"All things are born and all things die. That is the law of heaven." According to legend, the Bird of Fire called the Phoenix is the eternal spirit of life, death and rebirth. She oversees the cycle of reincarnation and the rising and falling of civilizations and species. Those who can obtain her blood will be granted eternal life, while to others she can grant infinite wisdom, or eternal suffering. Throughout history, from the dawn of civilization to the extinction of the human race, those human souls touched by the Phoenix have hunted her over and over in multiple reincarnations, and their actions in one life determine or reflect the sins and sufferings of other lifetimes.
Note: This is an incomplete series due to Tezuka's death.
Hi no Tori was published in English as Phoenix in 11 volumes by VIZ Media under the VIZ Signature imprint from March 12, 2003 to September 18, 2007. Previous to this, it had had a brief run in the educational publication Mangajin, from May to July, 1992 (issues #17 - #19).
Hi no Tori, known as Osamu Tezuka’s life work, is an episodic manga which contains eleven single stories overall. Some of them are set in prehistoric ages, the others in a science fictional future. The middle point – where all different ages presented in the manga converge – is the immortal phoenix whose blood makes other creatures immortal when they drink of it.
Before I get into detail what concerns the manga as a complete work, I want to talk about some episodic stories themself. Well, volume 1, „Dawn“, is quite ordinary first, but not bad at all. It’s set in a prehistoric time like
the Stone Age and accentuates an important law: All creatures are born and die some day. You have to keep this in your mind the whole time, when you read the manga, to understand it completely. The story of Dawn is about a queen who doesn’t want to accept this law and wants to drink of the phoenix’ blood to make herself immortal. On the other hand, we have the protagonist of the story who gets captured by the queen. Like I’ve said already, the progression of this volume is not really particular, but already here the manga shows its fast pacing, Tezuka’s charme and the unconventional artstyle which gives the plot certain dynamics and makes the character design looking really sympathic.
This chapter also shows the side of people who are greedy for immortality and thus some of the many facetts the manga has to offer.
Following the mention of the many facetts the manga has to offer, I want to go to volume 2, „A Tale of the Future“, which is very special. In contrast to Dawn, it’s set in a science fictional setting where the world is about to perish. There only are still the „Eternal Capitals“, where the technological level is very high, and a laboratory in which a doctor who concerns himself with the maintenance of life (on his planet). The protagonist of the story, running away from a pursuance by a brass hat in the Eternal Capitals, reaches the laboratory and gets determined by the phoenix to create life on this planet again. And here begins the presentation of an insane spectrum of different life forms and landscapes. This progresses with so many details, from dinosaurs and reptils to small brain cells. All this happens in a time of million or billion years, so the reader realizes how giant time spans the phoenix’ existence includes and what a challenge the protagonist has to overcome. Also the way the chapter presented the manifestation of the phoenix was brillant, but that’s something I don’t want to reveal.
These are few of the many facetts which make the grand picture you have at last of Tezuka’s idiology, where A Tale of the Future is one of the most important stories to present it. In my opinion, the story of Karma, volume 4, is the best of all, which treats the religion of buddhistic karma and has a great character development. There also are some weaker stories in the manga, but that’s not really a problem because the stories in itself are not the main point. The big advantage of episodic stories is that you can implement lots of different creative ideas whithout that it appears implausible. And saying the way how Hi no Tori executes this concept is unique would be an understatement. Every story has its own way of storytelling. So many different interesting themes are elaborated very well. It reches from interpersonally themes like hatred, betrayal or war to completely bizarre themes like what it means to live on a planet for millions of years. There’s also a chapter which presents the expanses of the universe with such creative ideas.
Now to the high point of Phoenix: the Sun chapter which is the final where past and future converge. It’s the story which ties all previous ones together to form a long drama beginning from the dawn of man to the distant future. Every story stands on its own and seems to have to do nothing with the others, but gradually you realize that all are compounded with each other and they are just a part of a much longer, more like never ending story – I’d call it the life of universe or so. You can realize that all stories are connected in some way when you consider all the thematic overlappings and parallels. Tezuka said, the phoenix symbolizes a supernatural life force and takes form such as many mysterious birds known from different legends – such as the Hou-ou for example. So this manga appears even stronger as if it’s ajar on the real world.
