Phoenix is about reincarnation. Each story generally involves a search for immortality, embodied by the blood of the eponymous bird of fire, which, as drawn by Tezuka, resembles the Fenghuang. The blood is believed to grant eternal life, but immortality in Phoenix is either unobtainable or a terrible curse, whereas Buddhist-style reincarnation is presented as the natural path of life.
The stories spring back and forth through time; the first, Dawn, takes place in ancient times, and the second, Future, takes place in the far future. Subsequent stories alternate between past and future, allowing Tezuka to explore his themes in both historical and science fiction settings. Throughout the stories there are various recurring characters, some from Tezuka's famous star system. A character named Saruta appears repeatedly, for example, in the form of various ancestors and descendants, all of whom endure harsh trials in their respective eras.
Tezuka began work on a preliminary version of Phoenix in 1954, and the series continued in various forms until his death in 1989. As it progresses, the stories seemed to be converging on the present day. Due to Tezuka passing on before the manga's completion, it is not known how this would have played out. Scholar and translator Frederik L. Schodt, who knew Tezuka in life, wrote that he fantasized about a secret ending, "waiting in a safe somewhere to be revealed posthumously." This was not the case, and Tezuka's final intentions with Phoenix remain unknown, although its episodic nature leaves each volume highly accessible nonetheless.
Many of the Phoenix stories feature intensely experimental layout and visual design. For example, Universe tells the story of four spacefarers who are forced to leave their spaceship in separate escape pods. The panels of the story are organized such that each character has his own vertical or horizontal tier on the page, emphasizing the astronauts' isolation; the tiers combine and separate as characters join together and split up. In an astonishing sequence after one character's death, he is represented for a number of pages by a series of empty black panels.
Tezuka was said to have been influenced to create the series after listening to the music of Igor Stravinsky. He also told that he created the image of Phoenix as he was impressed by Firebird from the Konyok Gorbunok animation film (Soyuzmultfilm studio), directed by Ivan Ivanov-Vano.
After several aborted attempts at a first chapter in the 1950s, Tezuka began Dawn in 1967, serialized in COM. The serialization of Phoenix would continue throughout his career, moving to Manga Shōnen after COM's closure in the mid-70s. The final volume, Sun, was serialized in The Wild Age.Dawn (黎明編 reimei-hen)
The first volume, originally serialized in 1967. This story takes place in 240–70, in the era of Queen Himiko of the Yamataikoku. Using her army, led by feudal general Sarutahiko, to invade Japan, she seeks the Phoenix and eternal youth.
Future (未来編 mirai-hen)
The second volume, originally serialized in 1967–68. In Phoenix'
s chronology, this is the final story; it takes place near the end of mankind. In 3404, the world has become super-modernized, but humanity has reached its peak and shows decline. A young man named Masato Yamanobe is living with his girlfriend, Tamami, a shapeshifting alien. Pursued by Masato's boss, Rock, they eventually take shelter at the isolated base of mad scientist Dr. Saruta, who attempts to preserve life on Earth with the assistance of his robot, Robita. Eventually, nuclear war breaks out.
Yamato (ヤマト編 yamato-hen)
The third volume, originally serialized in 1968–69. This story takes place in 320–50 (Kofun period), and is based on the Yamato-takeru-no-mikoto
legend. The decadent king of Yamato is trying to have his own version of Japan's history written. Meanwhile, a "barbarian" tribe, the Kumaso, is writing an unbiased history. The king of Yamato sends his youngest son, Oguna, to murder the barbarian chief, Takeru. On his journey, Oguna encounters the Phoenix.
Universe (宇宙編 uchū-hen)
The fourth volume, originally serialized in 1969; also known as Space
. The story takes place in 2577 AD, where four astronauts must escape their ruined spaceship in escape pods. The survivors eventually crash into a mysterious planet. Among them is Saruta, who contends with Makimura for the heart of their female companion, Nana. On this strange planet, they eventually meet the Phoenix.
