Tiger and Bunny Season 2 Review
THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER-FREE
When sequels to beloved media properties appear more than a decade after the original, it’s not unusual to be cynical, nervous, or even dismissive. 2011’s original Tiger & Bunny TV show is one of my favourite anime of all time — a twenty-five-episode buddy cop/superhero drama with a deep focus on character dynamics and complicated professional relationships. I’ve no doubt it had a significant influence on the later My Hero Academia, as it was itself similarly influenced by North American superhero comics and movies.
Apart from a sequel movie in early 2014 and 2018’s barely-connected spinoff Double Decker! Doug & Kirill, it seemed unlikely we’d ever receive a proper continuation of Studio Sunrise’s smart, funny and heartfelt superhero anime. However, in 2020 Netflix announced the production of a suprise second season with the same staff as previously, with the same studio, now renamed as Bandai Namco Pictures. Finally, the first thirteen episodes (of a planned twenty-five) have dropped all at once in true Netflix binge-inducing style. Is it any good, or should Tiger & Bunny have remained buried in the past?
Once again, I was joined by my 11-year-old son who greatly enjoyed our recent re-watch of the first season, and I’m happy to report that this second season held his attention equally as well. He tends to be very distractable with shows that we watch together, but superhero anime seems to be very much his thing, and apart from his usual bizarre questions (he has a mild autism spectrum condition and sees the world quite differently to other people, it seems), he mostly sat still without fidgeting.
Tiger & Bunny Season 2 kicks off sometime in 1980, two years following the first season’s conclusion, in its alternate history where people have developed special “Next” genetic powers (think Marvel’s X-gene, or DC’s Metahuman gene). Some of these “Nexts” exhibit powers conducive to superheroics and in the multi-level Stern Bild city are sponsored by private companies in exchange for becoming walking billboards on the top-rated Hero TV network. The companies fund their expensive exosuits, corporate insurance pays for collateral damage (up to a point) and each hero’s suit is emblazoned with usually multiple real-world companies’ logos.
Main protagonist Wild Tiger/Kotetsu Kaburagi (38-ish) is still partnered up with Bunny/Barnaby Brooks Jnr (28-ish), and now their relationship is firmly based on trust and mutual respect, though still features frequent petty squabbling. They know each other so well they barely need words to communicate battle plans, and their partnership example has inspired their bosses to implement their “buddy system” more widely, pairing up the city’s remaining licensed heroes in complementary duos. This has necessitated the recruitment of four more heroes to add to the first season’s complement of eight.
Golden Ryan, the overconfident and cocky master of gravity returns from the movie Tiger & Bunny: The Rising, which is set about halfway between seasons one and two. It’s a fun movie, but apart from his introduction (plus Kotetsu and Barnaby’s reinstatement into the heroes’ first league), doesn’t contain much essential to the ongoing plot — season 2 does a good job reintroducing him, adding some extra layers to his backstory and teaming him up with an initially reluctant Blue Rose. Diminutive electric kung fu practitioner Dragon Kid is put together with the similarly pint-sized girl with water powers Magical Cat. Newcomer duo Mr Black and He Is Thomas are two seemingly mismatched young men paired together against their will, and their constant bickering and trust issues closely mirror Kotetsu and Barnaby’s initial relationship troubles. Camp and flamboyant Fire Emblem is teamed with emotionally awkward Sky High, and finally human bulldozer Rock Bison buddies up with confidence-lacking shapeshifter Origami Cyclone.
The entire first half of this tranche of episodes is mostly stand-alone, each instalment focusing on one of these newly formed buddy pairs, examining their flaws and weaknesses, with Kotetsu and Barnaby mostly relegated to the background while the peripheral characters and their new working relationship status quos are properly established. Tiger & Bunny 2 does an excellent job of further advancing the first season’s themes by expanding its concepts to accommodate multiple types of partnerships and different problems that would have been difficult to tackle if the show had remained focused only on the central duo. Essentially it’s like animated couples’ therapy sprinkled with a little light superheroics.
Back in 2011, while superhero movies and TV shows had definitely become mainstream, they weren’t anywhere near as ubiquitous as they’ve been the past few years. It’s not only Marvel and DC that fill our screens, all sorts of other independent comics have been adapted for multiple streaming services. I’ve heard Tiger & Bunny described as The Boys but without the bleak cynicism, brutal gory violence and sexual perversion. I’ve never seen The Boys, but I know of the comics, and that’s a fairly accurate description. Tiger & Bunny is at its heart an optimistic show, even considering the innate cynicism of its hyper-capitalist setting. Each hero tries their very best, for their own very identifiable reasons. Even the bad guys have some degree of morality or understandable motivation.
