Hi no Tori, “Bird of Fire/Phoenix”
• Osamu Tezuka • Viz (2003–2007)
• various magazines (1956–1989)
• Religion, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction
• 13+/16+ (language, violence, nudity)
Described by Tezuka as “my life’s work,” Phoenix is epic in the extreme, spanning literally the whole of human history. It consists of twelve stories but was almost certainly unfinished at the time of Tezuka’s death in 1989. The stories leap back and forth in time: the first takes place in the very distant past, the second in the very distant future, the third in the slightly less distant past, and so on, with past and future slowly converging toward the present. The stories are linked by the presence of the immortal Phoenix and the running themes of survival and immortality. Taken individually, they run the gamut from good to great, with the changes in style and tone that might be expected in a work serialized over the course of four decades. The best story may be volume 4, the stunning “Karma” (Hô-ô in Japanese editions), which follows the interlocking lives of two eighth-century sculptors, one a saintly Buddhist, the other a deformed and bitter bandit. The strangest may be volume 6, “Nostalgia,” in which a woman left alone on a barren planet commits repeated incest with her descendants, only to be eventually relieved by shape-shifting aliens called Moopies (which also appear elsewhere in the series). Despite the periodic miss, all of the stories are the work of a master at the top of his form. The final volume of the Viz edition includes a selection of Tezuka’s early work.