Hi no Tori is a collection of stories that all have something in common. The Phoenix, whose blood is believed to give an eternal life to one who drinks it. Therefore many seek to kill it, but as the Phoenix of the tale, it's reborn from the ashes. Stories take place in future and the past, where humans fight with each other as always, and everyone is afraid to die. But still, every story teaches a lesson: Life is beginning of an eternity, an never-ending cycle.
Hi no Tori, also known as Phoenix, is an adaptation of Osamu Tezuka's most ambitious but ultimately unfinished manga.
I felt quite intimidated, being new to most of Tezuka's work, but the nature of the story and its excellent execution allows Hi no Tori to be surprisingly entertaining while still remaining emotionally and intellectually stimulating.
The premise seems simple on the surface: the hunt for an immortal bird whose blood is said to provide eternal life. It is not that, however, which leaves a lasting impression on the viewer, but everything else that happens around it. Each story arc has its own cast of characters whose
respective trials and fates through the ages lead us to a powerful but poignant message, one which also asks more questions than those it answers, directly or indirectly, about life and its value.
It's hard to estimate how much of the original manga is being respected in this adaptation, as I have not read it, but director Ryosuke Takahashi does a wonderful job at conveying a sense of internal consistency and the end result is certainly effective. Any added, removed or altered details, for reasons of time constraints and possibly subject matter, do not get in the way.
Most of the character designs are based on Tezuka's artistic style and are repeatedly recycled, which may be a negative for other viewers. I would admit they are cartoony, but a few begin to look a little more modern as the series goes on. It didn't really bother me though. The animation's production values also vary, but they're usually quite fitting and tend to improve. The Phoenix itself, in particular, provides a few opportunities to showcase some nice special effects.
The opening and ending themes are fine, for my tastes, but they do work better as part of the show than by themselves. The remaining musical themes mainly stayed in the background but were also used to convey comfort, tragedy, action, hope and desperation at the appropriate moments.
Tezuka's characters are not that complex, but their personalities are strong and the plot twists definitely do not pander to the crowd. Tragedy is commonplace, as it is a fact of life, yet so is the struggle against it, the struggle to overcome, the struggle to survive. At the end of the day, what remains may seem disheartening, even if not everything is bleak. There are sparse comedic moments, acts of heroism and altruism, acts of pure villainy, loss of life, senseless or otherwise, all showing different aspects of humanity's mosaic.
A special note must be made about the Phoenix itself, a very intriguing entity in its own right, whose role and intentions seemingly vary throughout the show, something which could literally spark entire debates.
I enjoyed this anime a lot more than originally expected, especially because of all the food for thought it provides, whose surface I have barely scratched. I will now seek to read the manga, in order to have a better understanding of what Tezuka himself did with the material, but it doesn't seem that his spirit was lost to the anime staff.
Hi no Tori is definitely great but, unfortunately, often overlooked. If you want something that can make you think about difficult questions, and don't mind if it's not flashy or action-oriented, go ahead and check it out .
A word of caution: watch each arc in one go, but do not try to marathon the entire series. Some downtime may be required to fully appreciate the themes and implications of each story and to recover from any resulting emotional fallout. The need for this may well vary from person to person, but it proved useful in my case.
It's hard to rate this series because it's a collection of five short stories. The only links they have is the Phoenix, and the immortal bird of legend tends not to play a huge role in any of them; often just being in the background watching events unfold.
Some of the stories last for four episodes, others one. Some take place in the past, others in the future. Some involve battles between Gods, others focus on battles against nature. There's almost TOO MUCH variation.
The opening four episode arc is probably the best of the lot - it flowed well from episode-to-episode, despite there being a lot
of twists. It started with a man washing ashore somewhere, getting captured by a tribe and needing to save the life of a woman to save himself from being executed. The focus then switched to an Apocalypto style raid on the tribe by another country. It then switched yet again, this time to a father and son tale where one of the invaders raised one of the few survivors of the raid as his own. And, during all of this, the focus kept switching back to the man who washed ashore trying to survive with the woman from the tribe he saved at the start, with them ended up trapped in a cave and left to the mercy of nature.
