Unico fits perfectly among the Greek myths: the pet of Psyche kidnapped by a jealous Venus, sprightly Unico is transported to different times and places, only to be whisked away with his memory wiped after a few days’ time. At worst, Unico leaves his new friends behind in uncertainty; at best, Unico leaves with the fleeting knowledge that the day was saved and he helped to spread peace and happiness.
This fairytale premise is charged with interesting tension, resulting from Tezuka’s mixture of cute characters and cruel plot developments. Although Unico’s horn grants him magical powers like transformation and transmutation, he can only use it if someone acts selflessly toward him. However, Unico is likely despised by anyone who is not his designated friend in a given chapter, beginning with the jealous goddess Venus. “A mortal should never have the love of a unicorn! For once she does, she will live a life of eternal happiness!” she declares, establishing that this story takes place in a spiteful universe.
A similar structure in each chapter will establish familiarity for younger readers, though older readers may pick up on some questionable content. The collection’s first human population is a tribe of stereotypical Plains Indians. The tribe wears feathers, hunts buffalo, dances in a circle, and brandishes tomahawks—none of which was researched for accuracy, which comes as no surprise given the comic’s initial publication in 1976 Japan. The chapter leans toward an Indians and Settlers version of Romeo and Juliet with dashes of unicorn magic that nudge together two children whose parents distrust one another. White settlers trick a Native American boy, Tipi (teepee), into revealing the fighting strength of his village, and they attack the tribe as part of an ongoing, violent land grab. Tipi and his white girlfriend survive the surprise attack, but their fate is uncertain as the chapter ends and Unico starts over in a generic medieval kingdom.
Beyond that, the stories largely contain Disney-style antics across time and space, in which Unico overcomes casual cruelty before befriending one half of a would-be couple and landing in the center of the dramatic action. While Unico’s horn gives the “good guys” a leg up, characters’ individual choices are the ultimate story drivers. For example, when Baron Ghost sends attack hawks to assassinate the surrogate mother of a humanized cat, two of the birds are thwarted by Unico, but a third goes undetected and instead chooses to care for the old woman, as it has a soft spot for her. This should give you a taste of the magical storylines that take place in this collection.
The story’s twists, turns, and action are all bloodless and fairly rubber-bodied, except for a hunter who kills animals for fun and a castle conspiracy framing Unico for a series of murders. The book will likely be read on two different levels by children and adults, though both can easily enjoy its full-color manga artwork. The work of Osamu Tezuka, a one-man focal point in Japanese comics history, exists at a unique crossroads between the influence of Walt Disney and the formation of definitive manga styles. This book is a product of its time and creator, a kid-friendly piece of manga history filled with enough tragic magic to appeal to readers of all ages.
by Osamu Tezuka
Digital Manga, Inc., 2013
Publisher Age Rating: A+ (All Ages)