Even these tapes cost something

  Space Firebird
1987 | Celebrity Home Entertainment Inc.
Space Firebird Celebrity Just for Kids

Nostalgiamadman takes on a real anime heavy weight. Osamu Tezuka's spiritual and symbolic tale of the Space Firebird. To be honest, it was just too much for me to cope with.

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Osamu Tezuka referred to Hi no Tori as his life work and, as of his death in 1989, it remains incomplete. This epic, and in many ways experimental, manga series began in 1967 with the book entitled Dawn, serialised by Com. A further seven books followed before the first attempt at an adaptation, a live-action movie, also titled Hi No Tori, was released in 1978, which featured additional animated interludes by Tezuka himself. However it was not the critical or box office success that had been hoped.

The first anime adaptation came March 15th 1980, distributed by Toho, one of Japan's oldest and best known film companies. The movie, titled Hi no Tori 2772: Ai no Cosmozone (Phoenix 2772: Love's Cosmozone), was based very loosely on themes and elements of the Manga series to date, mostly from the book entitled Future. The two hour feature follows the adventures of Godo a human living in a stark distant future where human life is produced by machines and every individual is created purely to carry out a specific purpose. From infancy he is raised by Olga, a female robot who he comes to love as a mother.

Godo is given the role of Cadet and while in training shows incredible skill. This skill sees him selected for an important but extremely dangerous mission; to capture the legendary Phoenix. He must venture into deep space and bring the creature back to Earth alive as it is believed that its blood can heal our desperately damaged world. Things do not go as the Elite governors had planned and Godo finds himself on the run.

This movie was followed several years later by another, a made for video effort based on the Ho-o book. A short while later came an abortive attempt at adapting all the books in anime with only Yamato and Space making it to VHS.

To date, the last anime came in 2004 when Hi no Tori was adapted for a 13 episode TV series.

Phoenix 2772 (re-titled Space Firebird) is one of the most widely distributed of the videos that have found their way into the Bargain Bin. There are few countries that didn't receive Tezuka's feature in one form or another.

In English the two hour feature, now cut down to a more marketable 1 hour forty, was first seen on US TV in 1982. It was followed a few months later in the UK released on VHS & Betamax by Mountain Video (Mazinger Z, Dracula, Frankenstein) in the same form. Its release was fairly widely publicised at the time with posters in video libraries around the country and several small mentions on other releases by the same company (including Techno Police). Mountain was aware of the sheer scale of ambition behind the project and hoped that they had something of a foreign Fantasia in their inventory. The video disappeared from shelves two years later and was never re-released by another distributor.

Space Firebird didn't make it USA VHS debut until 1987 from the popular Celebrity Just For Kids (Defenders of the Vortex, Space Warriors, Locke the Superpower). While the dub was the same the movie was ten minutes shorter, omitting the silent opening sequence detailing Godo's upbringing with his robot mother, cutting immediately to his entrance into the cadet school, along with several other more sundry scenes and the end credits.


Phoenix 2772 Space Firebird   Hi No Tori Mountain Video
Various Japanese movie posters
The UK Mountain Video

Before Nostalgiamadman takes over for the main feature there's a couple of things I'd like to share with you.macross do you remember love

The first is this picture I noticed on the back of the Just for Kids sleeve. Of the three screenshots of the movie one is actually a publicity still from the Macross movie Do You Remember Love.

Celebrity also released the English dub of that movie on the same label under the title "Macross in Clash of the Bionoids", so that's likely where that came from.

Still, it's always fun to see a misplaced shot!

The second thing is the blurb from the UK Mountain Video release. It seems they wanted to really hype this video as a big deal so they offer the following background details...

"Osamu Tezuka and The Space Firebird

Tezuka has worked in the field of animation for over 20 years and in that time has instigated a thriving animation industry in his native Japan. In the field of cartoons, he is acknowledged to be the greatest living talent and the only worthy successor to the great Walt Disney, and Space Firebird is his masterpiece.