Out of all of the stories, the first was easily the most involving. I found myself struggling to care about a lot of the characters included in the series, with some taking drastic actions without any real development having occurred, but in the first arc it was easy to care about the 'father' and 'son' that tried to survive during times of war. My only real complaint about it is that the Phoenix might as well have not even been involved at all. It did nothing other than get hunted on and off a few times. If the Phoenix had played a more important role, like it does in later stories, I could understand its involvement, but it was just there for no real reason. The messages of the first story are that death is a part life that must be accepted and that war is pointless, neither message needing the Phoenix to be expressed.
The second arc occurs in space; on the moon. That's right - a jump from the ancient past to the far future! It plays out during a time where the Earth has died and the remnants of the human race have escaped to space. At some point after their escape, some humans on the moon discovered the Phoenix, which has the power to give life, and they managed to get one of its tail feathers. Research on the feather took place on the moon, and one of the men in charge was on the verge of understanding it when an 'accident' occurred, resulting in the destruction of the lab and the death of most in it. Right before the researcher died, he was attempting to save a female friend from falling to her death, her last words being "You traitor..."
After the opening described above, it quickly caught my interest. The researcher who died had been revived after the 'accident', half of his brain having been replaced by a machine. When he awakened, he couldn't distinguish one human from another - they all looked like distorted monsters to him - and he had no memories of his past. However, he discovered shortly after awakening that robots appeared to be living organisms to him, with one robot in particular looking like a woman, resembling the woman who called him a traitor before his death. Shortly after discovering his new 'female' friend, he runs away from the humans with the robot, escaping to the lab that was destroyed at the start.
I liked the second story a lot. It wasn't as involving as the first, mainly because it only lasted for two episodes, but it was fascinating. It was basically a tale of redemption, where one man had to correct his past mistakes by living on. If there's one thing that's suggested a lot in each story included, it's that, rather than being a blessing, immortality is a curse; a punishment that must be endured.
What follows the above is the only standalone episode in the entire series. Back in ancient times once more after the leap into the future of the second story, this time around it was about a woman killing a healer in order to prevent the healer saving her father. As a punishment for killing the healer, the Phoenix forces the killer to take on the role of the healer she killed, trapping her and taking her back in time. In order to make amends, she must allow herself to be killed by herself and hope that, at some point, the the cycle of life and death stops. It was decent but, compared to what went before, it wasn't great and it didn't have the length required to make me care a great deal.
The next story switched back to the four episode formula the series opened up with. This time around, still somewhere in the past, a member of the royal family of some clan or another gets the face of wolf put on him after having his own face scalped. He awakens sometime afterwards to discover what has become of his face and, eventually, heads east to another country in order to try to get his old face back after being informed that his future will be brighter if he does so by an old woman who can predict such things.
I liked the fourth arc but never really got into it. The back-story of "Dogface" is never explained in detail, and I was left mystified with regards to what exactly lead up to him getting captured and losing his face. Likewise, I didn't get how the wolves face became his own, mouth movements and all. The only thing that came across clear as day was the message of the story; the message being that no religion is right or wrong; only the people themselves are wrong. Despite it lasting for as long as a movie, I felt it needed more time, or at the very least needed much better explanations.
What really bothered me was the love story aspect. One of the many 'Gods' of the nation in the east fell for Dogface at first sight, never even having a conversation with him before deciding to follow him. She also risked her life for him without much chatter between the two. Their relationship never came across as a real because not enough time was put into it by the author and/or the animation studio. And the end made little sense, with her leaving Dogface randomly, Dogface randomly getting his face back and the two seemingly ending up back together, despite Dogface losing his memory for some reason.
Moving onto the final, two episode arc, the story returned to the distant future. In the future depicted, humans had moved under the surface of the Earth in an attempt to survive after life could no longer be lived above ground. One scientist (Saruta), however, stayed above ground in an attempt to solve of the mystery of life in order to save the earth. He tried and tried to create life, always falling short. When he was on the verge of giving up, the Phoenix appeared before him and told him that a miracle would occur. It turned out that the miracle would be a young man who arrived at Saruta's lab after escaping from the underground cities because his companion - an alien shapeshifter - wasn't allowed to exist. He ended up getting shot and killed by someone who followed him. The miracle occurred when the Phoenix allowed him to drink her blood and made him immortal.
