BIRDY THE MIGHTY: DECODE: Falling in Love with the Unexpected

Birdy the Mighty: Decode (2008) – 2 Seasons, 26 Episodes – Starring Luci Christian, Michah Solusod, and Eric Vale.

I have a love/hate relationship with anime; I want to like it but so much of it just drives me up the wall that I can’t sit through much of it. I just don’t want to watch high school girls as cheesecake objects hanging out with annoying sidekicks. I don’t. The wretched sidekick Raki almost got me to stop watching Claymore, which would have been a shame because I really like that series.

Exploitatively sexualized teenagers, annoying sidekicks, bad animation, dumb story … these are the main reasons why I’ll stop watching an anime and far too many of the suggestions that Netflix recommends for me turn out to be nonsense. I’d heard good things about BIRDY THE MIGHTY, however, so I figured I’d give it a go.

I was instantly concerned given Birdy’s skimpy costume and the inclusion of a complaining male sidekick, but there was a bit of cheekiness to the show’s sexuality that made me think more was going on than an excuse to show animated butts and boobs. Birdy (Luci Christian) is an intergalactic Federation officer who’s on a case on Earth. Her cover identity is an emerging idol named Shion Arita, who spends her time doing cheesecake poses in skimpy outfits, which at least indicates that the show is aware of audience expectations.

Now, there’s two ways the show can go with Birdy’s cover identity – they can either use it to exploit her sexuality, or they can use it to have a bit of a laugh.

Luckily, the show chooses the latter. Birdy rather hates having to have this cover identity, so when the show sends her on a photo shoot it’s largely to lighten the mood and playfully knock her down to Earth. Since they only pop up on occasion, it plays as more as the show mocking these conventions than it does embracing them. There’s an acknowledgment, to be sure, that this is what one segment of the audience might be looking for (the show could have chosen to make Birdy’s secret identity a mousy librarian, of course) but I thought it handled it in a rather fun manner.

Then there’s that annoying sidekick. DECODE pulls a Firestorm and has Birdy share space in her head with Tsutomu Senkawa (Michah Solusod), a sheepish teenager whom Birdy accidentally kills while she’s fighting a bad guy. You read that right. Our heroine accidentally kills a teenager in the middle of her brawl with Geega, but then saves him by bringing his essence into her body. It’s such a great narrative moment because it grounds all of that bubbliness with real pathos. Birdy doesn’t kill Senkawa by having some shrapnel hit him on accident, she freaking punches him in half.

Yeah.

DECODE does an absolutely masterful job at keeping you on your tones; it can be both ridiculously silly and them emotionally devastating all in the same episode, so let me make my feelings on this show absolutely clear:

I love BIRDY THE MIGHTY.

All my fears about the cheesecake animation and the annoying sidekick are washed away almost instantly. Yeah, Senkawa freaks a bit at being stuck in Birdy’s head as his body is repaired by the Federation, and there are some predictable moments when Birdy’s investigation interferes with Senkawa’s school life, but it very quickly becomes apparent to us and to them that Birdy and Senkawa are both good people.

Birdy definitely has the confidence over Senkawa but these are two very complex, well-rounded characters; as the series progresses we see Birdy’s confidence shaken and Senkawa’s rise and none of it is done in a forced, obvious manner. The storytelling in DECODE is top-notch superhero storytelling. (Yeah, Birdy’s an intergalactic cop and not a superhero – so’s Green Lantern.) Everything feels organic. All of the character growth feels like it stems from the story in a completely logical and proper manner.

There are two seasons of BIRDY THE MIGHTY, which includes and “in-between” episode that links the seasons together. (Note – if you watch this on Netflix, they’ve got the linking episode slotted in last instead of at #14, where it should be.) The first season focuses on Senkawa’s growing relationship with Sayaka Nakasugi, a girl at school who’s in a car accident and somehow miraculously survives. After her accident, she starts hanging with Senkawa’s friends and Senkawa develops a crush on her that Nakasugi wants to reciprocates but never really does, because she’s shy.

Also, she’s got an alien monster living inside her.

It’s pretty obvious right from the start that the space monster Birdy is looking for is going to be found living in Senkawa’s crush, but the show neither rushes us to that revelation nor drags it out too long. And when it gets there it delivers the confrontation in a really powerful manner. Senkawa doesn’t want to believe it, of course, even though he knows it’s true, and Birdy doesn’t want to hurt Senkawa, even though she knows she has to do it. It’s a great ending and a fitting capstone to Season 1.

Part of what makes it all work are all the secondary characters. Senkawa’s high school friends and Birdy’s Federation associates split the subplots, and they work wonderfully to keep the show moving forward. When the shows needs a bit of pathos or comedy, it can pull in someone from either side.

In Season 2, the emphasis switches from Senkawa to Birdy. We get a lot of trips into the past to see Birdy as a child, and the growth of her friendship with Nataru (Eric Vale). Just like with the doomed Senkawa-Nakasugi relationship, the Birdy-Nataru relationship is headed for rough waters. Nataru has hidden powers and he’s secretly killing some on-the-run terrorists and Birdy has to eventually stop him. It’s a nice flip from the first season and it demonstrates just how far the Birdy/Senkawa friendship has come as Senkawa now becomes the rock and Birdy is the out-of-control, emotional one.

By the final episode, I was incredibly moved by the ending and really disappointed there weren’t more episodes to watch. I’m thankful for the 26 we do have, but I would have gladly watched 100 more. BIRDY THE MIGHTY: DECODE is a fantastic television series, and one of the best superhero cartoons I’ve ever seen.

Even if they don’t call it a superhero cartoon.

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