Tetsuwan Birdy Decode: Philosophical Musings on Shared Mentalspace

Well, okay, I’m probably lying about the “philosophical musings” part, and at any rate “philosophical” is a horribly overused term at times, which means that it effectively has been ascribed a truth value of zero, so I guess I’ll just call it what it is, or will be, which is ‘rambling nonsense” and leave it at that.

Also this post has spoilers, so you are warned!

So I’ve just finished Tetsuwan Birdy Decode, a series I went into with little to no expectations (and, honestly, in a niggling corner of my mind, expecting to dislike it, based on the totally inexplicable and frequently broken rule that “anime popular in the United States, in the 90s, from the 90s, I usually don’t like”, even though Tetsuwan Birdy Decode itself is from the 2000s so there goes that theory), and yet came out fairly impressed. Is it a spectacular series? Well, no, because if spectacular series were commonplace, the world “spectacular” and similar hyperbole-conducive words would become worthless.

Lack of spectacularity, however, doesn’t imply a lack of quality. One thing I noticed while watching the series was that it continually defied my expectations of where the story was going to go. Based on the first two episodes, I’d assumed that the series was going to be a kind of cop-and-robber (cop-and-evil-alien-genocidal-psychopath, rather) series, but then it shifted and became something slightly more complex, by killing off the characters who’d I’d assumed would be around harassing Birdy for a while in episodes 2 and 3, along with the untimely destruction of effeminent robotic “buddy” Tute. Then it spends a lot of time focusing on the relationship between Sayaka and Tsutomu, and then starts killing more people as Sayaka is revealed to be the host to the evil world-destroying Ryunka, leading to a battle of will between Birdy (and Tsutomu) and the ominous and clearly evil C.E.O. of mysterious origin Satyajit Shyamalan (and, with a name like that, you  can expect that there’s a few plot twists involving him too). All that and an ending that isn’t quite what you’d expect. I did guess the method of capturing the Ryunka (about five minutes before it happened, and it was one of those guesses that makes you happy when it happens, rather than upset at how predictable it was), but I didn’t see what happened after coming, making the final few minutes horribly depressing despite the always happy and upbeat Afromania ending song. At least I know there’s going to be a second season.

And, oddly enough, despite the fact that the series looks like it’s going to be this rowdy, action-packed, beat-’em-up, it isn’t. I think somewhere in there was where my initial assumptions about the series got tossed out the window–since it is a work from Yuuki Masami, part of the four-man team who, collaboratively, created the Patlabor franchise, I was expecting a lot more in the way of things being punched by Birdy’s light-enhanced fist of doom (which makes the concept of a fight between Birdy and Kenshiro amusing), even though I know from watching the first movie that Patlabor focused more on the characters over the fighting. Since a series that mostly revolved around punching things and not much else wouldn’t have held my attention very long, it was quite refreshing to spend several episodes not dealing with punching at all, but, rather, establishing the relationship between Tsutomu and Sayaka, which became one of the most bizarre triangles I’ve seen (I can’t really call it “love”, since Birdy more wants to kill Sayaka to get at the Ryunka in her, rather than jealous of her affection for Tsutomu).

The fun about the long stretch in the middle with the relationship buildup (and assorted menacing statements from Shyamalan) was more in noticing the very different aspects of mind duality in Tsutomu/Birdy and Sayaka/Ryunka. Tsutomu is conscious of the fact that he’s stuck within Birdy’s physical body (even if she can transform it into his physique through the unexplained power of alien magic), and, while there is a risk of the two separate consciousnesses merging and interfering with one another, they’re still clearly separate people. The two have to work together to acheive each other’s objectives, leading to moments where Tsutomu can’t do what he would like to do because of Birdy’s investigative work, and vice versa.

Opposite that, however, is Sayaka, who, rather than being conscious of the presence of another in her mind, is simply, and unknowingly, merging with the Ryunka. Rather than being at calm and ease with a bizarre co-habited mind as Tsutomu is, Sayaka grows ever more paranoid and worried about things around her and strange changes in herself–the same paranoid fears and worries that enable the parasitic Ryunka to obtain more control over her body. One of the best episodes of the series seemed like a throwaway episode–there’s a killer stalking the subway system, choking people to death, and, throughout the whole episode, you’re led to believe that it’s Sayaka doing the heinous crimes (she has dirty feet in the morning!). By this point in the story, the audience is well aware that Sayaka is the Ryunka host, so the mounting doubt and fear in private (having been built up over several episode as well), coupled with the calm demeanor at school, made for strangely compelling viewing. While the culprit turns out to be a malfunctioning android from Shyamalan’s company, there’s still a palpable sense of “if Sayaka isn’t doing that at night unawares, what is she doing?”.

Of course, the building fear and anguish leads directly to more reliance upon Tsutomu, who continues to support her even as the Ryunka takes greater control of her body. This is where the agonizingly depressing ending comes in–by removing the Ryunka from Sayaka, her memories of the previous three months (and, therefore, of Tsutomu and the events that had transpired between them) vanished as well. And then she gets transferred to a different school. To my romance-fiction-addicted heart, this was woefully tragic and deliciously heartbreaking, doubly so because the only way I can describe Sayaka is “amazingly cute”, a label made more deadly through the talents of Noto Mamiko. Call me a wuss if you must, but I enjoy heart-melting, even minor degress of heart-melting.

And yet, even after the whole series, I still wonder why people haven’t seen this. It’s not a MODERN CLASSIC by any means, but it seems woefully underrated for its merits.

Or maybe it’s just me.

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I cannot understand those that take anime seriously, but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this blog.

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a ridiculously long and only partially organized list of subjects


October 2008

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