Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Apr 1st 2008
DVD 3 - Immutable Conclusion
Inugami's concern for his village's religious practices leads him to petition the emperor directly, a path of action that requires that he first allow himself to be imprisoned. To no avail. Fortune smiles on him, however, and places him in the hands of the emperor's far more liberal uncle, and when the emperor's forces clash with those of his uncle, Inugami and his wolf-god sweetheart spearhead a war of gods and men that will leave both decimated, and the faith of the people altered forever. Far in the future a young man named Masato flees the underground cities that mankind has hidden itself in. With him is his shape-shifting alien girlfriend. The two take refuge in the outpost of exiled scientist Saruta, who is creating life-forms that turn into puddles of slime when exposed to air. When his friend Rock arrives and things go sour in the underground cities, Masato is killed. The blood of the phoenix returns him to life, only to teach him that eternity is a long, lonely time.
It's perhaps fitting that Phoenix's last volume begins with the conclusion to the series' most conventional story—a straightforward tale of political and religious intrigue—before hopping millennia to begin its final, deeply odd, tale. Inugami's story is a reminder that Osamu Tezuka knows full well the value of entertaining his audience while preaching to them. Doomed love between man and god, thundering battles between gods, and swordplay aplenty—the story has entertainment stamped all over it, and the ripping pace in no way detracts.
It ends on a typically bittersweet note, its message spoken plainly—religion doesn't cause wars, men who would use it as a tool of domination do—and then the series surges forward to the end of times, throws off all trappings of conventionality and proceeds into a story that not only provides a very literal commentary on exactly what "eternal life" entails, but also purports to answer the question of the meaning of life. Agree with Tezuka's conclusions or not as you will, but you can't fault the series for a lack of ambition. You can, however, fault it for rushing its final story to conclusion—it lacks the grandeur and sense of time that it should have—and for its usual lapses in subtlety. For all the conceptual coolness of a man who actually does live forever and what he might witness, Tezuka's conclusion about the meaning of life is gooey "circle of life" nonsense, delivered by a long-lost lover's ghost no less. Oh yeah, and there's the paper journal that survived for one hundred million years. Make damned sure not to write any embarrassing secrets in that sucker.
Tezuka's dated visual conventions are preserved faithfully, from his futuristic outfits straight from Flash Gordon serials to the grossly exaggerated anatomy of some characters. They definitely take some getting used to, and some—like Saruta's strangely charismatic nose and Rock's uncanny resemblance to the members of Devo—never lose their ability to shock and awe. If you are in any doubt, however, about how director Ryousuke Takahashi and his team of modern animators feel about Tezuka's old-school peculiarities, one need only watch the emperor's obese advisor astride his horse, rolls of fat flapping in the wind, to sense their good humor. Again Takahashi's experience elevates the often pedestrian animation a level above average. Careful touches, like the active yet feminine way that wolf-girl Marimo runs, the use of pyrotechnics during a planetary rebirth, and battles that belie their budget with carefully times bursts of fluidity and unexpectedly adrenalized results, speak of a steady hand at the wheel. The score remains largely unchanged, except for the more prominent use of the memorable main theme during the final episodes.
There is little new to say of the dub; everyone seems to be having a fine time shouting and raising a ruckus, and generally having good hammy fun with the series' over-the-top emotions. The script is surprisingly solid, retaining the feel and meaning of the original without sounding forced or unnatural. The rewrite does gloss over Inugami's implied memory loss at one point, making the scene that follows look a little odd, but with all that shouting going on elsewhere, you'll hardly even notice.
If, for some unknowable reason, anyone was expecting Phoenix to somehow brilliantly tie all of its disparate plots together, let it go. The connections are thematic, not narrative, and tentative at that. The series does allow itself to get preachy and metaphysical at the end, but before it does it delivers plenty of cruel twists of fate, epic-scaled plotting (three billion years of epic), and mythical inventions. Hey, it's not your everyday creator who can claim to know The Meaning of Life. Enjoy it while you can; it'll be a long time before anyone with the brass to make that claim comes along again.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B+
+ It's got The Meaning of Life.
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