Hi no Tori

Alt titles: Phoenix

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sothis's avatar By sothis on Sep 26, 2004

Story
Wow. The word flowed through my mind at a snail's pace as I absorbed what I had just seen, as the ending credits to Hinotori scrolled down the screen. Have you ever watched an anime that’s hard to pay attention to? When it’s really hard to force yourself to finish it at all, let alone quickly? You know the type: a genre you dislike, a boring storyline, or anything in between – you don’t like it, and you don’t want to have to finish the series. On the other hand, occasionally you find a gem which, for some reason, sucks you in and demands your attention. You can’t wait to watch the next episode, and tend to finish the entire thing in a day or two. I haven’t found many of these. Blue Gender, Gungrave and Berserk are three from the handful, with a newcomer to be added to the list: Hinotori.

As the somewhat cryptic description suggests, Hinotori focuses on a central topic: life. The series itself is broken up into five completely separate stories: two of them are 4 episodes long, two are two episodes long, and one is one episode long. Each of these tales spans a different time period, from an ancient tribal culture, to samurai times, to a dystopic future where humanity has been all but wiped out. Each story has a very different moral or tone (some are tragedies, others are hopeful), but all of them return to the myth of the phoenix in some manner. Think of it like watching Kita he or Rumic’s Theater (though Kita he is more appropriate) as far as the flow and segmented episodes. Each episode has a narrator that talks in the background, pretty much explaining how life flows, and how it affects the story.

Although life is the main focus, there are quite a few additional themes as well that are shown. Religion, war, sin and atonement, sacrifice; these are some of the things we see in a very bleak manner, to help us understand how life can survive even through such hardship.

The reason why I scored this section so high is twofold: first, the overall flow of the series is beautiful. Although each series is not connected by plot, they all end up being connected in spirit, per say, by the theme of life. Regardless of the length of the arc, each tale has its own conclusion, leaving no loose ends behind, and leaving the viewer satisfied. Second, the stories themselves are wonderfully written and interesting in their own ways. The last arc (2 part story) is easily one of the best sci-fi pieces I’ve seen, and also one of the most moving, epic pieces as well. There was only one arc that I didn’t care for as much as the others, and I’m not sure why. The story itself was well written, the character development superb, but it just didn’t speak to me like the others did. Still a moot point, though, as every story was beautiful in its own way.
Animation
Visually, Hinotori is a treat, except in one area that I’ll discuss a bit later. Scenery and backgrounds are the most beautiful aspects to the animation, with extremely vibrant colors and "camera shots" (if you can call it that) that make you feel like you are watching a small independent film. Check out the screenshots if you want proof, the imagery is absolutely stunning. Often, the camera angles and choice of focus contribute to the sense of awe you get when seeing certain scenes, and make the mood much more effective.

Character designs will definitely remind of you of other Osamu Tezuka works, including Metropolis and Astroboy, from the sweeping upward/pointy hair, to the very vertically oval, round eyes. Unfortunately, that’s also the one thing I didn’t like about the animation: the specific character design of the guy with the huge, huge bumpy nose that was bigger than the head itself. This character, though in a different role each time, was always very disgusting to look at visually. I felt like it detracted from the beauty and realism of the other characters. The only other less than appealing thing about the character designs were the wolves and dogs, who looked very cartoon-like, similar to something you’d see in an American cartoon.

CG was used fairly often for the phoenix, and it was very well done at that. The phoenix always showed up as a shimmering of color, or a distortion of the color around it. Its face, however, looked like animation made in the 70s, which was a bit of a change.

Beautiful animation all around, with minus points for the occasional cheesy animal, and the very hideous large nosed person.
Sound
Like all other aspects of Hinotori, the audio and musical selections were superb. Instead of cheesy synthesizer tracks, this series chose instead for a variety of classical pieces that have a definite Japanese flair. To be honest, some of the tracks reminded me of something that was played in "The Last Samurai", or in a dark drama such as Mermaid’s Forest. The nice thing about the orchestral music (going along with the last comment) is that quite a bit of the time, orchestral music in general usually accompanies Ghibli type films for children, or series such as Secret of Cerulean Sands. This younger sounding music was not present in Hinotori, which is why I loved it so much. Rather, it was very adult and haunting, which fit perfectly with the mood.

