It’s not officially a second season, mind you, but the announcement at the end that there would be an “event” on 11/13 almost certainly means that a second season is coming. I predicted that here ages ago, and it can’t be a shock, given both the nature of the series and its popularity. I’m totally on-board with a second season, though not necessarily with the impact it might have had on the way the first was resolved.
There’s no question that T & B proved to be a very good series, certainly better than I initially expected. As a very anime take on a very American genre, it was an interesting blend of some of the best elements of both worlds. For me, I felt the balance tipped strongly in favor of the straightforward superhero comic clichés as the series wore on, and some of the subtle and powerful theme more representing of the Japanese half of its makeup – especially dealing with Kotetsu’s crisis of confidence and family problems – took too much of a back seat. What we ended up with was a very good rendition of a superhero story that used very conventional genre methods to craft a conclusion, but basically could just as easily have been an American cartoon as an anime. That’s nothing terrible, just not as much as I’d hoped for.
But the one thing that always stood out for T & B and made it greater than the sum of its parts was Kabaragi Kotetsu. As played by Hirata Hiroaki in easily the finest performance of his career, Kotetsu was a mighty rare character even in anime – a single dad approaching middle age. The focus of his personal relationships wasn’t romance (though Karina certainly tried) but in being a friend and mentor, even as he struggled with his inadequacies as a father. He was strong, competent and courageous despite his self-deprecating humor, but also dorky, stubborn and dense. Wild Tiger was one of the greatest characters this year and one of my favorite superheroes ever. I’m disappointed that the metaphor of him losing his powers – the reality everyone faces as they age – was largely set aside in the story’s concluding arc and even nullified to a great extent by the postscript.
Ah, but that’s where that second season comes in. Sunrise not being fools certainly realized that Kotetsu – and his relationship with partner Barnaby Brooks – was the main draw of this show. They need him for that second season, and I think they feel they need him as an active hero. I would have liked to have seen him adjusting to being a father again and perhaps acting strictly as a mentor to the younger heroes, but that would have been the unconventional route. There might be some gold to be mined in the prospect of Tiger as a fading second-tier hero if it’s handled well – we’ll see. In the meantime there’s plenty of grist for the second season mill. We have the continuing mystery of Ouroboros, the surface has which has been barely cracked, and the last frame of the finale hints at this prospect. We have Barnaby’s continuing search to understand his parents’ death, and we have Kaede learning how to deal with her powers. There’s Blue Rose’s obvious interest in Kotetsu, and Yuri is still out there, his identity still a secret to the heroes. In short, it should be no problem coming up with ideas for that second season.
As with most good shows, what drove the success of T & B was not so much the premise as the characters, and as long as Sunrise remembers that we should be fine. Kotetsu was the obvious standout, but all of the major characters were strong. Barnaby was a dark and complex pretty face, Maverick and Jake Martinez strong villains, Yuri an anti-hero with a fascinating past. The other heroes were all given their turn in the spotlight, though only Blue Rose really jumped out from the pack. I can’t say I’m not disappointed this turned out not to be a great series, just a very good one – and the reason boils down not to character, but plot. For about 16-18 episodes this had the look of a brilliant construction, with the various threads of the plot being woven together beautifully and lots of subtle and fascinating themes at play. After that things got a bit too conventional, the easy route was taken a bit too often and the entire cyborg element was a bit out of left field and not as compelling as some of the other story elements that could have driven the final arc.
In the end though, there’s nothing to be ashamed of in producing a very good series. I like Tiger & Bunny a lot, and I look forward to a second season. And in Kabaragi Kotetsu, it’s given us one of the standout anime characters in many a season and its one truly spectacular and lasting contribution.