As Birdy the Mighty: Decode hatches an all-new series in the UK, Matt Kamen looks back at the whole nest.
The brand-new sci-fi comedy you’ll be enjoying this week has more of a heritage to it than you might think. The original manga first saw print way back in 1985, the creation of creator Masami Yuukiwho also drew the fantastic police series Mobile Police Patlabor. The original manga introduced alien police officer Birdy Cephon Altera and naive Japanese student Tsutomu Senkawa, though it was no normal boy-meets-girl story. Instead, they are forced to awkwardly share a body when Tsutomu is accidentally killed during Birdy’s first mission. While Birdy’s alien bosses are busy growing Tsutomu a replacement, the studious youth is stuck having to balance his everyday existence with Birdy’s intergalactic law-enforcement responsibilities, fighting off aliens that he didn’t even know existed just days before!
The manga was published intermittently in the pages of Shogakukan’s bimonthly Shonen Sunday Zokan, clocking up only one collected volume over three years. Even so, it inspired a four-episode video series in 1995 from animation studio Madhouse, directed by the critically acclaimed Yoshiaki Kawajiri of Ninja Scroll fame. The short series actually expanded somewhat on the manga, playing up the comedic hijinks of Tsutomu’s family life and plenty of jokes about puberty and “sneaking girls in” – particularly when his father walks in on Birdy, naked in the bathroom.
Yuuki would return to his manga in 2003, this time in the pages of Weekly Young Sunday, greatly extending the story. Running until 2008, the new Birdy the Mighty manga now stands at a respectable 20 collected volumes, painting a rich tapestry of both characters’ distinct worlds. With Yuuki having brought the series to a long-awaited conclusion, director Kazuki Akane had the luxury of knowing the original creator’s intended ending for the new series, and the difference between this new TV series and the older video show is striking.
For one, Birdy’s role on Earth is fleshed out before she even crosses paths with Tsutomu. While both versions see her initially land on our blue planet in pursuit of reptilian criminal Geega, the video has her catch up to him almost immediately, while the TV series has her hunting him down for a considerable period. She’s also developed a secondary identity of her own, that of rising idol singer ‘Shion Arita’, which further complicates everyone’s lives when she ends up fused together with Tsutomu.
Tsutomu has perhaps the biggest change between versions. In his earlier appearance, he was a stressed out student desperate to pass his high school entrance exams while dealing with his stern sister and slightly detached parents. Now, Tsutomu is more outgoing and upbeat. Though both parents are largely absent, his social circle at school is expanded to compensate, and his personality allows him to emotionally bond with Birdy more easily than before.
Of course, viewers who’ve seen both will immediately notice the difference brought about by the 14 years of advances in animation. Akane’s vision is a smoother, more kinetic one, and while some modern digital animation can lack the ‘warmth’ of older, hand-drawn anime, Yuuki’s 1980s designs haven’t been hugely altered here, giving the best of both worlds.
Meanwhile, Yuuki is hard at work on an ongoing sequel manga, Birdy the Mighty: Evolution. At five volumes and counting, there’s plenty for fans to look forward to.
Birdy the Mighty: Decode is out on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.