on August 21, 2004
Osamu Tezuka is a household name in Japan, often refered to as the God of Manga. He started work in the late 1940's and personally invented virtually every part of the visual and storytelling style that are now part of the Manga basic language. He's the Shakespeare of the artform.
Well maybe not. He's was not the greatest true artist out there and sometimes his characters and dialog-tone are too similar from one book to the next. He produced litterally 10 pages per day for many years, and such amazing output makes these foibles more understandable.
But what he does contribute more than anything else is real situations, with suffering and death and unexplained chaos. There's no way to tell where a Tezuka story will move, just like real life. He's not writing with a formula, or writing 'just so' stories where things have to balance. He's far better than that. His people are often shallow, but they have real emotion and convey it very simply and with great precision.
Largely due to Tezuka's influence over other writers and artists Manga became a major Japanese cultural export to the entire East Asian region. He was by far the most famous person in his artform for many decades and when he died in 1989 the whole Japanese nation mourned his passing.
These Mangas, especially the Pheonix series which was written for adults, make a an over-arching statement about the nature of the world & how he sees a cycle of hope and destruction and rebirth. One reads Tezuka and automatically thinks 'this is about something deeper than what's on the page..what is he trying to say here?'.
In this book, which documents the end of the world and humanity and then it's rebirth in the very distant future, the Phoenix takes her chosen human servant on a journey through the microverse and the macroverse, showing it to be a place of vibrant life and spiritual energy.
It was both incredibly ambitious and very moving - I felt transformed by reading it - that this wasn't just a comic - that this was a worldview that was real and which could be conveyed successfully through this artform.
Although many artists have since come along who are more gifted than Tezuka and a few of his more recent Manga peers are at least his equal in other ways (Hayao Miyazaki), I can think of none who would pursue such an unusual and central human theme in this way, with such directness and with the talent to succeed. That's why he's the God of Manga. He will be in print for centuries to come.
on September 14, 2003
In the year 3404 A.D., the earth and its civilizations are on their last legs. There are only 5 human cities left and those have moved underground where, in an effort to stem despair, they have been dubbed the "eternal capitals". Enter Space Patrolman Masato who is in love with a shape-shifting and mind altering alien named Tamimi. Her race has been outlawed on Earth because the authorities fear that humans, if subjected to the moopie dream state, will become lethargic lotus eaters.
Masato is ordered to kill Tamimi but refuses and flees with her to the surface world where they run into the hermit Dr. Saruta, a brillant scientist whose vision of a flaming phoenix might just hold the future rebirth of a new Earth within it. In the meantime, Masato's old boss, Roc, becomes obsessed with hunting down the fugitives.
Some of the blurbs on this book refer to it as "mind-blowing" and "awesome" etc., like the effect of a psychadelic drug. While I wouldn't go that far, Phoenix does go a long way past 99% of comics being produced today. While it takes a bit to get used to the cartoonish figures within, it really grabs a hold of you. Tezuka is trying to craft an almost future history of the Earth with deep philisophical themes which make the characters at the beginning of the book seem almost trivial. On the other hand, it strengthens the relationship between Masato and Tamimi by showing the fragility of human life when compared to the life of a universe.
I admire Tezuka for attempting to grapple with such deep issues in a comic form. This book is actually the 2nd volume of a 12 volume series which is only just now being published in America.
on August 12, 2002
Rumiko Takahashi is probably the most celebrated voice of the
last twenty years in the field of manga. These are the same twenty years in which manga has suffered a gradual but steady
decline, resulting in a state where even the best manga is mostly
unreadble, intentionally obtuse and "deep" in a shallow short of
way. The reason is that there is currently no one to match the
sheer power and majesty, not to mention the utter simplicity, of
Osamu Tezuka: the God of manga. Hinotori is undoubtedly his best
work. It is subtle and deep; and fulfills the promise that manga
has always made. This story, though the second in the series, is
also the last chronologically. It tells of the end, and rebirth,
of history. Unfortunately this edition suffers from two problems:
First is the size of the edition. The Japanese and French versions of this comic are presented in much smaller books,
hiding flaws of the work and making the work look more detailed.
That's lost in this full-size presentation. Viz also inexplicably
decided to release the second volume first; dulling a great deal
of the impact we get from the series. The first volume was the
beginning of history, the second volume is the end. This also
makes the end sequence suffer because readers won't understand
that they are seeing the events of the first volume take place
in the next incarnation. I still highly recommend buying this
book despite these reservations. And we can only hope that Viz
will release the rest of the volumes, especially the ones set in
the past, which tend to be the best of the series.
on September 25, 2015
The story is almost stereotypical manga-Japanese, with the doomed lovers being reunited only in death, etc. However, the art is simple yet enjoyable, and even when one can guess where the plot is going, it still makes for a fun ride.
on June 15, 2003
Fans of Osama Tezuka know what to expect -- a wild imagination driven by the shock and anger that drove many post-WWII storytellers.
Phoenix, billed as Tezuka's crowning achievement, does not disappoint a fan. Once again, Tezuka primarily seeks to comment on the human condition. This time, he uses a post-apocalypic future to examine the faults of man.
Surprisingly, this time Tezuka manages to manage an amount of optimism, as this story seems to hold at its core a hope that these faults can someday be overcome, even if history testifies otehrwise. A powerful story even if you border on burning out of Tezuka's typical issues.