Besides the regular music, I must say that the intro song was very... unusual. It sounded like it was done in the 70s, which really didn’t fit well with the animation style and overall newer feel of the show. I would only guess that this was to show how deep the roots of this franchise really go (having started in the 70s), but I still think they could have put a slightly newer song at the helm to open the series.

Music aside, the sound effects were also superb, and extremely creepy when they needed to be. A case in point would be when a soldier was getting hit with dozens of arrows, and you could hear each wet thud as each new arrow hit its target. Chilling to say the least.

Voice actors fit everyone involved very well, including the near perfect choice of a narrator.
Characters
With any short OVA or story where only a few episodes are involved, character development is usually the area that suffers above all others. Usually you leave the viewing with no real feelings of empathy for the characters, and you don’t feel you know them much better than when the anime started, due to the constricts of time. Occasionally, though, you find a masterpiece that manages to do this in only a short amount of time. Kita he, though definitely on a shallow level, managed to do this. After only two episodes, you’d want to see more, you’d understand the characters, and you’d feel happy or sad depending on the outcome of the situation. Hinotori is no exception, and excels at the character development in a masterful manner. Even in the one episode arc, at the end you somehow feel sorry for the main character, and melancholy about her fate. I think the main thing that makes this so easy to accomplish, in Hinotori’s case, is that tragedy is interspersed plentifully in all of the arcs. The key, of course, is making the tragedy realistic and moving, which was accomplished easily.

The characters are so human, and that’s what makes them believable. Their tragedy, rage, sadness and hope are what make them tangible, and the fact that they learn from their mistakes and treacheries make them all the more realistic.
Overall
Hinotori is one of those series that was breathtaking, and left me speechless. The animation was superb, the music was beautiful, but the premise itself was nothing less than inspiring. Those who enjoy a solid, interconnected plot need not apply for this series, but for anyone else that love to watch brilliantly tragic and hopeful pieces about humanity and where it is headed, you would greatly appreciate the watch.
9.5/10 story
8.5/10 animation
9/10 sound
9/10 characters
9.5/10 overall
vivafruit's avatar By vivafruit on Jan 16, 2005

Story

When a director decides to eschew the standard glitz that plagues contemporary anime, the quality of the story is really all that matters. In the end, the creator must trust that the tale they are telling is a good one, and that it alone will be able to keep the viewers' attention.

As luck would have it, Hi no Tori has a more than respectable storyline. Narratives that are simultaneously simple and creative are difficult to come by, but this is certainly one of them. The show takes familiar topics and expands on them in a way that makes them feel fresh and new. I was never bored while watching through the show and was occasionally mildly impressed.

Basically, the show is split into an eclectic variety of vignettes that range from 1-4 episodes. In each one, the characters are completely different, and the stories are almost completely unrelated. However, the entire anime is tied together by a general theme of death and renewal that is symbolized, not unsurprisingly, by a phoenix. The structure works fairly well; all the short stories are well suited for their length, and each of them is able to have a relatively satisfying ending.

Unfortunately, while the plot is certainly good, a few things prevent it from achieving greatness. For one, there are times when the creator's attempts at serious drama cross over from emotional to melodramatic. At these moments, the story feels rather silly and childish -- something that should be avoided at all costs for a philosophical anime like this one.

Speaking of which, the anime's overall message (that life goes on) feels oversimplified and obvious. Similar anime like Kino's Journeyi, Haibane Renmei, and Galaxy Express 999 are all excellent because they avoid providing a clear-cut moral and instead leave interpretation up to the viewer. Hi no Tori, on the other hand, leaves no room for independent thought, and as a result is significantly less interesting.

Still, if one enjoys the anime's stories for sheer entertainment over philosophical value, Hi no Tori definitely delivers. The sheer creativity alone is enough to make each isolated tale enjoyable, and the nice pacing and satisfying endings only sweeten the deal.


Animation

The anime carries the very distinct mark of Tezuka Osamu, so people that have seen something by him will know what to expect in the character designs. I've heard a lot of criticism on them (particularly for the anime Metropolis), but I've always enjoyed the very unique and exaggerated designs of the manga artist.

The backgrounds are usually nice and often outstanding. Furthermore, just about every scene that involves the phoenix is highly enjoyable eye candy. In particular, the opening sequence is an impressive combination of vibrant colors and visual ingenuity. Granted, the animation is somewhat lacking in the action scenes, but as a whole I was fairly satisfied with the visuals.


