What They Say:
Unico the Unicorn has the amazing power to make anyone he meets happy. Whether it’s because of his personality or the powers of his horn, no one knows. The gods become jealous of Unico, thinking that only they should be able to decide or allow people to be happy. Unico is banished to the Hill of Oblivion, and the West Wind is ordered to take him there. She can’t stand giving this fate to Unico, so Unico’s adventures begin as the West Wind takes him from one place and time to the next in a never-ending journey to escape the wrath of the gods.
The audio presentation for this release is pretty good with a pair of stereo mixes that are encoded at 256kbps. The release includes the original dub done ages ago as well as the original Japanese mix, which is what we listened to. The feature is pretty standard for a film this old, just over thirty years as of this writing, so it’s a stereo mix that’s more full/center feeling than anything else. Dialogue is placed a bit but mostly through the center while the music is what gives it the more full feeling. There’s no real issues here, though the score sounds very good overall, and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally released in 1981, the transfer for this feature film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Clocking in at 90 minutes, it doesn’t take up a lot of space but still gets a pretty middling bitrate on average, though it serves the material fairly well. There are some good detailed backgrounds here and some fluid foreground animation, but it’s not something that really leaps out in a huge way. The colors are bold and solid with the only “problem” being the natural film grain that comes from elements of this age. The transfer captures the look of the show well, muted colors and vibrant colors both, and is pretty much free from any serious issues such as cross coloration or aliasing.
With the age of the show and the likelihood of little in the way of materials surviving, I don’t expect much from a cover and certainly didn’t get much here. It uses an image of the main cast all together, in different sizes, with a kind of explosion style background that has the big bad enemy obscured behind them. Unico is front and certain and definitely cute, as are the others, but it’s not something that really shows off the features quality or look all that well. The logo is kept simple and probably too modern in comparison to the artwork but there’s not much to really do with it overall. The colors generally look good but it’s the scale difference that really gets you when you look at it. The back cover features a big image along the top from one of the brighter scenes in the film while the middle has a pretty in-depth look at the plot of the film. Add in a few shots from the film and some credits and you just have to round it out with the very clean and easy to read technical grid. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design fares a bit better overall than the cover artwork if only because the background looks more detailed and interesting here, especially in a big screen, with its kind of starry and mysterious nature. That has the character artwork of different types across the foreground which naturally do look simpler by comparison, but the blending isn’t as bad and with the darker look overall compared to the slightly blown out front cover, it doesn’t draw your eye to the flaws quite as much. The layout is straightforward along the bottom with quick and easy selections to make while the language submenu lists everything clearly, though you can change everything on the fly during playback as well.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Prior to this release, I had no experience with the Unico property, though I’ve certainly heard of it and it’s seen a few releases over the years. With this film coming out in 1981, it also made a US debut in 1983 which gave America one of its earliest looks at what anime studio Madhouse could do. The feature comes based on a story and design work done by Osamu Tezuka and was one of those films that many older anime fans experienced in their childhood, making it a sort of holy grail for them to get a good, clean release from a company like Discotek that understands the classics and what those fans want. The work by Discotek here is by and large solid which should please the majority of fans who want this release and those who are experiencing it for the first time.
Like many Tezuka stories, there’s a certain otherworldly feel about the first main Unico feature as it introduces us to a newborn unicorn who is named Unico. He’s unlike his other brothers and sisters as his horn is different as it has the power to help bring happiness to those around him. But not just anyone, only those who Unico himself likes and loves and who love and like him in return. His presence is definitely a positive for the world as he can bring some level of understanding and compassion as we see how he changes various courses of interactions in the human world just by his presence. Which, of course, is why the gods are just upset about his existence and the way he seeks to unbalance what they have in store. Because they’re just jerks who want things to go their way without any interference.
So they get the Wind of the West to come in and take him to the Oblivion Hills where he can live out his days in peace as it’s thousands of years worth of travel to get there. The Wind of the West isn’t keen on this and takes him only so far, to a desolate place where no life exists, so he can be of no bother to anyone. Except of course there is a little demon there named Akuma. The first act deals with the overall background and then the introduction of Akuma where Unico tries to befriend the little bugger and show what he’s capable of. It’s cute, mildly frenetic at times in the way films of this time were, and showcases the kind of impact Unico can have on others. At least before the Wind of the Night arrives to do what was supposed to be done and whisks him away again.
That leads to the second act in which we get to meet Chao, a very cute girl kitten that’s black with white paws who wants to learn magic so that she can become a witch herself, and human, and live the life she wants. Unfortunately she’s tying her cart to the wrong horse as the woman she wants to get to teach her magic is just an ordinary old woman, even if she looks the part of a witch. Unico naturally gets caught up in it and there’s some good fun as Chao does get to turn into a human, though it’s not without its problems for both her and Unico. That in turn leads to the big bad of the feature and where everyone has to come together to try and do what’s needed to save them all. It’s predictable, but like many Tezuka based stories, it’s well executed and leaves you with the right feelings about it.
I didn’t have terribly high expectations of Unico going into it, but I’ve enjoyed other features that Discotek has brought out from this time period without becoming a huge fan of them. Unico has its place in history to be sure and it’s one that definitely deserved a good release like this. There’s a standard structure at work here and some good animation and design as it deals with what a lot of what children’s features were like back at this time. But it also goes the Japanese way where it’s a bit darker at times, a bit more mature with certain elements, that you can enjoy those differences (and how they’re handled in the dub as well). It’s easily a film that you can give to kids today and they’d be completely into it and the adults can enjoy it as well. Unico is certainly a cute character and it plays things just right here.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Discotek Media
Release Date: May 15th, 2012
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.