Following these events, every other life on Earth died, leaving the young man alone. It was then that he realized the true pain of loneliness, with nothing to do and no-one to talk to. For billions of years he lived alone in a wasteland, unable to die. He was eventually rewarded by being able to see the rebirth of the world as it began anew and the cycle of life started over.
For me, the message of this final story wasn't very clear. Why wasn't the man simply allowed to die, instead being forced to suffer the pain of loneliness? If I had been in his shoes, seeing the world restart wouldn't have been enough to make up for billions of years of boredom. The main message of Phoenix - that immortality is a curse - came across wel, but it still seemed a bit pointless compared to what came before.
If you're still with me after reading the above, I'm sure you'll understand the difficulty of reviewing this title. On one hand, it's far more meaningful than most series out there and has none of the "moe" elements that plague recent anime. Tezuka clearly had some important messages about life he wanted to express and did so as best he could. But, on the other hand, the series is all over the place because of the variation between each story, and I wouldn't describe any of them as being polished. The stories were released in manga form a long time ago and, compared to the character development and the like in more recent anime, the age does show a little. Depending on how you look at it, Phoenix is either very flawed or brilliant because it avoids the holes stories from our age fall into time and time again.
In terms of the visuals, Phoenix is very nice to look at. Someone elsewhere described the art/animation as being something he imagined Disney coming up with after "going on a bender", but I don't think that's an insult when we're talking about an anime TV series. The character designs are rather cartoony, with characters having HUGE noses and the like, but it looks very nice. It's different than most art nowadays, but not in a bad way. The worst thing you can say about the art is that the character designs of the characters in the five stories are mostly very similar, the recurring character Saruta always having the same big nose and stumpy look. The animation was pleasing, too - whenever there was action, it flowed pretty well. There were some nice fight sequences in the fourth story.
I can't really comment on the music because, honestly, I can only remember the orchestral opening. Since I've only just finished watching the series (well, last night...), that doesn't say a lot good about the soundtrack. But, although I can't remember any amazing tracks, I can't say I remember any bad music, so I suppose the soundtrack was simply good without being amazing.
To sum it up, I'm pleased I watched Phoenix, ignoring the fact it isn't highly rated and isn't a name known to many. It isn't like any of the other anime I've watched, and that's why I respect it. I've watched a ton of anime that have no messages; series that were made just to put something on TV - Phoenix isn't one of those series. And like a reviewer is quoted as saying on the back of the box set, Phoenix has a quality that keeps viewers hooked, preventing them from leaving until the end. In an age where I'm used to constantly checking my DVD timer to see how much longer an episode has left to run, Phoenix was a breath of fresh air. It's far from perfect, and it isn't something I'm willing to score too highly, but it's definitely a series I'm proud to own on DVD, and one I'd recommend to those tired of all the "moe" rubbish going around.
One last thing (honest!): I STRONGLY recommend you, the random reader who has somehow survived to this point, look into getting the box set. I imported the box set for a lowly sum of £13.99 from PlayUSA, and I'm sure Americans can get it for even less. The box set is made up of a thin box and three book-like cases, which are basically hardback book covers with plastic stuck on to hold the discs. For what is a budget set, getting these unique cases - which I haven't seen used before - is a major plus point. The case covers are even reflective, making the set appear even more expensive than it really is.
Over the past while, I've been watching (and re-reading) Phoenix, a sprawling epic by that towering figuring of anime and manga, Osamu Tezuka.
I'd read most of the manga a while ago, but I'd not seen any of the anime based on it. Phoenix concerns itself with some pretty lofty themes; birth, death, the meaning of life, mankind's place in the universe and the quest for immortality.
The Phoenix is the classic fire bird that is reborn from the ashes, common to many mythologies both western and eastern - it's called Hi-no-Tori (bird of fire) in Japanese. Throughout the chronology of Phoenix, which spans eons, the bird
appears many times. Oftentimes to advise people, influence the development of life, observe or comment on man's folly. It is also an object of desire for people throughout time, as it is said that drinking it's blood will give one immortality. As it turns out, those that do achieve this suffer the most of all.
