February 11, 2008
I liked this a lot more than I thought I would. Let me tell you, there is very little that turns me off like having a dog-headed man on the cover of a book. I should have suspected I would be won over, though, since “Ode to Kirihito” had a great dog-headed protagonist, and they’re both by Tezuka. In fact, those may be the only two manga I’ve ever read like that. Hm.
Anyway. I was afraid the main character would somehow be involved with a race of dog-headed people from the future, which turned out not to be the case. That was far from it, actually, and much like Ode to Kirihito, there was a lot of suffering involved in the main character receiving his dog-face. What happened was that he was captured by an enemy army for beheading. They wound up not beheading him, but instead skinned his face off (in a really nice abstract sequence) and pulled the skin of a dog over his head so that it would heal to his face.
The story sort of twists and turns from there. The protagonist meets up with an old and eccentric fortune-teller who tells him to do what seem to be random things at odd times. What follows is a really odd and winding story where the protagonist flees the country, saves an allied general, gets involved with a spirit tribe (who do change into wolves as one of their forms and I believe are somehow connected to Shintoism), earns the favor of the emperor, and eventually turns traitor. Interspersed periodically are the main character’s dreams, which are of the future. Eventually, when it appears the main character dies (he may not be dead, I don’t think he is since there’s still some story left to tell), the time period shifts to… well, 2008, which isn’t meant to be the “present” but I guess is now, I suppose… but it’s about a boy trying to break up an oppressive religious group.
Mostly the story is about religion and the fight between Buddhism vs. Shintoism, which I thought was interesting. The struggle is depicted at a political level, where the Emperor is a devout Buddhist and tries to force it on the Shintoists, and also a spiritual level, where the Shinto spirits literally do battle with the invading Buddhist spirits.
I wanted to write about this volume before I read part 2, but I think this probably competes with Karma as one of the best Phoenix stories. It’s successful at everything it does, there are no long boring parts, no epic political struggles (the ones I mentioned earlier are brief, and mostly disagreements between the Emperor and his brother), and really, the story flew by in a way Phoenix stories usually do not. I liked it a lot.
EDIT: Because I have a serious and unhealthy fascination about keeping track of this sort of thing, Duke Red appears in the future side of the Sun story in this volume. And he’s wearing a helmet, so you can’t tell for sure, but someone who bears a strong resemblance to Lamp with facial hair appears at the very beginning of the volume as some sort of general.