Phoenix Vol. #2 - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B+

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: A-
  • Video Rating: B
  • Packaging Rating: D
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: N/A
  • Age Rating: All
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Media Blasters
  • MSRP: 19.98
  • Running time: 125
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Phoenix

Phoenix Vol. #2

By Chris Beveridge     December 06, 2007
Release Date: December 04, 2007


Phoenix Vol. #2
© Media Blasters


What They Say
All throughout time, men and women have desired the Phoenix, for it brings the promise of eternal life. The epic cycles of the Phoenix continue with Leona, brought back to life by modern science after a mysterious lab accident on the moon. With a cybernetic brain and no memories, he sees robots as people and people as monsters. But when Leona unravels what really happened on the moon, he finds that he was the biggest monster of all.

Sakon no Suke is the daughter of a medieval warlord, but was raised as a boy. To reclaim her gender she assassinates the old medicine woman keeping her father alive. Her violent act tears apart her fate, sending her through an eddy in time where she learns the origins of the medicine woman and the enormity of her crime.

Then, in a savage age at the dawn of modern culture, the young lord Harima is caught by his clan's enemies. Killed and disfigured, he awakes in the forest with the head of a wolf. Struggling to find a new identity for himself, he begins a long journey that will see him a savage, a beggar, a tribal chieftain, a general and a guardian spirit.

Contains episodes 6-9.

The Review!
Traipsing through three different stories and periods of time, Phoenix continues to simply toy with its cast by putting them through numerous hardships.

Audio:
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.

Video:
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.

Packaging:
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.

Menu:
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.

Extras:
None.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The first volume of Phoenix presented an interest, if somewhat longer than needed, storyline that introduced the basic archetype set of characters that populate all the stories. Moving from that one to the future, which finishes out in this volume, it shifts backwards to different periods in time to showcase more stories involving the Phoenix. At the heart of each of them however is a simple struggle for what's right and how to deal with the hardships that are thrown at them.

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.

The last storyline on this volume, which doesn't conclude here, 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.

With this being incomplete, I'm curious to see where it's going to go since it introduces numerous things to deal with. The strangest of them all is the way Harima has been changed, since it goes beyond basic expectations of reality. Not that this series has much to do with reality in a sense, but it has played by some straightforward rules since the start. Having him grafted to a wolf's face better than Travolta and Cage did it in Face/Off, it really does feel out of place. You do get used to it as it goes on though and before long it's barely an issue at all. There is a lot of places for this storyline to go, since it barely touches on the Ku tribe for awhile and Saruta is underused at this point beyond getting Harima in the position that he is now.

In Summary:
The middle volume of the series introduces us to a lot of new things, and due to the way the original manga was written over the course of many years, it's easy to ignore some of the small issues that crop up because of it. As a whole, I'm guessing that the next volume will cement things a bit more and some of the themes will be a touch clearer. In its individual parts, it's a very interesting show and one that really doesn't hold back in dealing with what it wants to portray. It's a curious co-production by the New York PBS channel to be sure. In the end though, I suspect that a show like this will fare much better when viewed as a whole rather than as separate pieces. Though it comes across slow at times, the end of each episode has me skipping forward to get to the next one very quickly. The lag between volumes is definitely something I would love to do without.

Features
Japanese 5.1 Language,Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English 2.0 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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