So this manga is especially incredibly interesting and deep and shows the reader why he should be interested in Phoenix’ themes. It’s simply amazing how Phoenix explores its themes by showing by episodic stories the facetts and perspectives of them. And because this is all done in a very coherent way, you can think about the themes more deeply.
Especially for an episodic manga, the characters are great. Almost all of them are sympathic and have a high individuality and a clear personality. Also in terms of that point, we have lots of facetts. They take place as explorers, as highly regarded queens, as outcasts and as mass murderers with an inner struggle and they experience in these single stories more than main characters in many long anime. Especially Gaou from the Karma chapter gets great character development.
As well it’s interesting to see how effectively the manga presents its characters. It’s like I know them already for a long time like in a shounen series. Okay, that’s a bit over-the-top, but I mean it in appromaxetely that way. The characters are not the major point of all though, but very important to give the single stories a certain value.
The artstyle might be pretty old, but the art of visualization and storytelling is wonderful like no other manga I’ve read so far. The drawings are quite simple, but that’s also a remedy to make all this so dynamic and symphatic. There are lots of different ways Tezuka has drawn this manga: Sometimes, he worked with his charme and humor, then he worked with lots of imagery/symbolism, but on the other hand he put in an irresistible elegance. The character’s emotions, facial expressions, gesticulations etc. are drawn like in comic-style and less realistic, but I like that very much. The drawings hit it exactly, so I completely can comprehend the character’s feelings.
The paneling is pretty amazing as well. Tezuka managed it to use the narrative advantages of manga to create an immense effect on the reader. Especially in the Future chapter, it’s managed to drum all all the facetts, living things and landscapes etc. into the reader’s mind – on fewest pages and smallest panels, in a very short time. Also the Karma chapter is one of the best examples that prove the brilliant art of Phoenix. There are many metaphorical panels that intensify the depth and effect on the reader of the manga. Generally, the paneling always hits the button perfectly when it comes to artisty and visual storytelling.
And one more thing that is very important: In Phoenix, the content and the visualization work together. All this contentual facets and dephts never could be as effective as they actually are if the visualization wasn’t that good. And because of the contentual aspects in Hi no Tori, all those pictures have an extreme meaningfulness, fascinate the reader very deeply and are extremy elegant at the same time. So, Hi no Tori has beside Lone Wolf and Cub the best visualization I have seen in manga so far.
To come to a conclusion, Hi no Tori is the most interesting work I’ve read so far. It’s very challenging, but also a very multifaceted, fascinating and enjoyable showing of Tezuka’s ideology, combined with a WONDERFUL art of storytelling, a very high level of inspiration and great characters. I recommend it to everyone who’s not averse to challenging stories and unconventional artstyles.
Osamu Tezuka's Phoenix is a manga epic that strives to answer questions about life by encompassing the history of life. Each part of the story is a standalone work, focusing on a time period either in the past or future. Despite its focus on history, Phoenix is not a chronological tale; rather, it is one that alternates between past and future. It starts with the extremes with Vol. 1's Dawn and Vol. 2's Future (the beginning and ending of the tale) and gradually aims for the present with each release, as to show a "complete" fluid history. Unfortunately, Tezuka's death in 1989 prevented the story
from being fully completed, but there are enough volumes in the story as to give a pretty good look at the timeline he had planned. The final volume, Sun, hints at a wrap-up, as the only volume to truly connect past and future.
Tezuka's ultimate goal was to tell different stories on the encounter with the Phoenix, a mythical bird that promises immortality to whoever drinks its blood. It naturally gets the attention of many of the characters in the story, but very few actually get the chance to partake in drinking the special blood. Instead, the Phoenix acts more like a deity, appearing before characters at critical times ranging from a time of physical need to a time of emotional need. At first, the Phoenix seems to act as a wise sage who helps with human flaws and delivers divine justice. My opinion started to change on the Phoenix the more I read, as stories such as Strange Beings seem to confuse the Phoenix's judgement to the point where it seems unfair. Perhaps Tezuka was trying to point a disassociation between humankind and deities, but that feels like a stretch.