The impressive movie was budgeted at 4 million dollars, but what is even more impressive than the money spent is the care and attention that has been lavished on this project. The scene in which Godoh is brought from his home to Cadet School lasts only 40 seconds, but took a single animator 12 months to complete, other scenes including the destruction of the prison colony and the space battle sequences contain some of the best animation of the past 20 years. We at Mountain Video are proud to make this superb movie available to Cartoon and Science Fiction fans of all ages."

Now, I don't know how valid the figures are but I very much doubt one single, lone animator worked solely on that entire sequence, no wonder it took a year to complete. Maybe they should have assigned some other staffers to help out, might have sped things up. If that was the case he must have been gutted when Just for Kids cut the entire thing! If you can confirm or deny these claims please leave us a comment.

Now over to Nostalgiamadman!

The first time I heard about Space Firebird was in a trailer on the Celebrity Just For Kids release of Macron 1. They were “proud to present” this epic of science fiction. We’ll see how well-placed that pride was. For one thing, the audio mixing in this movie is awful. If I sound unclear on what’s going on sometimes, you’ll know why.

The box bills the movie as “the classic legend of the phoenix as only the future could show it,” although I’m told it’s actually a futuristic rendering of Pinocchio. Like Ulysses 31 or Ghostbusters. As in my review of Ninja the Wonder Boy, it’s good to see something amusing about the movie before it even starts (especially when, as in my review of Ninja the Wonder Boy, the movie itself isn’t that good). Here it’s seeing that the movie was imported by a company called American National Enterprises. Like selling anime, evidently.

After some credits play over a phoenix in flight, we meet our protagonist, Godoh, a good-looking but innocent sort accompanied by a shapely blonde. Entering a building, a man with an enormous jaw tells him he’s “too old to play with robots,” and reveals he’s referring to the blonde. Over her companion’s protests Superjaw takes her remote control and pushes the button that folds her up into a suitcase.

Space Firebird Hi no Tori Phoenix 2772 ai no cosmozone

Godoh’s beginning instruction at some sort of space academy where, according to a fat official, he’ll learn to fly to “the farthest outer space.” The cadets are placed under the command of Superjaw, whose real name is Captain Bulkern. We get the idea studying at this place isn’t going to be much fun when, having delivered a stern promise to make the boys into men, Bulkern lets out a sadistic laugh where his eyes bug out and tongue lolls all around.

Space Firebird Hi no Tori Phoenix 2772 ai no cosmozone

During target practice Godoh actually impresses Bulkern with his aptitude and is put through advanced training. At ease somewhere after running through halls filled with giant flame-throwers, Godoh runs into a quartet of young women who are wearing leotards like most young women in old sci-fi. He locks eyes with one who appears to get hairstyling tips from Princess Leia. Judging from the sparkles that replace the world around them in their respective close-ups, this is very significant.

An official named Rock has a private meeting with Godoh. He tells our boy that he’s just the person to catch a mysterious monster dubbed Cosmozon 272, some kind of creature that burnt a bunch of astronauts to ashes, but not before they sent one last picture. “It’s like a bird!” Godoh exclaims, proving he was also chosen for his ESP because I can see nothing bird-like in the picture he’s shown. The scientist promises Godoh anything he wants if he brings Cosmozon back alive. Immediately Godoh asks for his freedom: “I want to leave here as a free man!” This is meant to show there’s a tyrannical caste system in place but I’m betting the remark went right over the kids’ heads.

Space Firebird Hi no Tori

Godoh and his robot friend (Olga) relax by the beach and find a flower floating in the surf that somehow leads them to the mansion where the girl Godoh had locked eyes with before (Lena) lives. He compliments her on the beauty of her flower garden and hints of romance show themselves. And not just between Lena and Godoh, as Olga watches the proceedings with mechanical melancholy. We get some inkling of what Godoh was talking about with Rock when he’s caught by a robot guard and escorted off the premises under threat of punishment from the “imperial guard.”

