I’m of two minds about the direction Tiger & Bunny has taken over the last few episodes. What started out as a very Japanese take on American superhero comic has followed a very conventional superhero comic route as it sets up the grand finale. In the process, some of the interesting anime shading has been set aside, and that’s really too bad. On the other hand, I think the conventional finale is looking like an exceptionally good one.
Most of what happened this week was fairly predictable. Certainly the fact that the new “Tiger” was a robot or cyborg seemed obvious enough, and I’m a bit disappointed in myself that I didn’t put two and two together and figure out that it was Rotwang (Miyamoto Mitsuru) who was behind it. As another former associate of Barnaby’s parents his link with Maverick is obvious, and their share both a twisted vision and a common purpose, so are natural allies. We got an idea of just how strong his creations could be in the form of Cis in episde 15, the “Cats, Girls and Spaceships” ripoff, so I guess it can’t be a total surprise that his new robocop was able to subdue all six of the heroes (plus Kaede) on the rooftop of Appolon Media. Disappointing, but not shocking.
Maverick’s new plan is to use Rotwang’s androids to take over the entire hero operation, as they figure to be a lot more malleable than those messy NEXT and as Rotwang turns out to be a NEXT hater, he’s only too happy to help. As his plans collapse around him Maverick – in true megalomaniac fashion – goes even bigger rather than retreat. But careful, Icarus – as usual, things aren’t quite as smooth as you hoped. Tiger & Bunny are a team again after a fight & reconciliation scene that seemed quite anticlimactic somehow. It wasn’t the slap that brought back Barnaby’s memories, but being called Bunny – indignation being a stronger memory trigger than pain, apparently – and there were some nice hugs and tears for the Otome Road gang. But maybe because the outcome of that battle was so inevitable it didn’t pack as much drama as I’d hoped it might.
The separate arrivals of Ben and Saito set off the endgame of the ep, with Saito now T & B’s most valuable ally in fighting Maverick. With the other heroes and Kaede hostages, Maverick calls Kotestsu and Barnaby to Justice Tower to do battle with Rotwang’s Tiger, and in a move that could hardly be more classic superhero comic, Rotwang puts bomb collars on all the heroes’ necks. They’ll all die as soon as Robotiger wins the fight, but here’s the catch – any one of the heroes can survive by deactivating their own collar, which will immediately cause all the others to explode. Hardly original, but an effective dramatic device nonetheless.
Who was missing from the action this week? Yuri, of course. While he answers to no one but himself, I can’t imagine Lunatic being the type to sit out major events like this one. He’ll want to impact things, and I still think he’ll be a factor in how all this gets resolved, most likely going up against Maverick. Of great interest to me is the character of Ben. I got strong vibes this week that something was “off” with Mr. Jackson. His arrival was too timely, his behavior too shifty and nervous, and there were far too many closeups on his face than the situation warranted. In fact, Ben’s presence was totally unnecessary to the narrative of the episode at all – though it did precipitate the best line, Saito’s “Your car does suck.” As someone who’s not a big believer in anime coincidences I’m betting something’s rotten – I don’t know if Jackson is a Maverick spy, or working for someone else, or has some secret agenda of his own – but there’s something important going on with him that we don’t know.
With two eps left it’s looking as if the final battle itself might last right up until the very end, which would be too bad – I was really hoping for a quiet coda to wrap up the personal stories that have largely been forgotten for the last two episodes. I hope the issue of Tiger’s powers – and of his conflicting personal commitments to his family and his job – isn’t totally passed over in the finale. In many ways I found that story more interesting that Maverick’s plot, and a whole lot more unusual for the genre.