If I had to pin down the exact moment I took a liking to androgynous designs and stories about female characters disguising themselves as men, I’d say Disney’s Mulan (and to a lesser degree, any arc having to do with Haruka Tenou/Sailor Uranus from the original Sailor Moon anime) was just that.
Having grown up during the late 90s to early 2000s, or as I call it, the age of corporate ‘strong female protagonists’ (i.e ladies framed as ‘strong’ because they could fight, but otherwise possessed little to no independence or personality), Mulan stood out from the rest.
The best of the Disney Princesses, the titular Fa Mulan, maintains a balance between a traditional upbringing and her tomboyish spirit without sacrificing either. She completes her arc of saving China as herself, and that self has layers.
The same goes for a unique manga-turned-anime called Birdy the Mighty in which a boy and a girl from different worlds must endure a similar trial together.
What Is Birdy the Mighty?
Masami Yuki’s action/sci-fi manga Birdy the Mighty ran from 1985 to 1988 before being adapted into a four-episode OVA by Madhouse studio of Death Note fame in 1996.
This OVA was then adapted into the full-length anime Birdy the Mighty: Decode by A-1 Pictures of Black Butler and Sword Art Online fame from 2008 to 2009.
Our story opens with the titular Birdy Cephon Altera, an agent/police officer from space, who makes the fatal mistake of shooting a civilian while apprehending a pair of criminals on earth. In order to save said civilian, high schooler Tsutomu Senkawa, Birdy hosts his body within her own.
And this isn’t your typical ‘body-swapping’ situation either! Birdy and Tsutomu share the same body, but the switch itself doesn’t always happen when it should (or shouldn’t).
As you can imagine, cultural misunderstandings and gender gags ensue.
I revisited Makoto Shinkai’s wildly popular Your Name not too long ago, and to Birdy the Mighty’s credit, it manages to deliver on a lot of similar beats.
However, as rom-com as Birdy the Mighty’s premise sounds, our oddball pair don’t end up the endgame ship. Their bond is a platonic one in which Birdy takes the reins 99% of the time, especially in Birdy the Mighty: Decode.
Their journey is one of adapting to an unexpected situation and saving the planet from alien ne’er-do-wells in the process.
Needless to say, the pair’s ‘buddy cop’ dynamic and the show as a whole are charming, fast-paced, and funny, but still have their share of high stakes and tension.
Who Are the Characters?
Birdy Cephon Altera hits several marks befitting a magical girl despite her more ‘grown up’ job as a professional crime-fighter. It helps that she’s a member of an alien race of supersoldiers on top of balancing a cover job as the idol Shion.
She’s a woman of justice, the fiery passion to Tsutomu’s grounded normality.
Speaking of Tsutomu, his role is greatly reduced from that of the OVA to the reboot.
Which is a darn shame considering our male lead has some interesting dynamics aside from his with Birdy, but characters in his vein are meant to be palatable POV characters first and foremost.
While Birdy and Tsutomu’s combined efforts are very much the heart of the show, I think it’s worth mentioning our pair’s respective love interests as well.
Sayaka Nakasugi is a fragile classmate of Tsutomu’s whose tentative friendship with the latter slowly shifts to love; but unfortunately for these two, their story is tied to Birdy in a way unrelated to the whole ‘sharing a body’ thing.
It turns out that Sayaka (whose arc concludes the first season) is, in fact, tied to Birdy’s childhood friend Nataru Shinmyou (whose arc concludes the series for good).
Thanks to the first season’s villain, Sayaka and Nataru’s arcs end up just as bittersweet as they are intertwined.
The Birdy the Mighty OVA vs. Decode
Keeping in mind that the Birdy the Mighty OVA debuted back in the 80s, it makes sense that the two Birdy series would boast their own strengths.
If you’re looking for that old 80s charm, the OVA’s ‘hand-drawn’ look and less saturated colors and designs may be more up your alley. This take on Birdy and Tsutomu also hits different with the latter having a stronger presence.
Not to mention an overall grittier style lends itself a distinct tone from typical action/sci-fi.
In contrast, Decode gets two seasons to work with (which means more villains!) as well as a softer, modern style.
If anything, both series’ have killer soundtracks.