Birdy the Mighty: Decode – Parts One and Two

Birdy the Mighte Decode 1In Part One (Eps. 1-13) of this sci-fi action series, federation agent Birdy Cephon Altera tracks a couple of unscrupulous criminals back to Earth, where she goes undercover as a pin-up idol to apprehend them and recover the dangerous weapon they’ve stolen. While confronting her prey, she accidentally kills innocent high-schooler Tsutomu Senkawa. To save him without compromising her investigation, she ships his body off to get repaired while lending his consciousness her own genetically engineered super-soldier form, which she transforms to look like him whenever he’s in the driver’s seat. Between keeping up appearances at Tsutomu’s school, posing as bimbo Shion Arita, and trying to save the world from total destruction, Birdy’s got her work cut out for her. In Part Two (Eps.14-26), as Birdy and her body’s timeshare partner try to bring six escaped terrorists to justice, a mysterious vigilante takes matters into his own hands and stirs up truths Birdy may not be prepared to face.

Birdy the Mighty: Decode is difficult to categorize.

The show sports some obvious fanservice in the physical person of Birdy, with her painted-on policing outfit and her side job as an airheaded idol. But it also lets her kick some serious backside and use her brain. She may put up with bouncing and giggling for photo shoots, but when she’s on the hunt she means business, her heeled boots sending off sparks and ringing out like heavy lead pipes as they hit the pavement. Excellent at her job(s), she never loses her aura of believable innocence and vulnerability, making her more accessible to the viewer than if she were just a cool beauty.

Also, this is not the usual case of average-boy-finds-himself-cohabiting-with-hot-alien-babe-who-instantly-falls-in-love-with-him. First off, while he’s (conveniently) temporarily living alone, Tsutomu has a life and family and friends. Secondly, he has no problem asserting his will and expressing his opinion to his host. They understand each other well enough through the necessity of living each other’s daily lives that they cut one another some slack and develop a close friendship. Happily, the writers leave it at that, allowing them to have their own emotional lives and attachments outside of each other, which keeps the story from feeling too insular and gives it some breadth as well as depth. That’s quite a feat when your two leads are sharing the same body and holding involved conversations in their head.

Both the sub and dub voice actors are well-cast, though in the latter Birdy’s Shion persona is a bit obnoxiously perky and Tsutomu’s classmate Masakubo is a screecher. In their defense, the characters are supposed to be annoying and over-the-top; it’s just more pronounced in the dub. As for audio quality, the volume waffles on episodes 5 and 6 on Part II. The in-episode music is appropriate and unobtrusive and, of the four openers and closers, the second season intro “kiseki” by NIRGILIS is the most memorable.

While they share casts and a contiguous plot, Parts One and Two differ from one another in a few key points. Visually, the second half’s color palette is less washed-out and watercolor-like than its predecessor’s. Action scene motion appears choppy as though skipping frames and goes from merely simplified in Part One to super-deformed and off-model in Part Two. Seemingly done for artistic effect at moments of high emotion, this often comes off more as a distracting money-saver that pulls the viewer out of the story at a time the actors and writers have put their all into trying to keep you in it. Thematically, the second half also delves more deeply into the smiles and trials of Birdy’s past, which plays an increasingly significant role in the present. But the biggest change is tonal. What begins as a standard lightly dramatic action series turns several shades darker by the end of Part One, and so much more violent by Part Two that the suggested age rating is bumped from TV-14 to TV-MA. (Once or twice, I actually had to look away and tune out the screaming.) Yet despite the brief swings into dark and disturbing, the series as a whole comes off as hopeful, an impression aided by a handful of unaddressed teasers and the final eye-catch, “Bye bye – And to be continued…,” although there don’t appear to be any plans for a third season.

The only extras on these four discs are trailers (despite vendor adverts noting textless songs), which also appears to be the case for the more economical “complete series” release. For the suggested retail prices, one would expect a few more goodies. Birdy… began as a short-lived- then-rebooted manga originally adapted into a 1996 four-episode OVA series before being retold from scratch in this version. For completionists, the between-seasons OVA “Birdy the Mighty: Decode – The Cipher” appears here as Part Two, Episode 13, “Between You and Me.”

Birdy… is a somewhat inconsistent hodgepodge of familiar devices and elements assembled in such a unique way, and with such likeable characters, as still to be entertaining and engaging overall. If a third season were ever miraculously to surface, I’d probably watch it.

Birdy the Mighty: Decode – Parts One and Two (episodes 1-26)
Funimation, 2010
directed by Kazuki Akane
Part One: 325 minutes on 2 discs
Part Two: 300 minutes on 2 discs
Company Age Rating: Part One TV-14 / Part Two TV-MA (18)
Related to: Birdy the Mighty by Masami Yuuki (not released in English)

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