The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Hi no Tori

Title: Hi no Tori aka Phoenix
Genre: Drama
Company: Tezuka Productions/NHK
Format: 13 episodes
Dates: 21 Mar 2004 – 27 Jun 2004

Synopsis: The Great Phoenix is an immortal being, reborn from fire every time she dies. While the humans around her live their lives, fight their wars and perish, she remains the only constant thing in an everchanging world. But as that world becomes aware of her existence, new dangers arise: When mere mortals are gambling with immortality or are trying to exploit the powers of the Phoenix for their own goals, what will become of the world they all live in?

The Highlights
Music: Great.
Seiyuu: Highly skilled.
Plot: A true epic.
Ending: Powerful and engrossing.
Pacing: Some sub-par episodes.
Logic: Incoherent role of the Phoenix.
Length: Altogether too short.

Ever since Tezuka Osamu‘s Metropolis, I was sceptical whether his manga masterpieces could every be made anime masterpieces. The transition to the big screen didn’t work too well. So does Hi no Tori live up to the expectations of the grandmaster’s longest-running manga series?

To a surprisingly large extent, it does. The anime is split into several parts rather than a coherent story, but each part takes up anywhere from one to four episodes of the series. With up to 110 minutes of time for a single story, going for truly epic plots is not much of a problem, and Hi no Tori does just that – taking the plots from large to gigantic. Little things lead to huge changes, and whole empires collide in their pursuit of the Phoenix. One jaw-dropping revelation follows another when, for instance, a seemingly normal Sci-Fi plot turns into a conflict that may very well spell the end of all humanity. Really, it’s that impressive.

The great thing about Hi no Tori, however, is that the epic doesn’t end with the conclusion of every single part. Everything that is ever addressed in the series is picked up within the final story arc… and woven into an even greater development ending with the most satisfying conclusion to a series I’ve seen in the last three years. Here’s truly storytelling at its best, and I wish there were more scripts like that one.

While the graphical qualities of the series are only average and nothing that you wouldn’t expect for a 2004 release, the music and voice acting are simply terrific. The opening theme by Chinese composer Min Chen is a beautiful piece of interwoven European and Chinese sounds which perfectly sets the mood for the events that are to come, and the situational music is absolutely up to par with that opening. On top of that, when the producers decided upon the seiyuu cast, they went for experience and employed the voices of Speed Racer, Naruto… and the 1980 Hi no Tori theatrical feature film. The Phoenix is spoken by the same seiyuu who did her voice 24 years ago! Now that’s continuity!

There are only a few downsides to an otherwise great series. The first problem is that two of the story arcs are not up to par with the others. While they are by no means bad, they are just unimpressive compared to the other life-and-death plots, and they also do not really fit into the final conclusion very well. There’s also the question which role the Phoenix plays in the world – sometimes she’s just there to be hunted down, at other times, she’s a benevolent benefactor, and then there are her appearances as a judge where she punishes evil (or just stupidity) without mercy or forgiveness. This can be explained with the unpredictable nature of divine beings in Japanese mythology, but it still feels wrong within a series like that one.

The biggest problem, however, is that Hi no Tori is way too short. It is based on Tezuka-sensei’s longest-running manga, and shortening it down to a quarter-year series means you have to leave out tons of potentially great material. Even more so, the producers decided to make one of the longest story arcs within the manga, “The Sun”, into a four-parter, cutting out huge parts of development for the sake of the main plot. It’s still a good story to watch, but it feels very incomplete. A piece of art like that should have been made into a 200-part series, not a 13-episode shortie.

All in all, Hi no Tori is still an impressive series well worth watching if you like epic stories, Tezuka Osamu or, ideally, both. The art won’t put you off, the music will pull you into the universe… and the episodes will make your jaw drow. Watch this while it’s still hot… and with a firebird as a protagonist, this one will remain hot for quite some time to come.

The Rating: 8

Reviewed by: Taleweaver

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