Phoenix Vol. #3 (of 3) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, February 05, 2008
What They Say
Life is an endless cycle. Humans desperate to escape this cycle hunt the Phoenix, who's blood brings immortality. Inugami is a man cursed with the head of a wolf, in love with a guardian spirit named Morimo. He is caught up in a struggle between the local people and Buddhist priest Hoben, who is manipulating the government. Twisted by the desires of mankind, the gods erupt into a literal full-scale war between the Buddhist saints and the people's sprits of rain and earth. In the far future, mankind lives below the ground in giant computer-controlled cities that are constantly on the brink of nuclear armageddon. Yamanobe escapes from his city to carry on his illegal love affair with the alien Tamami. Hounded by Rock from Central Intelligence and a scientist obsessed with creating life, Yamanobe ends up drinking the blood of the Phoenix. But will his gift bring him only loneliness, or a chance to witness the most amazing rebirth of all?
Phoenix comes to a conclusion by shifting between two very different times and ending with a short arc that was the highlight of the series.
Phoenix has a surprisingly solid mix of language tracks with it since it's trying to cater to quite a few different tastes. Both English and Japanese are present and each of those has a standard 192 kbps stereo mix as well as a 448 kbps 5.1 mix. There doesn't feel like a huge different between the stereo and 5.1 mixes for the most part but it is noticeable in several scenes where the rear channels are well used with what's going on in the show. The rears simply don't get much of a workout, nor is one really required, and the bass level in general is very low. We did listen to this primarily in the English 5.1 mix but also listened to several episodes in Japanese 5.1 and came away pleased with both.
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Phoenix has, depending on the story at hand, a very mixed presentation. 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 transfer in general is decent but due to the four audio tracks, the lower peaks that can be used for the video is noticeable. The strongest area this can be noticed is in portions of the opening sequence. Doing a comparison against the clean version which only has a single 192 kbps audio track to it, you can see almost all of the problem areas disappear. The series has some rather consistent background noise to it which is made a bit worse due to the very visible gradients that are caused by the style of the show. It holds up well in general but some of the issues are pretty noticeable on larger screens and can be distracting if you're used to them.
Media Blasters has gone in an unusual route for this release in terms of its packaging. The packaging is basically a keepcase sized hardcover book with the same kind of thickness. The left interior side has a clear plastic plate section similar to digipaks where the disc itself goes. The actual artwork for the release is gorgeous. The front cover has a beautiful image of the phoenix itself that really shines as she’s set against a black background with a look at the Milky Way galaxy behind her. The back cover is traditional in that it has a couple of shots laid through it and a good summary of the premise. The shows production information is listed as is a section with the episode count and extra features. And as usual, the technical grid is solid with a clean clear listing of what kind of presentation you'll have. The interior artwork is spread over both panels with a beautiful full color image of the phoenix in flight going toward the galaxy. Where the packaging fails is that once you open it, well, there's no way to close it. No latch at all. If there is a box with it, it would have worked out better and made sense. But as a standalone piece, it just leaves you scratching your head.
The menu design is simple but nicely done as it features a strong visual of the phoenix up close along the right while a starry background and sunrise fleshes out the rest of it. Tied to a mellow piece of instrumental music, the entire piece is relaxing as it plays out with no transitional animations or problems. The navigation along the left is straightforward and Media Blasters continues to add a nice back feature in the scene selections allowing us to jump backwards to the last episode from the first. I would still far prefer a listing of all episodes on the volume on one page for easy access. The disc correctly read our players' language presets and played accordingly.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Phoenix comes to a close with the last two arcs of the series and they couldn’t be more different. The first half of the disc finishes out the storyline from the previous volume while the final two episodes plays in a very different realm. It’s not much of a surprise that I found the more futuristic storyline far more engaging but that doesn’t detract from how interesting the previous arc with Inugami is.
That storyline takes on an interesting turn with these two episodes 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.
In a way, Phoenix is a very uneven series simply because it runs through so many different stories and time periods that you’re bound to find uninteresting parts of it. The stories of the past were ones that I found interesting enough at times but they tended to run longer than I would have cared for. Conversely, the science fiction stories of the future tended to be much more interesting and much shorter as well. When looked at in total, I admit that I like the re-used character designs and names and the way it tied it all together along with the Phoenix itself. In a way, I’m not sure there’s really a point here other than to entertain with a variety of morality tales of sorts, but I found myself liking it. I can see this being much more interesting when you don’t have the wait period between arcs that the volumes managed to create. Media Blasters did some neat yet flawed packaging with this which makes it worth checking out before the inevitable mini collection.
Japanese 5.1 Language,Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 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.
Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: D
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Media Blasters
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2