Phoenix 10

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.

5 Responses to “Phoenix 10”

  1. mark thorpe Says:

    I only have volumes one, two and three. I’m not excited to get any more because, while one and two were great, the opening chapter of volume 3 where the king builds a tomb, left me shaking my head in disgust. The story wasn’t terrible but the pisstaking hyjinks and bloopers and comedy rim shots took me so far out of the story I almost wanted to put the book in a box and sent it back to Amazon, demanding not only my money but the shipping and handleing costs. Buddha had some moments that made me roll my eyes but Phoenix 3 felt saturated with pratfalls and modern references. So please ease my mind and tell me that volumes 4 through 10 have no General Custer scenes or samurai retainers using calculators or anything equally silly.

  2. Connie Says:

    Yeah, I had forgotten that the first volumes are full of Astro Boy-ish gags that felt really, REALLY out of place when I was reading it. The good news is that I’m pretty sure the oddball humor is phased out in later volumes. I know there weren’t really any other jokes in the volume I just read other than the fortune-teller being a bit eccentric, and I can’t remember any specific examples of gags in later volumes of the series. I do like to pretend I don’t see them when they pop up though, so it’s very possible I’ve forgotten. Volume 4 is often said to be the best volume in the series. I just scanned through the first 100 or so pages, and other than a slight exaggeration of anger in one scene (one character is drawn with little white clouds behind him to emphasize his anger, which isn’t really too much of a gag), unless there’s a joke in the dialogue somewhere, it’s very serious and sad, and if I remember right, usually the gags occurred early on in the volumes, so that one may be safe. If you get through volume 4 and still don’t like it though, you should probably give up.

  3. Connie Says:

    Bah, I take back everything I said about the later volumes of the series. The second volume of “Sun” had a ton of terrible jokes in it.

  4. Pirkaf Says:

    Awesome volume! Probably my favourite so far. The view of Buddhism as an oppressive religion is really unusual but probably true in those times of ancient Japan.

  5. Connie Says:

    Yeah, it kind of makes you wonder how true some of it is. I was thinking about that the other day when I was reading through an article on Himiko. She’s a somewhat mythic and probably real figure of ancient Japan, but apparently almost no documentation exists of her reign since she ruled so long ago. I wondered how much of what Tezuka wrote about her in one of the early volumes of Phoenix was based on fact, and how much of it he made up.

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