Thursday, March 24, 2011

In short: Birdy The Mighty (1996)

Original title: Tetsuwan Birdy

(We continue our accidental series of Yoshiaki Kawajiri write-ups. Well, no anime tomorrow, I promise.)

While trying to apprehend an intergalactic criminal, Federal Space Officer Birdy accidentally electrocutes hapless Japanese high school kid Tsutomu. That sort of thing just isn't done in her line of business, so her superiors use awesome space science to put things right. Well, sort of: from now on Birdy and Tsutomu have to share one body - though their body conveniently changes form and ability depending on who is the body's main controller at any given time. Birdy still has a job to do, too. Her arch enemy Christella Revi plans something unpleasant for Earth and her denizens and supports the mad experiments of a Japanese war criminal mad scientist to achieve it. Because Christella doesn't like our heroine much, and even less so her usually successful attempts at disrupting her plans, she sends various freaky assassins after her and Tsutomu. Fortunately, Birdy's pretty great at punching people and things, and Tsutomu's a more useful partner for her than anyone could have expected.

As if being dead and doing body time-sharing with a superheroine from outer space weren't troubling enough for a teenage boy, Tsutomu also has to cope with his crush on his classmate Natsumi and his own lack of self-confidence.

If you go into the 4-part-OVA Birdy (based on a manga by Patlabor creator Yuki Masami) expecting the sprightly mix of naked flesh and the old ultra-violence Yoshiaki Kawajiri's name as a director promises, you might be a mite disappointed. There's a spattering of blood and unidentifiable alien goo, but it's really pretty harmless for what one is used to from the director's more typical anime; the OVA also resists nearly all opportunities for nudity or making smutty jokes about the whole "young man and young woman sharing one body" business in a nearly disconcerting display of reserve.

However, one shouldn't let one's disappointment about the OVA's lack of exploitational values bar the view on the fact that Birdy really is pretty awesome in its own, slightly unexpected way. Kawajiri still is a master of staging dynamic action sequences, a fact the series' milder amounts of blood and gore doesn't change at all, and while there's no freaky body horror, there's still one silly-awesome idea following the other.

There's something very good-natured about the film's humour. It may make fun of Tsutomu's awkwardness, of his family and of Birdy's hot-headedness, but it does so (and that's really very typical of what I know of Yuki's manga) in such a loving way that even the thought of actual mean-spiritedness - the bane of a lot of comedy if you ask me - seems to be completely beyond it. Like the action, it's all in good fun.

Birdy as a character reminds me as much of Western superheroes as anything I've seen coming from Japan (the whole set-up with her and Tsutomu has a Rick Jones/Captain Marvel vibe, by the way - alas, I don't have a clue if that's coincidence or Yuki's a closeted Marvel fan). It's not the grim and gritty version of superheroes, though, but the more lighter, swashbuckling style you don't actually see all that often around these parts anymore, with a heroine who's confident and decidedly un-jerky (even though she has the obligatory tragic past), and just very fun to watch at work. I think it's scientifically proven that Birdy (the character) is pretty darn awesome.

"Pretty darn awesome" is in fact also a good description of the whole OVA. Fun action with fun ideas, featuring fun characters doing fun things - surprise! - makes for an exceedingly fun series, and another feather in Kawajiri's hat.


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