What They Say:
Down through the ages, humankind has gone to great lengths to search for and discover the key to immortality. According to legend, the Phoenix, a mythical bird of fire, is said to hold the key to eternal life. Great warriors, greedy princesses, ambitious scientists, and ordinary people, all desire to possess its promise and power. Great wars are waged in a vain attempt to win it and as a tragic result, many civilizations rise and fall. Phoenix is an anthology of five fables from the past, the present and the future where many lives perish because of their unquenchable greed. Ironically, true suffering often comes to those who find and attain immortality only to experience the sad and tragic burden of outliving all loved ones and friends and having to journey alone through eternal life.
The audio presentation for this series brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo and 5.1 as well as the English dub from before being presented the same way. The stereo mixes for this are done via PCM and sound solid with a good clear presentation, placement where it needs to be, and no issues with dialogue and its levels or any kind of echoing or anything. The 5.1 mixes are done using lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 650kbps and just from the start they sounded terrible, like it was recorded in a big cavern. This eases fairly quickly but the differences when shifting between the tracks is significant as they’re more muted, less clear, and simply not a great presentation at all. Why they’re done using lossy DVD encoding is beyond me as well. With the stereo mix being uncompressed PCM that’s the way to go regardless. The series has some good and dynamic moments throughout with action scenes and some of the dialogue so you definitely want it in the form that gets it as close to pure as you can..
This edition uses the Japanese vocal track for the ending sequences, which the previous edition I believe was an English voiced song while some editions used an instrumental piece.
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. Animated by Tezuka Productions, what we get is a very mixed presentation where each story has its own look and feel. When the material is meant to be earthy, it shows those colors off well and maintains a decent feel. When it moves to a futuristic realm, it has a bit more shine and gloss to it but still finds places to have that darker look. The main consistency between the stories comes in the form of the phoenix itself with its highly vibrant colors and smooth movements. The original DVD release had a lot of issues as it was limited in bit rate and stacked with audio and that’s not an issue here. The result are smoother looking visuals with blocking no longer a problem, colors looking sharper and clear without any noise within them, and cross coloration issues a thing of the past. Visually, it’s a definite upgrade and the series looks the best it has stateside, making it a worthy addition to have. .
The packaging for this release isn’t the digipak from days of your but what we get uses largely similar artwork. The standard-sized Blu-ray case holds the two discs well while the front cover gives us our familiar phoenix image as its central point. Everything there is what we’ve seen before with just a little bit at the bottom denoting that it’s the perfect version. The back cover goes for two strips of shots from the show of a decent size that use mostly darker artwork and we get a good summary of the premise along the top while the middle talks about Tezuka. The extras are clearly listed as are the production credits. The technical grid breaks everything down clearly and accurately (but is loose on the 5.1) and thee are no inserts or artwork available on the reverse side of the cover.
The menu design for the release is pretty straightforward as each disc uses a different image of the phoenix on it where it’s set against the logo. It looks great with the vibrant colors mixed in and all the detail of the line work to give it that extra richness. The layout is simple and easy to navigate on with everything quick to load and setup when it comes to languages or episode navigation. It’s not barebones but it’s fairly basic but gets the job done while looking in style and keeping with the larger aesthetic.
The extras are pretty standard here with a brief gallery of artwork and the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Based on the twelve-volume manga series by Osamu Tezuka which was created back in 1954, this thirteen episode series was aired in 2004 with Tezuka Productions handling the animation production. We’d had some OVA material previously, two anime feature films, and even a live-action film back in 1978 which showed the then ongoing popularity of all things Tezuka. That’s nowhere near as strong now but the works still command respect and interest. Directed by Ryosuke Takahashi, this is a welcome change from some of his usual shows that defined his early career such as Armored Troopers Votoms and Blue Gender as it focuses on character issues while still keeping to somewhat violent settings and problems.
With the series being made up of smaller unrelated arcs, at least so far, it moves around a lot as it goes from the past to the future. The opening storyline, which covers four episodes, deals with a tribe who is dealing with a possible invasion by another kingdom. The somewhat remote Land of Fire, situated near a volcano, is also the home of the legendary phoenix. That phoenix is being sought after by the queen of the nearby kingdom who needs it in order to maintain her beauty as well as gaining eternal life. Their initial method of acquiring the phoenix is to have a single man named Guzuri befriend the natives and discover it’s whereabouts.
