Go for Broke!
“To risk everything in the hope of having great success.”
Origin: American, from the gambling game craps (y’know, like Guys & Dolls? No? Just me?). It has officially documented usage at least as far back as 1935, and refers to putting all your money on a risky bet. If it fails, then you’re broke.
Kotetsu’s primary approach is to gamble, often with disastrous consequences: he smashes a bunch of buildings and winds up going to court over it, he plans a birthday skit that implodes in his face and almost ends in Barnaby getting shot, and in general he tends to rush into danger without making a plan ahead of time (I sometimes get the feeling that the show wants him to read as literally “broke” with his often outdated clothes and technology, but it doesn’t really scan with things like the size of his apartment).
However, his gambling pays off where it counts—in the end, he manages to get through to Barnaby with a sincere gift, even if Barnaby would absolutely never admit it at this point.
In short: Kotetsu decides to plan a surprise party for Barnaby, which goes off the rails when Bunny refuses to play along. Instead, they run into a real thief who’s stolen a priceless necklace.
This is an incredibly simple episode and a somewhat clunky-looking one to boot (take a look at all those unfortunate faces and characters drawn at middle-distance so that there doesn’t have to be as much detail on their features). It’s also one of the best at showing off what makes this series so damn charming.
The found family dynamic begins to cement here as the other Heroes show small kindnesses to each other rather than being solely focused on their rivalries. Keith (Sky High) in particular clicks in a magnificent way, going from the untouchable King of Heroes to the human golden retriever that everyone loves. Nathan offering the arrest to a disappointed Keith, who rejects it because he wants Barnaby to have a nice birthday, is a wonderful, gentle moment. Although poor Antonio gets the short end of the stick yet again in a post-credits comedy scene. He didn’t even get to be part of the heartwarming party.
The episode’s small pieces of nonverbal storytelling might fly under the radar on a first watch, but their attention to detail shows love and finesse even with the offmodel slips: Kotetsu and Barnaby have cute little symbols on their corporate suits now; their chestpieces get stuck going over their heads in the suiting up sequence, and they have to deal with the consequences of their cool power ups just kind of…awkwardly being there once the fight is over; the bunny plush that Kotetsu keeps once everything is over, the fact that Barnaby seems to mistakenly believe pound cake is birthday cake, the baby signing. It underlines mundane, human details without wallowing in them, underscoring that this is a character drama above everything else.
This is also a good time to start paying attention to held shots, like Barnaby looking silently down at the little bunny on his suit and clearly contemplating the fact that so many people care about him. The show makes sure you don’t miss his emotional growth with the “why are you smiling” bit later, but it has a great love for letting you sit with characters as they process new information. It’s a very rare distinction on the show’s part.
Q: Let’s look back at the first cour, what episode left the biggest impression on you?
Inoue: From the first cour, that would be episode 5. It’s the one on Barnaby’s Birthday Party. It’s the moment when you just go “Oh, so Keith is this kind of guy”! At first I thought he’s a cool and reliable person, so inside I was like, “Noooo, don’t overlap with Barnaby!” With this episode I finally understood who I was going to play. (laughs) I think there were people who thought at first that they might find Sky High annoying, but I think their impression on him changed with this episode.
Q: So episode 5 was the turning point?
Inoue: Yes. I thought, “Oh, so I’m not going the same route Morita-san goes!” (laughs) And of course, it’s the episode when SKYYYY HIIIIIIGH! was born.
Q: The thing you scream when he uses his power, yes? Who came up with that?
Inoue: In the text, there was only something like “Haaa!”, but director Satou told me to scream “Skyyy Hiiiigh!”. When I asked why would he scream his name, he told me there would be a scene involving it in the future, so he wants to introduce it before that happens. That’s how I started screaming “Skyyy Hiiiigh!” in the show.
Q: So there wasn’t anything like that in the scenario itself?
Inoue: Nope. I was so confused the first time I had to do this. (laughs) “Why in the world is he screaming his name?”
- Gou Inoue, Roman Album
This episode is a major landmark for the main relationship but this is the quote I always think of. Inoue has a dere kind of feeling in his interviews (also otherwise we won’t get to Keith at all for another ten episodes).
