Phoenix Vols 10 & 11: Sun Parts 1 & 2. Osamu Tezuka. Viz, 2007. $15.99/$16.99, 344/344 pages.
Does doing it twice count as a motif? Because it’s striking that two of Tezuka’s best works, viz. Ode to Kirihito and the two-volume Sun (which is reprinted here as Phoenix Vols 11 & 12) feature protagonists with the heads of dogs. Well, okay, it’s a wolf’s head here in Phoenix, but still.
That’s not even the weirdest part of Sun, however. No, that dubious honour goes to the curious theology on display here. The gods are real, it seems, but not exactly how we imagine them. They’re more like political powers than spiriual ones. One of the chief conflicts in Sun arises from the introduction of foreign-born Buddhism into hitherto animist Japan. The Buddhist gods are thus presented as a sort of expansionist, imperialistic power being foisted on an unwilling populace.
And none of this metaphorically. We actually see the gods themselves in combat with the local forest spirits.
What makes this truly weird is that Tezuka had of course, a decade earlier, created a major, 2500-page biography of the Gautama Buddha. So what had previously been presented as a force for good is now seen as a foreign intrusion. Had Tezuka changed his mind? Or was he simply presenting another side of the story?
As with much in Phoenix, we’ll never know — Tezuka died before creating the final installment, which he had promised would explain how all the previous volumes tied together. In a way, I think it might have been best for Phoenix that Tezuka never finished; without the overarching web of connective tissue that a final volume would have produced, what we have instead is a series of volumes suggestively connected by theme, allusion and the occasional carry-over character. The result, I suspect, is richer than Tezuka’s grand plan could ever have been.
Recommended? Some of Tezuka’s best work, so yes. Don’t worry about starting a series at the end; the stories in Phoenix don’t, for the most part, tell a single continuous narrative from beginning to end, so it’s quite possible to start reading here.
Phoenix Vol. 12: Early Works. Osamu Tezuka. Viz, 2008. $14.99, 188 pages.
So in a way it’s fitting that the end to Phoenix isn’t some puzzle piece that connects all the dots, but rather this volume, which reprints work from decades before Tezuka had started the Phoenix saga proper. The Early Works of the title come from Tezuka’s days working on shojo manga, and it shows — there’s plenty of frilly, pretty stuff on display here.
Not that these works are entirely unconnected to the “real” Phoenix. They revolve around the immortal bird, which looks here much like how Tezuka would later draw it, and indeed it’s noteworthy just how similar these stories feel to the later, “real” Phoenix stories. Characters seek in vain to drink the immortality-giving blood of the magic bird. Futile, tragic wars are waged. Key figures are reincarnated in later eras. These Early Works really do seem like Phoenix 1.0.
So, as I say, it seems only fitting that the mad, sprawling epic of Phoenix should end with shojo romance and funny animals. In a work that spans millennia, and covers slapstick, war, fantasy, science-fiction, comedy, tragedy and everything in between, why not? Phoenix contains multitudes — and then some.
Recommended? Definitely, but only for those who’ve already read the other volumes.