Japanator Recommends: Birdy the Mighty: Decode


The anime industry continues to dig up its past, producing rehashes of former shows to prey on a mix of entrenched nostalgia and modern eye-popping visuals. Sometimes the new project becomes something barely related to the original, but more often it's simply the same old thing reanimated and justified by being "more true" to the source.

Birdy the Mighty: Decode falls squarely in this category, being a remake of Madhouse's four-episode Birdy the Mighty OVA in 1996, which is an adaptation itself of a mid-80s shonen manga that was abandoned by its creator Masami Yuki shortly into its run. Yuki drew a more ambitious remake of the manga through most of the last decade, and at the end of its run, Birdy the Mighty: Decode was put out by A-1 Pictures. It's safe to say its ideas have been revisited several times by now.

It would be very easy to disregard Birdy the Mighty: Decode just on the principle that it brings little new to the table. However, your humble reviewer must admit to never having seen the original OVA or read any of the manga, so therefore it's all new to me and I should shut up about my own personal prejudices and vendettas against practices in the anime industry.

Of course, it helps that, rehashed or not, what's here is surprisingly strong.

Birdy the Mighty: Decode
Created by: A-1 Pictures
Published by: FUNimation
Release Date: November 30, 2010
MSRP: $59.98 per season (two)

Tsutomu Senkawa, an ordinary high school student, runs afoul of the headstrong Birdy Cephon Altera, an alien police officer, on her mission to capture a dangerous criminal. Before he knows it, Tsutomu gets caught in the line of fire and killed by Birdy's recklessness. Naturally, her superiors don't take kindly to this sort of collateral damage and order her to share her body with Tsutomu's mind until they can fix his body. Tsutomu must try to live a normal life knowing that at any moment, Birdy might insist on taking control to hunt for clues, fight disguised aliens, or even go to her day job as an idol. (What sounds like a recipe for cliche gender-swapping gags is deftly side-stepped by the fact that Tsutomu retains his appearance when he's in control. Thank god.)

This may be the premise of every piece of the Birdy the Mighty franchise, but surprisingly, this predicament isn't the focus of the plot. It may be a little weird for the characters for the first few episodes, which give off a "monster of the week" vibe, but Birdy and Tsutomu soon become used to their problem. One of the best parts of this series is seeing the two of them come to not just respect each other, but deeply care for one another. And yet, there is no romance between them. In fact, it's downright refreshing to have a male and female lead who don't automatically have the hots for each other. Granted, it might be hard for you to want to sex up someone who is part of you, but the point stands. Instead, the series takes turns providing romantic interests for both of the characters, one for each season.

Birdy the Mighty: Decode also carries with it a noticeably different tone and storyline per season, so much so that it almost felt like two different series sharing the same cast of characters. The first season is the stronger half, a narrative about Birdy's hunt for a weapon of mass destruction known as the Ryunka while Tsutomu nurtures a budding romance with his classmate Sayaka. It's a tale of intergalactic crime mixed with high school hijinks and a shy romance, leading up to a great finale and what is technically a satisfying ending on its own.

Set a few months later, the second season concerns the escape of alien prisoners related to the disastrous events that occurred in the first season. However, the emphasis is on the mysterious events of Birdy's past and the bond with her childhood friend Nataru, who has been hiding on Earth. While there is still a good amount of sci-fi action, the plot is noticeably more rigid in its events, focusing on character interactions in between similar events that move the story forward.

The result is a more subdued tone lacking in some of the humor and excitement from the first half. Birdy and Nataru's romance is still effectively done, and the revelations of Birdy's past are certainly interesting, but the balance of comedy, tragedy, romance, and action just isn't as well-mixed as the first half. Most notable is the lack of real further developments between Birdy and Tsutomu. Their relationship is pushed aside in favor of Birdy and Nataru's, and the ramification is that Tsutomu becomes underused. His insights into Birdy's past don't really change how they interact.

The biggest sin of the second season, however, is the way it ends. The story does finish, but it feels incredibly rushed, leaving no time for reflection for the characters. Several plot-hooks remain open, and frustratingly, Tsutomu doesn't get a fix for his body problem. It feels like the series was only meant to truly run for the first 13 episodes, which offer a satisfying end (while still leaving plenty open), but that when a second season was approved, the writers tried to push their luck and hope a third season would be produced. I expected the 26th episode might bring some closure, but it is actually a bridge episode meant to be viewed between seasons one and two, and so is entirely wasted at the end of the final disc when the story has moved far beyond its (unnecessary) events.

Even so, Birdy the Mighty: Decode is still a really fun story, helped along by appealing visuals that, like the seasons, often share two different styles. During Birdy and Tsutomu's downtime at school, work, or home, the animation gains a loser feel, something I unscientifically call the K-ON!! look. When it's time for Birdy to kick ass, however, the bodies become slightly more detailed and smoothly animated to best show off the marvelous fighting sequences. The sound effects in the brawls stands out in my mind, with Birdy's heels producing shimmering sounds and punches having plenty of "oomph." The difference between the two styles is never too great and actually works fairly well at enhancing different moods.

However, the animation for the fights can walk the line between stylish and just plain sloppy. Birdy the Mighty: Decode doesn't shy away from using off-model frames to lend its fights more fluidity, a technique only used occasionally in anime compared to its standard usage in Western animation. The problem arises when a long string of these frames - which aren't changed as fast as Western animation - are used in succession. Sometimes the effect helps, and sometimes I found myself wondering whether I really liked what I was watching. The savage fight that closes out the second season is the worst offender: a strange mix between trying to end with a bang and running out of money or time to animate it properly. Your mileage may vary, but I thought the technique worked more often than not.

Beyond the fights, the otherworldly elements are done amazingly well. I'll admit to being a fan of most sci-fi styles you can throw at me, even those cheesy sci-fi covers for novels I never read. But even with this bias, the strange worlds and alien devices are fantastically drawn in a burst of colors that helps temper the darker elements of the story. Still, I think it was a wise move to have all the criminals in the second season disguise themselves as humans. Birdy's alien species is practically human, so it never mattered with her, but seeing less expressive wolf, bug, and frog faces for a season wouldn't have let me connect with them as well as their human disguises did. Call it racism against aliens, but I think this might be true for others as well.

Before I forget, I'd like to give some special praise to Birdy's design. I'm not sure what it was like in the original manga, but looking up pictures of the 90s OVA, Birdy comes across as a typical hot alien girl with a half-and-half hairdo. This modern Birdy design still keeps that essence of sexiness, with Birdy fighting in a skimpy outfit, but she looks, well, believable. Not to offend Ms. Altera, but she's got a bit of meat on her bones and isn't just some tall, thin babe with a giant rack. And because of that added heft - she's not even fat, mind you - it's much more believable to see her carelessly smash things up. I appreciate reflecting the character's personality and abilities in her character design, and it's something more anime should consider.

This review may have come across as more critical than it's really meant to be, but that's just because the rest of the production is so solid that the flaws are easier to pick out. Birdy the Mighty: Decode is engaging and worthwhile, even the second half. The interaction between Birdy and Tsutomu is rewarding to watch, and despite a hint of sloppiness, you'll get excited for the visuals every time you hear the battle music kicks in. I'm just hoping that, in an effort to make more money off of existing ideas, they decide to push for a third season one of these days.

It's just plain fun, with no insipid moe characters or deathly serious world domination plots to drag it down. We could use more anime like this.

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Bob Muir
Bob MuirContributor   gamer profile

Bob has been hanging around ModernMethod for years and and somehow writes almost everywhere, including Destructoid and Flixist. He was once lit on fire, but it's not as cool as you'd think. more + disclosures


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