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Movie Reviews: Birdy the Mighty

Birdy the Mighty starts with a fairly well-worn idea, but jumps beyond its basic conceit and actually does some inspired things with it. Coming up with something original is tough, but in some ways it’s even tougher to start in familiar territory and move past that. It also sports likable characters who are fun to watch and maintain our interest, another thing that’s become deadly rare as of late, and leaves you wanting more even when it’s over entirely too soon.

I could probably run out of disk space enumerating all of the anime I’ve seen where we have an Average Young Person and an Otherworldly Being forced to share the same body / living quarters / school desk. The most simultaneously demented and sentimental of the bunch is probably Midori Days, where a young punk’s right hand somehow turns into the girl who’s been adoring him from afar—it starts as the makings of a hentai title but veers instead into more gentle romantic territory.

All Tsutomu wants to do is finish school like every other kid his age, but his plans are cut short
when his body's taken over by an alien police officer, Birdy, hunting criminals on Earth.

Birdy the Mighty uses the same body-sharing conceit (although implemented totally differently), and milks it for about an equal mixture of comedy and adventure. The Birdy of the title is an interstellar police woman with metahuman powers, sent to Earth to investigate a bunch of alien criminals who have been hiding out there in human form. When she corners one of them and a fight ensues, she ends up mistakenly killing a young man, Tsutomu—an innocent bystander who had no connection to what was going on. Birdy does the only thing she can: to save his life, she fuses her body with his mind. From then on the two of them are forced to share the same form: when one appears, the other is only a spirit in the other’s mind.

In theory this shouldn’t be so bad. Birdy not only has superhuman strength but is an adventure magnet—things literally drop out of the sky to make her life interesting. Any bored high school kid would love to swap his classes for that, but Tsutomu wants nothing of the kind. He just wants to graduate, go to college and work for a big company like any other guy his age. He’s given up three years of his life cramming and studying, and he is not about to let some extraterrestrial gumshoe screw it up, and the anguished speech where he declares all of this is one of the funniest moments in the whole show. Someone watching the show with an eye towards hidden sociological meanings could probably dig a lot out of the tension between the two of them. Tsutomu is only too happy to blend into the crowds and vanish; every time Birdy tries to do just that, she sticks out like a broken hand.

Birdy has superhuman powers and truckloads of gusto for her job. Tsutomu has neither
— but he knows Earth better than she does, and also has a native ingenuity she doesn't.

Most of the first half of the show consists of Birdy/Tsutomu going after one variety of alien baddie. There is, of course, a lot more going on under their noses, most of it revolving around one of Birdy’s old enemies setting up camp on earth and working hand-in-hand with some of the local bad guys. This makes her fighting mad (and scares the bejesus out of Tsutomu), but the two of them manage to work together long enough to tackle evildoers head-on. People used to the generally lackluster way action scenes have been directed in anime lately (mostly due to the budget limitations of TV) are going to be pleasantly surprised by the action sequences, and we get plenty of them. It’s nothing is on the level of a feature film like Akira or Spriggan, but it’s strikingly good-looking and there’s even a fairly conscious nod to Akira in the big gonzo climax at the end of episode four. The director, incidentally, is Yoshiaki Kawajiri, who not only gave us the surprisingly good Ninja Scroll TV series but as a member of Madhouse Studios also contributed to The Animatrix and Neo-Tokyo.

Most movies, and anime, are hopelessly enslaved to their plot. Birdy throws in little character-driven curves and surprises all the way, so it’s not just one long lockstep march towards a foregone conclusion. There are smart little touches throughout. The first time Birdy and Tsutomu face down a monster together, she makes an idle comment about how this particular beast is sensitive to some exotic-sounding chemical. Tsutomu, with his high school chemistry, realizes she’s talking about dish soap, swipes a bottle of the stuff from the kitchen, and poisons the creature with it. Later, Birdy borrows clothes from Tsutomu’s sister—the better to “blend in,” but as soon as she goes out she’s doing things like leaping twenty feet into the air to retrieve lost balloons and getting drunk at street fairs. She only cares about getting the job done, as she doesn’t believe anything on this primitive little planet could possible be dangerous to her. She’s dead wrong, of course, and it will take more than a few lumps on her part to drive the lesson home.

Each is at odds in their own ways: Birdy can't help but stick out, and every time Tsutomu
tries to blend in, his impulses are defeated — all of which makes the show genuinely interesting.

Birdy’s single biggest flaw is the way it stops. Not ends, but stops: it’s a mere two hours total, four episodes, and then it quits with an open-ended setup for future episodes that were apparently never made. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say Birdy was probably a victim of the mid-‘90s economic bubble in Japan that killed most of the direct-to-video animation market in that country. A great many other series put out around the same time were also left hanging or aborted: Shinesman, for instance, or the deeply-frustrating Ninja Resurrection—an anime retelling of Makai Tensho that ends a mere two episodes in and is nothing more than a tantalizing fragment of what could have been. Birdy may be incomplete, but even as it is it’s a nice little treasure.

Tags: Japan anime movies review

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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the categories Movie Reviews, Movies, published on 2006/05/05 23:24.

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