Based on the manga by Osuma Tezuka, PHOENIX: Reminiscence of Flower follows Romi (Rie Miyazawa) and George (Yôsuke Kubozuka), a pair of colonisers who escape Earth to start a new life on the planet of Eden. However, life is tough on this new world, and an accident leaves a pregnant Romi facing an uncertain future alone. However, this is only the beginning of her and this new planet’s story.
Osuma Tezuka is nothing short of a historical titan in his field. Dubbed “the father of manga” due to his contributions to the media during the early 20th century, his works include the iconic Astro Boy, Kimba the Lion and the source material for this film, Phoenix. Running from the 1950s until Tezuka’s passing in 1989, this manga focuses on themes of life and death with each volume following a separate event in history, from humanity’s distant past to its uncertain future among the stars.
So how would you go about adapting such a property? This was one of the main challenges that director Shôjirô Nishimi and screenwriters Saku Konohana and Katsunari Mano faced for the film adaptation, PHOENIX: Reminiscence of Flower. The film itself focuses on the Nostalgia volume of the series, but considering that even that installment takes place over hundreds of years, the biggest problem of Reminiscence of Flower becomes quickly apparent – its pacing is all over the place.
The time cuts in this film may be very jarring – first, there are a few hours between two cuts, then a few months have gone by, followed by some years, and then a whole millennia. Reminiscence of Flower has stunning visuals and a gorgeous ethereal soundtrack that fits perfectly with the sci-fi setting. However, the story can give the audience whiplash from how quickly it jumps from one event to another. It literally summarizes the founding of a colony, the birth of a humanoid species and the growth of a new civilization, events that span over the better part of two millennia in about an hour and a half of running time, all the while trying to squeeze in the main character’s own personal plot.
Now, an obvious way to go around this would be to make it a series instead of a film, and it does exist – kind of. Disney Plus is streaming a four-part episodic series called Phoenix: Eden 17, but it is just the movie sliced up into smaller chunks. The only difference between the two is that they each have a different ending, but it is mere seconds of difference. This may make the story more digestible for viewers, but not by much.
Of all of the European premieres to be shown at Scotland Loves Anime Festival 2023, PHOENIX: Reminiscence of Flower was the least enjoyable. It does give an update to the aging manga, and as an experience for the senses, it is truly a delight, with stunning visuals and a beautiful orchestral soundtrack. However, the plot tries to do too much in too little time and really takes a lot away from what otherwise could have been an amazing science fiction anime.
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PHOENIX: Reminiscence of Flower tries to cram an expansive science fiction history and a universe-spanning adventure along with an intimate narrative of family and longing for home, making the final film feel bloated.
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