Review for Tiger And Bunny: The Beginning
There was a point where the Tiger & Bunny movies looked pretty unlikely for the UK market. Tiger & Bunny was at the time the hottest ticket in anime, a show designed to appeal to global audiences, and with its very familiar if fresh look at the superhero genre, a shoe-in for Western audiences and television broadcast too. Taking advantage of that, the show received one of the best English dubs in recent years, and it looked like a series that would fly off the shelves higher than Sky High himself. That didn’t quite happen in the UK, and it’s easy to lay blame. The UK Blu-ray release cut corners on AV quality with single layer discs, extras shunted to DVDs, and came in four expensive parts. It was actually cheaper to import the technically superior Region B offering from Australia, and indeed with Siren’s complete collection release, it’s gotten even more attractive. It’s no surprise that UK fans were lukewarm to this show, and with that kind of response it seemed unlikely that the films would get a release. However, 12 months down the line, and enter new distributor All the Anime, whose El Presidente championed Tiger & Bunny when it was originally streamed to the UK on the now defunct Anime on Demand. All the Anime picked up Tiger & Bunny: The Beginning, the first Tiger & Bunny feature for special edition release, and indeed just last week, with the launch of their new website, they confirmed the license for Tiger & Bunny: The Rising as well. Things are suddenly looking rosy for UK Tiger & Bunny fans!
The future has arrived, and with it the superheroes. Some forty years previously, genetic mutations started appearing in people, resulting in them developing strange powers. They were called NEXT, and some of them began using their powers to help people. They became the heroes that stopped crime and kept people safe. Today, in Stern Bild city, heroes are big business and indeed entertainment. Sponsored by major companies, they compete in a game show called Hero TV, trying to rack up as many points as possible as they go about their hero business to be crowned King of the Heroes each year. Of course being telegenic, and knowing just how to make an entrance are important as well.
Not so important to Wild Tiger, a.k.a. Kotetsu Kaburagi who got into the hero business for the old fashioned reason, to help people. He uses his ‘Hundred Power’, an ability that boosts his strengths 100-fold but only for five minutes, to try and do good, but his enthusiasm usually leaves a lot of property damage in its wake. As a result he tends to slip down the rankings. It gets to the point where his sponsors pull out, and his manager quits. He’s got just one chance to redeem himself, and join a new corporation that is trying something new in the hero game. They’re establishing a hero team, a first for Hero TV, and Kotetsu will be sidekick to the hottest young thing on the block. Barnaby Brooks Jr. has the same powers as Wild Tiger, but that’s where the similarity ends. His approach to the superhero business is diametrically opposed to Kotetsu’s and he’s a lot more business-like and pragmatic in his attitudes. He’s also got a very personal and not at all altruistic reason for becoming a hero. Naturally they wind up butting heads on the first day on the job. They may not be much of a team, but at least the new suits look cool, and as long as Hero TV’s ratings go up, Wild Tiger may just hold onto his job.
The first feature film recounts Tiger & Bunny’s first meeting, albeit from a new perspective, and then concludes with a previously untold adventure. The first few episodes are re-edited with new material animated for the first half, and that leads into the mission that arises when a NEXT powered thief named Robin Baxter steals the Statue of Justice, and where Kotetsu and Barnaby first learn that they might just be able to work as a team, despite their differences.
Tiger & Bunny: The Beginning is presented on a BD50, and it needs the space for the extra features, despite the film only being 92 minutes long. The film itself gets a 1.78:1 widescreen presentation at 1080p resolution. Unlike a television animation, which usually has some degree of up-scaling from its native animated resolution, the Tiger & Bunny movie makes full use of the resolution here, offering an animation that is clear, colourful, and rich in detail. The difference between this film and the UK release of the TV series is palpable, the increased clarity, the higher level of detail, and the absence of any compression or banding helps the image look flawless.
The film makes use of the some of the television series footage, re-edited in the first half, although they must have increased the resolution of those scenes to bring it up to theatrical quality and not jar against the newly animated footage. Some familiar scenes also look re-animated from scratch to make them more dynamic and make better use of the theatrical scope. The new footage slots in seamlessly, with more in the way of establishing shots of the city, and earlier reveals of Kotetsu and Barnaby’s respective pasts. The action sequences still serve the story well and the CG effects work blends in well with the 2D animation (except one scene from the TV series where Kotetsu’s head doesn’t quite fit his new Tiger suit).
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English and Japanese, and you also get optional translated English subtitles (all player-unlocked). There is no signs only track for this film, although given that Stern Bild city is set in an English part of the world, all of the on screen text is in English anyway. The film however does erase the Japanese subtitle overlays which the series displayed for essential on screen English text, which quite obviously English audiences don’t need. The whispering engineer Saito does get subtitles burnt into the print, so English viewers won’t need to flick the subtitles on, although at 30:19 this does cause a clash when a lingering Saito sub gets a Kotetsu subtitle overlaid on it.
Tiger & Bunny sounded good in the TV series, but getting the full surround upgrade for the feature film really kicks things up a level when it comes to action and effects sequences. The show’s music is familiar from the series, although there are a couple of new themes as well. A superhero show should give good value when it comes to the action, and this is an audio track that will immerse you in the film. For the purposes of this review I went with the Japanese audio, and it was just as entertaining as I recalled from the TV series. I gave the English audio a try, and that too was comfortable and familiar. Tiger and Bunny is a rare anime that is just as much fun in either language, and I highly recommend watching both English and Japanese versions.
The one problem with this release is the lack of subtitles for the songs. If it were just the opening and end themes, then it could be put down to licensor stipulation, but the movie gets insert songs as well, while songs play an even bigger part in the extra features, and you begin to feel as if you’re missing out.