Hō-ō (鳳凰編 hō-ō-hen)
The fifth volume, originally serialized in 1969–1970. The story occurs in 720–752 AD (the period in which the Daibutsu of Tōdai-ji was built), during the Nara period. One-eyed and one-armed young man Gao, an ancestor of Saruta, turns into a murderous bandit when he is rejected by his village. He attacks a sculptor, Akanemaru, and the two men's paths diverge, but their fates remain linked. Akanemaru becomes obsessed with the Phoenix to the point that he loses sight of his original dreams, while Gao eventually finds a state of grace despite his continuing hardships. Hō-ō
is widely considered the masterpiece of the Phoenix
series. MSX and Famicom video games, both developed by Konami, were based on this volume.
The Viz (English) edition is entitled "Karma".Resurrection (復活編 fukkatsu-hen)
The sixth volume, originally serialized in 1970-1971. The story takes place in 2482-3344 AD. In an age of robotics, technology and science, young Leon dies in a car accident. He is returned to life by scientific surgery, but his now mostly-artificial brain makes him see living things -- including humans -- as distorted clay figures, while he sees machines and robots as beauties. Leon falls in love with a worker robot, Chihiro, whom he sees as a beautiful girl, and will fight for this forbidden love. He will also find out the secret behind his accident. A side plot features the robot Robita, who previously appeared in Future
Robe of Feathers (羽衣編 hagoromo-hen)
Serialized in COM
, 1971. Published in English by Viz as an appendix to the second volume of Civil War
). Based on the story of the Hagoromo.
Nostalgia (望郷編 bōkyō-hen)
Published in COM
, 1971; continued in Manga Shōnen
, 1976-1978. A science fiction epic about the rise & fall of civilization on the deceptively named desert planet of Eden & one boy's universe-spanning search for the planet of his ancestors: Earth. Features numerous cameos from other Science-fiction based Phoenix stories, including the shape-shifting alien "Moopies" first seen in Future
, Makimura from Universe
& an early model Chihiro Robot from Resurrection
. Black Jack also makes an appearance here, under a different name.
Turbulent Times (乱世編 ranse-hen)
Published in Manga Shōnen
, 1978–1980. The story is about a woodcutter named Benta and his childhood sweetheart, Obu, who are separated and caught up in the events of the Genpei War. Various historical figures, such as Taira no Kiyomori, appear as major and minor characters. Although the character of Gao (from Ho-ō
) appears as a 400-year-old hermit and thus links Ranse-hen
to the rest of the series, this particular arc stands out for its much more naturalistic approach, with next to no fantasy elements in it (except for those used for comedic effect, such as telephones in the 12th century). Even the phoenix itself, although heavily mentioned, does not appear in person in the story.
The Viz (English) edition is entitled Civil War and is split into two volumes, with Robe of Feathers included as an appendix to the second volume.Life (生命編 seimei-hen)
Published in Manga Shōnen
, 1980. A TV producer who attempts to procure human clones to use in a The Most Dangerous Game
-style reality TV program learns the error of his ways when he is mistaken for a clone himself. This episode is notable for only featuring the Phoenix in flashbacks and also for introducing her half-human daughter who does not appear again after this episode.
Strange Beings (異形編 igyō-hen)
Published in Manga Shōnen
, 1981. The story of a female Buddhist nun (bhikkhuni) who is imprisoned in a time-warp by the Phoenix as punishment for her sins along with her faithful retainer & forced to become a healer treating the victims of wars from all over time and space including humans, youkai and various extraterrestrials. This chapter was loosely based on the Hyakki Yakō emakimono by the famous Japanese artist Tosa Mitsunobu (although in the context of the story it's the complete reverse).
Sun (太陽編 taiyō-hen)
Published in The Wild Age
, 1986–88. This is the longest story, and was the final volume completed before Tezuka's death. It centres around Harima, a young Korean soldier from the Baekje Kingdom whose head is replaced with that of a wolf by Tang Dynasty soldiers following the defeat of the joint Baekje-Yamato force at the Battle of Baekgang. He then escapes to Japan where he becomes the feudal lord Inugami and becomes caught in the middle of the Jinshin War, as well as joining a greater battle between supernatural forces and time-travelling to a bleak future world ruled by a theocracy that claim to have captured the Phoenix. This chapter stands in stark contrast to the earlier historical Phoenix stories, which tended to de-mythologize the mythical characters therein, for instance in Dawn
, many Shinto gods are portrayed as mere humans. In this chapter, however, various Youkai, Oni, Tengu and other mythical creatures are shown fighting against Bodhisattva.
