What Is It?
Birdy the Mighty is a four-episode OVA based on the 1985 manga of the same name by Masami Yuuki (Patlabor). The series was directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust) and animated by Madhouse (Summer Wars, Trigun). It was released on Japanese video in 1996, with a home video release by U.S. Manga Corps in 1999.
Yes, the same U.S. Manga Corps that put out “classics” like Garzey’s Wing and Wild Cardz. But I digress.
Birdy the Mighty is a tale of two people, brought together by circumstance. Tsutomu Senkawa is a dorky high school student, whose one real goal is to get into a good high school. Birdy is a gorgeous space cop who travels across the galaxy to take down the most vicious of criminals.
To be honest, it’s kind of a crap job. Long hours, dangerous duties, and little vacation.
Anyway, Birdy’s duties eventually lead to our little backwater planet. During the pursuit of her target, Birdy accidentally kills Tsutomu. It’s not the typical case of friendly fire, either. She, quite literally, electrifies the poor kid until he’s little more than a quivering husk.
Anyway, since Tsutomu’s body is completely ruined, the powers that be decide that Birdy’s wrongs must be righted. To do so, she’s forced to time-share her body with this unremarkable geek. To make matters worse, a criminal organization has nearly perfected a drug that will turn humans into psychic-powered monsters. Will the two be able to get along long enough to find the mastermind and save humanity from the alien menace?
Why Was It Passed Up?
Birdy the Mighty was first released on VHS in early 1999. While Pokemon had begun airing, it didn’t yet translate into the phenomenon we now call the “anime bubble.” The series made a pretty big splash upon its release, due to its pedigree. It was featured in magazines like Animerica and Wizard, and certainly was seen as “required viewing” by many.
Time is a cruel mistress, though. In the years that followed, the series would be buried under a crushing tide of releases. When the series finally hit DVD in 2004, it was the height of the anime bubble. The first DVD hit on March 9, 2004, among 91 other releases in the month. The calendar was stacked with heavyweights like Sailor Moon S, .hack//SIGN, and Comic Party. At the same time, over a dozen niche-centric titles like Plastic Little and Super GALS hit stores in the month.
Birdy the Mighty was doomed to fade into the background.
In 2008, the OVA was effectively replaced in the eyes of the market, when Birdy the Mighty: Decode began airing. Birdy the Mighty: Decode is a reboot of the franchise, which was based on Masami Yuuki’s 2008 manga. It was a larger, more ambitious story that tied many loose ends that remained in the original.
Why This Show?
Birdy the Mighty is one of those rare gems that really defined what an OVA should be. Every scene is lovingly crafted, and makes brilliant use of colour and camera to set the mood. Kawajiri makes magnificent use of mise en scène to give the world a distinct “lived-in” feel that seems to spill beyond the boundaries of the screen.
The visual style is given that extra “oomph”, though, in the animation department. Characters move well, and expressions are spot-on, whether it’s Birdy getting plastered at a wine tasting, or Tstutomu fighting to chase the sleep away. Fight scenes are well-choreographed, and pull the viewer into the action.
The narrative, while a bit simple, does an amazing job of playing on the intrigue of the viewer. While the core plot is pretty well explained, there are countless hints and teases scattered through the series that hint at something far greater, far more grand than just the OVA. Whether it’s Hikawa’s ties to the criminal organization, or Crystella Revi’s real motivations are, things are left vague enough to fuel the imagination, rather than frustrate. The plot is complimented by the fantastic cast, who continue to find ways to charm the viewer. The chemistry between players is fantastic, as characters deftly play off one anothers’ quirks.
It’s a rare title of its age where even the dub was fantastic. Central Park’s dub for the series pulled in a surprising degree of talent from the New York pool, including Alex McCord (Sex and the City) and Kim Carrell (The Fighter). It was one of the aspects that a number of outlets highlighted, including Anime News Network, who called the dub “nearly perfect.”
And then there’s the music! The mix of thumping 80’s-style rock, moody instrumentals, and brassy horns may date the series a bit. Still, it’s a combination that works, and adds to the overall experience. The melodies are catchy and, more important, just plain fun.
Birdy the Mighty is an interesting title, indeed. For many, it’s been replaced and improved upon by the later TV series. Still, there’s a certain charm to the original OVA that can’t be ignored.
Maybe it’s Kawajiri’s direction, that helped to make this four episode OVA feel so grand and huge. Maybe it’s Masami Yuuki’s characters, that just seem to take on a life of their own. Or, maybe, just maybe, it’s that simple cavalier spirit of the ’90s that seems to drive the series from start to finish.
Despite its similarities to its later adaptation, there is an undeniable infectious charm and affection found in the original OVA.