The disc loads up with an animated menu, and there’s a credits page where you can see who worked on the film. All of the extras on the disc are presented in HD. And in order of decreasing triviality...
Promotional material for the film includes the Preview, The Special Pilot Trailer, the Pilot Trailer, The Promotional Video, and the Commercial Collection, about 11 minutes worth of trailer footage, none of it subtitled in English.
The Theater Commercial on the other hand is subtitled, lasts 1½ minutes, and is a fun live action skit featuring the suited up Sky High, Wild Tiger, and Barnaby telling cinemagoers the usual dos and don’ts.
You get the clean credits for the film. The end credits montage featuring clips from the film and TV series, presented in a squished up little box next to the credit scroll in the film, is presented in full screen here.
The Weekly Hero Countdown lasts 12½ minutes, and features the results of a hero popularity contest to promote the film with each voted for hero getting their moment in the spotlight. There is an issue in this feature with the subtitles. This is one of those discs that apparently can’t show more than one caption on screen at a time, and here, the choice is made to translate the on screen text at all times. That means that some of the dialogue goes by un-translated. Incidentally this is also the only place on the disc where song lyrics are translated and subtitled.
But the big extra on this disc is the World Premiere Event, running to 2 hours and 15 minutes. To promote the film on its launch day, several cinemas in South East Asia were linked up to the premiere venue in Maihama where the film got a full four hour show, with pre-movie and post movie events featuring the voice cast and costumed heroes. The film got more glitz and razzamatazz than most Hollywood blockbusters, with theatrical performances, a pop concert (unfortunately lacking subtitles), Twittering and cast Q & A and more. I’ll be honest and say that I haven’t had time to watch the whole thing yet, but the hour or so that I did watch was a whole lot of fun. This extra feature could use chaptering of its own though, as one 135 minute chunk is a little difficult to navigate through.
This is way more than the average anime release gets, and it’s enough to sate most fans. I just got the Blu-ray review disc. I didn’t get to look at All the Anime’s deluxe packaging, I didn’t get to see the DVD disc sold as part of the combo pack, and I didn’t get to feast my eyes on the 40 page Collector’s Art Booklet that comes with the box. It’s fantastic content, and if that satisfies you, jump straight ahead to the conclusion!
For I’m contractually obliged to whinge. This is a Region B exclusive, Australian fans didn’t even get The Beginning on Blu-ray, but US fans did on Region A, and they got even more than us! They may not get the Collector’s booklet and the fancy packaging, but their Tiger & Bunny: The Beginning Blu-ray was a 2-disc release, with the film and promo material on one, while on the second in addition to what we get, they got the USTREAM Special Digest (which with the TV series was those making of interviews with the cast and crew and which I assume is the same for the movie), on disc Production Art, the US Premiere Event, and the Anime Expo 2012 Highlight Reel.
When it comes to bringing TV series to the big screen, anime producers usually go about it in one of two ways, either reworking the TV series episodes for the big screen, or by creating wholly new material. The creators of Tiger & Bunny try to do both at once, no doubt thinking that the duo’s origin story would be a good way to kick things off, but the result is just as disjointed and fragmentary as you’d expect, and the film is best appreciated by fans that have a familiarity with the TV series. But having said that, the Tiger & Bunny: The Beginning movie is a whole lot of fun, especially if you just take it as two extended episodes spliced together. That’s because the source material for Tiger & Bunny, especially in the first half of the series is so strong. The Japanese animators somehow captured the essence of the Western, and particularly US fascination with costumed heroes, and did indeed manage to sell tea to China.
They hit on a winning formula, and while Mystery Men might have been the first to really explore the superhero sponsorship angle, Tiger & Bunny threw in the reality TV competition facet, and that resulted in a show that was fresh and original. That freshness and originality still manages to tell, even thought the first half of the film is a retelling of the opening few episodes of the series. You get the initial introduction to the set-up, with the heroes chasing down a bunch of criminals, and Wild Tiger’s ineffectuality and tendency towards wholesale property destruction highlighted, before Barnaby makes his entrance and saves the day. The two are assigned to work as the city’s first superhero team, both agreeing only reluctantly, and their first mission together; to stop a NEXT going on the rampage through the city with psychically animated statues only aggravates the friction between them.
So far so TV series, although the film does add some scenes which fill in Barnaby’s back story regarding the hunt for the killer of his family, the Ouroborous. We also get a look at Kotetsu’s past, the loss of his wife which compelled him to remain a hero. There’s also an early meeting between Barnaby and Yuri, lots of winks for fans of the TV series, and useful in establishing the characters, but some of it may be superfluous to those starting with the movie.
The second half is all new though, when a NEXT villain with an apparently unstoppable power runs the heroes ragged when he steals the Statue of Justice. It’s hard to capture a criminal able to teleport out of your grasp, and for our heroes to succeed; Kotetsu and Barnaby will have to see past their initially abrasive and confrontational partnership and learn to trust one another. The villain in this story is certainly interesting, with a great design and a visually effective ability. It also makes use of all of the heroes in entertaining ways, while in terms of character development it perfectly captures the initial stages of the Tiger & Bunny partnership.
The film isn’t the greatest. It’s reliant on fans having knowledge of the TV series, and it’s made primarily for them too. As a result it does feel bitty and episodic. But, for those fans, it’s a couple of episodes worth of entertaining story, an alternate look at the duo’s first meeting, followed by a previously untold adventure. It’s fun, which is all you can really ask of these TV to film anime adaptations. However the second film, licensed by All the Anime is a wholly original story set after the series run, and it shouldn’t face the same issues. As for this release, of all the minor nitpicks that I’ve pointed out, the only one that disappoints is the lack of song translations on a disc with a lot of songs. But, the audio visual quality is good enough to make you want All the Anime to poach the license and re-release the TV series as well.