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Phoenix 9: Life

Tezuka, Osamu. Phoenix Vol. 9: Strange Beings and Life (1981, 1980). Viz, 2006. ISBN: 9781421505190.

See previous post on Phoenix Vol. 7 and 8: Civil War.

Two short stories in volume 9, and once again, for reasons that are not clear, Viz has put the stories out of order. This volume places “Strange Beings” before “Life,” yet both in the order Tezuka made them and in the structure of the series, “Life,” a future story, should precede “Strange Beings,” a past story. I’ll keep with Tezuka’s ordering, so first up is “Life.”

Set in the mid-22nd century, “Life,” drawn in 1980, is oddly prescient about television. Here Tezuka posits televisions decline into a morass of reality-type game shows of ever more questionable content. Naturally, he takes it to an extreme point. The story’s protagonist, Mr. Aoi, is a slick television producer, living a decadent life. His program that features people hunting cloned animals is losing ratings, so he decides the next big thing should be hunting human clones. Human clones are illegal, but Aoi travels to the international cloning center in the Andes Mountains. Aoi meets a doctor there who is yet another man named Saruta, with a big bumpy nose. He wants a clone made of himself, one who is pre-cancerous bumpy nose, so the clone can go back to Japan and marry his girlfriend.

Saruta takes Aoi to the “bird woman” who holds the secret of cloning and lives with the Incas. She forces the two men to stay inside a large brick bowl for a day and night in the cold and heat. Saruta dies, but Aoi survives to learn the bird woman’s secret. She is a cloned descendent of the offspring of an Incan warrior and what we can only assume is the phoenix itself. This adds another strange facet to the phoenix, one which does not at all fit with the rest of what we’ve seen (how does it mate with humans?). I get the feeling Tezuka is not all that concerned with a consistent vision of the phoenix. He has his stories to tell, with their morals, and he’ll use whatever plot points he needs to get there.

Because of Aoi’s “impudence” in exposing the bird woman’s face (he pulls off her bird mask to reveal, gasp, a bird face), she clones him as punishment. This descendent of the phoenix is just as harsh with punishmenta as the other incarnations. He and all his clones become, not unexpectedly, the human clones that Aoi’s studio uses for their clone hunt show. They don’t know which one is the original Aoi, so they just use all of them. Why all the clones seem to have the same knowledge (and clothes) as the original is not addressed and an illogic we must overlook.

So Aoi becomes the hunted clone and in fleeing his hunters (they seem to do the hunts in an actual inhabited city!), he meets an obnoxious little girl name June with whom he escapes into the last unspoiled wilderness in Japan. Naturally, by being hunted he learns the error in his ways. The suffering put upon him, living in the wilderness with no luxuries, though is only part of his punishment. He lives in the wilderness for 15 years with June, who grows into a young women. Aoi begins to lust after her, despite her calling him “father” (Tezuka does seem to like injecting incestual affection into his works), and becomes jealous of certain of her activities, convinced she is seeing a man. In fact, she is seeing the bird woman who for reasons that aren’t clear travelled from the Andes to Japan to tell June that Aoi would be punished even past death (the clearest lesson in Phoenix is that punishment lasts past death, with poor Saruta being the exemplar of such). Bird woman offers to help June teach Aoi to get past his suffering. The bird woman imbues June with the “pure knowledge of what it means to be a true living being” (225). Your guess is as good as mine as what that is, because before June can do much of anything Aoi causes her to get shot by a mad farmer (she’s stealing yams and Aoi trails her and causes trouble). Aoi tries to lick her wounds like a dog (this is something that also comes up a lot in Tezuka’s work, as some kind of pure act of humility (perhaps there’s a Buddhist precedent)), but must give in to taking her back to civilization to a hospital.

Discovering his clones are still being murdered on television he visits his old station manager, learning that now the company is making its own clones in Japan, Aoi accompanies the manager to the factory, where he blows it up with a bomb he concealed on his person. He dies in the process. In an epilogue with June, we learn that the whole human clone industry in Japan has collapsed because of Aoi’s attempt at redemption.

Maybe I’m getting jaded with Phoenix, but “Life” seems to have an excessive number of plot holes and open threads. What was June supposed to teach Aoi? Is the lesson to not make clones of humans so as to hunt them on television? Why did the bird woman go to Japan anyway? Did Aoi redeem himself in the end? Tezuka doesn’t shy away from afterlife scenes in this series, yet, no word on Aoi. Why do they only make clones of one guy for 15 years? Surely, someone else would think of making different clones to give some variety to their show.

Even more importantly, what is Aoi’s real crime? When he is cloned by the bird woman, his sole noted crime is his “impudence” at exposing her identity (pulling off her mask when no one else is around to even see). The actually cloning of the humans only happens because the bird woman lets it happen (she does the cloning). So is Aoi’s crime just being a television producer asshole? Are the cloned animals the problem, because it’s made clear from the story, there’s a lot of cloning already going on besides he and his show. Or, at the heart of things, are we to see his punishment as rather absurd? Life sucks sometimes. People get diseases (or get cloned and hunted down on television), and there isn’t always a direct correlation. That’d be rather existentialist of Tezuka, wouldn’t it?

No images this time as nothing particularly caught my interest.

Next up: “Strange Beings.”