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Unico Manga Review

4 min read

Excellent classic for kids and the kid in all of us.

Creative Staff
Story: Osamu Tezuka
Art: Osamu Tezuka
Translation/Adaptation: Ben Applegate

What They Say
A little unicorn named Unico lives with his mistress Psyche, bringing her happiness and good fortune in return for her unconditional love. The goddess Venus, however, grows jealous of Psyche’s legions of admirers and flings Unico across time and space! When he awakens, he’s facing down mean buffalo in the American west, with no memory of his ast life. It’s the first of many exciting adventures that will bring Unico face to face with high society in Imperial Russia, characters from fairy tales and Shakespeare, and even an automated factory intent on blotting out the sun.

Straight from the mind of Osamu Tezuka, internationally beloved creator of “Astro Boy” and “Buddha”, the entire three volume series of “Unico” has been collected into one outstanding 400 page omnibus edition. Presented in its original full color format, “Unico” is a magical series of adorable and thought-provoking adventures that’s the perfect first manga to read with the little ones as well as an absolute necessity for any manga enthusiast.

The Review
The cover stands out pretty well, with  the predominantly white Unico taking up most of the front with a bright green background. You could almost want to place special effects or other video tricks behind him. The title is in readable white smaller print on the left side, along with the author’s name. The Japanese translation for the name though is in dark green and almost indistinguishable from the rest of the picture. The back contains a title synopsis super-imposed over another picture of Unico.  The inside contains a table of contents and acknowledgements to the many contributors toward the Kickstarter campaign to get this book published. Interestingly, the pages are all colorized and it reads left to right, instead of right to left like many other manga titles. Sound effects still are presented with Japanese characters, but have matching colored English translations beneath them. The art style is cartoony and less detailed than most modern works, much like the Tom & Jerry and Mickey Mouse shorts that inspired manga in the 40s and 50s.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
The story of Unico is a rather extensive one, incorporating Tezuka’s affinity for metaphysics, mythology and history (which are rather prevalent in his other works) and combining it with a child-like sense for wonder and adventure.  In it’s own way, it sort of reminds me of the 70s Benji movies or maybe Milo & Otis, or others where a lost animal is our focus character trying to find its way home, except Unico’s story is far greater in scope.

The initial focus however, is on Unico’s master Psyche. She has many admirers but one very jealous goddess Venus. In order to destroy Psyche’s spirits, Venus decides to have her prize pet Unico kidnapped and thrown through thousands of years of time in order to make Unico forget Psyche ever existed. Through those years Unico finds some solace in helping various people but is also cursed whenever he finds a bit of happiness with said people as he is whisked away to yet another place and the amnesia cycle begins again.

Initially, he’s sent to the frontier of the American west, and then to help a princess dealing with intrigues and a royal curse while trapped in a castle. After that he helps out a cat who believes she should be adopted by a witch if she can find one. Unico’s exploits reach all over the world through time, space and fantasy realms, go on for 400 pages total.

I have to say it’s kind of refreshing to read a children’s story with very basic art styles from Osamu Tezuka.  Not much use of sketch lines or details  as opposed to more modern works. But there’s a definite beauty in this kind of comic. It was also refreshing to see an all-color manga done directly from its original source. I hadn’t seen one before; only all black and white works. It’s all basic colors staying within the lines like kids’ coloring books.

It’s interesting to see this as a story aimed at children in Japan, as it seems Unico is destined never to find home or happiness on a permanent basis, but is willing to bring it to every life he touches. Is Tezuka trying to teach self sacrifice here while giving epic adventures for the kids? Perhaps.  It’s a repeated sensation I hadn’t had totally while watching the animated films (previously my only access to the character.)  The book’s eventual conclusion has an element of ‘be careful what you wish for’ to it as well.  You kind of feel for the little guy as he’s whisked away from point to point just as he seems to find the smallest bit of contentment. Still this is balanced by the fresh new characters he gets to interact with (human and animal) and those interactions feel as lively as a classic Chuck Jones / Tex Avery cartoon.

In Summary
I had fun reading this story and getting to know the Unico character all over again. Like I said, my only experience with him was In watching the two anime movies (which Discotek Media did a nice job on recently.)  I was glad to learn more of Osamu Tezuka’s storytelling style here and want to thank the Kickstarter contributors for making it possible to have Unico’s full story available to American kids and adults alike.

Content Grade: A-
Art Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A
Text/Translation Grade: A

Age Rating: General Audiences
Released By: Digital Manga Publishing
Release Date: April 23rd, 2013
MSRP: $34.99

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