The main antagonists this season are a pair of creepy Nexts who look like they wandered off the set of Platinum End. Initially teased in short after-credits sequences, they only make themselves known to the heroes much later on, after all the episodic relationship drama has been explored and the show returns to its heavily serialised roots. Their background tantalisingly links to unresolved plot threads left over from the first season, so it’s good to see some progression in that regard. Their oddball schtick does become quite tiresome, though their whimsical pratfalls make way for truly dangerous villainy later. Although the initial threat apparently resolves by the end of episode thirteen, much like the pattern in the first season, a strong hook is left for the remaining twelve episodes to build on and twist what came before.
With the expanded cast and wider focus, season two feels both like a natural progression but also a different beast to the first. While it explores its themes very well (and perhaps a little too bluntly and obviously), it does sideline both Kotetsu and Barnaby. Thankfully the other characters are all entertaining, even the slightly annoying new emo teen heroes. Every character gets a chance to shine and do something creative with their skill set, and the climactic battle is the most drawn-out, brutal and violent confrontation yet depicted in the series. I was a little taken aback by the bloodiness, bodily injury and body count of the very intense, very CGI-filled finale. Had I been pre-warned, I may have had second thoughts about watching it with my son, though he seemed completely unaffected. I see that I have successfully desensitised him to brutal violence. I… am not proud. (Seriously though, there are headshots, stabbings, impalements, snapped limbs… eek.)
The first season used CGI fairly sparingly, mostly for characters fighting in their exosuits. It’s much more prominent in the second season, sometimes even in non-fight scenes. This can lead to some slightly uncomfortable uncanny valley moments and weird, stiff movements, especially with the twin weirdo antagonists. Even my son commented on how silly it looked when they switched from hand-drawn to CG models. This effect isn’t so prominent with the exosuit-wearing characters, and their animation may even have improved a bit. There’s a lot of 3D CGI background work though, and this looks great. It makes the whole world look alive and is especially impressive during the aforementioned finale with a brutal slugfest on a church roof where the camera swoops and pans around the action. It’s several orders of magnitude more beautiful than most other CG anime can muster. Most non-fight character animation still remains 2D, and remains pretty standard, elevated by Masakazu Katsura’s gorgeous and striking character designs.
We barely see antihero/murderous vigilante Lunatic in costume, but we do get to spend a fair amount of time with his legal eagle alterego Judge Yuri Petrov, who now appears to have assumed the role of the heroes’ main boss. I love that Netflix kept his original English voice actor. Liam O’Brien infuses his voice with just the right level of cynical boredom, imperious snobbery and barely hidden, seething anger. I love the scene where he and Kotetsu teach a group of children about the law. Petrov’s deadpan expression and quietly exasperated vocal delivery are hilarious.
Most of the main characters remain voiced by their original English voice actors. Only a couple of characters (Origami Cyclone and Rock Bison) have been recast. The original show had one of the best English dubs in the history of the anime industry, and this remains equally as strong. I’ve never watched the subbed version, so can’t comment on the Japanese actors. Kotetsu sounds as world-weary yet as idealistic as ever, Barnaby’s brashness has settled as he’s gained some maturity and perspective. (And houseplants. So many houseplants fill his previously barren home. He’s like the show’s crazy cat lady of potted plants.)
While the second season is not perfect, with a plot that takes a long time to kick into gear and the repeated labouring of some overly obvious relationship lessons, it’s overall a fantastic return for anime’s premier superhero duo. As much as I enjoy My Hero Academia, the more mature world of Tiger & Bunny with its flawed but relatable adult characters will always have my heart. That we must now endure a further wait (of so far unspecified duration) for season two part two seems unnecessarily villainous on the part of our new Netflix corporate overlords.
Tiger & Bunny Season 2 (Part 1)
Directed by: Mitsuko Kase
Written by: Masafumi Nishida
Music by: Yoshihiro Ike
Character designs by: Masakazu Katsura
Studio: Bandai Namco Pictures
Number of episodes: 13
Language: English (multiple other languages available)
Licensed by: Netflix
Worldwide streaming release: April 8, 2022
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