June 14, 2015

Cybersix, episode 6 "Blue Birds of Horror"

Adrian is awoken one morning by a strange, blue bird tapping at his window. Walking out that morning, he sees a growing number of these birds setting about the town, merging into and taking over the flocks of regular birds. They're starting to become a nuisance, but most people find them amusing. Arriving at the diner, Adrian finds Lucas complaining about a series of distortions which have begun regularly appearing over television broadcasts and bemoans the possibility of missing an upcoming football game.

The next morning, Adrian is again working by the bird, but this time it turns violent and the apartment is nearly invaded by a huge swarm. All around Meridiana, people are set upon by flocks of birds until they clear the streets and lock themselves in doors.

In the central tower of the Merdiana Power Company, which is capped with a tower of broadcast dishes for all local transmissions, José has overrun the place, tapping into the signal with some kind of energy coming off of a giant blue bird monster locked up in a tube. He recieves a call from his father, but has to turn off the broadcast to make it out. This is their big moment of triumph as the town is now theirs, and they're going to declare it as such that night, with José instructed to turn the signal off then so tvs will actually work. He promises to make his father proud.

That night, the signal cuts. The skies clear enough for Cybersix to emerge. Lucas's football game finally kicks in, only to be interrupted by a "newscast" of a Techno (one of the non-huge genetically grown henchmen of Von Reichter) declaring the new Supreme Ruler, who commands the birds, will declare his control over the city at midnight the next day.

Cybersix had slipped into Lucas's apartment in time to see the message, and after they work out that it's a plan by Von Reichter, she heads out to stop him. However, the signal is once again being broadcast, and she's swarmed by birds before she can set foot out the window. Hunkered down together for the night, Lucas works out that there must be a link between the broadcast interference and the behavior of the birds, and they hatch a plan to deal with it.

They head to the basement of his building and hit the sewers, splitting up. He goes off to the school, where he rigs the windows of a classroom with trap doors. She goes to the subway, where she hooks up with Data-7 and tells him the plan. Data-7 hits the streets, using his speed to round up a huge flock of pursuing birds as he leads them to the school, where Lucas springs the trap and captures the huge chunk of the flock in the classroom. Sadly, there's still plenty of birds to contend with and they're quickly swarmed by another chunk of the flock. Data-7 runs off and Lucas takes shelter in a bus.

Data-7 joins Cybersix as she invades the control center of the broadcast tower, fighting off Fixed Ideas even as the room is swarmed with birds. She nails the broadcast equipment and the signal is cut off, the birds flying away without further trouble. José isn't giving up just yet, and frees the giant bird monster from the tube. It fights Cybersix and Data-7, but is taken out when they fly it into one of the electrified broadcast dishes.

José tantrums off over another defeat. Lucas meets up with Cybersix and Data-7, and they greet the sunrise by setting free the now docile birds from the classroom. "Lucas, we need to stop meeting like this." They laugh.


Q: What birds spend all their time on their knees? A: Birds of pray! God, that joke is so bad it should be ill-eagle. Which reminds me, what type of bird is always out of breath? A puffin. What am I doing, you ask? Oh, just getting these lousy bird jokes out of the way early so I don't fall back on them in my review. You see, if it wasn't already obvious from the synopsis, this episode stinks. Just flat out stinks. Like, remember that time you accidentally left your gym socks in your locker over the weekend and you opened it up Monday morning and the stench came wafting out like some near tangible alien life form and Amy Kouts yelled "Holy shit!" so loud you could hear it all the way down the hall? Just me? Well, you get the drift.

It's a stupid premise to begin with, but I rolled with it for as long as my brain would let me, hoping against hope for some clever homage to Hitchcock's The Birds to emerge, but it never does. Hell, if they'd even just had some tongue-in-cheek fun with it I would be okay, but it's almost like they were dared to do the worst, dopiest episode they could possibly do and happily obliged. When Lucas figures out that José is using broadcast signals to control the birds with only the flimsiest of evidence, I'm reminded of Robin famously deducing, "But wait! It happened at sea... Sea. C for Catwoman!" But where that example was done tongue-in-cheek, we're supposed to believe Lucas is cracking this thing wide open like some burly Sherlock Holmes with eyebrows all over his forearms. And speaking of Lucas, this would-be romance with Cybersix is going nowhere quick. If the dude doesn't grow a pair, he's going to be helping her pick out a new hat to wear on her date with Yashimoto.

As for our baddies, I was an early defender of José's, but I'm beginning to agree with Noel that his act is starting to wear a bit thin. At first, I liked his maniacal psycho-kid shtick, but he's becoming more and more inept as the show goes along, and at this point, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he's no threat to our heroes whatsoever. What Cybersix really needs is a rogues gallery. I don't harbor any illusions that they'd be any more competent than José, but at least rotating them in and out would keep their failure fresh.

As much as it pains me to say it, this show has started to tail off after a promising start. The animation remains very impressive, but the stories have started to veer wildly between banal and bizarre. Unless they reintroduce the reveal of Cybersix's past (which they unceremoniously dropped after the first few episodes), and perhaps bring Von Reichter out of the bullpen to relieve his son, I'm afraid we may be in for more episodes like "Blue Birds of Horror" before we're through. Let's just hope it isn't seven more.