Guzuri earns their trust handily after he rescues the life of Hinako. Guzuri earns it so much that over the time that he’s there, he becomes a member of the tribe through marriage and really finds his life feeling complete. He’s still intent on completing his mission though and has set things up so that he can lead Queen’s forces to the phoenix. His plan doesn’t mesh with what the Queen has instructed however as when the forces do land, led by the well known Sarutahiko, they pillage and plunder the village and kill everyone in sight. The Queen’s forceful manner isn’t what he agreed to and the situation plunges deep into chaos. Where it becomes intriguing is that Guzuri and Hinako find themselves forging a life on the run in the volcano while Hinako’s younger brother, Nagi, ends up a slave of Sarutahiko who eventually considers him a son.
Over the course of the storyline everyone grows and changes while the main goal of seeking out the phoenix is still all powerful. Sarutahiko and Nagi become the main focus for the characters as they find themselves traveling about as Sarutahiko teaches the boy things but himself becomes a captured slave along the way. The storyline isn’t exactly convoluted but you do wonder where it’s all going as the backdrop of a kingdom falling into chaos starts to take on a stronger role. As the passage of time grows and everyone ends up in strange or deadly situations, it becomes more fascinating as you wonder just how the phoenix will get involved, if at all, and how things will end. Even at the end of the arc, it seems like it’s setting up for more before it shifts to the next setting.
And that setting couldn’t be more diverse. If it had been done at the end of the previous arc it would have created even more allusions to a certain moment of the film 2001, but at least it avoids being that. Shifting into a future where the world is in ruin and mankind has essentially evacuated it in order to use the moon as a launching pad towards Mars, it’s been discovered in a grotto that the phoenix has lain there for some time and has created life where none should exist. Acquiring some aspect of the phoenix, researchers began to investigate it in order to try and revive the Earth but also to try and let the moon bloom. That research went wrong somehow and the entire facility exploded, leaving only three survivors.
One of them is Leona, a man who has had radical surgery performed on him to keep him alive through which his brain has been fused with a machine. He’s recovered but isn’t quite normal as his visual sensory perception is off as he views robots as human and humans as twisted and bizarre monsters. There are forces that are working on getting Leona his memory back so they can discover what caused the accident and what his research came up with, but this is still very much in the background as Leona is the main focus while he is being toyed with in a way by the Phoenix. This story has a vastly different feel than the first, just in the way it’s so less overtly violent, but it has a different kind of urgency to it that really draws you into the story, especially with its design.
The Resurrection storyline finishes out rather quickly with this volume, not that there was a lot of room for it to go, as the first episode is the end. The story of Leona who was tasked with saving the Earth has its past revealed when Leona begins to remember things. His time on the run with the robot Chihiro lands them in a bit of a minor action confrontation which jars his memory. Discovering the truth of his own past, when his father was a lead researcher dealing with saving the planet before the migration, he starts to understand that he wasn’t interested in saving the planet himself but rather getting revenge on those that caused his death. His curious condition of seeing robots as people and people as strange twisted monsters is fascinating but it really doesn’t get explored to the kind of depth it could. This arc in general has a weak feeling simply because it doesn’t really delve into some of the more fascinating areas.
While the first two stories in the series ran for multiple episodes, there are some shorter ones to be found in the original manga which translates to a single episode here. This one shifts us back to the past and introduces us to a young man named Sakon-no-suke, the son of a lord who is quite the scourge of the land. With the potential death of his father near at hand, when he finds out that a nearby healer priestess will be able to save him, Sakon-no-suke and his faithful retainer Kahei head out there to end her life. What he finds there is the woman, Yao Bikuni, completely ready for this and accepting of her fate. Sakon-no-suke is thrown by this but he believes he is right in taking her life in order to save the lives of countless others. This single act puts Sakon-no-suke into a strange position where he’s no longer able to leave the mountain and is tasked to the job of being a healer himself through the use of a feather of the Phoenix.
This storyline is one that I found quite appealing even if it is telegraphed almost from the start in how it will play out. If it had run any longer than a single episode it would have felt too long, especially since it was obvious what was going on once you have the big revelation about who Sakon-no-suke really is. That said, as an atonement piece that deals with the situation at hand, the storyline plays out nicely enough and leaves you wondering what the real resolution and fate of it all is. Much time could have been spent on what Sakon-no-suke experienced in his years as the healer, but thematically it works far better to breeze through this and to start throwing the potential for paradox at the viewer. The ambiguity of it all works very well, except for the brief narration at the end that just hits you over the head with it.
