés and getting sentimental with it, how about trapping all the heroes and instead of just killing them while they are at your mercy, why not place then in a situation that it is impossible to escape from (yeah, right) and laugh evilly (Bwah-ha-ha!) at their dire situation? Can we get a road chase in there? Why not! What about having an oil tanker jack-knife at an intersection meaning that they have to weave and duck under the tanker? Sure! What kind of car/bike chase would it be without one? Can we do it more than once? The more the better!

It's bizarre. It's almost as if the creators of the series have deliberately put aside any good qualities and what small measure of uniquely Japanese character that the series might have had in order to pack in and run through all their favourite stock action comic and movie-thriller situations. And it's a pity, because for every idea ripped off from Batman (the murder of Barnaby Brooks Jr.'s rich parents as a child), X-Men (teens developing powers, NEXT academies), and Watchmen (conspiracy theories, the incompatibility of superhero powers with human weakness) Tiger and Bunny at least had considerable potential in its Hero TV idea, in the commercialism of the industry, the chasing for ratings, the rivalry and the competition between the heroes. The series also had at least one spectacular anti-hero, Lunatic, who - once again - proves to be the one anarchic saving grace in these otherwise conventional final six episodes. When he appears, he's erupts into an episode like an avenging cliché-slayer all on his own.

The best thing you can say about the concluding episodes of the series is that, lack of originality aside, the resolution is played out reasonably well, particularly in the action sequences. The animation in Tiger and Bunny has always been exceptionally good in big, epic battles and chases, with fluid CGI animation and explosive action, and there is plenty for the animators to get their teeth into here in the concluding episodes. Appropriately, they even raise the level up a notch or two here with some big punch-ups on a grand scale that are clearly storyboarded and thrillingly paced. It looks great. Sky's High's love affair with a girl in the park in the previous set of episodes, also comes across as less pointless now, leading towards other critical developments here.

The other major point in favour of the series is that, by the end, it's clear that the creators have put together a great superhero team here. Despite veering into sentimentality a little towards the end, there is nonetheless a history, a dynamic and a certain chemistry between them all. Not just between the duo of Wild Tiger and Barnaby Brooks Jr., but there are interesting characteristics that could be developed further in Blue Rose, Fire Emblem, Rock Bison, Dragon Kid, Origami Cyclone and Sky High. That might yet come to pass, as there is an intriguing last-episode post-credit teaser that suggests that Ouroboros hasn't gone away, and - I'm happy to say - neither has Lunatic. With a decent script and some new ideas, Tiger and Bunny could yet reach its potential.

Tiger & Bunny: Volume 4 (of 4) is released as a three-disc BD/DVD combo set by Manga Entertainment in a slipcased digipak 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 the final six episodes (20 to 25) 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 near-perfect and it's not an animation series that is going to benefit much more 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 however, 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 third part of an incredibly long series of interviews with the Tiger & Bunny production team and voice actors. The previous two parts totalled over an hour and a half, and 'UStream Mini Corner Volume 3' on this set clocks in at nearly another hour of interviews with the voice cast. I don't think the series merits this kind of detailed analysis, so I didn't feel at all inclined to explore this feature. A 35-minute 'Meet the Cast' on Disc Two also seems excessive. Seriously, they don't need any further introduction! It turns out to be a Q&A session at a fan screening, but life's too short really for fluff like this.

Tiger and Bunny reaches its series conclusion with the final six episodes collected in this fourth set, and as you would expect, it goes out with a bit of a bang. Unfortunately, there is too much of what you would expect, the creators clearly having fun playing to the conventions of the superhero genre, but not really having anything fresh to add to it. There's great potential here however even if it's not fully realised, a good superhero unit gathered together and some world-class villains and anti-heroes, so I wouldn't rule out the possibility that Tiger and Bunny sequels could develop into something more than the run-of-the-mill superhero comic adventure that it is in Series One.

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