It's an anime about American superheroes. In the year "NC 1978", in a city that's not New York at all, no, no (actually "Stern Bild City"), people have started appearing with superpowers! They're called NEXT, which stands for Noted Entities with eXtraordinary Talents. Maybe that should have been NEET, but that would have suggested something different.
This show was unexpectedly popular. It was a breakout hit, in fact, with a deal in development for a live-action Hollywood version. (Maybe it'll even happen?) The crossover demographic was female fans, who appreciated all the relationship stuff with the conflicted male heroes. It's being self-consciously American, but at the same time it's also got that anime take on the genre that's making certain Japanese assumptions about how superheroes would fit into society. In short, they're just another kind of celebrity. They're idols with superpowers. They're employed by Hero TV. Their armour is covered in sponsors' logos, they go on talk shows and they do swimsuit photoshoots. (Yes, even the men.)
Those sponsors' logos are real companies, by the way. Made-up ones would have had less impact. There's a real "wow, look at the corporate whores" surrealism to seeing superheroes with Amazon, Pepsi, SoftBank, etc. on their costumes. However both NHK and Netflix used repainted versions of the episodes without any of the real brand names, which is a bit rubbish. I'd suggest doing as we did and buying the Blu-rays.
This universe also puts time limits on superpowers. Heroes have to charge up and that only lasts a certain amount of time before they become ordinary again. Thinking about it, this show isn't actually very interested in superpowers. It's not even like My Hero Academia or One Piece, which have cool powers and get creative with them. Being a hero in Stern Bild City is less about power fantasies than it is about being a corporate stooge.
Quick run-down of cast:
1. Kotetsu T. Kaburagi (Wild Tiger) - idealistic but easy-going main hero and the only one who's Japanese. He's also older than most of his colleagues, with a ten-year-old daughter. SUPERPOWER: nothing special. Just general fighting ability, I think, although he'll sometimes shoot Spider-Man cables.
2. Barnaby Brooks, Jr. (aka. Bunny) - a bit cold and uptight. Gets partnered with Wild Tiger and doesn't like it. SUPERPOWER: just fighting again.
3. Karina Lyle (Blue Rose) - the sex appeal character. SUPERPOWER: ice.
4. Nathan Seymore (Fire Emblem) - flamboyant homosexual and the only male supporting hero you're likely to notice. SUPERPOWER: fire.
5-8. Dragon Kid, Sky High, Rock Bison, Origami Cyclone. Perfectly nice superheroes, but forgettable.
Is it a good show? Hmm. Of the four discs in my box set:
DISC ONE - I found it boring. The villains are low-level, so the fights are meaningless and the episodes are empty. It reduces the sense of urgency still further for there to be quite a lot of heroes, so any random mook might well find himself facing half a dozen heroes all competing to earn hero points. The only character I liked was Blue Rose, who doesn't like her (cringeworthy) catchphrase, never wanted to be a superhero and instead wants to be an idol.
Mind you, the show improves when we're watching Tiger's family life. Grandmothers and petulant daughters are more interesting than empty fight scenes.
DISC TWO - is an improvement. Bunny gets a Batman-like tragic background (although he's much more polite about it) and we get some proper villains.
DISC THREE - it feels as if the show's woken up. I liked it now. Stuff's happening, the episodes feel more meaningful and now there's even the possibility of romantic developments.
DISC FOUR - still good. I enjoyed the show. By the time we'd reached the finale, I was glad I'd watched it. However the finale itself has pacing issues, with ep.24 being too drawn-out and ep.25 too rushed. Ep.24's big fight is both confusing (similar colour schemes) and a bit dull. Kaede is so underused that it creates plot holes. She's liable either to wait forever before doing something or not do anything at all. (The show defaults to treating her as a damsel in distress, when she really isn't.) That said, though, it's a satisfying ending and I liked what happened to everyone.
There are quite a lot of logic holes. It's one of the worst shows I can remember for falling apart if you think about it, actually. I'll have to be vague to avoid spoilers, but...
1. Why didn't Tiger tell his daughter Kaede about his job? Admittedly that's characterisation, since you have to half-kill him to make him say anything meaningful. (This even comes back and bites him later on.) However it always seemed pointless to me and has left her thinking him a feckless loser.
2. Even after certain later series developments (e.g. ep.17), he still doesn't tell her! What the hell? By this point, you're starting to wonder if he'd try to keep it a secret that the sky is blue and the birds are singing.
3. As a follow-up to that, why didn't Tiger take Kaede to live with him in the city? If you're worried about being out all day, then bring granny too. Dumping her in the countryside makes him look like a cold father, which he's not. (In fairness, though, this might be a Japanese thing. Tomoko saw Tiger's behaviour as normal.)
4. When Tiger goes home to the countryside in ep.17, they're in Japan. When he goes back to Stern Bild City, it's America. However you can travel between them by train and the currency everywhere is dollars. You can handwave this by saying it's The Future, in Post-National Jumble Land, but it made Tomoko's head hurt.
5. It wasn't clear to me that Tiger's tactics should have worked against Halfway Baddie.
6. Final Baddie's last-act evil plan is far more complicated and fragile than a more straightforward method... but that wouldn't have used his superpower!
The production quality's top-notch, though. It looks terrific and you'd happily recommend it to any superhero fan, no matter what kind of animation they're used to. There are fan-favourite voice actors and no Squeaky Anime Voices. This is the kind of show that you'd expect to impress people, simply because it looks and sounds cool.
Doctor Who fan bonus: watch ep.25 carefully and you'll see that that black middle-aged taxi driver is called Ben Jackson.
Would I recommend this show? Hurm. I think it's mediocre in places, but in the end, I liked it. There are two movies and I'd watch them if someone gave them to me for Christmas, but I don't care enough to buy them. (One's a semi-compilation movie set near the start of the series, while the other's a full-blown sequel that's apparently a bit overstuffed.) I'd have definitely watched Kaede: The Movie, though. I'd have also watched Blue Rose: The Movie, if only since in one way she's put on a shelf for the second half of the series.
However it's a fun, irreverent, good-looking show with a fresh, distinctively Japanese take on the superhero genre. If they put me in charge of a remake, I'd be telling them basically to keep up the good work, but to work harder on what they're giving to the characters, the plot and the story logic.