While we're currently being regaled with the tales of Kotetsu T. Kaburagi and his fellow NEXT in its original animated form courtesy of Kaze's UK release of the series, the good people of Viz Media are also offering us an opportunity to follow the story in a different format as the first volume of its accompanying manga reaches our shores.
This opening gambit for the series closely follows the first few episodes of that TV anime, beginning with a suitably rapid-fire introduction to our band of superheroes and their various powers, and just as importantly their participation in Hero TV, a television show broadcast across the city of Stern Bild which they seek to protect that makes sport of the group's attempts to foil crimes as they occur.
Our protagonist for this journey is the aforementioned Kotetsu, an old-timer in the hero business viewed by many to be a washed-up has-been - an opinion not helped as he languishes towards the bottom of the league which charts the heroes' progress each "season". Things go from bad to worse when a young upstart hero arrives and introduces himself to the city - not only does he have exactly the same NEXT powers as Kotetsu, but he also actively courts the camera and Hero TV's fans by revealing his face (a big no-no in the superhero world normally) and plotting his crime-fighting for maximum TV exposure.
Once Kotetsu's long-standing sponsors pack up and leave the hero-backing business, Kotetsu finds himself teamed up with this newcomer, Barnaby Brooks, to become the first ever crime-fighting duo in the history of Hero TV. While their supernatural powers might be similar, the pair's personalities most certainly aren't - but can Kotetsu prove himself to be an old dog capable of teaching his young partner some new tricks?
With artwork by Mizuki Sakakibara, who was also a key animator on the Tiger & Bunny TV series, it's perhaps no surprise that the opening volume of this manga does a superb job of capturing the visuals and character designs of the show - if you factor out the exclusion of most of the sponsorship logos from the outfits of the heroes (which are an obvious omission for practical reasons) you'll be hard-pressed to find a smoother transition from the small screen to the printed page.
This opening volume also tightly follows the story of the TV series in these opening chapters - the overall structure and pacing of the story's narrative has been noticeably tightened and trimmed, but otherwise all of the story beats that might be familiar to you if you've seen the original work are present and correct. A clean and satisfying translation and presentation, complete with a few colour pages, from Viz Media ensures that the volume is perfectly readable.
This does leave us with something of a dilemma however - namely whether there's anything to be gained for fans of the original TV show in reading this manga? Certainly, this volume adds nothing in terms of additional insight into the characters or story, and is simply an admittedly accomplished retelling of events from the anime at this point. If all you're looking for is a chance to enjoy what is a great series via another medium, then this first volume of Tiger & Bunny hits the mark dead on; if, on the other hand, you're looking for a way to explore Sternbild from a different angle to cast some additional insight upon it, then you won't find anything of the sort here.
Assuming you aren't expecting this opening volume of Tiger & Bunny to break new ground in its manga adaptation, what we have here is a great-looking effort that proves proficient and telling its story so far - if it manages to keep it up, it could well be a great new way to introduce people to this enjoyable series that seems to have everything required to successfully cross over beyond its typical audience in the west.