What They Say:
Unico the unicorn has the amazing power to make anyone he meets happy. In this adventure, Unico finds himself with a new friend, a young girl named Cherry. However, Cherry’s long-lost older brother Toby has finally come home, and is now a misguided apprentice to an insane (and not human) magician named Kuruku. When Cherry’s parents get turned into weird, almost zombie-like dolls called living puppets, she and Unico start a quest to the very ends of the earth to get her parents and brother back before Kuruku takes over the world.
The audio presentation for this release is pretty good with a pair of stereo mixes that are encoded at 224kbps. 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 1983, 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. Whereas the first movie felt a little blown out and too bright, this one works better as it has an “action” shot of Unico with lots of lots surrounding him as the darker image of the villain in the upper background to give it a bit more crazy to it. It’s a lot of black overall but with the muted light colors, it works pretty 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 darker 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. The first movie went with a star filled background while this one goes for the dark clouds and the island filling a good part of it while you also have the rays of light coming out. Front and center to that is Unico himeslf, obscured a bit by the logo, but it works overall. 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.
While the first volume has no extras, this one has a 25 minute proof of concept film that was done in 1979 and is considered to be the first movie. It wasn’t one that got released and dubbed over here, so it’s in Japanese only, but is a great way to check out the early origins and adaptation of the property in general.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After enjoying the first movie, I was certainly interested to see where the second film would go and whether it would follow the same structure. Thankfully, it doesn’t and actually goes for more of what I like about Japanese stories of this nature as it has a darker feeling to it and a bit more menace while still having the same kind of charm and character interactions. The original film worked a standard structure of introduction, a couple of character meetings in the first and second acts, and then bringing it all together in the third. Here, things are a bit looser but more modern conventional as it throws Unico in a new situation and goes for a bit more adventure.
With the way Unico is kept from being in one place too long lest the gods see that he’s causing a lot of happiness and mucking up their plans for the world, the Wind of the West has now deposited him in a different land where he gets into a bit of a rough and tumble with a cat boss that doesn’t take too kindly to him. The cat is kind of amusing as a foil character here, but largely because he has some big old headphones on his head, wooden headphones, where one has a bird and another has a frog. He’s a bit of a bully but also a coward, looking for a way to secure his position while looking all tough and brave in front of his friends and the like.
Where things go all wonky though is when a mysterious human named Tobey arrives and he proceeds to start turning creatures and people into flat, wooden dolls. They’re actually quite creepy as he does it, and the cat ends up pleading his way into being a henchman to survive. While Unico is chased, the situation leads us to understand a bit more as he’s doing this for a master on a far away island, a magician by the name of Kukuruku that has a real distaste for humans. His whole island, in fact, is built with these wooden dolls that Tobey brings back like the pied piper. It’s completely creepy and the only threat that the pair faces is when Unico ends up befriending Tobey’s young sister Cherry and the two try to save him.
The film this time around feels a little more loose in what it’s doing, getting to the point and introducing the characters. We do get an additional character along the way that helps from an island of monsters, but a lot of it focuses on the relationship between Unico and Cherry that has to form, since he must be loved and must care for someone else in order to really bring out his abilities. The interplay with Tobey is about as nuanced as one might expect from 1983, but there feels like there’s room for a lot more to be dealt with here to make it an even more engaging semi-villain who is just in search of power of his own and becomes trapped because of another.
The first Unico movie was a pleasant surprise and one that left me enjoying it more than I might have guessed. The sequel tries to change things up a bit, not for the better or worse, just because the story requires a different approach. There’s room for more to be done and it feels a bit uneven, but there’s a certain magic to it that works well and it has room for a lot more exploration to be done. Unico is kind of sidelined for part of it as Cherry and Tobey take on more of the focus, but that helps to ease some of the pressure. Unico is a cute and fun character, but not compelling, so giving us more nuanced characters helps him to bridge things in a more simplistic manner that works. I definitely enjoyed the movie and can understand the nostalgic value for older fans who experienced it years ago and am glad to see it arrive in such good form. It won’t leave me with a long lasting impression, but it does leave me with a smile and good thoughts.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Pilot Film
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.