From Friendly Ghosts To Gamma Rays, No.144
Welcome back readers to another edition of our all-ages column here, From Friendly Ghosts To Gamma Rays! I’m your friendly Inazuma Eleven-watching reviewer, Drew McCabe! Today’s column is dedicated all to one thing: UNICO!!!!!!!!!!! Probably best known for years amongst a group of die hard American fans who saw the 1981 film, The Fantastic Adventures of Unico, through video rental stores, Unico is now also known for having an amazingly successful kickstarter project by DMP to publish the original manga by “the god of comics” himself, Osamu Tezuka.
Originally published between 1976 and 1979 in Sanrio’s (the creator of Hello Kitty) manga anthology Lyrica, the manga proved popular enough to be reprinted in another magazine, collected in a two volume edition (both volumes combined into one for the DMP English release), and spun off into animation, which included a 1979 pilot film, the 1981 The Fantastic Adventures of Unico, and the 1983 film Unico in the Island of Magic. Like the film, the original manga starts off the same, as Unico angers the goddess Venus who has the Westwind banish him to the ends of the Earth to be alone and never seen again, for basically just being lovable. After this point, the manga differs for a bit from the film most North American fans are familiar with.
In his first banishment he travels to a setting that looks like the American wild west. There he meets a Native American child named Tipi who befriends a little girl settler named Mary. The two kids in their infinite child-like wisdom say that one day they’ll get married, but soon the children are caught up in a land dispute between the white settlers and Native Americans. As sadness sets in, Unico is swept away by the Westwind again, always having to move through time and space, to our second story arc. There, across a medieval setting, he meets Princess Rosaria. Young and beautiful, she should be engaged, but everyone runs away when they see how ugly her father the king is. However, when a dashing wanted man swings into the castle one night, forbidden love ensues between the two against all odds.
In the third story, North American fans get some familiarity finally as it swings around to the main story as seen in the second half of the first Unico movie. Here the cat Chow (called Katy in the English version) is turned into a girl by Unico’s magic to help an old woman out. Soon, though, she is enchanted by a handsome lord of the forest who turns out to be a warlock. The ending of this arc is quite different, though, with a town rebellion against the warlock bringing him to his doom, instead of the epic monster battle in the film. Also, here Chow finds her true love with a tiger! In the fourth story, Tezuka pairs Unico with two rats as he ends up in a modern town backdrop. There he finds Chico, a young girl who unfortunately is dealing with a giant chemical factory with a computer brain that has fallen in love with her! Unable to have her, the machine pollutes and ruins the town, ultimately causing Chico to become very ill. Unico has to solve this odd problem and return her to health. This story feels the most Tezuka-like out of all of them. The plot is very sci-fi, familiar to themes in other Tezuka works Phoenix and Apollo’s Song. Also, here the Grandfather in the story is “played” by the character that also appears as Professor Ochanomizu from Astroboy. Osamu Tezuka loved live theater and film and used a “Star System” in his manga, which led to several characters appearing in other comics as other characters than who they were previously (you can find Mr. Mustachio in a TON of Tezuka works as different characters if you look).
The next three stories are a little weaker than the others, but still a must for Tezuka/Unico fans. There is one with Unico returning briefly to his homeland, where he meets his family and takes on some troublesome sprites. Next, Unico ends up in the desert where he stays with a family of Sphinxes for a bit, then meets the fairies of the forest and their Queen and solves a big problem there. Then we shoot over to Russia around one of the revolutions. Unico meets Marschka and makes her dreams from rags to riches come true as she falls in love and goes to a ball in a Cinderella-like fashion. The final part of the manga is actually the same as the first half of the first film, where Unico is on the ends of the Earth and slowly bonds a friendship with a trouble making demon, named Beezle in the anime, who is in exile. Everything wraps up from there, and Unico is given a happy ending.
The manga is an excellent epic adventure, DMP smartly packaging the two volumes into a single one for the North American English release. One of the most fascinating things about this from a Tezuka/manga fan perspective is the whole manga is in color! Lyrica was one of the few color manga publications, and unlike the two-volume Japanese version which is in black and white reprints (not unusual to reprint color pages in black and white collected editions in Japan), DMP has given us the true real-deal treatment here. Very cool stuff visually, and interesting as well what Tezuka does with the page, many times filling every part of the page like there are no borders or boundaries, because he knew it was going to show in color and wanted to make the most of it, creating something that even until this day is a beauty for the eye to behold.
Unico is a must-have own! It’s the first time it is available in English, and very-very shelf worthy to add to your collection for readers of all ages.
Access to a review copy was provided by DMP.