Phoenix Vol. #1 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: B+

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  • Audio Rating: A-
  • Video Rating: B
  • Packaging Rating: D
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: B-
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Media Blasters
  • MSRP: 19.95
  • Running time: 125
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Phoenix

Phoenix Vol. #1

By Chris Beveridge     October 29, 2007
Release Date: October 30, 2007

Phoenix Vol. #1
© Media Blasters

What They Say
Throughout time, mankind has chased after the dream of immortality. The Phoenix, in the form of a bird of fire, is said to hold the key to eternal life. Great wars are fought in a vain attempt to possess it and, as a result, civilizations rise and fall. Phoenix is a collection of five stories from the past, present and future. Many will perish because of their desires, and they are the lucky ones. True pain comes for those who find immortality and experience the burden of living forever.

Contains episodes 1-5.

The Review!
Made up of a series of stories by the famous Osamu Tezuka, Phoenix is the latest adaptation of the material in anime form.

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 its set against a black background with the sun rising over the planet. 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 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.

The only extras included with this release are clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga series by Osamu Tezuka which was created back in 1954, this thirteen episode series takes arcs from that as well as the continuation done in the late 1980's. Directed by Ryosuke Takahashi, this is a welcome change from some of his usual shows like 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, the first volume is very interesting to watch 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.

Not unlike a few other recent shows that have made their way over, Phoenix has a distinctive style with its characters that doesn't conform to the cookie cutter mentality today. Similar to how Ishinomori's characters or Matsumoto's characters look, the designs here are well adapted as they become a bit fuller while still retaining what makes them Tezuka's designs. Akio Sugino has a wonderful history of character design and really does a great job here. Having worked on some previous Tezuka characters as well as the recent release of Nobody's Boy Remi, it's fascinating to see the progression in the work across the years while still maintaining something that is reflective of the source itself.

In Summary:
Phoenix isn't a knockout hit, at least right from the start, but it is a very interesting show from what we've seen so far. With only thirteen episodes to the series it already feels like it's going to be too short. The first arc does have some pacing issues to it as it feels just a bit too long, but the story manages to hold your attention well as it all reveals itself. The shift in the last episode to a new storyline and a different time is meant to shock and surprise and it works well in that since you may expect the first story arc to continue forward. These self contained arcs with its one constant of the Phoenix play different morality tales for the audience with a decided Japanese bent to them. Tezuka's work has earned its reputation over the years and that alone has made me very curious to see how this will feel not only as individual arcs but as a whole.

Japanese 5.1 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles

Review Equipment
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.


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