Birdy the Mighty: Decode 1 Review

Teen drama + alien threat from outer space = Earth faces an apocalypse.

Birdy the Mighty fulfils many of the traditional requirements for a teen science-fiction anime series, but it has a little bit of a different spin on things that makes it interesting to see where it’s going to lead. On the one hand, there’s the normal young adult high-school issues, with one young male schoolboy in particular, Tsutomu Senkawa, who has all the normal concerns about his academic ability and romantic interests. If he’s not exactly the most popular guy in the class, at least isn’t a total dork, although he does have an unfortunate interest in exploring abandoned buildings. On the other hand, there’s the science-fiction element that is going to clash with his life in the scantily-dressed and shapely form of intergalactic Federation investigator Birdy Cephon Altira who is on a mission to Earth to catch two wanted criminals – Geega and Bacillus – who are hiding out there. So far, so predictable, but the bit of a twist in the clash of two worlds here in Birdy the Mighty is not that Senkawa ends up with special powers (with its associated metaphor for coming of age), but that he ends up dead. Sort of.

This unfortunate state of affairs occurs indeed when Senkawa, with his friend Hayamiya, is exploring an abandoned factory which turns out not to be abandoned at all, but is being used as a base for Geega in his guise as a television executive, while he makes arrangements to sell a deadly weapon, Ryunka, to an unscrupulous businessman, a weapon also known as “invisible death” which has the ability to destroy planets. In disguise, and achieving some success as another wanabee TV-star idol Shion Arita, Birdy, with her Marker, Tuto, has however finally tracked Geega down and in the ensuing battle Senkawa is killed. Or at least, his body is destroyed, but Birdy is able to retain his consciousness inside her until a new body can be grown for the young man.

Sharing the same body inevitably has consequences and it’s, to say the least, somewhat inconvenient for a young man, with exams coming up and a growing interest in one of his classmates, to be stuck inside the body of an Altan alien Federation Investigator. Although he is able to switch outward appearances and appear to be the same old Senkawa, his behaviour, his habit of talking to himself, the rather strange events that seem to occur while he’s around and the dangerous creatures that he seems to attract, do kind of cramp his style a bit. Not to mention the fact that Birdy can take back control of her body and appearance whenever she needs it, and it’s usually when Senkawa least needs the hassle, or just when she wants to have a bath.

There’s evidently plenty of scope here for classic Urusei Yatsuru-style alien high-school hi-jinks (and the series does have a classic retro look in its character designs), but Birdy the Mighty underplays the comedy of embarrassments factor, which could be seen as perhaps not exploiting the situation to its full potential – at this early stage of the series at least – or perhaps that it’s just taking a route that is a little less predictable than this type of anime usually follows. And there are plenty of other paths that open up as the series progresses through the first thirteen episodes that make up the Decode 1 collection. Episodes 4 and 5 leave behind the high-school teen concerns and bring Senkawa into Birdy’s home world of Oriotera – initially just to check on how his new body is coming along – which extends the scope a little and introduces the greater intergalactic affairs and conspiracies that the Federation is involved in, as well as giving some idea of the hierarchy that operates between the different alien races.

The majority of the first series however remains Earthbound, and even there, there are more than enough secondary characters to keep the series interesting – from the businessman Satyajit Shyamalan (interesting name and there is a loose connection to Unbreakable in his origin) to the journalist Muroto – and events like the serial killing of attractive young women on the Tokyo underground whenever a cursed song is played on the radio, to add to the central storyline over the trade and possession of the deadly Ryunka. With Senkawa’s potential love-interest Nagasugi behaving strangely after a car accident, and his romantic inclinations being further cramped by Birdy’s investigator activities, the series finds its own intriguing way to maintain the balance between the science-fiction elements and the teenage youth experiences that, like Noein and the best anime of this type, can also appear to be life-or-death issues to the young people concerned.

Created by the A1-Pictures animation studio, based on characters from the 1996 OVA Tetsuwan Birdy, the animation quality of the news series is of a reasonably high standard, if perhaps not quite as flash and state-of-the-art as something like Noein, but there’s also an intentional 70s retro-quality to the series with some hazy light effects, even if it is in a modern setting where the characters all use mobile phones. Action sequences are fairly dynamic, if not greatly fluid, and the alien space worlds are boldly colourful and well designed, reminiscent of something like Space Adventure Cobra. The storyline itself isn’t the smoothest, occasionally lurching from scene to scene with little establishment of background or sense of the characters travelling from one place to the next, but by the same token, the story is always progressively moving forward, with no downtime for filler material whatsoever.

Birdy the Mighty: Decode 1 is released by Manga Entertainment on DVD only, collecting the first 13 episodes on a 2-DVD set. The set is Region 2 encoded and is in PAL format. The transfer is perfectly good, if overall, just a little soft. There’s a little brightness or haziness in places, but this is almost certainly the intended look of those scenes, and elsewhere the colours and contrast are strong. Properly standards converted for PAL, there are none of the usual minor issues that used to plague anime series, no marks, no wobble, and no damage. This isn’t a bad transfer at all.

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 personally, I enjoyed the original Japanese soundtrack for this one. Literal English subtitles are available in a yellow font.

There are no extra features.

Birdy the Mighty: Decode 1 gets us off to a good start with its aliens in disguise on earth science-fiction premise, and it doesn’t slow down or lessen in interest when the teen high-school elements come into play. If anything, this aspect is even stronger than the outer space adventures, providing plenty of amusement, incident and action, with barely a pause and no time for filler. Keeping its central theme of a potential apocalypse that could destroy the earth (what else do you expect from a science-fiction anime?), there is still plenty of room (of intergalactic proportions) for the series to develop further. As a DVD release, the first collection is barebones, with no extra features, but with a decent transfer and 13 episodes across two discs, this is good value for some classic anime entertainment.


Updated: Aug 26, 2011

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