I loved Sunrise's super hero TV anime, Tiger & Bunny.
Despite the quality of writing dropping in the last few episodes, I was truly fond of the main cast and had a great time just watching them interact with another. When the series ended leaving several plot threads dangling in the wind, I waited in anticipation for a season 2 announcement.
One that unfortunately never came.
Instead, Sunrise announced two feature films, The Beginning and The Rising. The former would be a retelling (groan) of the start of the series and the latter would be a brand new storyline. Keeping my expectations low, I went to check out the first movie.
Much to my surprise, I had a grand ole' time.
Tiger & Bunny: The Beginning
In a re-imagined version of our world, individuals called NEXT have begun to appear. Wielding mysterious powers, these people have brought about the age of the superhero. Seeing a chance to profit, companies began sponsoring these heroes, eventually leading entire TV programs designed around their courageous exploits to be broadcast. With heroism having been monetized, many of these NEXT seem to have become more focused on TV ratings and rankings rather than saving innocent people. Kotetsu Kaburagi is a veteran hero who refuses to change in the name of sponsors or corporations, making him the least popular hero amongst his coworkers and employers. When his agency closes down, he's picked up by the massive Apollon Media and forced to partner with the young new hero, Barnaby Brooks Jr. Prioritizing his popularity and rank over getting the job done quickly, Barnaby's idea of what a hero is clashes with Kotetsu's, straining their partnership. In the face of adversity, can these two find what it takes to work together to protect the people of Sternbild?
Tiger & Bunny: The Beginning adapts the first two episodes of the TV series, with a fairly wide variety of changes made to the old content. Unlike most films that try to retell the story of a long-ish series, The Beginning avoids the pitfalls that are typically associated with this kind of project. Because two episodes fit neatly within the 90 minute runtime it never feels like the material is being rushed through, thus allowing it to breathe on its own.
A lot of the additions made to the first half of the film involve seeing what characters were doing behind the scenes while the TV show events transpired. Little touches like seeing Kotetsu struggle to change into his superhero gear in the car on the way to catch some villains help make the experience feel fresh. Bigger changes include Kotetsu's wife being introduced within the first thirty minutes, immediately giving him a more pronounced reason for wanting to be a hero outside of the Mr. Legend story. Barnaby has a few more quiet moments of contemplation as he reflects on Ouroboros and the death of his family. Upon re-watching episodes one and two of the show, I also realized that a lot of new shots were added to the second giant statue battle, giving the other heroes some time to shine.
While the first half of the film generally plays out as you would expect, the other half is composed of entirely new content. There's a lot of comedy to be had during this section of the movie, with scenes that do a lot to highlight the hero group's unique dynamic. The Beginning also gives us a clear sense of how each character's ability actually functions; I can guarantee you that some of these are not what you were expecting.
A new NEXT villain, world class thief Robin Baxter, is introduced into the lore and it's our hero's job to catch him and recover the stolen Statue of Justice. While the power he brings to the table is interesting and lends itself well to some creative action set pieces, Baxter simply isn't intimidating as a villain. He feels like a filler character and an excuse to get our heroes together to fight some crime. While this isn't altogether a terrible thing, I would have liked to see someone more diabolical take the antagonist role.
By not attempting to tell 13 episodes worth of story in 90 minutes, each member of the cast gets an adequate amount of time to strut their stuff. Some of my favorite moments in the film revolved around Sky High and hist innocent ignorance of how normal people act in society. Fear not fans, your favorite character gets some loving. Unless they happen to be Lunatic, in which case you get approximately three scenes worth of screen time. One unfortunate side effect of only adapting the first two episodes is that some characters haven't quite developed yet. A specific example of this is Blue Rose, who is increasingly hostile toward the other heroes through out the entire film.
The first two episodes worth of content see some minor visual adjustments here and there, but it isn't until the original story starts that the animation quality gets a real boost. It's certainly not mind blowing, but it's definitely a step above the standard TV animation quality. The climactic chase sequence is a blast to watch as each hero gets a chance to show off their abilities against Baxter with all the flair you've come to expect from Tiger & Bunny. The CG used for some of the hero characters is still as obvious as ever, so if you weren't a fan to begin with you won't care for it here either.
The problem with all of this is that none of it is substantial or even necessary. The whole film plays like a filler arc, with only a few moments really adding anything to the Tiger & Bunny lore or the characters. At the same time though, I'm not convinced that's necessarily a bad thing in this case. As a standalone film that both serves as an introducing to the franchise and a piece of fanservice that brings the cast together again, I think The Beginning succeeds. It's not the next greatest anime film to come out of Japan this year, but it doesn't have to be.
It's a fun chance to dive back into the colorful superhero world of Tiger & Bunny, and I'll be damned if I didn't have a good time.
7.0 – Good. 7s are good, but not great. These series often have a stereotypical plot or are great movies that have a few minor, yet obvious flaws. Fans of the genre might still love it.
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