Friday, February 18, 2005

PHOENIX - YAMATO by Osamu Tezuka

Been catching up on Viz's release of Osamu Tezuka's PHOENIX lately, picking up Volumes 3 and 4, YAMATO/SPACE and KARMA. For those unfamiliar with this, Tezuka was one of the foremost comics artists and animators in Japan for several decades, and PHOENIX was probably his most ambitious work, a dozen interconnected graphic novels jumping through time.

YAMATO is my favourite of the stories I've read so far. Based around an unfinished burial mound in Asuka Japan (I'm curious if that's a real-world reference), it's about a young prince, Ugano, in Japan around AD 350. His father is trying to write a self-aggrandizing history and building an elaborate tomb, where he plans to bury many servants alive when he goes. Ugano rebels against that, and is sent on a mission to take care of a rival ruler who is writing a conflicting history of Japan. On the mission he falls in love and encounters the mythic Phoenix that ties all these stories together (and meets the man who encountered the Phoenix in the first book, DAWN). On returning home he tries in various ways to interfere with his father's plans in various ways.

It's a fascinating and creative story, with a lot of interesting characters, surprising twists and some evocative images. It also has a lot of Tezuka's quirky sense of humour, like most of his work (other than ADOLF, I guess), which doesn't always work for me, but sometimes manages to elicit a chuckle in this one.

YAMATO is combined with the next volume, SPACE, in the recent collection, which goes off to the future. SPACE is one of the most surreal comics works I've ever read. More on that later.

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