Bunny’s birthday, we eventually learn, isn’t just any old day: it’s Halloween. It became a semi-tradition in the fandom to hold a birthday event. While a lot of fandoms do this (particularly idol fandoms), Barnaby’s was a special case for T&Bros because this episode marks it as a special landmark in canon. The day Barnaby’s heart began to melt just a little bit (also because Being Barnaby is Suffering, and his parents died on Christmas for fuck’s sake).
I mentioned before that this show was part of the early wave of series that got a lot of clean-up for the home release, and this episode has a particularly high number of examples. It’s not even the QUALITY gym—Kotetsu’s face is wonky all over the place, and for some reason Blue Rose’s boobs are like twice as big as they ought to be.
Visual hiccups aside, this episode features the first appearance of Yuri Petrov AKA Lunatic, both as the judge hearing Kotetsu’s case and then more overtly in the post-credits scene. And poor Scarf-tan can’t even manage to get her groceries home without running afoul of a hero situation. Although why she has a shopping cart on what looks to be a regular urban sidewalk is anybody’s guess.
Rather than a single character, let’s take this moment to check in with the main relationship. While the next episode will start making dramatic moves in terms of Barnaby’s My Parents Are Dead plot, this is a pretty major interpersonal milestone in the growth of his feelings for Kotetsu. He changes from considering his partner a mandated part of the job to beginning to feel actual affection, born of the realization that Kotetsu’s efforts are sincere rather than self-serving. It is the archetypal tsundere moment.
What’s most interesting on a rewatch, though, is that Barnaby isn’t wrong when he lambasts Kotetsu at the beginning of the episode. His statement that Kotetsu’s good-faith efforts cause trouble for the people around him is spot-on, in fact, summing up the core of Kotetsu’s character conflict in a single sentence. The heart-shattering episode is a mirror of their argument here with the positions reversed, so tuck that away for then.
First-time viewers are inclined to see Barnaby as unambiguously the jerk of this scenario: he’s being cold and dismissive of Kotetsu’s efforts to do something nice, relentlessly refusing to give even a little bit. And it’s true, he’s pretty noncommunicative and outright rude, crossing the line from “upholding professional boundaries” to “kind of being an asshole” when he does things like refuse to go after criminals that won’t net him points. It’s a real moment of growth for him at episode’s end.
But there is one neat trick that the writing pulls here that I want to draw your attention toward. Like the argument in the cold open, it’s foreshadowing of one of Kotetsu’s major character flaws. As always I feel something of a need to apologize for being so hard on the Old Man, but the fact that his emotional arc is perpetually unfinished needles me onward.
Alright, so. Barnaby is a jerk for most of the episodes. And while from a knowledgeable perspective it’s totally understandable that the extremely traumatized Barnaby doesn’t like any situation where he isn’t safely in control, there’s no reason for Kotetsu to assume that. He’s warned that Barnaby doesn’t seem like the type to like surprises, but it’s the kind of thing that would be a harmless annoyance at worst for most people.
What interests me is the misunderstanding that leads to Kotetsu getting fixated on the “surprise party” idea in the first place. It’s a mutual case of miscommunication: on Barnaby’s part it’s because he’s mad and withdrawing, so he refuses to clarify what he’s actually upset about. In Kotetsu’s case, it’s because he completely glossed over destroying the pen in his recollection of events. It’s a small thing, it really is—I’m sure Barnaby gave that woman some other small doodad in its place—but the fact that Kotetsu shifted the blame away from himself because he was embarrassed about his screwup and then later completely mentally discounted it says something about the way he thinks.
To him, small mistakes are meant to be immediately forgotten as long as you’re trying to be good overall. Barnaby, on the other hand, fixates on small things and the meaning that they carry. And that moment is emblematic of Barnaby’s complaint that Kotetsu’s carelessness can cause unintended harm. It’s nothing he means to do, but his refusal to address it is a ticking timebomb for the moment when their relationship goes from “getting to know you” to “addressing serious childhood traumas.”