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volume 3 issue 7

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Phoenix: A Tale of the Future
Left-Right Manga
298 pages
Osamu Tezuka
One of the best works of fiction I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing written by the father of manga, this is a book everyone should read, whether a fan of manga or not.
Overall Rating:

Animefringe Reviews:
Phoenix: A Tale of the Future
By Patrick King

Incredibly enough, I've only recently had the pleasure of being exposed to Osamu Tezuka's brilliance. My first encounter with his work was the recently produced Metropolis, reviewed not too long ago in your friendly Internet Animefringe. When Phoenix arrived at my local Waldenbooks, I wasn't quite sure if I wanted to grab it before snatching something from the deluge of the smaller (and cheaper) TOKYOPOP manga. Luckily, my curiosity prevailed and I added the $22.95 book to my pile of literature and gleefully carted it all back to my house. That night, despite being in the middle of a few other manga and a fantasy novel (Destiny, by Elizabeth Haydon if you must know - another great read) I cracked open Phoenix to see what the hubbub was all about over this Tezuka fellow. I didn't close the book until I had finished reading it an hour and a half later. I liked it so much I read it again the next day. Even if this book had been written last year rather than from 1967 to 1968, it would still be an incredibly entertaining read. As it stands, it comfortably cements Tezuka's status as a visionary with a gifted imagination, a wonderful ability to tell a story, and masterful artistry.

While comic book fans may be familiar with The Phoenix Saga in a certain popular mutant-populated comic book, this book represents a small part of Japan's most significant Phoenix Saga. This edition is merely a fraction of Osamu Tezuka's life work, a series of stories showing humanity in various ages, frequently featuring the same characters from time period to time period, reincarnated as needed. This particular story can be enjoyed as a self-contained work, but a glance in the back of the book shows how huge Tezuka's Phoenix Saga truly is. As the title of this edition would suggest, Phoenix: A Tale of the Future is set in 3404 A.D.

As the story begins, we are told that humanity is currently in a state of decline. After a period of high enlightenment and great advances in science and intellect, interest in the arts and sciences has been in decline. People spend more time dreaming about the past than looking to the future for progress. After a series of wars and power struggles, mankind's continual misuse of the planet has finally taken its toll, eliminating every scrap of flora and fauna on the Earth's surface. Even the ever-hardy cockroach is an endangered species. Save for a small number of reclusive hermits, no humans live aboveground. Rather, the remaining members of the human race have all migrated underground to one of five "Eternal Capitals," strongholds designed to shelter them from the harsh surface world. Each capital is controlled by a super computer that runs the lives of its inhabitants, bound by logic and treated like a deity.

One of the few non-human species remaining on the planet is the extraterrestrial long-lived "Moopies," resilient beings that can assume any form. They also possess the ability to bombard the brains of humans with super-sonic sound waves, inducing a hallucinogenic state akin to a lucid dream. People partaking in this activity are said to be playing the "Moopie Game." However, our hero, Class II Space Patrolman Masato, lives under the rule of a computer that has declared Moopies illegal, as they support an unhealthy amount of fantasy in their user's lives.

The action begins when his superior, Roc, informs him that he is aware that Masato has in his possession one of the illegal creatures, a Moopie named Tamami in the shape of a beautiful woman. The tale touches upon more than just interspecies love, however, as it quickly become universally large in scope as the fate of Earth is questioned. Without ruining the wonderful story, it's safe to say that this is one heck of a transcendental mind trip, touching upon aspects of science fiction, fantasy, philosophy, and theology.

Initially, the visual style of Phoenix may not be appealing. At first glance, it seems almost laughably simple, with a lack of dynamic shading or some of the meticulous attention to detail modern Japanese comics are known for. However, despite it's apparent simplicity, this is easily one of the most realistic-feeling manga I've seen. The characters' expressions, running the gamut from hatred to love to fear to wonder, convey the appropriate emotions in every scene, and I found myself easily empathizing with the events of the plot. There are some heart-rending moments in the book, and they would not be possible if they weren't drawn with such obvious skill.

This is a fantastic edition of Phoenix, even though it does not read from right to left as it did in its original language. The large size allows its readers to fully appreciate Tezuka's masterful artwork and design. The lettering is particularly interesting, having quite a bit more personality than the average comic book. Dadakai (the team behind the original translation to English) did an admirable job of localizing this classic work of Japanese art. There are a number of interesting interviews and articles pertaining to Tezuka and Phoenix, each of which convinced me more and more how significant an impact he had on Japanese culture.

I wholeheartedly recommend this title to any fan of science fiction, fantasy, manga, or philosophy. Really, I feel this is a book that any person can appreciate. It is insightful and beautiful in its innocent simplicity, and it has set a high standard that has even yet perhaps not been exceeded in the world of comic books. Now that I've been introduced to the father of manga, I suppose I'll have to see if any of his other works are as supremely engaging as this one has been. I'm going to be praying that Viz Comics will decide to send the other parts of this Phoenix Saga my way with just as much love and affection this edition has been presented with. Until then, I guess I'll get back to reading the last book in Haydon's Rhapsody trilogy...

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