Animenewsnetwork - Series/volume Review

After the disaster that was Double Decker! Doug & Kirill, I was inordinately nervous about the second season of Tiger & Bunny. Really, could anyone blame me? Tiger & Bunny The Movie -The Rising- added little to the series’ narrative, the director was booted off the project, and Netflix offered little in the way of promotional material to assuage my anxieties. For several weeks, I was halfway convinced that the entire thing would be done in stiff 3DCG, since Netflix seems particularly invested in those. I worried there’d be a third iteration of Kotetsu retiring, but then coming back. I had fallen hard for the characters and themes of the original Tiger & Bunny, and while I didn’t think a sequel was necessary, I wanted something that would do right by them.

Well, now that the first half of Tiger & Bunny 2 has been released in full, I am happy to say that my fears were all for naught. And the boys? They are indeed back in town. Emphasis on back, because the new series has little interest in catching up new fans, or even old fans who skipped over watching the sequel movie Tiger & Bunny The Movie -The Rising-. Who’s that asshole in the gold armor? Well, that’s none other than Ryan “Golden Ryan” Goldsmith, who took over as Barnaby’s partner when Kotetsu was forced into retirement. He apparently decided to stick around instead of going to work overseas. The fan response to his presence has been, “Oh, he’s still here?”

The reason Tiger & Bunny 2 is so newbie-unfriendly is because it spends very little time re-establishing the sizable cast and their relationships beyond a quick roll-call at the beginning of the first episode. It’s probably for the best, since the main cast of Hero TV has swollen from eight to 12 with the addition of Ryan and three brand-new heroes: Mr. Black, He is Thomas, and Magic Cat. Lingering on already established character details to catch up new fans would have been a waste of precious time. In fact, the roll-call doesn’t even really function to reintroduce the cast. Rather, it echoes back to the first premiere to emphasize what has changed in the four in-universe years since the first episode.

It’s a wonderfully clever move that sets the pace for both the characters and the story structure, filling the episode with callbacks without getting bogged down in nostalgia. Equally clever is the way that the heroes have been paired up: each duo gets a focus episode where the two of them run into some kind of problem, and Kotetsu and Barnaby end up helping them solve it and/or getting embroiled in it themselves, developing the newer characters while drawing out new facets of returning cast members. To be honest, the one-off villains pale in comparison and are largely unmemorable compared to characters’ personal conflicts – yes, yes, there’s a pyromaniac on the loose, but learning Sky High sometimes eats pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dinner feels like a much bigger payoff! And if you’re part of the fujoshi contingent of fans – don’t worry, you’re among friends here – you might just walk away with a new ship or two.

This is deeply important because Tiger & Bunny‘s strength has always lain in the character writing, especially in Kotetsu and Barnaby’s struggles and how they keep one another afloat despite squabbling like the married couple they are. The two have come a long way, and the personal demons that once haunted them have mostly quieted. Mr. Black and He is Thomas echo who they once were: an unwilling partnership between a brash, justice-obsessed hothead and a quiet, sullen young man driven by personal trauma. Neither one is particularly compelling on their own so far, but the way they reflect on Kotetsu and Barnaby’s former selves shines a light on who they are now, and what they have yet to figure out. Barnaby has served his revenge, so why does he still fight? How can he move forward from the anger that used to define him, and still storms within him? Kotetsu has adjusted to working within the confines and expectations of Hero TV; has he lost his sense of principle? Can he allow his daughter to follow the same dangerous path he did? Tiger & Bunny 2 asks these questions, but has yet to fully answer them.

There’s also a lot happening outside of character beats when it comes to the greater plot, with some of it paying off at the end of this arc, and other elements left for the upcoming second half. The season’s midbosses are Mugan and Hugan, a pair of albino twins who have been going around to small towns and defeating their local superhero teams before setting their sights on Sternbild. They’re fine as characters outside of playing into cruel stereotypes about albinism, but there’s little originality to their backstory or motivations, and they don’t do much to progress the narrative beyond playing into the motif of duality and partnerships. The climax to their arc was actually something of a letdown, hampered by an unimaginative use of their powers and some really stiff 3DCG.

The stiff 3DCG was especially disappointing considering how restrained the production was in its use up until that point. While I did notice an increased reliance on them during action scenes – especially with the female heroes – it was rarely obtrusive. The anime’s production was solid overall, and occasionally janky or off-model animation is one of Tiger & Bunny‘s historic charms. My worries about a change in director were misplaced – if anything, veteran director Mitsuko Kase‘s leadership strengthened the visual presentation overall, while also cutting down on the distracting fan service. My biggest complaint, other than the stiff animation in the climactic battle, is in its depiction of violence: the characters are injured badly enough to be hospitalized, but it is also bloodless to the point that there are no visible wounds. I don’t need guts and gore, but it sucked a lot of the tension out of some major moments when there’s no visual difference between a simple broken suit and a life-threatening injury.

If you’re still reading this review, you probably already have a preference for which voice cast you prefer, and I’m happy to say that you can stick with whichever one you like. The English version does have a few recasts, including Dragon Kid and Rock Bison, but Cassandra Morris is a more than suitable replacement for Laura Bailey, and Aaron LaPlante sounds decently like Travis Willingham. The new cast is strong as well, chock full of established names like Robbie Daymond and Johnny Yong Bosch. The new Japanese cast also has its share of superstars, including Mamoru Miyano and Kensho Ono.

It’s been over a decade since Tiger & Bunny first premiered, and while the landscape around reality TV and superhero media has shifted dramatically since then, it almost feels like no time has passed at all. I’m excited to see what the rest of the season holds, and how it will advance Kotetsu and Barnaby’s love story… I mean, the battle for the future of Sternbild against Oroborus.

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August 2022
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