Review for Birdy The Mighty: Decode Part 2
It's been something of a summer of disappointments this year when it comes to serial anime, and we're not just talking about Blu-ray cancellations. Time and again, shows have demonstrated imagination and promise in the first half, only to fall flat in the second. So far I've been disappointed by Casshern Sins, Xam'd Lost Memories, Nabari no Ou, and Shikabane Hime. Against this background of deflation, Birdy The Mighty: Decode has come as an unexpected, and very pleasant surprise. After all, I wasn't expecting much from such a ridiculous title and its rather daft gender-bending sci-fi premise. But the first half of the series turned out to be one of my summer highlights, the sort of fun, action packed, and entertaining anime that so strongly reminded me of why I fell in love with the medium in the first place. Also, Birdy The Mighty: Decode 01 told its story in entirety, a very nice beginning, middle and end. Birdy The Mighty: Decode 02, which I now review is a brand new story, following on from the previous one, and unlike the four titles I mentioned previously, if this should disappoint, it won't in any way reflect on Part 1. That's a pessimistic outlook, and given how Part 1 delivered, I am far more optimistic about the second half of the series.
Birdy Cephon Altera is a cop. She is a space cop for the Federation though, hunting down the nefarious scum of the galaxy. She's also enthusiastic about her job, to the point where among the criminal fraternity, she's known as Birdy the Berserk Killer. Tsutomu Senkawa is your everyday high school student. He does have an odd hobby though, he likes exploring abandoned buildings, which is why he happened to be in an abandoned hotel with his friend Natsumi Hayamiya, at the same time that Birdy showed up trying to capture an arch criminal named Geega. Geega had stolen the ultimate weapon; a devastating device called the Ryunka, and was hiding on Earth. One thing led to another, and Birdy killed Tsutomu. So while his body regenerated, Birdy let his consciousness take lodgings in her body. By day, Tsutomu went to school, living his everyday life, but by night, Birdy was in command, hunting down the criminals and trying to find the Ryunka, as well maintaining her undercover identity as idol Shion Arita. But trouble ensued when Tsutomu's world and Birdy's collided, and some of Tsutomu's friends got involved in the hunt for the Ryunka in the worst possible way. Poor Tsutomu had only just got his newly repaired body back, when the Ryunka was activated, threatening the world itself. The only way he could save the world was to sacrifice his body once more…
Which is why at the start of Birdy The Mighty: Decode 02, Tsutomu is once more timesharing in Birdy's body. The aftermath of the Ryunka affair continues to play out, when the six criminals responsible for the theft and the attempt to test the weapon on Earth, escape from custody. Ironically, they flee to Earth, the very planet they attempted to destroy, to hide out among the locals. Birdy's superiors order her to find and recapture the felons. At the same time, Birdy runs into a face from her past. An Altan refugee named Nataru that she grew up with is now living on Earth, working as a nurse in a nearby hospital. Happy reunions are all well and good, but Birdy has bigger problems when the first of the fugitives is found dead. There's someone else on Earth hunting the fugitives, and he's not too bothered with arresting them.
In Japan, Birdy the Mighty Decode was released as two separate series, 01, and 02. The Western release that Manga Entertainment is following gathers it all as one series, Birdy the Mighty Decode, but releasing it in two halves keeps the series separate anyway. This second instalment gathers all thirteen episodes of Birdy the Mighty: Decode 02, and presents them across two discs.
14. After All
15. Simple Twist of Fate
16. Somewhere In Time
17. Tears Are Not Enough
18. Before It's Too Late
19. A Prisoner of the Past
20. We Will Meet Again
21. Falling In Love With Love
22. Space, Time, and You
23. It Never Entered My Mind
24. Both Sides Now
25. Before Long
26. Between You and Me
Birdy the Mighty: Decode gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, which courtesy of Madman in Australia is a very appreciable native PAL conversion, with the 4% speedup that implies. The image is clear and colourful throughout, there's no ghosting, and compression artefacts are hardly noticeable. The only issue really is the ever so slight aliasing around fine detail and sharp lines, but that's par for the course for anime. The animation itself is bright and lively, with likeable character designs, and a colourful and detailed world design. You can see some of the continuity in art style if you have seen Heat Guy J and Noein, but there is a lot to Birdy that is unique as well, the various aliens, the cetacean-like spacecraft and of course the action sequences which are top notch and energetic. At the same time the animation of the more sedate scenes is also imaginative and vivid. This isn't one of those shows where exposition means the image remains static except for mouth flaps. Instead there is vitality to the animation that marks it as a recipient of a nice, generous budget.
The weird strobe effect I noticed in the first half wasn't evident this time around.
You have the choice between DD 5.1 English, and DD 2.0 Stereo Japanese, along with the usual translated subtitles and a signs only track to accompany on screen text and song translations. It's a typical Funimation dub, which gives the audio an unobtrusive 5.1 upmix, allowing for a little more space for the action sequences. The voice actors are sufficiently suited to their characters, from what I sampled. As usual, I prefer the original Japanese audio, particularly with Saeko Chiba as Birdy. The stereo is effective enough for the action sequences, but I do have to scratch my head at the translated subtitles, as it seems that Funimation have gone a little overboard with the colloquialisms, Yesirreee!
The music suits the show well, if it isn't all that memorable. The opening and closing themes have a certain pop quality to them that is catchy, but Funimation have given the end credits the postage stamp treatment so that they can get their English language credits in. It's a damnable shame, as the end credits animation really deserves to be seen in full screen. The least they could have done is alternated between full screen original language, and postage stamp English overlay through the episodes. It's even worse for episode 25, where the actual story continues behind the end credits. There's a similar, if lesser issue with the end credits for episode 26 as well.
