Phoenix: A Tale of the Future - Osamu Tezuka

Tezuka (as I've mentioned before) is often referred to as the father of manga, Japanese comics. Although he didn't invent them, he took the art form to an unprecedented level, and set the standards for much of what we see even today. He was a prolific creator: the afterword in this book says that he created over 150,000 pages of comics, over sixty animation titles, not to mention his prose. Tezuka considered Phoenix his life work: it's actually a twelve-volume series that jumps back and forth in time from distant past to distant future which was still incomplete when Tezuka died in 1989. This particular book is the second volume (a fact which I didn't realize until I got to the afterword), but each volume is supposed to stand alone, with interconnected themes.

As comics go, Tezuka's manga tends to be quite melodramatic, with characters likely to burst into tears or a murderous rage at any moment. I suppose those more familiar with manga are used to this—it's a different style than your typical American superhero comics, which tend to take themselves quite seriously; or even your more adult-reader graphic novels, which can be quite serious indeed. At the same time, the main theme addressed by Tezuka is nothing to laugh at: man's inability to live at peace with himself and the Earth.

The Phoenix appears as a representation of the living Cosmos (Tezuka appears to be an atheist) who picks the protagonist to bring about the revival of mankind. But what we see is that Tezuka has little faith that the next round will be any better. After Earth is destroyed, we witness the evolutionary cycle (which, interestingly enough, starts off exactly the same way) a few times, and there's always the not-yet-fulfilled hope that eventually people will realize their mistakes and succeed. One interesting and quite amusing section involves the highly intelligent slugs that overpower both reptiles and mammals in one cycle of evolution. Slugs!

Though Tezuka's science is a little hokey at times, it's still great to be able to read manga from one of the greats, and to see how much of today's cartoons and styles borrow from it.

Fed to jonathan's brain | August 29, 2004