It's hard to pin down what the Phoenix represents, it refers to itself many times as a galactic spirit, other times as one aspect of the life force of the universe. In any case, it is instrumental at key points throughout history.
Tezuka began work on Phoenix in the mid 60s and continued to write it up until his death in 1989. He had intended to tie all aspects of the story, past, present and future, in the final chapter - unfortunately it remained unfinished. Phoenix contained a lot of experimental artwork and themes that were very advanced for the time such as "Metropolis" and many other fantastic works. Any fan of anime should know this famous legend revered as the "god of Manga" is indisputably the father of all modern Japanese comics and animation. His artistry and powerful story telling brings inspiration to audiences and other mangaka's all over the world.
This 13 episode series was one of the many itterations of ozamu tezuka's Hi no tori manga. This was directed by Ryousuke Takahashi and covers the Dawn, Resurrection, Strange Beings, Sun and Future chapters. Well this was a very impressive series for the most part, I felt that they took too many liberties with certain chapters. In some cases totally changing the setting and cutting out massive chunks of the story in order to fit things in. For this reason I was left with the impression that the latter half of the series was somewhat rushed, it would have worked better if they'd covered a smaller number of chapters in the same amount of episodes. (If you can some how find the manga, i would seriously recommend reading it as its the true spectacle of this classic masterpiece)
All in all, this is a monumental series from one of the greats of anime and manga, "Tezuka" called it his "life's work". If you are up for something that will fascinate, amuse, surprise, shock and promote some interesting debate on the nature of existence, Phoenix is really worth a look.
My main qualm qith this series is that there are only 13 episodes, and only 5 of Osamu Tezuka's amazing stories are told through the course of the series. For fans of the manga, this may be a little disappointing. On the other hand, they may be impressed by the fluid animation, music and history used in the story arcs set in the past.
The art for some can be trying. Tezuka's art style was largely inspired by old American cartoons, such as those produced by Disney, as well as Betty Boop among others, and the character designs reflect this.
The 'futuristic' robots, computers and clothes may also seem very dated (think 'Lost in Space' dated). The art however does pay a lot of attention to detail, specifically medical diagrams, and the Ainu style designs on the clothes in one of the arcs particularly caught my attention.
Story is hard to describe, since the series is made up of five distinct, but loosely conected stories. Elements found in all of the stories are the Phoenix, a mythical bird tied closely to the mysteries of life and it's blood is rumoured to grant immortality. Saruta is also present in all stories, leaving it up to the reader to decide whether the various Sarutas are decendants or reincarnations of the original Saruta from the first story. The stories also take place in many different eras, from the begining of time until the end of time. The stories also do not follow a specific formula, and while each involves the Phoenix, the Phoenix is not always centric to the action. Most if not all the stories contain themes of life, religion, death, love and nature to varying degrees, some of them focusing more on one theme than the others. As mentioned before, fans of the series may be disappointed that all of the stories from the manga were not animatied.
The music in my own oppinion is amazing, particularly the opening theme, which is very flowing and uses orchestral arrangements. As great as it is, it does not overshodow the story, but rather ehnances it, and never seems awkward or clashes with the story or animation at any point. All music is appropriate to the scene.
In some stories characters must develop quickly. Stories can take 1-5 episodes to complete, so some characters must develop faster than those in previous arcs. While some characters do follow old archetypes and are unfailably good while others are unredeemably evil, there are some who blur the lines, switching sides, or having morally complex motives. Props are also given to this retro anime for having female characters who fight alongside male characters. Again, female characters can fall into stereotypes, such as the damsel in distress and evil queen, quite a few are equal with their male counterparts in terms of strength, speed and intelligence. Child characters are often confined to minor roles, making these stories that focus on adults, but a few fiesty, strong and lovable kids manage to weasle their way into the limelight.
I would recomend this particular title to a 13+ age group, especially for North American viewing. This is not because North American audiences are stupid, but there are references to Eastern Religions that young children may not understand, references to Japanese history, violence (such as a man being shot by arrows Boromier-style) and character death that may be upsetting to younger viewers. This is certainly a series recommended for Tezuka fans, fans of retro anime, fans of sci-fi anime and fans of historic anime.
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