I haven’t talked about it a lot on here, but one of my favorite animes is the 2011 superhero series Tiger & Bunny. Running 25 episodes and 2 movies (the first a recap of the first 2 episodes with a brand-new third act, the second a brand-new story set a few months after the events of the series), it became a HUGE hit in Japan and did pretty well over here, being the first show on Viz Media’s Neon Alley channel and attracting a lot of buzz for its incredibly well-done dub that only helped reinforce the fact that this show is essentially a tribute to, and compression of, the entire history of superhero comics.
Like any big anime series, the show also got a manga adaptation–a couple actually. But Viz, the series’ North American distributor, has only translated and released the 2 Comic Anthologies–a series of one-shot comedy stories written and drawn by a variety of mangaka (manga artists) that are very much worthwhile for fans–and the official ongoing manga adaptation, written by series writer Masafumi Nishida and adapted by Mizuki Sakakibara, one of the series’ key animators. In a wave of fannish enthusiasm after seeing the recent tie-in movie, The Rising (which I enjoyed, but I’ll say more about when it hits DVD), I ordered the first two volumes and finished the first one, so let’s get to it!
The story, for those of you unaware of the series (which can be found on Hulu for free), is that this is a world where people with superpowers due to gentic mutations, codenamed NEXTs, began appearing 45 years ago. In the coastal metropolis of Stern Bild, some NEXTs use their powers as superheroes to fight crime. But they take things a little differently, with the heroes themselves being sponsored by a bunch of corporations, giant megaconglomerate Apollon Media filming their exploits live and broadcasting it as “HERO TV,” awarding points for each capture and arrest and, at the end of the “season,” awarding the victor the title of “King of Heroes.”
This volume–and the first 2 episodes of the anime itself–start with Kotetsu Kaburagi, alias Wild Tiger (the guy up there), a veteran hero who’s seen by and large as past his prime. With his power of increasing all his physical abilities by a hundred for 5 minutes every hour (known as “Hundred Power”), Wild Tiger’s earned a reputation for not only being dedicated to protecting and saving people no matter what but also flagrantly tearing up property to chase down bad guys (his nickname is the “Crusher for Justice”). When a chase of some bank robbers ends with a destroyed monorail and blimp, his sponsor, facing yet another costly damages bill, collapses and gets absorbed into Apollon Media.
Tiger is then reassigned by his new bosses to be a part of the first hero team ever, forcibly teamed up with Barnaby Brooks Jr., a new hero handpicked by Apollon’s owner, Albert Maverick, who has the same power set as Kotetsu’s and, to the company and show’s delight, more focused on catching suspects and looking good for the cameras than directly saving people. Tiger, a pretty stubborn guy, doesn’t get along well with Barnaby’s vaguely vain cockiness, derisively referring to him as Bunny both as a play on his name and as a riff on that’s what his costume kinda looks like.
The manga is mostly true to the spirit of the original episodes, introducing all the supporting characters and fleshing out the world in economic details befitting a good first issue of an ongoing American comic, but it changes tactics a bit. In the anime, Kotetsu was the main character and the ostensible audience point-of-view; here, it’s Barnaby that gets the spotlight, with scenes from the show shown from his perspective and new scenes added showing what he was up to. It’s an interesting tactic that not only makes the material fresher, but also gives a better glimpse into a character who ultimately came off as underwritten and bland in the original source material.
This feels very much of a piece with the show, and that’s entirely due to the creative team. Sakakibara’s art is on model and very clear the entire time, the translation is nicely done, and the pacing takes into account the considerations of a comics format while not forgoing the way the original series carried itself.
This is a nice little world to get into, and I’d gladly recommend this volume, but you might feel a little short-shrifted if you haven’t watched the show first. Not to say that the manga doesn’t stand on its own–it does–but it does appeal to fans first and foremost and if you’re not familiar with them, the supporting characters, like the other heroes, might seem a little superfluous. That aside, this is a great franchise and this manga is an excellent way to get into it! Check it out.