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Friday, 25 July 2014

Tiger and Bunny: The Rising.

Thank god for this film. I was almost going to watch and review Advent Children. That's not something anybody should have to do.

Tiger and Bunny
The Rising.

So, context.

Tiger and Bunny is a cruel joke played by advertisers. Also, quite a good superhero anime. It's difficult to say which it is first and which it is second. Taking place in Sternbild City, the show revolves around a group of superheroes, sponsored by various real world companies (Amazon, Bandai, and Dominos Pizza are all real world companies which literally paid to be included as sponsors in an anime mocking companies which literally pay to be included as sponsors), where saving people is less important than looking dramatic and cool on TV and thus getting your sponsor the most amount of time on screen and prestige.

In this world, one hero, Kotetsu (aka 'Wild Tiger'), who has the power to increase his strength, speed, durability, etc by a hundred, is consistently at the bottom of the hero rankings due to his excessive focus on saving people. Faced with the company that he has a contract with him failing, he's forced to form the first ever hero duo with a newcomer, Barnaby, who has the same power that he does. Over time, they become aware of a conspiracy within Sternbild city, linking back to the mysterious organisation Ouroboros.

Not – not a lot of that carries over to this film, which is seemingly meant to cap off the series but actually feels more like the first three or four episodes of a second series. The idea of corporate corruption and the privatisation of superheroes looms large in the first act, but fades rapidly from the second act onwards to the point where it's nearly invisible by the end. Ouroboros, who were still mysterious but implied to be highly important at the end of the series, are pretty much just namedropped once (in reference to the series, no less) and then forgotten about. The idea of an uneasy partnership gradually growing into a – well, the show seemingly says bromance, I hold that no bromance in the world involves cutesy nicknames; one party clutching the other to his chest, while the second softly remarks on what pretty eyes he has; or one party stating that he considers the other his life partner – thing is naturally touched upon, but there's not really anywhere it can go after the end of the series, except to temporarily separate them and have Kotetsu act like he's Barnaby sad ex-boyfriend.

Regular little Kamen Rider here.

… Actually, let's briefly talk about LGBT stuff in this film, because there was both some confusion on my part about one particular character until I checked official material, and a very well-meaning but sometimes a bit bewildering attempt at a positive message in that regard. Here is fire-themed superhero Nathan Seymore:

Incidentally, I really like that cape.

(Incidentally, for reasons that will probably become clear in a moment, I'm going to be using the gender-neutral pronoun 'ze' for Nathan.)

I was under the impression that ze was a gay man. There are a couple of reasons for this, but we'll focus on the most prominent: That ze outright says ze is gay in this film. As it turns out, according to official side-material ze's actually agender, which is – also referenced in this film, but referenced in such a way that it's confusing as to whether ze meant agenderism, genderfluidity or being gay, especially since there's a strong vein of Japanese culture that perceives homosexuality, transgenderism (that is – probably not the correct suffix, and probably wasn't for 'agenderism' either), and genderfluidity as being interchangeable or very closely related.

What happens is we get several dream sequences of Nathan being taunted as a teenager for – well, partly for having superpowers it seems, and partly for being agender, and partly for liking men, broken when ze hears a speech from an associate of zer's about how ze's 'strong like a man, but soft and caring like a woman'.

The bit that made me squint a little was when ze rejoins the battle and announces that men are courageous and women are caring, and that makes gay people invincible, which rather unfortunately suggests that anyone who's gay is agender or genderfluid or transgender, and vice versa, when of course none of those four things are the same. I'm sitting here wondering if the subtitlers just made an error here, or interpreted a word that could ambiguously mean genderfluid or gay incorrectly, or even just that Japanese may not have a word for genderfluid and may have just used the term for gay instead.

It is undeniably well-meaning, though. Sincerity gushes out of every pore of those scenes. Clearly somewhere along the line, either in production or in translation, there was some clumsy work done here that made it a bit confusing and attached some awkward implications, and I genuinely have no idea where that clumsiness happened – but equally clearly, there is a (slightly tortured) attempt at a positive message for LGBT people. Do you know how rare that is in films? It is pretty rare, and it's especially rare for that kind of message to take up such a considerable chunk of the film's time (all told, the scenes add up to about ten minutes of a very densely plotted hundred minute film).

Back onto the film in general, then. Taking place after the end of the series, Kotetsu finds himself rudely booted out of superheroing when a new, shady guy takes over his company, and Barnaby is partnered with a slightly sociopathic seeming gravity-manipulator, Golden Ryan. But there's no time to mope as the city is under attack by a group of villains recreating Sternbild's apocalyptic legend of the goddess of justice. 

It's a rubble and garish costumes themed legend.

Kotetsu and Barnaby's separation doesn't carry much bite to it, to be honest, because in a film literally named after them, they were never going to remain apart for very long – and actually, it's a little baffling that they're apart for so long as it is. The first act of the film has them together, and then they pretty much never interact until their reunion at the very end. It wouldn't be all that odd to have them separated for two or three episodes if this was a full series, but as this is just a hundred minute film, having the titular duo separated for most of the film seems like a bizarre choice.

In a pleasing twist, though, the other heroes, who were often neglected in the series itself, for the most part all get decent amounts of coverage here. Some more than others, admittedly – as mentioned earlier, Nathan gets an entire character arc, and so does child superhero Dragon Kid – but nobody feels like they're only there as a background character, or as if the film has just forgotten about them. 

... Did you just catch a sword with your knuckles.
Seems inefficient.

The villains, unfortunately, are so-so. Not completely forgettable, not massively memorable either. It's a shame, because they're actually set up well, but when they appear, they don't really live up to the expectations the film created for them. Even recurring series villain Lunatic, when he shows up, is a little underwhelming: He spouts off more or less the same diatribe that he always does, jumps around a bit, and then leaves without ceremony just in time for the climactic battle with a giant robot.

Probably the most distinctive of the villain gang.

It's a very well-animated, visually interesting film, and both the music and the voice acting are very good. My biggest bugbear with it, though, has to be that it just left me going 'So what?' at the end. Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy it. But there are as yet no further films or series announced, and instead of spending this film on exploring the plot threads left hanging at the end of the last series, this film just introduces an entirely new plot, not self-contained enough for the film to be standalone (as it rather relies on you knowing who the characters all are, and what their relationships with each other are, and a few plot developments from the series), but not actually working especially well as a continuation – and definitely not a conclusion to – its parent series.

It's not what I was expecting, insofar as I was expecting anything, having forgotten that this film was a thing that was actually happening until I saw that it had actually happened. As far as recommending it goes: Well, I'll recommend the series, and if you enjoy that, then look up this film. As I said before, for all that it barely connects with the overarching plot of the series, it doesn't really work very well as a standalone feature, so you'll just be confused and alarmed if you watch it on its own, I think. Or entranced by the pretty animation. Either way.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't read any official side material but in that particular speech in the movie, the "men are courageous and women are caring" one, he refers to himself as an "okama". In Japan, "okama" is quite a bit similar to the term "drag queen" in the west. It can mean transgender or simply, cross-dressers / men who like to dress like women or very effeminate men / men that act like women whether they dress like them or not but it's typically used for the more campy, drag queen types. In Japan, it's strongly assumed that if you're an okama, you're gay. However, not all homosexuals are called okama in Japan. It's a very separate term like in the west we don't call all gay men, "drag queens". So no, they were not implying that all gay people are transgender. That line was translated poorly.