joyousmenma93 (joyousmenma93) wrote,

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Firechick's Manga Reviews: Unico

I give one of Osamu Tezuka's most beloved children's manga...a 74/100.

Long before My Little Pony ever became a thing, Osamu Tezuka, a famous mangaka who would go on to lay the foundations for and popularize various genres all over with his work, created a manga about a baby unicorn who was made to travel all over the world bringing happiness to everyone he sees. That manga was Unico, first published in 1976. It didn't achieve the amount of success that Tezuka's other manga did, but it did manage to gain enough of a loyal fanbase that genuinely loved it for what it was. In 1979, a pilot OVA was made as a prelude to a potential TV series, but that wound up going nowhere. Anyone who knows Unico may have seen the two movies made by Sanrio, The Fantastic Adventures of Unico and Unico and the Island of Magic. However, the original manga never made it stateside until a company called Digital Manga Publishing decided to launch a Kickstarter to publish the manga in full color in 2013. The feat was a success, and the manga would finally be released in the US in 2015. But at that time, I didn't have money or a job, and from what I heard, the manga was really expensive. Thankfully, now that I have a stable job, I managed to find a relatively cheap copy of the hardcover edition, so now I own the manga!

For anyone who's seen the anime movies, the manga is VERY different from them. For one, while Unico being born from a family of unicorns is made the focus of one chapter, it's not where the story starts, nor did a bunch of Gods banish him to the Isle of Oblivion. Instead, Unico starts out as the beloved pet of a mortal woman named Psyche. However, the goddess Venus is jealous of Psyche's beauty, kindness, and endless supply of good fortune and happiness, which she finds is because of Unico. Because she can't stand anyone to be more beautiful and happier than her, Venus steals Unico from Psyche and commands the West Wind to take Unico as far away as possible. Time passes, and with every destination the West Wind takes him to, Unico's memories of his friends and previous lives are always erased, but he always finds some way to make new friends and help them with their problems, from helping a cowardly baby sphinx to be stronger and more self-sufficient, to leading forest animals to take back their forest when an animal-hating human tries to kill everyone there just for his own selfish gains.

It's rare for manga to be published completely in color, as that usually takes a lot of time and money. Most manga are in black and white, with a few exceptions. From an art standpoint, Unico does have a lot going for it. The colors are bright, the characters all have unique, cartoonish designs (Tezuka did say Disney was a huge influence on his art style), the panel layout is good, and sometimes the art bleeds outside the panels at the edges. I don't know if it was a deliberate style choice, and I think it probably is, but that part I found a little odd. Plus, Tezuka's backgrounds are lush and detailed. Not as much as other manga that would come out later, but they really stand out against his deliberately cartoonish character designs. And yes, Tezuka still uses his trademark giant noses from time to time. You know he would never pass up an opportunity to stick those in when he feels like it. And yes, Unico is adorable. I mean, how can you not love this little guy?

As far as the characters go, they're...not much to write home about. They're not bad or anything, and many of the side characters Unico meets are all very interesting and fun to read about in their own way. But some of them are either undeveloped or just stereotypically good or evil, with Unico being the former. Being an innocent kid, Unico is portrayed as unfailingly kind, passive, and nice, but also gently chastises people when they do something they shouldn't or are in the wrong in a conflict. But Unico isn't really given huge character flaws to make him more engaging and three-dimensional as a character, and he's pretty much the stereotypically nice, idealistic hero. There are several villains in the manga who fall on the opposite end, just stereotypically evil Saturday morning cartoon villains who do bad things just because they want something, with absolutely no sense of subtlety or humanity whatsoever. The rest of the characters fall somewhere in between, and even their development and character arcs are about as predictable as they come, and they also lack background as well. But your mileage may vary.

If you're coming here expecting a continuous, linear story, you might want to turn back, because Unico as a manga is intentionally episodic in nature. Every chapter focuses on Unico being taken to a new place, making new friends, helping them with their problems, the West Wind coming back for him to take him to another place, rinse and repeat. So yeah, the manga is very formulaic. Granted, the situations Unico gets into are always different, what with him visiting new places every time, so the settings never stay static. He travels to ancient Greece, very early America, a town that's very heavily polluted by a factory, a deserted island inhabited by a devil, lush forests, and so on. For those of you who saw the Unico movies, you may recognize characters such as Beezle, Katy/Ciao, and Baron DeGhost, as their scenarios are in the manga as well, but they play out very differently here, Katy and the Baron's in particular. In the movie, Baron DeGhost was a demon who ruled the forest and could turn into a gigantic Chernabog lookalike. In the manga, he's just some cruel hunter who hates animals and murders everyone he doesn't like with his rifle just because he can, and all the animals in the forest drive him out by working together. Yeah, I bet you didn't expect that, now did you?

Reading the manga, I also noticed one other huge flaw: Unico seems to have a lot of issues with continuity and consistency in terms of how long Unico has been taken away by the West Wind. When he's first taken away from Psyche, the manga mentions that the West Wind just...carries Unico around in a bag for centuries, possibly millennium, before he's dropped off and magically has no memories of her. What? That makes no sense! How did his memories get erased? The manga never explains who erases his memories and how, other than implying that the West Wind does it...somehow. Also, how did he manage to not die from being stuck in a sack for thousands of years? Plus, it's implied that many years pass whenever Unico travels to a new place, but all throughout that time, Unico never ages or grows up. He still stays a unicorn foal. Where's the logic in that? Or is he just somehow immortal? Again, the manga never explained this. In the movies, this issue isn't present, and just imply that it's been a few days or weeks since Unico was taken from his home, which I find to be much better. Also, the very first chapter contains a rather...outdated and stereotyped portrayal of Native Americans and their conflicts with the Europeans, along with a really soppy, hokey as hell love story between a Native boy and a white girl. "Oh, hello young girl who I just met a few minutes ago! You're my true love! Let me take you to my family's teepee so I can kiss you a lot!" "Oh yes, Native boy who I only just met a few minutes ago! I love you so much! I want to be your wife! Let's have Unico magically turn us into adults so we can kiss each other a lot and show how much we love each other!" Too cheesy and dumb for me. Plus, some readers might not like that Unico never seems to be allowed to stay in one place. In one chapter he's reunited with his unicorn family...but can only see them for a day before the West Wind takes him and erases his memories yet again. What the hell?! Come on, manga! Let Unico catch a break for once!

One of my favorite bloggers mentioned that while he respected Tezuka's contributions to the anime/manga medium, he wasn't a perfect writer or storyteller, and felt that a good portion of his work would be better off in the hands of more capable people who would come after him. After reading the Unico manga, I'm inclined to agree, even though I admit to not having seen a good chunk of his work other than this, some episodes of Kimba The White Lion/Jungle Emperor Leo (the movies and specials included), and some episodes of the 2003 Astro Boy anime. The Unico movies, while having their own sets of flaws, took some of the stories in the manga and smoothed out a lot of their most persistent problems. But the manga does still have a lot to offer on its own, and I think it deserved to finally be brought over to the US after so many people saw the movies in their childhood. Unico fans have definitely earned the right to read the source material where Unico originated from. The manga isn't perfect, but after all the hard work it took for DMP to bring it over here, it absolutely deserves to be read by not only manga fans, but Tezuka enthusiasts and anyone who loves a good children's manga. I know it'll have a permanent place on my shelves for sure!
Tags: manga, review, unico

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