In an alternate world, superbeings, called NEXTs, have emerged from the general population. Generally gifted with one power, the NEXTs were originally feared, but as many have turned their talents towards crimefighting, keeping the peace helping people in times of need, they have become more popular. "Hero TV" is the most popular show on television, following the exploits of the Heroes and ranking them based on their achievements (catching crooks, preventing accidents, saving civilians, etc.).
To further increase their profitability, the Heroes are sponsored by various companies and wear their names and logos worked into their costumes with varying degrees of aesthetic success. Despite the commercialism, though, the Heroes still serve a great purpose in the city of Sternbild (a fictional version of New York City in the late 1970s), and a purpose that is about to become more vital than ever.
This is the setup for Tiger & Bunny, an extremely entertaining and relatively recent anime which I have just finished watching. Kotetsu T. Kaburagi, Hero name "Wild Tiger", is one of the veteran Heroes, with the "Hundred Power" – the ability to suddenly multiply all of his capabilities by a hundred. This is one of the most impressive powers in the series, but has a time limit; he can only maintain it for five minutes before it shuts down, and then some time (it appears roughly an hour) must pass before he can use it again.
Unfortunately, Kotetsu's rankings have been slipping, partly due to bad luck, partly due to his interest being much more on being a Hero and much less on gaining points, and partly due to him paying little attention to the collateral damage he causes. The fact that he often seems something of a klutz doesn't help (although later stories make it clear that much of Kotetsu's apparent clumsiness or cluelessness is an act).
Kotetsu is the oldest of the still-active heroes (at about 35 – this is a game for young people), and some are suspecting that he's just over-the-hill and hasn't a chance to come back. His corporate sponsors are then taken over and the new owners decide to give him one more chance… make the first official super-team, with Kotetsu gaining a new partner. Adding another unique touch, his partner, Barnaby Brooks Junior, uses no alias, instead going under his real name. Just as unusual, Barnaby possesses the exact same Hundred Power as Kotetsu (something very peculiar, as no other characters exhibit duplicates of anyone else's powers, and this oddity is never really discussed).
Barnaby and Kotetsu… don't get along, certainly not right away. Kotetsu takes the hero business seriously, but not much else, living life in a carefree manner, and treating the corporate requirements as nuisances to be evaded. Barnaby is a serious – perhaps too serious – employee with his own agenda, interested in being successful as a Hero in order to further his own goals. Being paired with Kotetsu is, in his opinion, an impediment to be barely tolerated because that's what his sponsor requires.
Their interaction isn't helped by Kotetsu occasionally trying to outdo Barnaby in order to keep from feeling utterly upstaged. You can't really blame Kotetsu; Barnaby is much younger (24), handsome, wealthy, tremendously intelligent, a trained investigator, athletic, and cool.
But at the same time, Barnaby – who Kotetsu nicknames "Bunny", after Barnaby's Hero-suit's earpieces and his tendency to use long, leaping attacks – is missing something: an understanding of what it means to be a Hero in ones heart. Barnaby is after a personal goal, and the other heroes – who at first seem rivals – still all share the goal of helping people.
Kotetsu has something to teach his younger partner.
This is an extremely fun series. It's clear that the writers know and love superhero comics; this is a well-thought out alternate superhero world, which abounds with references and nods to classics of the genre while creating its own very clear mythology. Barnaby Brooks Jr. is, in many ways, Bruce Wayne; his mother and father were killed in front of him (or rather, just before he entered the room they were in) and he is pursuing their killer, turning himself into a super detective to track them down and bring them to justice.
The resemblance is emphasized when the major mid-season villains are a crazy older NEXT masterminding the chaotic destruction of Sternbild and his much younger female sidekick who idolizes him; the similarities between them and the Joker and Harley Quinn are obvious and not coincidence.
At the same time, Barnaby is very much his own character, not just a knockoff of Batman, and his and Kotetsu's relationship is at the heart of the story. From disliking each other they have to first gain some respect and cooperation, and finally trust, in each other, because in the end, only trust in each other will get them through the final confrontation with an enemy far worse than anything they imagined.
The world of Tiger & Bunny is extremely detailed for something that only has one season to build in, and manages to delve deeply into all the major characters' personalities – and those personalities play a strong part in their actions, and how they relate to the plot. This is not a story of superpowers clashing; it's a story of people overcoming obstacles, with some of the obstacles just happening to involve paranormal powers.
It's also a story of heroism and choices – what makes a Hero versus an ordinary human versus a villain, and what choice you could make versus what choices you do make and what choices you should make.
As with many of my reviews, I'm avoiding too many spoilers. There are a lot of wonderful events and scenes in this anime, and the plotline is tightly woven – though you don't really get a hint of what's going on in the main plot until halfway through. Tiger & Bunny is a very good series, and I highly recommend it!