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  • Phoenix 2772:A 1980 Turning Point for Tezuka and Anime
  • Renato Rivera Rusca (bio)

Phoenix 2772: Love's Cosmozone (Hi no tori 2772: Ai no kosumozōn) is a 1980 animated feature film written by Tezuka Osamu (based on his manga Hi no tori [Phoenix]), directed by Sugiyama Taku, with Ishiguro Noboru acting as animation director.1 The methods employed for special effects in the movie include scan camera shots, CGI, live-action filming, "2-frame photography," 3D manipulation, rotoscoping, and more. The movie's contents, its ambitious production, and the context surrounding it paints an intriguing image of Tezuka Osamu at a seemingly desperate stage of his creative life.

Background History and Contextualization of the Work

In order to explain the significance of Phoenix 2772 in terms of Tezuka's vast oeuvre of animated material, one first needs some background about the production methods of Japanese animation. In the 1950s and '60s, Tōei Dōga (now known as Toei Animation) produced a series of feature-length animations in the style of Disney movies of the time. Some were based on Chinese [End Page 109] folklore, such as The White Snake (1958, Hakujaden); others on traditional Western children's fables, such as Puss in Boots (1969, Nagagutsu wo haita neko). The techniques used to breathe life into pictures consisted of laborious animation sequences with drawings numbering in the tens of thousands, as every subtle movement had to be drawn, painted, and photographed.

In 1963, however, Tezuka Osamu, in his attempt to translate his manga Tetsuwan Atomu to television screens, felt that this method was overly labor intensive, so he proceeded to streamline the process to more efficiently meet the weekly schedule broadcasters demanded.2 One way he cut costs was by simplifying the photographing of character dialogue scenes by swapping out one cel layer that depicted an open mouth with one depicting a closed one, without much concern for accurate lip-synching. Similarly, many sequences were often reused in different contexts to maximize the usage of each shot. Each of these techniques, combined with the steep reduction of the frame rate, proved successful for animated TV productions. For instance, reduced animation using the 3-koma-dori method would mean that one cel was photographed identically three times, taking up three frames of film before the next cel layer or cel repositioning was implemented, thus reducing the rate by a third of "full" animation. TV audiences were willing to overlook reduced visual quality (as compared to theatrical works) in exchange for the chance to follow evolving character-based stories on a regular schedule.

By the late 1970s, however, the first generation brought up on television anime began coming of age and animated works that targeted these adults as well as their children increasingly appeared. Such TV series included Space Cruiser Yamato (1974, Uchū senkan Yamato), which was reedited into a movie in 1977 and subsequently gave rise to the first "anime boom."3 Although it was not the first theatrical version of a TV animation, it was revolutionary in that it was composed mostly of footage produced originally for TV that had been reedited for the big screen (as opposed to being a completely new animated production such as the larger-scaled TV episode Mazinger Z versus Devilman[1973, Majingaa Zetto tai Debiruman]). Many movies based on this "TV series reedit" method followed, and in fact they continue to this day—to the extent that the "compilation movie" is now almost a staple of the industry.

From this period on, there was a sudden surge in theatrical animation based on popular TV series (many of which were inspired by manga series), including Candy Candy (1978, Kyandii kyandii), Lupin III (Rupan III, 1978), Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (1978, Kagaku ninjatai Gatchaman), Galaxy Express 999 (1979, Ginga tetsudō 999), Heidi, Girl of the Alps (1979, Arupusu no shōjo Haiji), and Future Boy Conan (1979, Mirai shōnen Conan). Although movies [End Page 110] obviously commanded much larger budgets, the visual grammar of television was successfully translated onto the big screen through these productions. These theatrical features were noticeably different in scale and complexity from TV animation and also differed visually from...


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