A lot of times, writing and reviewing for Anime Vice has felt like an undercover recon mission. Having spent in both camps, I get a good laugh whenever comics and manga/anime fans cross their arms in a huff like they’re re-enacting GREEN EGGS & HAM and say they’ll never, ever touch any material from the other half. Go to a comics convention and an anime convention - - it doesn't even have to be one after the other - - and you’ll realize that both fanbases have far more in common than they’re willing to admit.
Honestly, the only thing separating Superman from DBZ's Goku and Batman from DEATH NOTE's master detective L is the choice of threads. The color-coordinated Soul Reapers of BLEACH remind me a whole lot of the Green Lantern Corps, and if Naruto's larger-than-life costume, powers and weaknesses don't qualify as him a superhero, I don't know what does. Change the relevant nouns in all these stories and the verbs are generally identical.
Of course, as somebody weened on American comics, looking at most material through the lens of that particular niche is simply unavoidable. Thus, it’s been fascinating to find out that the pan-Pacific, cross-cultural exchange actually runs on a two-way street. For as many American artists have emulated anime rendering styles, taken lessons from “decompressed” manga storytelling and drawn inspiration from Japanese genres like mecha, I’ve been running into a respectable number of shows lately that are clearly inspired by material on this side of the fence. Watching these shows for AV has been the characteristic “outside looking in” experience.== TEASER ==
Odds are, you’ve heard of Madhouse Studios’ Marvel Anime starring the likes of Iron Man, Blade and the X-Men, or Stan Lee’s manga and anime projects like HEROMAN and ULTIMO. While there’s certainly plenty to discuss there, I think I save it for later in favor of the superhero projects that originated in Japan. Watching them is like hearing rock ‘n roll coming back through the filtered amps of a J-Rock band. The beat’s familiar, but there are key differences in the tuning.
The most accessible and most recent show is TIGER & BUNNY. Its 25 and final episode (for now) literally just aired in Japan a few weeks back and a dubbed edition's yet to be properly distributed in America. Despite the impediment of a silly and terribly misleading title, I’m convinced this will be a crossover hit when it finally hits stateside (so go on and check out the free sub-titled episodes on Hulu if you want to be cool and ahead of the curve.)
On first glance, I figured TIGER & BUNNY was inspired by superhero movies instead of the comics but, after watching it, I'm convinced it was made by folks with a deep fondness and familiarity with American funny books. It’s a buddy comedy-adventure about two superheroes, Wild Tiger and Barnaby Brooks, who're forced to be partners because their corporate sponsors think that pairing an over-the-hill veteran and an overachieving rookie will make for good television.
They two are part of a loose team of capes starring on the HERO TV reality show and, like the X-Statix, their adventures are just as much about accruing celebrity points as saving lives. Every hero is actually a mutant-like “NEXT” who's empowered because he or she was born around the time a strange meteor crashed near their city (as was the case for the "Big Bang" in Milestone’s Dakotaverse) and every hero trains in an Xavier's-like academy before going pro. Their foes include a snake-themed, fanatical terrorist organization, Ouroboros, that’s a bit like HYDRA, and a couple of colorful, loud-fashioned psychopaths, Jake Martinez and Kriem, who make me think of the Joker and Harley Quinn.
Don't misunderstand my reason for rattling off those "shot calls." I'm not trying to say that the show's unoriginal, just offering some points of identification for the uninitiated to latch on to - - I want you maniacs to watch this show. Even if there are familiar concepts in TIGER & BUNNY, their handling's significantly different. For instance, while one of the heroes is an orphan whose tragic origin and mission to avenge his parents recalls Batman's, he actually isn't a brooding avenger.
Indeed, I’d say a key difference to the show is that none of these heroes have the extreme personalities that so typify American capes. They don’t exhibit much aggression, either, and musclebound physiques are eschewed in favor of more normal and slender figures. Most of the fights with supervillains start with the heroes trying to calmly arrest super-villains instead of flinging punches first and asking questions later. Even Lunatic, the lone vigilante whose lethal force is deemed excessive by the HERO TV cast, isn’t nearly as trigger happy as likes of the Punisher, Azrael or the Scourge of the Underworld.
I can’t say why this the case - - perhaps such "calm" is actually more in line with Silver Age heroics or even something like THE INCREDIBLES - - but it still stands in unmistakable contrast next to something like CIVIL WAR. Still, even though fans with agro sensibilities may be a little frustrated, I’d encourage them to look past it, as this was one of most thoroughly-entertaining superhero toons I've ever come across. It might not have any concepts that'll surprise long-time comics fans, but it's very much an argument for the value of execution often has over innovation, because, believe it or not, this show's actually built on very compelling character drama.
Give TIGER & BUNNY's trailer a look below, then go on and check out the series on Hulu. It's tough to argue with the price of free and, if you're as serious a super-hero fan as you claim to be, it should be real tough to pass up the chance to see your favorite genre interpreted through another country's sensibilites.