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Phoenix: A Tale of the Future
By Ridwan Khan
Previously, all I knew about Osamu Tezuka was his work as the “Father of Anime” on Tetsuwan Atomu (better known as Atom Boy on this side of the Pacific) and Jungle Taitei or Kimba the White Lion. Tezuka's work also served as the basis for the newly released film Metropolis. However, Tezuka is the father of Japanese manga as well; his work in both mediums were the driving force behind the modern anime and manga culture.
Tezuka, born in 1928, was greatly influenced by the early work of Walt Disney, as is apparent in his art style. Tezuka’s work displays a strong humanism and respect for life. This is very apparent in Hi no Tori, literally Firebird or Phoenix. The long-running manga, considered Tezuka’s opus, centers on man’s search for the mythical bird. The journeys and adventures in the process are used to examine man’s purpose and the meaning of life. The stories are loosely connected by the Phoenix and take place in varying times, from ancient Japanese history to thousands of years in the future. Often, later characters are reincarnations of previous characters. Tezuka pushed his unparalleled talent to its limits in Hi no Tori to answer the fundamental questions of human existence, in a way far more thoughtful than typical comics.
Viz is releasing a translation of Hi no Tori entitled Phoneix: A Tale of the Future, which consists of the second of the twelve part story. An earlier portion of Hi no Tori was published in Fredrik Schodt's Manga! Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics.
The portion of Phoenix taking place Viz’s release centers on an Earth far in the future, destroyed by war and pollution. Five large, underground cities remain, and in a twist reminiscent of Isaac Asimov, are controlled by massive super computers. Against this background, Masato Yamanobe secretly keeps an alien creature, a Moopie named Tamari, as a companion. Moopies, alien creatures that can take on any form and produce hallucinogenic images, are banned in the underground cities.
In this Blade Runner style situation, Yamanobe and Tamari are discovered by his city’s computer, Hallelujah. The two attempt to escape Hallelujah’s military. They wind up nearly dead at the door of Dr. Saruta, one of the few people that still live on the desolate surface of the Earth. Saruta has spent his years attempting to create the life that was wiped clean from the Earth. Can he help Yamanobe and Tamari escape? And what role does the Phoenix play as a mystical bird that is the alter form of the dying Earth, who leads Masato and Tamari to Dr. Saruta?
To many today, Tezuka’s Disney-inspired style seems a little cartoony, but this does not take away from the power of Tezuka’s message or the beauty of his art. To me it seems Viz is taking a risk in releasing Phoenix. Unlike the company’s other manga properties, including Ranma ˝, Pokemon, Mobile Suit Gundam, and Dragonball Z, Phoenix does not have a readymade fan base. However, for the amount of material in the book, the suggested price of $22.95 is quite good. All real fans of anime or manga need to read the masterwork of Osamu Tezuka – they cannot miss the power and grandeur of his vision. Kudos go to Viz for finally releasing this masterpiece in the U.S.