While I do feel the formula of José and his monster-of-the-week is starting to wear a little thin (please, just one episode away from him, seriously), I still have to admit that this is one hell of a standout stand-alone episode. It's a simple plan, and a very obvious riff on Hitchcock, but they do a really nice job of capturing the scale and threat of every bird in the town suddenly turning nuts and vengeful. There's very little actual violence, but the overwhelming flurry of the attacks really sells the danger, and even the growing flocks at rest on the rooftops has a skilled layer of tension to it. I especially like that we get outside of our main cast, finding random people around Meridiana who are falling victim in nicely staged ways. The couple who both delight in feeding the birds on their sill who suddenly find their home invaded and trashed. The guy who takes shelter in a phone booth only for the birds, instead of smashing into the windows like they did with Hitchcock, work up under the open ventilation gap near the ground, sealing him in with horror. The dude who loses a hairpiece he still has two payment on. Hmmm, birds assaulting dead bird hair. Possibly some symbolism in that... ;)

If anything, this plot is at its weakest as we get into the climax. There's some great stuff leading up to it I'll get to in a moment, but the signal causing the attack of the birds is thwarted in a way that feels sudden and anticlimactic after such a build, and then it becomes about a literal monster as the bigfoot gryphon thing is let loose, and it's just one action story beat too many by this point. The creature feels extraneous and unnecessary, the design itself is pretty bland, and there's not much to the action sequence. They just fly around a bit, Data-7 sinks teeth in, big crash and explosion. Hell, the heroes have just unnecessarily fried the entire transmission tower for all of television in Meridiana, which feels like overkill.

But that's my only major problem. Despite a one-off plot, there's actually some nice firsts here. This is the first time Von Reichter's humanoid creations are called Technos, which they're referred to as in the comic. We've been using Fixed Ideas here, as that's what the big dudes were called in the first episode, but I'm guessing that's just a reference to the big dudes specifically, the muscle grunts designed solely to follow orders. The Techno pointed out here is the one reading the news report, who fits in with other goons we've seen serving Von Reichter and José in the past, meaning those goons were probably artificial humanoids, too. Also, this is the first time we hear Von Reichter's name mentioned. There's no revelation to it, just Cybersix and Lucas chatting as though it's a name they've both been familiar with for a while, so I wonder why it's been held back as long as it has.

This is a fantastic episode in terms of developing the relationship between Cybersix and Lucas. I like how she pops into his apartment, expecting to sweep away after some cryptic words like she usually does, only for the plot to leave her stranded there behind locked windows for a while. The scene with them slumping down together after fighting off the birds is really sweet and awkward, and there's a growing comfort with each other the remainder of the plot builds on. They team up, putting their heads together to find a way to resolve the situation, and I love how it's a great wake-up reminder to Lucas that, despite wanting to be the hero, he just isn't capable of handling situations like Cybersix is. He can't run as fast, he's not as strong, he can't just break through locked doors. What's great is that none of this is done in a way that emasculates him, nor is he jealous of any of it. He's quick to accept and acknowledge it it, realizing she doesn't need him to help with everything. But that doesn't mean he can't still be of help, which leads to the great team-up between he and Data-7. No, there isn't much plot necessity to them running around and trapping birds, but it makes for some exciting sequences, and does still make sense in terms of keeping the bulk of the flocks occupied while Cybersix does her thing. There's another great bonding moment as Lucas and the panther also slump down in exhaustion after fending off birds, and you really do feel that he's finding a place among this strange group of people, even as his gasps and strains constantly remind him he's still just an everyday human in their midst.

This is a great episode. It fumbles the climax and the music continues to be mediocre, but it's really exciting and full of great action and character moments, even if it's not all that insightful or revelatory in any way. Even José gets a great moment where his father actually gives him some confident praise for once, and you just know that's not the reception he's going to be returning to after it all goes to hell. I also like the little day & time captions which gives a great scale to the unfolding event. Overall, a solid episode. That said, I really, really hope we get something outside the formula here soon. We're right at the midpoint of the season and I am starting to get a little antsy for something a bit deeper than we've gotten lately, regardless of how well executed it's been.

A few extra thoughts:
  • I've been making it a habit to point out the writers on the show, so might as well keep up with it. The plot is again courtesy producer Koji Tokeuchi. The script this time is by Terry Klassen. As with much of the writing staff, his other writing credits are primarily anime dubs, again, prominently, Transformers: Armada, but also Beyblade and Bakuman, as well as some original episodes of the Canadian toon Yvon of the Yukon. A prolific voice actor for both English-speaking productions and anime dubs (his most notable role is probably Krillin on Dragon Ball/Dragon Ball Z), he's also a voice director in the industry, on shows like Ed Edd 'n' Eddy, the multitude of direct-to-video Barbie movies, and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. On Cybersix, Klassen is also the voice actor for Von Reichter!
  • I'd hate to be the school janitor who has to clean out the classroom where hundreds of birds have been cooped up all night.

If you'd like to watch along with us, the entirety of Cybersix is available on DVD, thanks to Discotek Media.

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