Each part of Phoenix deals with a different issue related to that period, but there are common themes that stretch across the epic. Themes such as religion and politics are discussed and explored. Some parts have simplistic power-hungry tyrants in charge (such as Yamato), while other parts feature characters that rule the way they do to prevent conflict and encourage unity (Sun). The latter gives more complexity to the story, giving us rulers and characters that are definite villains, but have political "moral reasons" behind their actions.
Religious commentary is mostly addressed to Buddhism and is a mixed bag. Tezuka seems to denounce religion, such as in Part 2 where Roc claims that the Bible is fake or when the Phoenix says all religions are man-made. Contrarily, final part Sun shows actual spirits and demons fighting each other and their powers (one Buddhist deity instantly causes a drought within the area) and the Phoenix, by the same token, says that all religions are correct. This is not even addressing the Phoenix's mythical status itself and how characters are actual reincarnations of themselves. This uncertainty flubs the message a bit. However, Tezuka is confident and consistent on his criticism of government control over religion (theocracies) and it naturally hits home more so than any other point.
Individual parts also have their own messages as well. Resurrection tackles themes of identity, as Leon struggles between his robot and human sides. Yamato has discussion on purpose and choosing between different destinies. Life talks about the morality behind killing human clones (or, to be technical, "almost" human clones). Not every subject is completely discussed and some (such as the lives of human clones) have not aged well. In Tezuka's time, the concept could be fresh, but the talk of the ethics behind committing homicide to clones feels cliche now.
Additionally, because of the episodic nature of this story, some parts will be better than others and can only truly be great as a whole if all the parts are great. Sadly, this is not the case. One of the biggest gripes with Phoenix is Tezuka's humor. Tezuka aims for comedy so his work doesn't seem like a sea of philosophy, but he has no sense of timing. He draws strange pig creatures seemingly randomly because it looks funny. He inserts jokes during key points in the narrative, making a mockery out of his own work. What's even worse is that it gets lazier as it goes on. Early parts deal with puns and visual gags that are, at least, slightly amusing. The wit of the jokes start to sharply decrease, becoming more geared towards "funny pig drawings" later and even throwing in crude humor related to feces and farting in Civil War, Pt. 1. This isn't pleasant to read, it's not funny, and, most importantly, it kills any chance for me to take a scene seriously.
As expected, the parts that don't deal with humor/deal with humor all but sparingly are the best. Part 4's Space is half mystery thriller, half Biblical tale that showcases a smart and original use of paneling. For example, Tezuka draws 4 different panels for each of the crew members to represent their isolation from one another in the voids of space. Part 5's Karma is the most mature and best written part, showing the tragedy of Gao and revealing the true nature of Akanemaru in a tale that effectively shows tragedy, corruption and the beauty of life. Final Part Sun is a guidebook to shounen (corniness and all), telling the tale of a man whose head becomes that of a wolf and goes on a journey through war to defend his village from the threat of losing their native deities. Its additional subplot, that of the wolf man's dreams that connect with the future, only enhance the story, showing how history repeats itself with the continuous rise and fall of those who hold power. He even starts to focus his humor by the use of a comic relief character instead of sporadic humor at random times!
Sadly, not every part is as good as above. Part 3's Yamato front loads humor with an awkward story. Tezuka's not scared of writing tragic endings, and I definitely like seeing them when appropriate, but Yamato's bad ending is forced, clashing the way the rest of the tale is written by suddenly giving our protagonists a martyr complex. Nostalgia aims to be a controversial survival tale at first, tackling subjects such as incest and cannibalism, but ultimately devolves into plot convenient space adventures and morals/symbolism that are far weaker than what's to be expected from someone who wrote Karma in the same tale. Civil War Part 1 is a bad copy of earlier parts such as Dawn with one-dimensional characters and the bottom of the barrel for Tezuka's humor (Part 2, however, fixes all these mistakes and more - it feels almost like an apology letter).
The artwork for the characters will be yay or nay depending on who's reading it. The characters look more like Disney or Fleischer cartoons from the West early on. Though they start to gain Tezuka's own style later, they never look amazingly detailed and remain "cartoony". What will be the draw for readers will be Tezuka's experimentation with the concept of manga. This is done more early on in the epic, but I am still impressed with his paneling techniques. Panels can be separated to represent isolation, have slash marks through them during sword fights, have their borders destroyed, etc. Art style experimentation is also used frequently (again, mostly early on), where characters are drawn with intense shading or drawn like their bodies are made of sunbeams. Besides obvious symbolism of darkness and discovery, its fun to look at and makes me wonder how else Tezuka can "break the rules". Of course, he's conventionally great as well. Just looking at his one-panel pages of characters walking through nature looks absolutely stunning, almost like a photo.
