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DVD Review

DVD cover

Birdy the Mighty: Decode
Part Two: Episodes 14-26


Starring (voice): Saeko Chiba, Miyu Irino and Masaya Matsukaze
Manga Entertainment
RRP: £24.99
Certificate: 12
Available 19 September 2011

In the wake of a devastating explosion that nearly wiped out Tokyo, intergalactic peace-keeper Birdy Cephon Altera is charged with tracking down the six alien terrorists responsible for the deadly attack. This stunning space agent refuses to let anything derail her mission, but the unexpected arrival of a face from her past triggers an onslaught of haunting memories. Birdy’s adversaries don’t hesitate to exploit the connection, luring her into one ambush after another and forcing her to confront a painful truth: the bad guys aren’t the only killers terrorizing Earth. As the body count rises, Birdy finds herself torn between honouring past loyalties and following unthinkable orders: defend the very enemies she’s been trained to destroy - or hunt down the only true friend she’s ever known. The future of humanity rests on her decision...

(This review contains spoilers for Birdy The Mighty: Decode 1.)

Picking up with little preamble shortly after the events of the first season, Decode 2 sees space-cop Birdy and her reluctant body-sharing accomplice Tsutomu coping, together with everyone else in Tokyo, with the aftermath of the destruction unleashed by the alien superweapon, the Ryunka. With the news that members of the terrorist group who originally stole the Ryunka from safekeeping are in flight from the law and in hiding on Earth, Birdy reaches out to the underground network established by those of her humanoid race living covertly among humans, leading her unexpectedly into contact with a childhood friend and kindling the possibility of romance.

The 'childhood friend' theme is so commonplace in anime as a wellspring for romance that it's often done poorly, yet the treatment of Birdy's relationship with her old friend and her distress at his possible involvement with the alien criminals is convincing and well-developed, allowing further growth of the friendship between Birdy and Tsutomu into the bargain as Tsutomu realises how little he understands about her. The extended flashbacks to Birdy's childhood shed light on the corruption in the alien Federation as well as providing some heartbreaking insight into the young Birdy's cold treatment by her well-meaning, yet brutally pragmatic carers. Giving our heroine a meaningful central relationship of her own has the advantage of making this season of Decode feel much more focused than its predecessor, and while the series' theme of wanting to protect someone who may be dangerous to others and themselves is renewed, it's stronger and more dramatic than before. Decode isn't lacking when it comes to broader insight, either; several episodes take time to show the human dimension of the havoc wreaked on Tokyo, to the extent that the scenes of people living in precarious emergency accommodation mere yards from the devastated landscape of their old lives seem eerily prescient of the March 2011 earthquake. Only the silly treatment of Birdy's troublesome cover identity as a pin-up model, and an unfunny running gag involving two mobsters who repeatedly cross her path, detract from the series' execution.

While the script by Hiroshi Ohnogi is as polished and nuanced as the first season's, Decode 2 really surpasses its predecessor when it comes to direction and animation, and director Kazuki Akane may just have done the best work of his career here. Birdy is an action anime that does far more than fast-cut across still images and add speed lines to give the illusion of movement: Akane and the superbly talented animation staff show off in an increasingly daring series of extended fight scenes, the camera's viewpoint continuously on the move as the characters spar, dodge and make full use of their environment. At times the action verges on the nearly abstract, bringing to mind experimental anime director Masaaki Yuasa's work on Kemonozume and The Tatami Galaxy, and indeed several of Decode's key animation staff also appear on the credits of those remarkable series. For lovers of pure action in animation, Decode 2 is required viewing.

The only real shortcoming Decode 2 can be said to have is that once again, the series' principal villains Revi and Gomez are nowhere to be seen, and while the bad-guy roster this season is more interesting and better developed than the shallow adversary of season one, it's a shame to think that Birdy may never get a shot at confronting her ultimate foe, especially as the promise 'To Be Continued' that closes this season has yet to show any sign of being fulfilled. That's not important, though, as Birdy The Mighty: Decode 2 is one of the best anime series of the past few years and stands as the work of truly talented creators doing some of their very best work in the medium. Don't miss it.


Richard Hunt

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