Space Firebird Hi no Tori Phoenix 2772 ai no cosmozone

Rock is next showing Godoh the ship he’ll be using and Godoh asks to bring Olga to assist him. Rock, like Superjaw, thinks robots are for children and says once Godoh is gone she’ll be destroyed. Godoh begins to protest but in a strange effort to calm him down, Rock points out that they look alike: they were from the same nursery in fact, but their genes set Rock up in politics while Godoh’s got him admitted to space academy. Whatever the intent was, Rock ends the conversation by threatening him with the “living hell” of a labor camp if he acts up any more.
Lena’s at home thinking about her feelings for Godoh when her pet mutant, a yellow thing named Pincho asks if she’s in love. Lena demurs but the creature says love is the grandest thing in the world and for some reason begins to play a happy tune on a flute resembling a flower. But not before stopping to pause and brush a speck of dust off Lena’s breast. I swear did not make that up to see if you’re paying attention.

Space Firebird Hi no Tori

Rock pays Lena a visit and it turns out they’re engaged. He’s even set their nuptials for next Monday. Oh no! Is Lena and Godoh’s young love doomed? At the star crossed lovers’ next meeting Godoh tells Lena about his mission and she begs him not to go. At their apartment that night Olga asks if Godoh’s thinking about “that girl” but Godoh denies thinking about anything at all. In a scene positively bursting with symbolism Olga does the dishes, then flashes with all the colors of the rainbow before picking up a glass of water in her electrified grip and shattering it, droplets landing on her face that look like tears.

Hi no Tori

Rock has a meeting with some other officials. The gist of their conversation is Earth’s natural resources are all but gone and to keep their shining paradise running they must send works into the horrific conditions of Earth’s mantle to procure anything more. Godoh and Lena meet at a fountain with rainbow-colored water and she tells him about her unhappy courtship with Rock; all he’s really after is sucking up her rich father’s influence. Again Olga stands by and watches sadly, and anyone in the audience with two brain cells to rub together won’t be too surprised when she rejects Pincho’s offer of a makeover and folds herself up into suitcase form.

Right then Godoh and Lena’s tryst is interrupted when the police show up in full force. They attempt to flee in Godoh’s zippy red sports car OF THE FUTURE but are eventually caught and we see Rock himself led the chase when he debarks a helicopter. He promptly strips Godoh of citizenship and ships him off to that labor camp he threatened our hero with before.

Space Firebird Hi no Tori Phoenix 2772 ai no cosmozone

In the camp Godoh quickly learns about the fragility of life and shades of gray (hey look, the commandant is Tezuka’s Blackjack character. Even the American version calls him that although not until almost the end of the movie). He meets Dr. Sulter, a trustee who could be the twin brother of Dr. Gilmore from Cyborg 009. Sulter has a plan to steal a spaceship and leave Earth, but he needs a pilot. Godoh refuses, saying he’s determined to find Lena.

Unfortunately he’s a little late. In the next scene Rock and Lena are going down the aisle while Pincho and Olga watch from hiding. Pincho begins stressing about marriage without love and falls into the organ but Olga busts it open and saves him/her. From a stray comment by Rock to some guards they learn where Godoh’s been sent. Olga changes into a rocket-powered birdbot to speed to the rescue.

Back at the nicest place on Earth, an earthquake and the mother of all mudslides begin, nearly killing Godoh. He’s climbing a ladder to escape when it falls but…Olga speeds by and picks him up right in the nick of time! Phew!

Space Firebird Hi no Tori Phoenix 2772 ai no cosmozone

Alone for the moment, Sulter tells Godoh the real reason he wants to steal a spaceship: the monster Rock was going to send Godoh to catch is the legendary phoenix. In case you should need to know, after a phoenix dies it rises from its own ashes. It’s life force incarnate. Rock and the other officials want to monopolize that awesome power, but Sulter wants to harness it to heal their dying planet. Realizing the seriousness of the situation, Godoh agrees to help.