Sound

The instrumental music fits the mood decently enough, and I don't have any serious complaints with the voice acting.


Characters

All in all, the most sizeable casualty of Hi no Tori's unique plot structure is the characters. The anime seldom takes the time necessary to develop any of them past basic groundwork, which takes away a lot of the emotional punch from the often tragic storyline. A good indicator of how well a character is developed is to think about how many antonymous adjectives can be used to describe him or her. With a character like, say, Naruto, a plethora of appropriate describing words come to mind (brave, stupid, stubborn, etc.). With the protagonists of Hi no Tori, the only one that comes to mind is "interchangeable."

The only exception to this is the title character, which has a fair bit of development over the course of the show. However, a lot of the general motives of the Phoenix remain unexplained, and as a result the character, while intriguing, isn't something to actually care about.

There are a good number of romances entwined throughout the stories, and thanks to the substandard characterization, just about all of these come across as unconvincing and bland. The lack of character development is mitigated somewhat by the unique character designs, but initial appearances can only take a character so far.


Overall

Hi no Tori is an admirable work. The anime does what few before it have even thought about, and the show is miles ahead in creativity to the usual dreck that studios cheerfully pump out. If the anime had been a little more thought-provoking and had worked on its characters some, this could have become a personal favorite. As is, however, the show is definitely worth watching, and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys anime that doesnt cater to a mainstream audience.

8.5/10 story
7.5/10 animation
6/10 sound
5/10 characters
7/10 overall
Cenimoran's avatar By Cenimoran on Feb 26, 2011

Overview-

Hi no Tori is a somewhat unorthodox anime broken into five smaller stories: Dawn (4 episodes), Resurrection (2 episodes), Strange Beings (1 episode), The Sun (4 episodes), and Future (2 episodes). The series expresses a primarily Buddhist viewpoint. Any subtle ideological expressions in the show should not offend viewers. I am certainly not Buddhist, and the show did not offend me.

 

Story-

Hi no Tori is a show driven primarily by story. It reminded me a bit of The Twilight Zone in some regards. It doesn't really have a twist at the end of each arc, but the quality of storytelling and thought-provoking situations were similar. Each story takes place in a different setting and with different characters. The atmosphere feels entirely different in each one, the two most similar being Dawn and The Sun.

That said, the story of Hi no Tori is difficult to judge by traditional standards. Pacing is never a problem, owing to the brevity of each story. Clichés are mostly avoided through the course of the series. The cartoony look certainly belies a mature, though not ingenious, story. Characters die, are reborn, and kill others. Despite a few combat scenes, the story isn't particularly violent and very little blood is shown.

The binding force throughout each mini-plot is the Phoenix. Symbolically, it (or she, as depicted in the show) is the renewing cycle of life. One must keep this in mind while watching, as the concepts of life and the passage of time are important to the plot.

 

Animation-

You should come with low standards in regards to animation. The character designs reminded me strongly of an American cartoon; the show looks nothing like a 2011 anime. Animals look like they're from a Hanna-Barbera production. Colors are somewhat bland. Character models (names as well) are reused from story to story. There is one particularly ugly character with an enormous nose that appears in every arc.

 

Sound-

Hi no Tori has a good orchestral score and a few pieces of music even gave me pause. The opening theme is particularly good. I liked the ending song as well; however, it is sung (unlike the opening) and rather short.

Voice actors were sound in the dubbed version, which I watched. The narrator deserves commendation for a good performance. None of the other voice actors stood out to me.

 

Characters-

Given its limited time to develop characters, Hi no Tori does surprisingly well. No character was particularly annoying. On the flip siide, no character stood out to me as particularly interesting or noteworthy. Each serves his or her role and quickly departs from the screen. The Phoenix is the only truly recurring character, if you count it (her). It only has a few enlightening lines per story, though.

 

Conclusion (7.5--fairly good)-

Hi no Tori is a good anime with unfortunately poor animation. I bumped the overall score up to a 7.5 owing to the unorthodox presentation of the series. That is, having it divided into five smaller shows. This was a refreshing change for me. If you're looking for a shounen or something, go elsewhere. If you're looking for a solid mix of adventure and philosophy, this is for you.

8/10 story
5/10 animation
7/10 sound
6/10 characters
7.5/10 overall