I never would have thought that I'd be rescued from a summer of anime mediocrity by a show called Birdy The Mighty: Decode. But daft title aside, Birdy is a textbook example of a show that succeeds by getting the story and the characters right. The gimmicks are secondary, the clichés aren't the whole point of the show, and it isn't aimed at a core audience of anime fans that tick little fan service boxes off a checklist before they pass a show as acceptable. Birdy's first priority is to create a story that is interesting, exciting, and enjoyable, and made all the more so by writing characters that are complex, rounded, and above all easy to relate to. Birdy may be a super powered, hyper-charged, alien secret agent, able to leap tall buildings and kick alien criminal butt, but her problems are real world problems, her feelings are human and the trials that she faces are easy to empathise with. What I want from anime, indeed what I want from any entertainment medium, is good storytelling. Birdy The Mighty: Decode has it, and then some.
It turns out that the first half of the series literally gave us half the story. It told us the tale of a high school boy, Tsutomu Senkawa, caught up in a fantastic, out of this world adventure when he is accidentally killed by a space-cop named Birdy, and winds up timesharing her body. He takes over when he goes to school and lives his life, with his appearance that of the usual, slightly wimpy teen male, but when Birdy takes control to go about her business of catching alien bad guys, the body instantly transforms to that of a gymnastic super-powered young girl. The first half of the story followed Birdy's search for the Ryunka secret weapon, but it was told mostly from Tsutomu's point of view, as a young boy totally out of his depth as the world spiralled out of control around him. It was made especially difficult for him as the Ryunka manifested by fusing with a human host, and that host, Sayaka Nakasugi, just happened to be the girl that Tsutomu is sweet on. In the end, Tsutomu was forced to choose between the girl he loved, and the fate of the world. During this half, we got hints of back story for Birdy, tantalising glimpses of alien politics and social structures when we briefly visited her homeworld, but she was really there as an outsider looking in, as Tsutomu faced his personal challenges.
In the second half of Birdy The Mighty: Decode, it's the other way around, and this time the story focuses on Birdy, with her having to deal with her personal issues, and we get a lot more colour about the world that she comes from, and some interesting revelations about her life and past that really enrich the story and the characters. This part leads on from the Ryunka storyline, as Birdy has to find and recapture those responsible for sending the weapon to Earth in the first place, and who are now hiding on Earth. It's also an interesting continuity in that we get to see the aftermath of the Ryunka incident. The unexplained explosion of light destroyed a major area of Tokyo, and claimed countless lives, leaving many others homeless and destitute. Tsutomu's friend Hayamiya, member of the school's Journalism Club is determined to follow the human side of the disaster, and we get a good picture of what the Ryunka incident has meant to the survivors.
One of those survivors turns out to be an Altan refugee named Nataru, who survived the blast due to his alien nature, but had to watch his best friend die. When the fugitives come to Earth and he learns of that fact, he isn't exactly predisposed to their well-being. The thing is that he and Birdy used to be friends on their home world when they were children, and at the same time as the fugitives come to Earth, he's also reunited with Birdy, which makes for some very mixed feelings. At this point there is a good deal of back story about Birdy's past that is filled in, and we learn just what kind of society she comes from. It isn't all a futuristic utopia, and it turns out the Altans, the human looking alien species of which Birdy is a member, are treated as the underclass of the galaxy, and that attitude had transferred to the people of Earth simply because of the resemblance. We also learn that the Ixiorans, how Birdy defines herself, are weapons created from Altans by alien technology, super-powered through design, not nature, and they have their lives planned out and regimented from the moment of their conception, their destiny to be in service to the government, whether it's in the military or the police.
We learn that Birdy has reinvented her past after a certain traumatic event, an event that comes back to haunt her in this collection. We learn that in fact her childhood as future tool of the Federation was pretty bleak and isolated, even if outsiders may have seen her as living in an ivory tower due to her nature. At the same time she's drawn to Nataru, the young Altan child who lives in the underclass of society, victim of prejudice and bigotry, and they become friends until circumstances drive them apart, and force Nataru and his father to flee to Earth. That shared past comes to haunt them both in the present, when Nataru succumbs to his need for vengeance when the fugitives arrive on Earth, and Birdy has to choose between doing her duty, and saving perhaps the one true friend she ever had. It's a good thing that Tsutomu and his human perspective are along for the ride to help her out.
Birdy The Mighty: Decode 02 is a mite better than the first part, in that it fills in so much of the back story about Birdy, and takes the hints and glimpses of that alien world from part 1 and constructs an interesting and cohesive whole from them. It's a great sci-fi story in that respect, but its focus on a very human and personal dilemma faced by Birdy and indeed by Nataru makes it downright compelling. The characters are all rounded and interesting in this story, not least of which are the bad guys, the fugitives who spark Nataru's vengeance and Birdy's torn loyalties. They aren't of a piece either, with some conflicting personalities and agendas. If you feel that poor Tsutomu is short-changed in this half of the series, then episode 26 is a special addition that takes us back to just after the Ryunka incident, prior to this story, which sees Tsutomu (and Birdy) paying a visit to Kobe to find out how Sayaka Nakasugi is settling into her new life. There's also an interesting cameo from what looks like the major from Ghost in the Shell. The series ends with a 'bye-bye', and a very optimistic 'to be continued'.
I really hope that Birdy the Mighty: Decode does get a continuation, as in terms of consistent quality and entertainment value, this has to be one of Manga's strongest titles for 2011. It's just a shame that Funimation's approach of slapping it on the disc and getting it out any which way has filtered across the English speaking territories. If ever a show deserved extra features and care in its presentation… Regardless of that, if you've already got Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood and High School of the Dead, and are wondering which Manga title to invest in next, make it Birdy the Mighty: Decode. Storytelling this good really should be appreciated.