A Case of Identity Crisis — Tetsuwan Birdy DECODE

My posts about Tetsuwan Birdy DECODE have been erratic to say the least, and that was in part because I never knew what to say — not out of some inability to articulate what I meant, but rather because I didn’t know exactly what about the show I had issues with. Now that I’ve finally finished the show, and with a retrospective on the the earlier episodes, I can say that the problem with Birdy the Mighty is that it simply doesn’t know what in the world it wants to be. This is a show with many many disparate elements that all push and pull the show towards different modes of storytelling, and because of that, I don’t think Birdy succeeds at telling a story at all; it simply flounders around as fragments of a million stories.

The first minute and a half of the anime is spend on the opening, which typically gives the viewer some insight into the type of show that they are going to be watching; an action show will show off their animation with fight scenes, a slice of life show will portray its characters going about their lives, so on and so forth. Tetsuwan Birdy DECODE‘s opening (“Sora” by Hearts Grow) features the characters generally lounging about in a green landscape or in a washed out, pastel cityscape — this, to me, speaks more to an anime of the drama or slice of life genre than the drama or scifi genre. Two case studies of this are Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou‘s opening, and the second opening of Naruto: Shippuden.

Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou is a slice of life/supernatural anime with a fantastic opening (“Ano Hi Time” by Long Shot Party [the same people who did the second Naruto: Shippuden opening, “Distance”]) that shows the main cast of the series in the rural setting of the show just generally going about their business and then a sequence of the entire cast set against a pale blue sky followed up by revealing that there are youkai hidden in the first third of the opening. On the other hand there is the Naruto: Shippuden, one of the “big three” in the world of shounen animanga and an undoubtedly action-oriented work. It’s second opening (which I mentioned above: “Distance”), despite it’s emphasis on the relationship between Naruto and Sasuke and the other more dramatic elements of the anime, features plenty of big explosions and devotes the last fourth of its time to showcasing the shounen action fighting of the series. To me, when both “Ano Hi Time” and “Distance” get compared to “Sora”, the opening of Birdy seems more similar to the former than the latter, which contributes to the atmosphere of the show.

Fucking lo-fi DVDs

However, the first episode of Tetsuwan is nothing like an episode of Natsume Yuujinchou. The genre of the first episode is clearly more shounen than anything else, and our action girl Birdy spends almost all of her time aggressively hitting things in space rather than talking. The setting of the show as well is far removed from the idea of any sort of traditional slice of life show; Birdy is a space alien fighting other space aliens in space, and then latter on Earth. The science-fiction setting (without any scifi plot devices) and the high-octane action of the first episode make it shounen, something incredibly incongruent with the opening which we have already established is of the slice of life/drama genre.

This fight and the action at the beginning of the episode take up most of the episode.

Now, I believe that this would be fine, if it was the only inconsistency of the genre and tone of Tetsuwan. Yet once we move out of the first episode, we have very little fights, and the focus is far more on the relationship between Tsutomu and Birdy as if it were a drama. Then after the death of Tute, the show quickly moves into a political science-fiction side-plot that is both too short to be considered a storyline, yet too long to be a proper side-story. Moving the setting back to Earth, the show inhabits a strange space between slice of life, drama, and mystery: Tsutomu goes about his daily life with his friends and even takes a trip out to the countryside with them; all the while Tsutomu is minding his own business, his classmate Sayaka develops feelings for him and the two form a relationship; and Birdy, Muroto, and Hayamiya all investigate various Ryunkan-related happenings around both in and around Tokyo.

When the ultimate climax comes around and Birdy stops playing the role of the detective, the show still can’t decide whether to play it as a drama or a piece of action. There is plenty of tension between Tsutomu and Birdy over the issue of Birdy needing to kill Sayaka to destroy the Ryunka to save the Earth, but any interaction between them is overshadowed by Sayaka’s destruction of Tokyo and Birdy and Tsutomu’s action sequences trying to get onto the boat she is currently located on.

While there is drama in things like One Piece and Naruto, the scenes in the finale aren’t of the same kind of melodrama exhibited in shounen shows, but more like a quite, introspective character drama than anything else.

Combine the quite drama from above with this kind of high-level action and destruction and I just don’t know what to think.

From it’s outset and all the way to the end, Tetsuwan Birdy DECODE really didn’t know what it wanted to do or where it wanted to go; without a clear idea of the kind of show it wanted to be, Birdy was doomed to fail (narratively speaking) from the start. Although, it was good enough to warrant a second season, and I think that A-1 Pictures is bound to learn from their mistakes — especially when given a second chance.

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One response to “A Case of Identity Crisis — Tetsuwan Birdy DECODE

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Everytime I finish watching an anime, I make my own review for myself.
    I noticed this lack of identity with the anime and the characters. The first part we focus on birdy and the other two criminals, then we have that shyamalan, and finally the main enemy that is the ryunka. But after that alien died in a car accident, the anime stop focusing on birdy and started to built up a relationship between Tsutomu and Sayaka. Also, Birdy decode has a serious problem with animation, the quality always drop from good to bad and vice versa. The second season is a bit better, principally because the story is about Birdy and not tsutomu, and is not confusing. Even the OVA was about birdy and her role as a alien agent.

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