Review: Unico

Unico is the first book of Digital Manga Publishing Inc.‘s Kickstarter quartet from 2012, is a collection of short stories about a lovable unicorn from a full color glossy Japanese magazine called Lyrica. Originally published from 1976 to 1979, Unico was a comic for children that tackled some tough ideas.

Unico tells the story of a baby unicorn named, appropriately, Unico, who has amazing magic, but only for those who love him. The series starts in ancient mythological Greece, where Unico is the pet of Psyche, the beautiful human woman from the story “Cupid and Psyche.” Tezuka pulls heavily from ancient myth here, but the similarities between the ancient myth and Unico’s origins quickly widen as Venus extracts her revenge on Psyche by stealing Unico away and forcing him to forget everything about his past. Each story then begins and ends with the same premise – Unico, dropped to the ground by Zephyrus, the West Wind, must make his way in a new world. At the end, when things turn out good for our hero, the wind comes again to scoop him up and take him to another place.

What is remarkable about Unico is the extreme variations on the theme that Tezuka can evoke by changing the setting and characters that Unico happens to fall into. Tezuka quickly brings the full weight of his writing talent to bear in “Buffalo Hill” a story about a pioneer girl and a Native American boy who fall in love. The innocence of these two characters is overwhelmed by the anger and hatred of their own people, despite how the two flail against it. Tezuka dazzles readers with an almost Kantian ethos of right and wrong in “Buffalo Hill,” but the complexity he layers upon his characters refuses to be explained absolutely. Tezuka uses his characters to engage the concepts of Eros and Pathos, in a way that is funny and tragic. In the end, Unico is scooped up by Zephyrus as a great calamity befalls his befriended people, and he is powerless to save them from their ultimate fate. Other stories have similar philosophical heft. “Rosaria the Beautiful” deals with appearance and the effects of superstition and lying. “The Cat on the Broomstick” works with false expectations, the power of a people willing to give up anything to depose a dictator, and even the responsibilities of family.

While there are some very impressive ideas bouncing around inside Unico, it’s still a simple enough book for children to read. This means that there inevitably are some issues with storytelling that might not pass inspection with older readers, but Tezuka does a very good job talking up to kids and allowing them to do much of the heavy lifting – he doesn’t tell you who is wrong and who is right, with only a few exceptions. Even better for younger readers, this book is full color and oriented in the Western format. All of this means it’s a good book to share.

My quibbles with Unico are all surrounding pricing and delivery. At $35 US, it’s pricey for most casual readers; it is unlikely that people unaware of Osamu Tezuka are going to be willing to pay that price for 410 pages of kids’ comics. And with such great paper and color, it would have been nice for this book to be a hardcover to increase its durability and collectability. Those buying the book now are likely able to get discounts from retailers on the first edition (I got my version from the Kickstarter, so no discounts available!)

I really enjoyed Unico. Its stories can appeal to a wide range of readers, and could be easily converted into bedtime stories read to younger kids, read together with an older age-group, or consumed wholesale by independent advanced readers. Tezuka is never talking down to his readers here, and it makes for good reading that stays fresh even through analysis. Unico is a fascinating look at Tezuka’s children-oriented work Tezuka fans, and Digital Manga Publishing has done a good job with the printing and binding of this color edition. However you consume Unico, whether as a collector, parent, or child, this book is a great addition to your library.

For Fans Of: The Story of Babar, Cute woodland creatures, stories that pack an emotional punch, empty wallets 
Final Verdict: Recommended

Written and Illustrated by Osamu Tezuka
Genre: Fantasy/Children’s Fiction
Publisher: Digital Manga Publishing Inc.
410 pages | $ 34.95 US
ISBN-13: 978-1569703120

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