Follow the Birdy (updated)

You know, of all the shows I would expect to be total dreck, this one should have been at the top of the list. “Birdy the Mighty Decode.” What in hell kind of name is that? A guy and a girl end up sharing the same body? Oh please, cue the bathroom jokes and bad transgender humor. (Edit: I think “Decode” is more in the nature of a subtitle, so it really should be “Birdy the Mighty: Decode“)

Well, much to my surprise, there hasn’t been one such joke, and no transgender humor that I can see. What I am seeing is a pretty decent story about a high-school boy that suddenly finds himself sharing a body with a female alien policewoman. And he’s really not happy about it, either.

The set-up is thus, per ANN: Federation investigator Birdy chases the space criminal Geega through space to Earth, where he hides in the entertainment industry under a human disguise. Birdy goes undercover herself, posing as famous model “Arita Shion” that often uses a ‘space girl’ look. A male student, Senkawa, stumbles upon a fight between the two one night in an abandoned building…

Geega and his brother Bacillus are both very, very dangerous, and they are involved with a macguffin that’s even more dangerous, and which they either brought or created here. They think Birdy has it; Birdy has no idea what it is, who has it, or what a snake pit she’s just stepped into. Earth is a backwards class 6 planet in the boonies, but it’s just high-tech enough that there’s apparently a lot of aliens hiding out here, and as you might expect, most aren’t interested in becoming upright citizens of any terrestrial country. They’re criminals, and they’re working with our criminal elements. And in the first episode, Geega tricks Birdy into killing Senkawa with extreme prejudice. It’s fixable…. barely. But it’s going to take her ship months to regenerate his body, and in the meantime his mind and soul have to be kept somewhere.

And the only “where” thats available, is in Birdy. Fortunately, she can shapeshift to physically mimic him, during which time he’s in control of their body. He’s a little shocked — make that really badly upset — to find out what’s happened. With a setup like this, it could go anywhere from horror to comedy, and much to my surprise, it’s threading the needle between them. There have been none of the obvious bathroom jokes, not even an embarrassing first trip to the toilet. Birdy takes a bath, and Senkawa doesn’t make a single comment about her appearance — which, despite being Altairan, passes quite well for “pretty human female.” The humor, when present, is much more gentle than that. And there’s horror, based on the really icky aliens and their powers (one literally absorbs the knowledge of whomever he eats…and he’s always hungry.) In fact, it puts me in mind of Full Metal Panic, if the author had been good enough to balance it right, instead of swing wildly from one extreme to the other.

One reason for this oddity is Birdy’s pedigree. It’s a remake of an older series, and they’re staying fairly true to the flavor I guess (edit: either a 4 or 6 episode OVA, accounts differ). The original show didn’t go off into sexual humor, so the new one doesn’t either. The new series is expected to run 13 episodes, and I have no idea if it will be a self-contained story or set up for a longer run. As of episode 3, there’s been a couple of minor twists, an interfering mysterious third party, one major plot development I didn’t expect, and even a hint of high-school romance. Though there’s also some pathos, and a chance for more. The series set-up appears to be Birdy and Senkawa trying to discover the macguffin and deal with it, while coming to grips with their shared experience… and trying to keep it from everyone around Senkawa. Which, for spoilerish reasons that I’m not even going to put under tag, is going to be much more difficult than either of them suspects.

I’m not as gung-ho about this series as I have been about others; I look forward to the next episode of Strike Witches far more. But that’s because it’s cheesy, mindless fun. Birdy is not thought provoking, but it aspires to, and achieves, a higher level. If I had to give an example, it’s like the difference between watching a colorful graffiti artist at work, versus a professional and talented house-painter. One might be entertaining and expressive, but ultimately useless (we’ll assume for the sake of argument, the graffiti artist has permission), but the other is creating something of value. And there’s something to be said for watching a master at work (cough, Shingu Though I’m not saying this is of that level, yet).

Or in a complete non-sequitor, as Cassanova Frankenstein said, “That! Is a truly excellent Harvey Wallbanger!”

(Sorry for the lack of pictures, but I didn’t think it was going to be worth downloading; watched it streamed.)

Update: Looked at the discussion threads over at AnimeSuki this morning, and it’s getting good reviews. Not the “OMGWTFBBQ teh aw3s0/\/\3!!!” kind either. Mainly from long-time anime fans who remember the original, or are fans of the creative team behind this. Apparently they have a reputation for finding classic “lost” anime with potential and doing remakes of it. Doesn’t hurt that there’s been a new Birdy manga since 2003. Birdy’s voice is done by the same seiyuu as Dokuro-chan and Nina the lesbian table rapist. And finally, one thing that’s getting good marks, and I completely forgot to mention (as in, I meant to, and left it out, not “I failed to notice”), is the art. It’s not earth-shattering, but it is good and the fight scenes are well animated. You get a good sense from it why and how Birdy ended up killing Senkawa.

Update 2: Japanese speaking fans indicate that it loses it’s way after ep 3, and #6 was particularly pointless and boring. Hope they’re wrong, but we’ll see, once it’s subbed. If it’s subbed. Mindless entertainment, five groups. Funny or good anime, we’re lucky if one does it.

Update 3: I disagree after viewing #4. I can’t speak for #6, but it’s switching gears from the action-packed first three episodes to intrigue. We find out exactly what stakes they’re playing for, and what the Riunka is.

It is apparently a planet-killer. And it’s loose on Earth. And what’s more, from some hints we’re seeing dropped, I suspect one or more parties in the Altarian polity wanted it that way. I suspect the actual plot is to cause Earth to be destroyed, and pin the tragedy on the current Altarian/Federation government. We see references to a “Union” and an act of terrorism at the end of ep.4
Birdy is likeable, but cocky, arrogant, loves a fight, and has the nickname of “Beserker Killer.” She’s in over her head, and Senkawa’s role in this story is not that of hapless comic relief. He’s going to have to step up and be Birdy’s friend, confidante, and balance wheel. And we’re seeing signs that he’s growing into that role, as when he insists on speaking up, in a trial that was ostensibly of one of Geega’s subordinates, but became an inquisition of Birdy’s actions in killing Senkawa.

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