Overall, I give Phoenix a 5.5. In total, to say Phoenix is a masterpiece is to look at the themes that it tackles and not to consider any of the problems it has in humor, narrative timing, and overall writing. Despite its episodic nature, due to how characters appear in future parts or events of the past affect the present, one must read all of the tale to appreciate what's going on. If you don't have the time or don't mind missing the little callbacks or character history, reading a part such as Karma, Space, Strange Beings, or Sun is definitely worth your time.
Do you like or dislike this manga? If you haven't read it, are you encouraged to read it or not? Leave a comment on my profile telling me what you think of the manga and/or my review.
Phoenix by the god of manga himself Osamu Tezuka is more than a masterpiece. It is a piece of art that everyone should read. Even people who don't read manga should read these stories because they deserve so much more praise than what they have now and should be know as one of the greatest series of all time
Story:10. this manga is split into many different stories in various settings switching back and forth between the past and the future but all the stories have the Phoenix present in some way, shape or form. Each story
has a underlying theme in them which include absolute power corrupts absolutely, love can make people do terrible things and people wanting religious freedom just to name a few. Each story is told beautifully from the setup all the way to the conclusion each story brings something new to the table and don't feel like a rehash of other stories in the series
Art: 8. not much to say about the art. It does its job well is consistent throughout the manga but the backgrounds in the manga look amazing so does the design of the Phoenix
Characters: 9. each main character in each story are written very well there was no character in any of the stories that I didn't like (expect for the villains) while not all of them were written all well as other characters (such as benta who I think is the weakest written main character in the series but he does serve his purpose in the story) each one is unique and different from the other main characters. My favorite character is inugami from the sun story his character is written extremely well showing his struggles in his life and how he overcomes them. Other main characters that are very well written are Gao from the karma story and Masato from the Future story
Enjoyment: 10. I enjoyed every story in this series some were written better than others I still love what each story had to offer with it's deep themes and characters every story kept me engaged and wanting to know what happened next
Overall: 10. this manga is the closest thing I've seen to a perfect story that I have ever read it's a true masterpiece no other story that I have read has come close to the storytelling of Phoenix everyone who is reading this I beg of you read this manga this is one of the most important manga in history and more people need to read it if you can't afford the actual volumes (because some of them are crazy expensive) don't worry mangafox has the whole thing but if you can buy a volume or two because you seriously won't regret it
It is no surprise that the father of anime, Osamu Tezuka, has written such a perfect manga. As obscure as the series is, Phoenix is one of the best manga series known to the world. The art may be dated but the storyline is what makes this series amazing. Each volume has a different story, but contains the same motif: a struggle to gain immortality.
The first volume came out in the 1960's so the art style is much different than today's manga styles. At first, one may not think this series came from Japan because the characters look a lot like Betty Boop. The
Tezuka's style exaggerates the characters but the backgrounds are drawn nicely. Those who aren't into the Astro boy style may not enjoy the artwork, but you'll get used to it.
Some characters are introduced in more than one volume through reincarnations, but most are strictly in one volume. The story jumps from past to future of people trying to gain the phoenix's blood. Each story to each volume is different, which is excellent because it shows how different people wish to obtain the phoenix. Also, it shows Tezuka's creativity. There are many hooks and suspense that make the reader want to read more. There are a variety of characters and their personalities are developed. Though, this series is incomplete due to Tezuka's death, it is still enjoyable.
The volumes are a lot thicker than regular manga, but the price to each volume is only an few extra dollars. It was released in North America recently, so one can easily find it in libraries and bookstores. Two volumes are packed into one for some of the Viz releases, making the series more affordable.
Those who like sci-fi, or historical manga would love this series. The artwork may be simplistic and not the greatest, but the storyline is very deep. It's a shame this series hasn't gotten the attention it deserves because it belongs on every manga fan's bookshelf. Be sure to pick it up.