Andrew Osmond gets his head around cut-up anime chronologies
Here’s a handy tip for anyone embarking on the SF action show Birdy the Mighty Decode. The last episode in the collection – part 26, called “Between You and Me” – is not really the last episode. In fact, it should be part 14, as it bridges the two main story-arcs that make up the show. Even more confusingly, part 25 – which is the real final episode, with a terrifically animated skyscraper-smashing punch-up – has a “next episode” ad for part 26 tagged on at the end. The advert shows rough unfinished animation, suggesting it was only in early production when part 25 was broadcast.
In fact, the “Between You and Me” episode wasn’t shown when Birdy the Mighty Decode ran on Japanese television. Rather, it’s a video release, put out on Japanese DVD a few months after the TV series had ended. It extends the story of a character who’s central to the show’s first arc, and gives more of an introduction to some characters in the second. However, the episode isn’t vital to follow the series.
There was a different situation with another SF action series, Darker than Black: Twilight of the Gemini, which was released in Britain a few months ago. This was a sequel to the previous Darker than Black, with both anime set in a post-catastrophe world where people have developed lethal superpowers. However, viewers who watched Gemini straight after Darker than Black would likely be bewildered. A great many things have happened off-screen between the shows, including one of the main characters somehow attaining a deadly divinity.
Luckily, there’s a simple way for British viewers to avoid confusion; watch the third disc of the Twilight of the Gemini DVD first. The third disc, you see, contains a four-part video series, which was called Darker than Black: Gaiden in Japan. Like Birdy’s bonus episode, this spinoff was released in Japan after the TV show had finished. The story is set between the first Darker than Black and the Gemini sequel, and it explains exactly what happened in the interim, making Gemini far easier to follow. Perhaps the Japanese marketers set out deliberately to confuse the Japanese TV viewers, so they would invest in the video to learn what on earth had happened to the Darker the Black characters.
Birdy and Darker than Black are far from the only anime with double-backed chronologies. Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Demon Womb, for example, is often called a sequel to Legend of the Overfiend when it actually seems to be a “midquel”; that is, it’s set during the events of the previous film. Then again, Womb curiously relocates the main characters from Tokyo to Osaka, which could be a continuity goof or proof that Demon Womb is set in a parallel universe to Overfiend.
The series She the Ultimate Weapon – Another Love Song fills in an elaborate “untold story” missed out of the TV She the Ultimate Weapon, spanning the first ten episodes. Anime spinoff movies can be midquels, telling “untold” adventures from characters’ pasts when their stories have ended (apparently) for good on TV. See the Cowboy Bebop movie, for example, or this year’s Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos.
One more example of story confusion caused by a crossover from TV to video is the fantasy lupine epic, Wolf’s Rain. On its TV run, the show was subject to production delays and wandering timeslots, leading to no less than four redundant recap episodes (parts 15 to 18). The TV run finished with a stirring finale to part 26, which viewers might well mistake for the ending. In fact, the real end was made as a four-part video, released on the seventh Wolf’s Rain disc in Britain and included in the collected editions. The video ends the story on a very different, tragic-yet-cathartic, note to the TV series, so be warned; if you only watch anime on Japanese TV, you can miss the best bit of the story.
Birdy the Mighty Decode: The Complete Collection, is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment. Sometimes we count ourselves lucky we can watch it all in one go…