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August 2011

Birdy The Mighty - Decode 1

voice cast: Miyu Irino, Saeko Chiba, Luci Christian, Micah Solusod, and Brina Palencia

director: Kazuke Akane

295 minutes (12) 2008
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Manga DVD Region 2

RATING: 7/10
review by Sarah Ash

Birdy The Mighty - Decode One

It's just not Tsutomu Senkawa's lucky day. Getting caught up in a battle between two aliens - one, a gorgeously athletic girl, the other a drooling, vicious thug wearing another human's body - is bad enough. But being caught in the crossfire and killed is the absolute pits! Of course, as Senkawa (Micah Solusod/ Miyu Irino) slowly comes back to consciousness, he doesn't remember what's happened to him. So when he realises that he's sharing a body with the attractive alien, it's not surprising that he freaks out.

Explanations are in order. Birdy Cephon Altera (Luci Christian/ Saeko Chiba) is an extra-terrestrial, an agent from a distant planet, and has come to earth to arrest two fleeing criminals: Bascillus and Geega. Mortified at having killed an innocent earthling, she has arranged for Senkawa's body to be repaired - but while the repairs take place, they'll have to share. So, it's back to high school for Senkawa� with Birdy coming along, ready to change back into her dynamic criminal-catching self when danger arises.

Birdy The Mighty - Decode One begins on Earth... but it's not long before Birdy returns to her home planet with Senkawa in tow, to learn more about her mission. It seems that an all-powerful weapon, the Ryunka, has been illicitly taken to Earth. Birdy (and therefore Senkawa) must recover it before those with a darker agenda lay their hands on it. Back on Earth, Senkawa, teenage high school boy that he is, is falling for the shy little rich girl in his year, Sayaki Nakasugi (Maaya Sakamoto/ Brina Palencia), who has just made a miraculous recovery from a horrific car crash. Add into the mix a charismatic, calculating genius who believes he is one of the Chosen, and the presence of other aliens with a keen interest in the Ryunka. How can Birdy fulfil her mission and protect Earth without crushing Tsutomu's dreams?

Even if the fluid animation and designs are 21st century, there's a good, old-fashioned SF tale at the heart of Birdy The Mighty, which is based on a manga by Masami Yuki (Patlabor), and a 1996 four-episode OVA. Several of the ingredients bring Men In Black to mind: the alien 'wearing' a borrowed human body, and a significant alien artefact 'concealed' on Earth. Sayaka's role also brings to mind the tragic story of Princess Tina in Fantastic Children, an anime series deliberately created to evoke the older plot-driven style of a classic science fiction adventure.

Director Kazuke Akane is the talent responsible for directing some of my favourite anime series, most notably Vision Of Escaflowne and Noein - but I feel that Birdy The Mighty is not quite in the same league. Although there are echoes of Noein, as the series really comes to life when Tsutomu is hanging out with his school friends (one of the strengths of Noein was the time taken to explore the characters of the young protagonists and their evolving relationships). What also works well is the integration of the score by Yuugo Kanno with the action, especially the use of a poignant little leitmotif that takes on immense significance as the story progresses.

Body-swaps (or shares, as in this case) usually remind viewers Rumiko Takahashi's influential comedy manga/ anime Ranma ½ - although it should be noted that Birdy The Mighty's creative team chose not to go into the complications or gender confusions on any deep psychological level. So there's very little fun to be had, compared with, say, Ai Morinaga's wickedly funny body-swap manga Your & My Secret (well worth checking out!). The main focus of the 13-episode plot is the search for the Ryunka. Once this gets underway, the action builds to a nail-biting climax. But as this takes a while to get underway, the first few episodes feel unbalanced in the plot-flow department, lingering too long on Birdy's home planet (which is alien only in that some of its inhabitants are reptilian or canine, with, again, no real explanation as to why).

The re-versioning by FUNimation (Monica Rial and Bonnie Clinkenbeard) works well, resulting in a slick, fluid script that is effectively put across; Micah Solusod and Luci Christian give convincing performances as the bonded pair. The opening theme, Sora by Hearts Grow, is attractive but forgettable; more effective is the happy, catchy ending theme: Let's Go Together by Afromania which soon gets on the brain and refuses to budge!

And then there's the fan service. Birdy is moonlighting on Earth as Arita Shion, an 'idol,' so we first get to see her in her Shion guise, modelling at a photo-shoot. This 'other' role is not really developed and soon fades into the background (except as a voiceover for the previews of the next episodes). So, yes, Birdy's scanty costumes will probably please those in search of fan service... but her relationship with Tsutomu is a buddy-buddy one and extremely chaste; after a while, you tend to forget he/ she's leaping around in a space-bikini and just marvel at the thrilling fight sequences. There is a sequel due, Birdy The Mighty - Decode Two (due out in September in the UK) so maybe this relationship will develop further... There are no DVD extras - not even any trailers.

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