What’s it about? Constable Kirill Vrubel dreams of being a hero, not a plain uniformed officer, and he finally gets his chance when he stumbles into a hostage situation and encounters Doug Billingham, an agent of the investigation unit SEVEN-O. Doug and his fellow detectives are tasked with hunting down users of the body-mutating drug Anthem; and now that Kirill is their newest recruit, he might get to see the kind of danger he’s been dreaming about.
I tell you what, it was a bold decision to air the anime of the fall season so far ahead of everything else. Really makes a statement. Also, the rest of the summer season is now cancelled, as we will only be needing more of this.
Alright, maybe I’m slightly biased. Cult hit Tiger & Bunny is one of my personal top five, and this spinoff already evinces many of the same things that made that series so special: an adult cast, memorable and diverse character designs, a goofy sense of humor and love of genre, and an eye for an international audience built into its worldbuilding. But while there are a few tips of the hat to the 2011 series, new viewers will still find themselves able to jump in here with no problems.
Most of this episode is given over to introductions, with the action conforming in broad strokes to that of a cop drama: a cold open to establish the threat, a more threatening villain-of-the-week, a tense standoff at the climax where a Lone Hero has to sneak in to save the day. The show isn’t afraid to embrace action movie bombast (Kirill’s underlying goodheartedness is established with a literal “save the cat” moment), but it’s also already showing signs of being smart enough to dig beneath those clichés: Kirill is on the verge of being fired at his job because he keeps leaving his post to go glory-seeking, and his day-saving fantasies never actually get past the set-up, leaving him fumbling when his moment finally comes.
The art design is also both fond and winking about the stories it comes from, rendering Kirill’s daydreams in Ben-day dots and sparingly touching the show with a half-encouraging, half Arrested Development-style narrator. But despite poking fun at the premise, the show also gives its characters chances to succeed and clearly wants us to invest in their relationships, keeping it from feeling mean-spirited. As much teasing and squabbling as there is here, there’s also a real sense of camaraderie among the cast that invites you in, which makes good grounding for the “we must work in pairs” buddy comedy setup.
Things are at their most promising at the end of the episode, when Kirill is introduced to his new coworkers in SEVEN-O. The gender balance of the cast leans toward women who are already easy to distinguish from one another, from the feminine and foul-mouthed Pink to eager and fresh-faced newcomer Rookie (they all have real names, don’t worry; the codenames are just easier to remember). Two of the women, mohawk-sporting Boxer and quiet Robot, also seem to be in a relationship. Boxer has a motorcycle. I’ve known them for two minutes and I already love them.
I’m absolutely champing at the bit to get to know this promising cast, and curious to know how this show will define the process of “becoming a hero” for its leads. Both director Joji Furuta and series composer Tomohiro Suzuki are T&B veterans, so we’ll see if they can bring that magic to this new kind of show.
I haven’t been having much luck with anime sequels and spinoffs lately. Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card, Free ~Dive to the Future~, and Fruits Basket Another, all continuations of properties I’ve loved, failed to recapture the magic that made each one special. So when Double Decker! Doug and Kirill was announced as a spinoff of my beloved Tiger & Bunny, I had… trepidation, especially considering it had a different director.
One episode, and Double Decker looks to be more of a spiritual successor than an actual sequel or spinoff. While there are hints at a shared universe—references to Apollon Media and coins stamped with the Ouroboros symbol—there’s no mention of a lot of what made the Tiger and Bunny unique. Rather than reality-star superheroes and Next, there’s gene-altering street drugs and cops with bionic eyes and magic guns. It’s a less innovative setup to be sure, but that’s certainly not a death sentence for a new series.
And while Double Decker hasn’t offered up much new in terms of setup, the first episode is certainly a lot of fun. It’s told mainly from the perspective of Kirill, a uniformed cop who wants nothing more than to be a hero. He’s overeager to the point of goofiness, and the script and direction waste no time in poking fun at him.
He seems like a sweet kid, but he does kind of goofy things like putting a wad of dollar bills in his shirt front pocket to protect himself from a bullet and imagines himself as a hero cop facing down criminals to put himself to sleep. It’s a bit of a cliche and lacks the psychological complexity that made the heroes of Tiger & Bunny compelling, but he’s so gosh-darn endearing that I was rooting for him regardless.
Doug, who only had a couple scenes to do his thing, plays the role of the seasoned partner. They haven’t had a chance to develop their dynamic, but the opening theme, which played at the end of the first episode, hints they’ll probably have a homoerotic, shipper-friendly relationship. Maybe this time around, Sunrise will be able to, uh, pull the trigger on them as a couple instead of constantly playing wink-and-nudge gay chicken with the audience.
And there are positive signs toward that. Meet Max:
With her mohawk, dark lipstick, and distressed black skinny jeans, she couldn’t be more gay-coded if she had “I Am Attracted to Women” written on her forehead. In the ending, she stands behind her female partner, hand on her shoulder, their fingers touching. It’s the kind of casually intimate body language that couples engage in, not just colleagues. It looks like they may truly be, to steal Vrai’s Tiger & Bunny tag, “partners in life and work.”
And even if they, improbably, end up being totally platonic coworkers and not in love, Double Decker includes a visually-varied cast full of female cops. In fact, four out of six members of their division are women, ranging from Deana, who is foul-mouthed, super-competent, and dresses like Rainbow Brite, to Kirill’s fellow rookie Katherine in a green business suit with a practical bob, to the aforementioned Max. We don’t know much about them—after all, nobody but Kirill really got much attention this episode—but I’m hoping for good things. Plus, like Tiger &Bunny, the characters were designed by Masakazu Katsura, who wrote awful shounen romcoms in the ’90s but is one hell of a character designer.
I didn’t love the first episode of Double Decker—but then again, it took me about half the series to totally fall in love with Tiger & Bunny. With its slick direction and varied female cast, there’s enough to keep me watching for now. Hopefully, some canon confirmation of queer characters won’t be too much to ask.