Phoenix 12

May 5, 2008

Wow.  I couldn’t have been… more surprised at the contents of this book.  I was expecting stories in the same style as the main Phoenix series.  These are… drawn like Princess Knight, like a shoujo Astro Boy.  And they are VERY, very shoujo.  Sometimes the logo is made out of hearts.

The stories themselves aren’t bad, as much as I would like to hate them.  Each one concerns the same couple, who starts off in Egypt and are granted immortality by the Phoenix.  When they “die,” they fall into a kind of sleep and wake up hundreds of years later.  They first wake up in Greece and each take part in the battle between the Trojans and the Spartans, then they wake up in Rome and participate in things like lion fights et al.  It does feel unfinished (Rome cuts off abruptly, and the fate of the couple is never determined), and it also shows its age because… the couple isn’t called a couple, nor are they ever married.  They actually say several times that they think of each other as brother and sister.  I find that a little creepy, but I suppose times have changed.

Mostly the stories are about the two characters being separated and a lot of dramatic and historical events happening between the two before they are reunited (usually tragically) at the end.  They periodically lose their memories, but fate brings them together again and again.  Besides them, there is the child of the original Phoenix, who is growing up as the events are playing out, and after the original Phoenix dies, the child’s care is entrusted to a trio of animals (a rabbit, a fox, and a turtle, who I have a feeling appeared elsewhere in Tezuka’s universe), all of whom have been granted immortality.

I kind of liked them, but I’ll be the first to admit they weren’t very good.  It almost feels weird associating them with the rest of Phoenix, because they really DO NOT fit in.  I think most people would probably do well not picking this last volume up, but hey, who am I to stop anybody from completing their series.

Phoenix 11

March 2, 2008

Honestly, I can’t imagine how Tezuka would have ended the Phoenix story any better than with this story.  The main character alternates between a past and future self many times.  I kind of explained things in the last volume, but this volume mostly consists of a war being fought in both time periods.  The Wolf Man is a bit more of a key character in the past, but he is also the catalyst for the battle in the future as well.

If you were wondering, he gets turned into a wolf, of sorts, in the future as well.  He is captured by a religious cult and forced to wear a wolf helmet (like on the cover) that pipes religious messages into his head 24/7.  The mouth of the masks opens at mealtimes, which I thought was a nice touch.

The cuts between past and future become more and more frequent throughout the volume, until a transformation takes place in the past which separates two of the characters, then again in the future which reunites the characters once again.

The love interest, the action scene, the themes, everything about Sun was fantastic.  Karma, Nostalgia, Sun, and both stories in volume 9 have all been the best of Phoenix so far, though I think Karma and Sun are probably on top just because they were both ambitious stories that succeeded.  In Sun, we even get a reference thrown in to the “Strange Beings” story.  Remember all those monsters the woman helped?  They were fighting a war, friends.

One bad thing, though, is that the Astro Boy-like jokes from the early volumes are back with a vengeance.  Tezuka sort of works these jokes and bad puns into most of his stories, but it was definitely out of place here, and some of them were just forehead-slapping stupid.  It definitely stopped whatever was happening in its tracks whenever one came along, which was more than a handful of times here.

But I’m pretty happy with this as the ending point for Phoenix.  I’m not that excited about the volume of proto-Phoenix stories coming up next, but I’ll probably like them when I read them.

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.

Phoenix 9

February 23, 2007

To break up the monotony I mentioned earlier, here’s the newest volume of Phoenix. This one was amazing, truly amazing, and up with Karma and Nostalgia as my favorite volumes of a wonderful series.

There were two stories in this volume, and both were very good. Very good. I can’t say which I liked better. The first, Strange Beings, took the time element in the series and twisted it, which always makes for something interesting, because it means direct involvement by the Phoenix. As punishment for her murdering a nun, the main character gets stuck in the same 30-year time loop over and over again. There’s also some alternate dimension stuff at work, and a temple you can’t get away from, a story element I’ve seen as recently as Lupin III… 5 or 6, I think. I preferred this story, actually, purely because of the karmic time warp generated by the Phoenix.

Life was a good story too. The idea of having yourself cloned a thousand times to have yourself slaughtered over and over again for sport is a twisted and disturbing one, particularly if you are involved with the slaughter personally. It’s almost as crazy as having a disease which degenerates your face and makes you look like a dog. Well, in this story the Phoenix appears as a woman with a bird-face wearing a bird-mask, which is close enough. It’s the thought that counts, I suppose.

