Parents are a tricky thing in Japanese animation. How often is it that one finds the main protagonist alone with nary a parent in sight? There’s a certain measure of narrative sense in this, since the presence of either or both the parents could hinder the premise and progress of certain series aimed at an older teen/young adult demographic right from the outset. But like with a lot of other things, Tiger & Bunny approaches this well-worn trope with a measure of sophistication and nuance.
I first began thinking about this as I watched this episode with my partner and Shinmaru last night over Skype, and I saw that Kotetsu’s daughter Kaede was sitting in the Protagonist’s Seat. The idea of a middle school child coming to terms with her nascent powers, along with a father who isn’t present to add a measure of angst to her development, sounded like a much more common premise to me in anime. The story was fleshing itself out in my mind as I watched the episode, which in truth only made me appreciate what was actually happening all the more. Tiger & Bunny seemed to be doing what I don’t often see in anime, and that is giving weight and reason to a situation that I’d written off as a peculiarity to the medium: the absence of the parent.
Kotetsu Kaburagi is a Hero. He is on-call 24/7, has a certain skill-set that is specific to his job, and is a widower. Having his daughter live with him would mean exposing her to a certain amount of danger with his divulging of his profession, in addition to leaving her in isolation whenever the citizens of Sternbild would be in danger. What would make more sense for Kaede from Kotetsu’s perspective? Bringing her and her grandmother to live in the city in a crowded condo, having them there susceptible to the risk of having his identity exposed? Or keeping them in the countryside where his mother can raise a few crops and his brother can check on them with regularity? Better yet, his brother can live with them and these issues of Kaede being left alone will become moot. The choice is obvious to Kotetsu, even if this means not being witness to the growth of his own daughter.
The pathos becomes apparent as the episode highlights how Kotetsu sacrificed time with his daughter in order to ensure her financial security, only to return to see her become resentful of him in his absence. In my mind, I can easily see how this translates to the tribulations of the working parent who spends hours a day away from their child to ensure their future. Each generation anew is shocked at the pace with which their children grow, if only because they may not be present for it as it occurs. How disheartening must it be, to see your child resent you for not being there, when everything you do is for their sake? If I were a parent, I don’t know if I’d have the fortitude to endure that.
But this show has made the statement that Kotetsu’s life is not over yet, and neither has his daughter completely grown. We avoid the trappings of tragedy as he makes an important life decision, to forgo his life as a hero as his powers decline, and to instead become a more involved father in his daughter’s life. It’s a poignant and optimistic ending to an episode of a show that has dabbled in the tragic for a while.
No Tiger, no you’re not.