Birdy the Mighty: Decode 2 Review

No sooner have they regenerated a new body for Japanese high-school student Tsutomu Senkawa – having been almost fatally injured during a battle between alien fugitives and a Federation investigator, Birdy, sent to Earth to recapture them – than he goes and loses it again by the end of the first season of Birdy the Mighty: Decode 1. Some people are just so careless. The circumstances that led to his body being destroyed again did however provide a thrilling conclusion that wrapped up the Ryunka storyline of Season 1 thrillingly, dramatically and effectively, and not without some measure of apocalyptic devastation that had been threatened. The pacy opening season also took Senkawa on a personal journey, as might have been expected from the teen-drama aspect of the series that predominated, but this was also handled exceptionally well and managed to avoid most of the clichés of the genre.

Effectively then Birdy the Mighty: Decode 2 takes us back where we started, with Birdy and Senkawa inhabiting the same body, but this is not just a reboot. There has been some maturity and moving on, and there are some significant differences this time since the body-sharing procedure is not without risks of mind fusion, and complications do set in. To some extent this plays a little more to the conventions of the body-switch male-female genre (one best and extensively explored to great humorous effect in Rumiko Takahashi’s Ranma 1/2) that was mostly avoided in the last series, but it is also used as an appropriate means of allowing Senkawa to explore Birdy’s memories of growing up on Oriotera, her childhood friendship with Nataru, what it means to be an Ixorian Altan, and just how she earned her nickname of “the Beserker Killer”. It turns out that the title wasn’t given without good reason.

So there is certainly a little more downtime initially at the opening of the second series as the story plays with the body-switch issues and Birdy’s background and memories are explored, but there is a purpose to the filling-in of background details, and there is no shortage either of explosive fight and action sequences. Giving a little more background on the different races and the tensions between them also makes what is happening on Earth that bit more meaningful as well. The main development this season is again a case of Birdy trying to track down aliens disguised as humans – seven rebels in the terrorist cell responsible for the Ryunka incident who have escaped from a penal colony and are hiding out on Earth – and while there is a Blade Runner familiarity to the storyline, the focus is however much more on Birdy than Senkawa this time, which means there is a stronger science-fiction edge over the teen drama aspect of the series. Even here however, the storyline brilliantly integrates Birdy and her friend Nataru’s coming-of-age experiences with those of Senkawa and his school friends, tying it neatly into the overall theme of the series.

The maturity that is shown in the characters is reflected in the series itself, and there’s a definite sense of a better balance being achieved in Season 2, between the light-hearted elements of the situation and the deeper elements of the characterisation. Like the first season, the tone turns very dark and violent towards the second half, but it’s handled perfectly, keeping all the threads and secondary plots – humorous or otherwise – all relevant and related to one another and to what is going on. What happened at Rippongi in the previous season isn’t forgotten either, but integrated into the story of our Federation investigator and the high school students, followed through and taken to the next level.

There isn’t any significant difference in the animation style, but Decode 2 does nonetheless seem to find its own character and move away from the retro-look in Decode 1 that may have owed more to the character designs of the earlier 1996 incarnation of the series. There are also some nice touches to body movements, a little more dynamic in the fight sequences and a nice general fluidity to the animation, with it even stretching to a looser jagged style that is reminiscent of Tekkonkinkreet, even going as far in one or two frames for some FLCL-style experimentation, which works quite well in the context. In every respect, Birdy the Mighty: Decode 2 builds on the first series and improves on it, making a third season a very enticing prospect indeed.

Birdy the Mighty: Decode 2 is released by Manga Entertainment on DVD only, collecting the second season of 13 episodes on a 2-DVD set. The set is Region 2 encoded and is in PAL format. Correctly standards converted, presumably with PAL speed-up (that catchy J-pop end-theme sounds just a little high-pitched), the animation looks good, with no marks, no blurriness caused by interlacing and no other conversion artefacts. The image is clear, perhaps just a touch on the soft side, though this appears to be part of the look of the series.

The available audio tracks are the original Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 track and the English dub in Dolby Digital 5.1. The audio quality is fine, the choice is a matter of taste, but I’m so used to the original Japanese soundtrack by this stage that the American dub just sounds all wrong to me and it’s hard to judge objectively. What matters is that you have the choice of whichever you personally prefer. Literal English subtitles are available in a yellow font and there is a partial subtitle track for signs only when the English dub is used.

There are no extra features as such, but the final episode in the series, Episode 26, sits outside the main storyline, which concludes in Episode 25 (Episode 12 of this set). It’s accordingly entitled “The Cipher” rather than “Decode”, and it fits in the timeline between the end of Decode 1 and the start of Decode 2. I’m not sure why it’s placed at the end here, but if you choose to, it could be watched first and serve as a bridge from the first to the second season without any spoilers. It’s a little bit anti-climatic after the powerful conclusion to Decode 2, but it could also be seen as a charming coming back down to earth and a bit of a breather before the next season.

Building to a strong conclusion in Decode 1, everything that was good about Birdy the Mighty has been improved upon further in Decode 2, the series coming together superbly in terms of pacing, characterisation and in all of the elements working together brilliantly, coherently and in perfect accord with one another. With its second season, collected here in the 13-episode, 2-DVD set, Birdy the Mighty has gone from a fun and entertaining series to one that has become almost indispensible, or at least one that is certainly well worth the time of any fan of good quality anime.

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