The second story I enjoyed mostly because it made me think of the Running Man, which not only draws Stephen King closer to Phoenix, but also Arnold Schwarzenegger is now that much closer. Factor in the fact that I can’t think of the Running Man without thinking of Smash TV, and you’ve got a crossover hit in three different forms of media, four if you count the original manga source. But I suppose that’s just me. That doesn’t make it any less awesome.

Sun is the last part, and I guess it’s three volumes long. Apparently there is a part that bridges past and future, which Tezuka said he’d end the series with, but I thought the series was supposed to be unfinished. I’m secretly hoping this is a ruse on the part of Viz, and I’ll get to the last volume and there’ll just be a big white page that says “SURPRISE!” and has the last chapter of Phoenix that draws everything together in the second half of the book or something. That would be cool.

Phoenix 8

January 6, 2007

I suspected I might like this one less since it was the second half to a historical piece.  I know I said in the last volume that I kind of liked the Japanese history lesson, I revised my opinion in this volume.  I was completely unfamiliar with the warring families/clans/whatever trying to take power, and it was annoying to keep track of them, especially when different members of each family would have different small parts.   Though it does explain everything to you, it seems to rely a lot on politics and how the different families percieved each other and were percieved throughout history.  And as I said with Yoki Koto Kiku, I don’t like it when I’m completely unfamiliar with the source material, which is becoming more and more a problem as the history in this series becomes more modern.

Anyway, this volume was also a lot more dark and depressing than the last one.  Benta is forced to do a lot of things he doesn’t want to, so it is satisfying when he snaps at the end.  It seems like life just kind of dumped on Benta, and I was also satisfied with the open ending.  I also liked Obu less and less through this volume.  Even after Kiyomori died and she was… can’t remember last volume… escaped?  set free?  She came back and hung out with the family, even though many people made it clear she was not welcome.  Well.  Yes.  She got hers, though that was pretty depressing too, as I still would’ve liked to have seen a certain outcome from her as well.

This story was also too long… I do prefer it when they are kept within one volume.  I wonder how Sun will work out now.

Robe of Feathers was very short and very cool.  That’s about all I can say about it, and I’m glad the time travel element was included.  I was wondering when that would happen.

Phoenix 7

July 3, 2006

Yay, I got this one not too long after it came out! I realized the comic shops around here carry this series, so when I stopped in at one, I got this as well as a random volume of Astro Boy they had on sale for four bucks, for whatever reason.

This is said to be the greatest work of manga ever, and I can see where that claim comes from. It is one of the best examples of manga, certainly. But as a representative of the genre, the one other thing this series is is extremely, EXTREMELY Japanese. After reading “Karma,” I realized exactly how Buddhist the entire idea is. And every other volume is also a Japanese history lesson. This one actually prompted me to do some research and find out how historically accurate these were, and it seems like Tezuka’s facts check out, as far as my skimming the surface is concerned (if you look up Kiyomori in Wikipedia, you also see a strange statue of him). The Buddhist aspect is very fascinating, as I know very little about it. Likewise with Japanese history, I find these extremely detailed stories describing snippets of it to be very interesting, particularly since I really enjoy historical fiction.

I’m a bit sad that this story takes up two volumes. I always like how the stories flow as they go through the 300+ pages in each volume, but I’m always ready to be done when they finish. I’m just sad there’s no conclusion here, and that I’ll have to wait a few months for one. Though I shouldn’t complain… at least I won’t be waiting over a year for it. The character with a heart of gold this time around is Benta, who has no sins and only wants his fiancee back. There are a few characters who’ve only had minor roles that I guess may come back next volume, but the others are sort of disagreeable thus far. Even Obu, who I want to like, I can’t because she won’t just leave the Regent. I REALLY disliked Obu in a few spots, but I like her overall… moreso than Benta.

This may not have made sense. I didn’t like this volume as much as the last, but it was still amazing. I can’t wait for the second half.

Phoenix 6

May 27, 2006

Man! When was the last time I got a volume of Phoenix?! Feels like more than a year ago.

This series is still excellent in every way imaginable. I was sort of disappointed that after waiting so long it was going to be a future volume, but that disappointment quickly disappeared. It reads like both a past and a future volume, and is right up there with Karma as the best volume I’ve read so far. The incest thing was intriguing to me, but could easily drive others off. We also get the reintroduction of elements such as Moopies and the Chihiro-bot, and the Phoenix plays a pretty active role. The ending is so terribly sad, even for a volume of Phoenix. I don’t know.

Again, it’s hard for me to talk about these. They’re good in just about every way. I think most people should read them.