Another storyline is the one that Tezuka worked on last before he died, entitled “The Sun.” This storyline again keeps us in the past but continues to introduce some of the more spiritual elements that are in many of his works. The storyline revolves around a young man named Harima who is member of the Royal family of Kurada, is the only survivor after war had taken everyone else. He barely escapes death due to the required headcount by the enemy, but they’re intent on tormenting him nonetheless. The cruelty is striking in that they skin his face and crudely attach that of a wolf’s face to his own. On the run and considered a monster by the locals he comes across, he’s fallen quite far from where he was before.
What saves him is an old healer woman named Obaba who has read a bright future for him in the stars. Hoping to live out her years much better, she tags along with him and guides him towards the East where things should become better for him. Along the way he hooks up with a famous if fairly disgraced general named Saruta as well as discovering a tribe of gods call the Ku who he can understand due to the wolf bonding he’s undergone. The land of Wah that he eventually settles in, and even becomes a mayor of a village, is undergoing a vast transformation due to a Reformation that the dying Emperor has instituted. The conversion to a Buddhist state is progressing too fast however and is causing much strife among the population since they’re tearing away the things that they’ve worshipped for generations. With Harima now very much a part of the peoples’ lives, he finds that he cannot stand by this and gets involved which only causes more trouble.
That storyline takes on an interesting turn with the last two episodes of it as Inugami is intent on doing whatever he can to help his people with regards to their religious worship. His time with them has really turned him into their protector proper since he came there. With word that the Emperor has died, the land of Wah is in a period of turmoil that’s only offset by the simple arrival of the winter season which keeps most of the fighting men indoors. But once spring comes around, the ideas of many rise to the brim and there is plenty of uncertainty. The push for Buddhism is still strong though as the Emperor’s son has continued on with his fathers’ original plan.
Inugami isn’t exactly trusting at this point, but he’s intent on making his ideas heard and taking that right to the Emperor. It’s only due to the understanding of one of the men sent to bring him in that Inugami is actually able to do this. The timing, something that’s been prophesized earlier in the series, comes at a time when the land is really forcing through its change to Buddhism. War is inevitable and Inugami finds himself caught up on it, though only through the efforts and adoration of Marimo. The war that’s fought is fascinating to see in its visual interpretation as you have the old gods and Buddha fighting in the skies above while men spill blood on the ground below. There aren’t many interpretations of such things in the anime world, especially in dealing with Buddha in this way, which gives it some extra impact.
What made the series for me however is the final two episode arc simply title “The Future.” Taking place in the year 3403, we’re introduced to an Earth where things have gone disastrously wrong. The environment has collapsed and mankind has moved underground in massive hive cities that are reminiscent of the old Elijiah Bailey novels from Isaac Asimov. Each of the cities is run by a powerful computer and those who go against the established laws tend to be exiled to the inhospitable world above ground. One man named Masato has escaped to the surface and come across a small isolated dome that the exiled Dr. Saruta lives and works in. His goal has been to try and fix the world and reseed it with a version of humanity that can survive there but he’s had precious little luck.
Masato is tied closely to a woman named Tamami who is actually a Moopie which can help Saruta figure out where he’s going wrong. All of it goes wrong pretty quickly though when a man named Rock arrives and tells of how the world below is about to go to hell as a pair of the computers are intent on going to war. And such a war will go very badly since anyone who survives would be considered a winner, so everyone must die in this spectacle of mutual annihilation. Watching this end of humanity is fascinating in itself – and has some fun touches of classic Star Trek to it – but it’s what it does after humanity has died out that is the most interesting. Taking the storyline along slowly at first, going ahead a couple hundred and then five thousand years, but when it starts progressing billions of years into the future it just makes me all giddy inside. Such ideas are even more rarely touched upon in the anime world or in entertainment in general, but when it is used I’m hopelessly fascinated.
Essentially an anthology series focusing on all sorts of topics as Tezuka was wont to do, Phoenix is one of those really intriguing works that we don’t see too often. It explores a lot of different areas in general while working through different time periods. I was more interested in the future storylines than the past when I first saw it and that still holds true to some degree now, though I can appreciate the other material more now than I did before. This edition is definitely the best way to own the show as the encoding looks great but you just have to avoid the 5.1 mixes as they’re really simply disconnected from what you want from them. The show is one that fans have enjoyed many times over the years and getting it looking so great in high definition at long last is a huge and welcome win.
Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 Language, English 2.0 PCM Language, English Dolby Digital 5.1 Language, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Media Blasters
Release Date: October 8th, 2019
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.