The misfits try to sneak into the hangar holding the ship only to find it more heavily guarded than they’d expected by two whole robots. Godoh and his buddies deal with the ‘bots by luring them to a cliff (I was hoping Olga would flash them some robotic leg, but sadly this was not to be) and pushing them over. They enter the hangar only for Sulter to get stuck in the door--ha! Serves you right for being fat!--but he freaks out and flies inside for some reason when Pincho brushes his bum.

Unfortunately Black Jack somehow knew they were coming and has more guard bots surround them. Godoh tells him off, “Don’t you have any feelings at all??” Black Jack challenges him to fisticuffs and mops the floor with Godoh’s face, but our plucky hero gets the better of his opponent by playing dead then biting him on the leg. Whereupon Jack’s robot entourage immediately lasers Godoh and his friends to pieces.

Space Firebird Hi no Tori Phoenix 2772 ai no cosmozone
Space Firebird Hi no Tori Phoenix 2772 ai no cosmozone

Just kidding. They stand there and watch as Godoh et. al. board the ship and blast off. Some fighter planes attempt to chase them down but Olga flies out and they’re too distracted by her artificial hotness to do anything about her ripping their guns off. The pilots report their failure to Black Jack, but he’s a remarkably good sport for being so cruel and wishes Godoh luck.

Godoh demands they turn back to get Lena but Pincho gives him the bad news. After a little emo-ness, Godoh realizes there’s nothing for him on Earth anymore and Sulter directs them to the planet Tears. Tears is inhabited by creatures right out of one of the weirder Loony Tunes episodes. They’re watched over by Ban, an old friend of Sulter’s who makes a comment about firebirds migrating nearby. For some reason thinking it might really be that easy, the misfits set out to catch one.

The firebirds in question are like ostriches with flaming exhaust pipes coming from their behinds. They lead Godoh and co. on a merry chase until running into the ocean like lemmings and drowning. Unfortunately these aren’t the right firebirds after all. They find no blood in the one they caught, just fluff. Ban asks if they’re looking for a creature called 272, asks why they didn’t say so in the first place, and takes them to meet some friends who can introduce them to the phoenix.

Space Firebird Hi no Tori

Ban takes the gang to meet Crack and Pooks (I think that’s his name), respectively an odd pink thing that lives inside a six-sided die and a green blobby thing. Although they make an awkward first impression with the pair thanks to Sulter (either due to his insults or the voice acting error that has him briefly sounding like Ban) the two come along to lead them to the firebird, Crack after he/she’s been bribed with tanks and tanks of something called “caustic soda.”

After flying along for a bit they come across another ship, but melted. “What kind of heat does that?” Godoh asks as he searches the interior. Um, a firebird? Among the devastation he finds the corpse of Bulkern, sent to catch the firebird in his place.

Crack and Pooks lead the team to a barren, hazy planet although how they know to find the firebird there I didn’t catch. Godoh rappels down into a pit and finds the firebird but his attempt to shoot it only makes it angry and sets the entire pit on fire. Olga saves him again and after a midair chase Godoh manages to grenade the firebird but it only comes back as a nasty tentacled thing and escapes. They reach the surface only to find Sulter’s spacesuit was ruptured (I think) and he’s been poisoned by exposure to the atmosphere. While Olga treats Sulter, Godoh orders that pursuit of the firebird continue.

And so they do, beginning an almost interminable sequence of chasing the firebird. One by one the companions are picked off: Pincho when she’s space walking on an asteroid that’s really the bird, Sulter when the bird rips the ship open and the suction slams the old man into a wall, Pooks when he’s sucked out and swallowed and Olga when she’s burnt saving everyone’s butts. There’s also a part with an alien brain parasite that looks like a fried egg warning them to leave the bird alone, only to be shot for its troubles. Typical humans.

