By Osamu Tezuka. Released in Japan by Sanrio, serialized in the magazine Lyrica. Released in North America by Digital Manga Publishing.
Here’s an unusual one: a Tezuka title that read left-to-right originally. Unico was apparently written for a magazine that was going to come out in the West, so was drawn in the Western way. It’s also full-color, and (given it’s Sanrio) features an adorable, thoroughly marketable creature on the cover and throughout the story. But it’s also Tezuka, so you know there’s going to be some darkness in there, even if it’s for kids. The question is, how does the story hold up?
The main plot is basically a MacGuffin to let Tezuka tell whatever story he wants, as the goddess Venus, pissed off as usual that she isn’t the fairest in the land, banishes Unico for basically being too adorable and awesome. He’s whisked all over space and time, and whenever he shows signs of being happy or achieving something, the West Wind whisks him away again. He’s also mindwiped so he never remembers anything. It’s really pretty horrible if you swell on it. Luckily, Unico is nothing if not earnest, and knows enough about himself to help others with his unicorn magic… though occasionally that help goes sour.
The stories themselves are basic children’s fairy tales, with talking animals and mythical beasts, a place where Unico will not have much trouble at all fitting in. The saddest is the first one, a tale of a forbidden love between a young Native American boy and a white settler girl, who become older via Unico’s magic so they can experience adult passion. The concepts behind that are staggeringly fascinating (and creepy), and it’s no surprise that everything goes wrong. Honestly, I was pleased that the rest of the volume didn’t get quite that morally ambiguous… or political.
The rest of the stories are slightly less ambiguous. The longest one is about a cat who yearns to belong to a witch, and I believe it was adapted into a movie. It features a man who is so over the top evil that I had to laugh. All he lacked was a mustache to twirl. That said, the shots of him massacring the animals of the forest are quite dramatic, and small children might find them quite scary. Other highlights include a young girl being kidnapped by a sentient factory that has fallen in love with her (didn’t Demon Seed come out around the time Tezuka wrote this?) and a young Russian thief who secretly wants to be a shy princess, but can’t quite pull it off as she’s simply too awesome.
As you’d expect, the translation is quite good, being simple without sounding childish. There are footnotes for the few culture references in here, most of which have to do with the band Pink Lady, who were becoming superstars at the time Tezuka was writing this. And a few of Tezuka’s ‘star system’ characters can be glimpsed in here, in different roles. But even if you aren’t a Tezuka fan, Unico is worth checking out. it’s family friendly, straightforward, and cute. It doesn’t have much of an ending, but that’s what you get when your lead character drives the plot but isn’t really the plot himself.