My attempt to watch and blog about Casshern Sins was, well, a failure, and at this point I have “officially” dropped my coverage of that show. But if you are a fan of Casshern Sins, don’t fret, because you aren’t alone; Natasha is a huge fan of the series and plans on picking up where I’ve left off. So for my next retro-blogging series, I thought I’d try something a little less polarizing and much more accesible: Tetsuwan Birdy: Decode.
What a show! Overall, I have to praise it’s first episode across the board with a score of a nine. In every category I really think that Tetsuwan Birdy did a fantastic job; the only thing keeping me from giving it a ten is a combination of some of the little things that I think the show should’ve done and my own apprehension with anything shounen.
That, I think, is a nice little seg-way to a meaty review of the first episode. I say that Birdy is shounen because of it’s basic “school boy is endowed with a special ability and saves the world” premise but also especially because of the introductory scene to this episode. The first images we see are of organic space ships barreling through space in chase with a majestic background of stars and galaxies. The criminals (Geega and Bacillus) fire, and Birdy responds aggressively with evasive maneuvers, eventually ramming into the hull of Geega’s ship in order to give herself an opportunity to jump out of her ship and punch her way into Geega’s. Not only an illustration of the prowess of the artists working on this project, the introductory scene serves to show off Birdy herself as an intrepid, impulsive, plucky hero — all characteristics of your prototypical shounen protagonist like Naruto from the eponymous series and Monkey D. Luffy from One Piece.
What separates Birdy from being a simple shounen protagonist then? It’s her gender and her personality. The basic shounen action protagonist only ever has two things going for them: their hot-headedness and their will to never give up. Even without much screen-time though Birdy is made out clearly to be more than this, specifically through the final shot of her similing into the glass window at Senkawa. The manner in which she is show doing this in rather unlike any other shounen protagonist does it, with the so-called “idiot’s smile” of shounen. Birdy isn’t smiling at Senkawa because of some inner character trait, but rather as a distinct form of assurance towards him, being indicative of a well-developed form of nuanced empathy. Unfortunately, this kind of detailed discussion of Senkawa cannot be done at this time beyond the simple assessment that Senkawa — in keeping with the theme of gender roles in anime — is the more passive (and thus “feminine”) character out of the two of the protagonists. What can be discussed, however, are some of the other topics that I typically don’t touch upon: animation, art, and world-building; all of which Birdy does quite well.
In fact, one of the selling points of this anime to me from Natasha was how “perfect” she said the animation was and how spectacularly better than the animation of some of the Naruto fight scenes that we often fawn over together the animation of Birdy is. And you know what… I can’t really say that I disagree with her. Walt Disney himself had an elite animation team known as the “Nine Old Men” — two of which went on to create The Illusion of Life, which is often cited as the “bible” of character animation — followed a set of twelve basic principles of animation: squash and stretch, anticipation, staging, straight ahead and pose to pose, follow through and overlapping action, slow in and slow out, arcs, secondary action, solid drawing, and appeal. Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with an overly-descriptive account of what each principle entails, needless to say that the team who worked here not only followed the golden standard set by Disney, but also exceeded the quality of any Disney animation I’ve ever seen. This mostly comes into play during the fight scene between Birdy and Geega, where the animation takes on that deformed quality which distinguishes good Japanese animation like a golden badge of honor.
The truly wonderful thing though, is that the animation bump experienced by the fight scene near the end of the episode doesn’t really cause any other scene to suffer from a poorer quality of animation. Many studios are capable wondrous feats of art and animation, but we see the flip side of this with episodes like Penguindrum‘s episode nineteen, which was horrendously off-model due to the animation bump on episode eighteen. Many studios know how to animate, but not many know how to animate with a budget, so I must give props to the team working on this frist episode for their amazing consistency.
Beyond the technical aspects of the animation of Birdy, the art and animation style itself appealed to my own aesthetic. Tetsuwan Birdy‘s art is comprised of Japanese animation conventional proportions and ‘realistic’ style; thin, sometimes messy, lines; vibrant, yet faded, colors bordering on the pastel; and, like I said before, deformation in movement. It’s like Christmas really, all of my favorite aspects of anime art rolled into one show! Strangely though, the art of Birdy brings up a nostalgia that makes me reminisce back to Naruto circa 2002 or 2003, reminding me specifically of the Sasuke v Orochimaru fight in the Forest of Death ( something that even wendeego admitted to, even though, as Natasha points out, Birdy is much more closer to Shippuden in terms of art and animation with it’s thin lines and style of deformation…)
The bottom line it that the first episode of Tetsuwan Birdy: Decode is probably one of the most well-rounded premiere episodes I’ve seen, hitting high marks in art, animation, narrative, and characters. If it can keep up with this high-quality of story-telling and technical execution, Birdy may even make it’s way up to a ten. If you’re like me and have never seen this show before, I highly suggest you check it out. In the lines of Mawaru-Penguindrum and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, it is shaping up to be transcendent of it’s own genre. I can’t wait to watch the next episode.