During his prolific lifetime as a manga creator, Osamu Tezuka declared his best work was Phoenix. The manga remained unfinished when he died and the English adaptation is unfortunately out of print (though you can read it digitally). However, not all is lost: Media Blasters has re-released the 13-episode anime on Blu-ray, and it is a true classic.
Phoenix is an anthology series that deals with themes of life, death, immortality, and human behavior. The Phoenix is the character who pulls everything together, though each story arc has a different set of characters and takes place at different time periods. In those episodes we get to know and care about the people involved, and then it’s time to move on and get sucked into the next story arc.
The first story takes place in an imagined prehistory. Other stories take place in historical times, and yet others take us into science fiction future stories. Each story is gripping, the animation is lush, and the music is beautifully composed. It also shows that, whether you’re in a time before writing or a time with high technology, human behavior never really changes. It’s an anime that makes you think, dwell on life, philosophize. And feel better from doing these things.
The only real criticism of Phoenix (which in itself is a compliment) is that it’s not longer. But it’s still a great way to get a flavor of Tezuka’s manga, and in some ways the adaptation streamlines and cleans up the manga stories. There are also instances where the adaptation is less cynical than the original manga, which may or may not be to your liking, but it does fit with the overall adaptation, which is ultimately about the wonder of life even when things can be harsh or brutal. Watching this, you can see why the anthology series was so important to Tezuka himself. Highly recommended.
Studio/Company: Media Blasters
Danica Davidson is the author of the bestselling Manga Art for Beginners with artist Melanie Westin, and its sequel, Manga Art for Intermediates, with professional Japanese mangaka Rena Saiya. Check out her other comics and books at www.danicadavidson.com.