Space Firebird Hi no Tori Phoenix 2772 ai no cosmozone

With his crew dropping like flies Godoh realizes his true love with life-like hair’s been staring him in the face all along. The bird appears to Godoh now that he’s stopped trying to kill her and show some positive emotions. She promises to revive Olga if he’ll do something for her. What, I don’t think she says. It doesn’t help they give the firebird an echo to her voice that combined with the bad mixing made her almost impossible to understand.

Anyway, the bird does indeed revive Olga, and shows them a planet destroyed by war she brought back to life. Waiting for them there are the three weirdos. Guess it was too much work for her to bring Sulter back too.

Space Firebird Hi no Tori Phoenix 2772 ai no cosmozone

Despite having found paradise and true love, Godoh wants to pack up some food and seeds to take back to Earth. Olga protests but eventually caves in to her boyfriend’s altruistic designs. During tender moments between the two the bird will appear over Olga, implying she’s alive because the bird’s living through her. Figure out yourself if this is what she meant by getting what she wanted from Godoh.

We cut back to Earth and learn two things, the first of which is that things are even worse than when Godoh left and the worker caste is on the verge of open revolt, and the second is Lena’s become Rock’s soulless trophy wife. If only she’d stuck with Godoh, huh? Speaking of, Godoh lands and Rock immediately places him under arrest when he says he didn’t catch the firebird. Rock ransacks the ship but only finds a cargo hold full of vegetables. He accuses Godoh of keeping the firebird for himself and is obviously cracking up. Speaking of cracking up, that’s what the whole planet starts doing right that minute. Volcanoes erupt, cities are razed, and generally mankind’s hubris comes back to haunt us.

Space Firebird Hi no Tori Phoenix 2772 ai no cosmozone

Rock tries to force Godoh to fly him to safety and when Godoh refuses Lena plays up their past to get him to lower his guard and steal his gun. Rock threatens Godoh only for the ground to split and swallow up the ship and Lena. She really should’ve stuck with Godoh.

Later Godoh, Olga and a delirious Rock are taking shelter in a bombed-out building. Rock mumbles about having seen the light and calling off the mantle mining project before calling Godoh “brother” and expiring. A bit later Godoh’s on the beach and breaks down in tears as it finally seems to sink in that the world’s ended. He realizes that Olga’s not really Olga when she says she could help him live forever, to which he says he’d be willing to die to see Earth live again. Olga/Firebird warns him not to say such things so hastily; she can revive the planet, but it really would mean his life. “No regrets” Godoh replies, and dies. The bird leaves Olga’s blackened shell to begin its work. Smoking cracks and volcanoes stop smoking, telling us the healing process has begun.

Space Firebird Hi no Tori Phoenix 2772 ai no cosmozone

In any case, Godoh turns into a baby, so the bird lied. Olga turns into a real woman, but an adult one, so what her feelings may be for her reborn lover I’d rather not guess. She picks him up and wanders toward the surf, closing the book on perhaps the iffiest “Just for Kids” movie there was.

Space Firebird Hi no Tori Phoenix 2772 ai no cosmozone
Missing videos Missing videos

Bad Dubbing: Song & Dance
Marvel at the lack of lip synching while shuddering in terror at the awful song!

Godoh Vs Blackjack: Tezuka Showdown
Who's best; Godoh or Blackjack? The only way to solve this? Fight to the death!

Great animation
Original names
  Deep story
  Surprisingly adult theme
Lousy mixing
A bit intense for kiddies!
  Endless chase scene

If Space Firebird sounds uninvolving from reading the review, that’s because the mystique of the movie comes from something I can’t do justice to verbally: the artwork. For something almost 30 years old, Space Firebird still looks great. From what I’ve seen of the remake not much has really been improved, visually speaking.

Space Firebird, or Phoenix 2772 if you prefer, has a message I believe in and it’s a message that even today too many people are unwilling to face as we head toward a future probably not all that different from the one the movie shows us. It wouldn’t surprise me if that was a big part of why it was bought for international distribution, but I have an awful feeling a lot of it went in one ear and out the other. Or maybe they just bought it because it's a nice-looking sci-fi epic, and that'd be a shame.

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