Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
Artist: Osamu Tezuka
Publisher: Sanrio (JP), Digital Manga (US)
Translation: Yoko Tanagaki
Serialized In: Ririka
Unico, a tiny unicorn with blue fur and a reddish mane, has but one wish in life: To give love and make others happy. Osamu Tezuka’s Unico — yes, that “God of Manga” Tezuka — is named for its titular character who, despite being whisked away from the people he loves over and over again, never stops wishing to bring happiness to those who love him. “Children’s” manga or not, Unico is one of the first manga in a while to leave me with so many, well…feelings.
See, the gods don’t take too kindly to Unico spreading around all his good cheer. Lady Venus in particular is wildly jealous that the goddess Psyche draws so much attention with Unico as her companion. In a jealous attempt to remain the most beautiful and noteworthy of the goddesses, Lady Venus has Unico carried away by the North Wind to far off land, forever severed from his family and Psyche.
After the initial prologue we get the first of Unico’s adventures, as he crosses paths with a slightly mischievous Native American boy named Tipi and his family. Quick to make friends, the boy’s affection allows Unico to grow big enough to carry Tipi around on his back. When the two stumble upon a young white girl named Mary, Tipi, despite his family’s constant warnings, becomes curious about his new friend. The kids ask Unico to turn them into adults, hoping they can experience what it’s like to fall in love. Unico obliges, but can only transform them for a short while; when the two quickly do fall in love, one hour of “playing adults” isn’t quite enough and they pressure Unico to let them stay adults a little longer every time. It’s clear from the initial story that Unico is pretty perspective, and he knows that things can’t end particularly well, especially once Mary and Tipi’s respective families catch the hint. Still Unico does his best to make his new friend happy, only to be whisked away by the Northern Wind to the next land when the gods realize that, yes, Unico is still making people happy.
And, at least for the initial chapters, being whisked away after being essentially used or misunderstood for his powers in Unico’s fate. A lonely princess takes in Unico in one chapter, but Unico is quickly wrapped up in a scheme to overthrow the king after the bad guy convinces the townspeople that he’s is actually a demon. In many of the chapters, Unico’s companion’s falling in love is what inadvertently puts Unico in danger. Unico, powered by the affections of his friends, helps people to find love, and many swear that they’ll never leave Unico’s side. Most times though, his companions are blinded by their new loves and instead see Unico for his magical abilities, weakening the ties of their friendship and Unico’s powers. Whether it’s an abandoned black cat who has grand wishes of becoming a “witch’s cat” and continually asks Unico to change to her a girl after falling in love, or protecting a little girl after a literal mechanical factory falls in love with and kidnaps her, Unico tries his damnedest to make people happy regardless of circumstances.
Perhaps it’s Unico’s undeniably cute chibiness, or how, despite being whisked away and left with no memory every single time, Unico continues to only want to make people happy and to not be alone, but Unico really got me in the gut after the prologue. I just felt so darn sad that all this little unicorn wants in life is to be loved — not used, not abused — but loved, and yet even those that claim to love him disregard his feelings. As the chapters go on Unico objects more and more to be whisked away by the Wind every time, begging for one more day, one more hour, one more minute to make sure his friends are okay.
This is still a children’s manga though, and Tezuka’s cartoonish character designs serve the story well. DMP also made the smart decision to release this one completely in color; it looks good here and is bound to appeal to kids even that bit more. It’s also worth mentioning that the publishing of Unico was entirely funded through a DMP Kickstarter project, but is also available through regular retail outlets as well.
Overall, I took way more from Unico than I expected. The story is pretty simple and is essentially “reset” every chapter, but Unico is a cute, touching character — a great manga for kids and adults alike.