Birdy the Mighty, Dude Looks Like a Lady

At first glance “Birdy the Mighty: Decode” seems like an average fan service anime complete with scantily clad female lead, but there’s a bit more to this story of an intergalactic police officer’s mission to Earth.  The trailer claims that the titular character is stranded on Earth until she repairs the damage she’s done to Tsutomu Senkawa’s life, but there’s much more to the story than that. 

Birdy is based on of a manga originally written in the 1980s that spawned an Original Video Animation (OVA) and remake manga in the mid 90s and early 2000s.  The basic premise of the series has always been the same, Birdy Cephon Altera is a Federation police officer searching for fugitives on the planet Earth.  She accidentally kills Japanese high school student Tsutomu Senkawa during one of her missions and takes his consciousness into her body to keep him alive while the Federation works to repair his body.  The series uses the fused pair to explore the ways in which life affects our notions of duty, priorities, love, discrimination and other social issues that affect our lives.  The anime often relies on subtle humor for some of these issues to help highlight the more series instances of conflict between Birdy’s duties as an officer and Tsutomu’s desire to live a normal life while in her body.

The big weakness in the series is its predictability.  Most viewers will figure out the who and what hooks about halfway through each story arc and there will be little surprise in the way the story resolves.  This is disappointing because the show’s premise is that of a mystery: Why are these aliens on Earth?; what is the mysterious weapon they carry?; and what does it do?  These are all questions posed at the beginning of the series that are either answered through exposition or through the narrative as we see both sides of the story.  Thankfully the predictable plot is off-set by the cast of interesting characters that drive the series.

Director Kazuki Akane and writer Hiroshi Onogi worked well as a one-two punch for characterization.  Akane is most famous for his work on “The Vision of Escaflowne” anime series while Onogi has worked on several of the Mobile Suit Gundam series and recently completed work on “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.”  These men have great experience in creating interesting and believable characters that the audience can care about.  It’s wonderful to see that side characters are not treated  as generic throw-aways that disappear as soon as they walk out of the room.  Watching Natsumi discuss her reporting projects with classmates is just as interesting as seeing Birdy work on her investigation. The writing and design of each character make it clear what each person’s goal is.  Muroto may not state that he’s a reporter in so many words, but his actions and dialogue make his vocation clear.

The art direction is another strong point of this production.  While it’s true that Birdy wears the stereotypical skimpy space-babe outfit, the general quality and design of the artwork is top-notch.  Each character is given a distinctive look that works well with their characterizations.  The fight scenes are well choreographed and don’t play to the typical super-power fights seen in a lot of shows since the glory days of “Dragon Ball Z.” Some of the fights in the second season take a cue from Kazuto Nakazawa and distort the characters into loose sketchy forms to emphasize the frantic and dramatic nature of battle without taking it to the extremes seen in Nakazawa’s work in The Animatrix’s “Kid’s Story” and “Kill Bill: volume 1.”

Birdy is a great introductory anime for the uninitiated.  The plot is easy to follow while approaching issues in an adult manner without becoming too serious our outlandish.  It’s also great for anyone that has enjoyed shows like “Tenchi Muyo,” “The Vision of Escaflowne,” “Cowboy Bebop,” or other shows that focus on characters in a sci-fi setting that doesn’t depend on technobabble to get its point across.

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