Phoenix article published in Animerica Extra Vol. 5, No. 4, March 2002
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.

In the same way that a whole painting is made up of individual brush strokes, so too can a whole series be made up of individual stories. Each brush stroke is a visible testament to the artist's skill and individuality. In this same way, each story in Hi no Tori (Phoenix) is a unique expression of Osamu Tezuka's artistic vision. Whether the stories take the reader to the depths of space or the earliest cusp of human history, each is part of Tezuka's masterpiece and a window into the heart of the God of Manga.

In dramatic color, a volcano erupts. Above it flies the beautiful Phoenix. Below, a brave, prehistoric hunter stalks the magical bird, muttering to himself about a legend —if you drink the blood of the Phoenix, you will live forever. His arrow strikes its mark, but since the Phoenix is immortal, she lives and flies away in annoyance. He tracks her through the mountains, and when he has the chance, he jumps her. But the Phoenix is a creature of fire, and she makes sure the hunter burns. A turn of the page reveals why the hunter was so determined —his sister is deathly ill. He returns to his Jomon* (first o long) village on the edge of death, still clutching a Phoenix feather.

While mourning the hunter's passing, a Yayoi* stranger is found. With his eldest son dead and his daughter dying, the chief is in no mood for mercy, but when the stranger claims to be a doctor, the chief spares him on the condition of his daughter's life. The daughter is saved and falls in love with her physician. Since Guzuri's from a more advanced culture, the chief's youngest son, Nagi, discusses with him life, death, and the Phoenix. Guzuri and the chief's daughter marry, and all seems well until Nagi notices his brother-in-law leaving his honeymoon hut. Guzuri chats with the village's lookout about the mysterious lights which have appeared across the sea. Guzuri offers to take his place so the lookout can enjoy the wedding feast. Alone, Guzuri lights a pair of torches and waves them mysteriously. The lights on the sea are revealed to be torches on the prows of boats. The Yayoi forces come ashore and wipe out the village. The priestess behind the Yayoi forces becomes obsessed with drinking the blood of the Phoenix. Thus begins a longer story of painful conflict.

The Phoenix's part in the series varies. Sometimes she interacts with the characters, sometimes she is merely a plot device. By using this immortal to thread them together, the stories take place during any time Tezuka chooses. The inherently spiritual quality of the Phoenix allows for theological experiences, and the Phoenix's lure on mortals provides Tezuka a blank canvas to expose humanity's best and worst. Whether exploring the concept of reincarnation or revealing the theory of DNA, the deceptively simple grace of Tezuka's art and his engaging characters make even the most difficult of concepts interesting and accessible to any reader.

First published in 1954 in the Manga Shonen anthology, different parts of Phoenix ran in Shojo Club, COM, and The Wild Age anthologies, with the last chapter printed in 1988. Aside from the manga, there is also a live action film, an animated film, and a trio of videos. While all have their merits —the videos are particularly beautiful— none compare to the experience of reading the series. Although Tezuka's death in 1989 left Phoenix an unfinished work, its literary and artistic significance remains as irresistible and bright as the Phoenix herself.

 

* Jomon (first o long) is the term for Japan's stone-age cultures, which overlapped with Yayoi, its bronze-age cultures.

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