The Forgotten Anime that Changed the Landscape of Anime
Superheroes have been part of American pop culture since 1938. They fill American televisions, occupy theme parks, and have entire conventions dedicated to celebrating them. And, when it comes to animation, there’s a lot of cultural exchange between America and Japan which resulted in shows such as Avatar: The Last Airbender, Kappa Mikey, and Teen Titans. As such, as long as anime has existed, the traditional concept of a super hero has been nearby. However, few shows ran with the concept like 2011's Tiger & Bunny.
Tiger & Bunny has all the makings of an American deconstruction of super heroes, but with Japanese sensibilities. It stars two heroes, the eponymous Kotetsu T. “Wild Tiger” Kaburagi and Barnaby “Bunny” Brooks Jr. They live in Sternbild, which seems like a fictional New York City. In this world, humans with special powers, dubbed NEXT, often work as licensed superheroes. However, they’ve been literally bought by corporations and are seen as a form of entertainment as well as actual heroes. After Kotetsu’s employer TopMag goes bankrupt, his contract is sold to Apollon Media where he is forced to team up with a younger hero with the exact same power.
Tiger & Bunny show many influences from American comic book heroes including X-Men, The Avengers, and more. It’s episodic as many hero series are with an overarching threat looming in the background. The series would make complete sense if it was suddenly dropped in New York City or Los Angeles. And more than anything, it helped popularize the superhero genre for the 2010’s. Shows such as One Punch Man, My Hero Academia, Samurai Flamenco and Gatchaman CROWDS probably wouldn’t have been fully funded without it.
Tiger &Bunny wasn’t expected to succeed. Although it’s often forgotten, it was successful enough to warrant a manga series, two films, and other supplementary materials. More than that, it showed that superheroes were profitable. It is younger than One Punch Man by two years, but OPM wouldn’t become the juggernaut it is today until 2015, four years after Tiger & Bunny. In fact, both series together can be seen as parents to My Hero Academia. Tiger & Bunny even included a school for heroes and heroes as entertainment.
Tiger & Bunny was not cheaply made. The entire show was animated in CG, but not in the same style as the Berserk 2016 anime. The CG was subtle except for the hero costumes. Animation was was fluid and always changing. “Same face” was entirely avoided making each character look distinctive from one another. More than anything, color applied to every scene. Nothing ever felt bland. Even the voice acting was well done in English and Japanese.
So, if this anime had all the makings of a successful series and did become a success, why is it largely forgotten? Well, anime tends to have short life cycles. The flavor of the month is constantly in flux and few anime will become classics that stand the test of time. Tiger & Bunny was also too American for its own good. Most anime in 2011 were almost entirely influenced by Japanese culture. Nothing else like Cowboy Bebop or Trigun, anime with significant western influences, were released that year. The only other western inspired anime to be released that year was Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos, the sequel to the remake of an already popular anime. Tiger & Bunny felt alien to native viewers and too western for American viewers, leaving many to ignore it.
More than anything, this anime failed to be notable due to its equally stiff competition. The biggest competition Tiger & Bunny faced in 2011 was Puella Magi Madoka Magica. In both the east and west, magical girl series are incredibly popular. When Madoka Magica released, there had been no notable magical girl anime for years. It also stood out as a deconstruction of the magical girl genre for those who had seen enough Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura. This series was talked about for years and still gets the occasional cosplayer. Other notable anime, whether notable for their manga or video game precursors or being sequels to existing franchises, also released that year including Blue Exorcist, K-On! Movie, Stein’s;Gate, Persona 4 The Animation, Blood-C and more.
Tiger & Bunny is an excellent anime. If one enjoys One Punch Man, Punch Line, or My Hero Academia, they’ll be able to see the similarities in foils with this series. Despite being largely forgotten, it was one the best anime of its year and can easily compete with most modern anime. Sleep tight.