Covers the prototype version of the series from the 1950s.
Several volumes of Phoenix were adapted into anime. The best-known feature film, Phoenix 2772, loosely adapts elements from various Phoenix volumes and other Tezuka works. Two OVAs and an animated movie were released in the late 1980s. A 13-episode TV adaptation also aired in 2004 in Japan, and was released in English in October 2007 by Anime Works. Hagoromo was made into an anime July 2004 and Kizuna in June 2012.
A live-action film entitled Hi no Tori, based on the Dawn storyline, directed by Kon Ichikawa and including some animated sequences directed by Tezuka, was released in 1978. The cast includes Tomisaburo Wakayama and Tatsuya Nakadai. It was released in the United States on VHS by Video Action under the cover title The Phoenix (Hinotori) in 1982, using a subtitled print, letterboxed only in the split-screen sequence. To date, the film is available on DVD only in Spain, where it is titled Fénix. The film includes a brief appearance by Astro Boy, substituting for another character to illustrate his attempts to get on a horse. The score was co-composed by Michel Legrand and Jun Fukamachi. Hi no Tori on IMDb.
A MSX adaptation of Karma was created by Konami. The Phoenix also makes a cameo appearance in the 2003 Astro Boy series and 2004 Astro Boy: Omega Factor game for the Nintendo Game Boy Advance, along with a number of other Tezuka characters.
As of 21 June 2017, the anime has premiered in Jamaica on CVM Television.
Phoenix is published in English by Viz Communications. Although the second volume was initially published by the now defunct Pulp manga anthology in a larger edition, in 2002, Viz took over the rest of the manga series, and re-released the second volume. At the time, Frederik Schodt had only translated 4-5 of the books, and was still working on the remainder of the series. Viz completed the series in March 2008. It has been criticized for being a dumbing-down, including overlapping artwork with unnecessary new narration, and altering character names (such as Sarutahaiko to Saruta) to make their reincarnations more obvious to the reader. However, Tezuka was known to update his manga every few years; so the U.S. version could reflect the last known edition of the series.
The Viz editions are released "flipped" (the original right-to-left orientation is reversed for easier reading in English). Some of the shorter stories have been consolidated into one book (based on the Japanese publication), and Troubled Times has been split across two; this results in each Viz book having a similar page count. While many of the actual Viz books are out of print, they recently became available again through digital purchase on Kindle.Vol. 1 - Dawn
Released March 2003.
Vol. 2 - A Tale of the Future / Future
This volume was released first, in May 2002, as a stand-alone graphic novel; Dawn
was released a year later, as Vol. 1
, followed by the rest of the series. A Tale of the Future
was initially released in a larger size; the series releases, starting with Dawn
, are digest-sized. A Tale of the Future
was reprinted in the smaller size in 2004, titled Future
, with Vol. 2
appended to the title.
Vol. 3 - Yamato / Space
in one book; released November 2003.
Vol. 4 - Karma
Originally titled Ho-ō
; released May 2004. Listed at #2 in Time Magazine's "Best Comix of 2004".
Vol. 5 - Resurrection
Released December 14, 2004.
Vol. 6 - Nostalgia
Released March 26, 2006.
Vol. 7 - Civil War, Part 1
Originally titled Troubled Times
, and here split into two books; the first was released June 13, 2006.
Vol. 8 - Civil War, Part 2 / Robe of Feathers
Collects the ending of Troubled Times
, and includes Robe of Feathers
; released September 12, 2006.
Vol. 9 - Strange Beings / Life
Collects Strange Beings
in one book; released December 19, 2006.
Vol. 10 - Sun, Part 1
Released March 20, 2007.
Vol. 11 - Sun, Part 2
Released September 18, 2007.
Vol. 12- Early Works
Released March 18, 2008.
Hi no Tori Hououhen (1987, MSX2)
Hi no Tori Hououhen: Gaou no Bouken (1987, Famicom)
Black Jack Hinotorihen (2006, Nintendo DS)
DS de Yomu Series: Tezuka Osamu Hi no Tori 1 (2008, Nintendo DS)
DS de Yomu Series: Tezuka Osamu Hi no Tori 2 (2008, Nintendo DS)
DS de Yomu Series: Tezuka Osamu Hi no Tori 3 (2008, Nintendo DS)