Editorial

Why Unico: Awakening is Important to the Franchise

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Artwork by Gurihiru

When the Kickstarter for Samuel Sattin and Gurihiru's manga Unico: Awakening hit its goal on the first day, it showed how excited people were for the project. Osamu Tezuka's adorable unicorn is well-known in Japan and many Western nations remember Unico during the 80s after they released the animated films.

But who is Unico?

If you are new to Tezuka's work or to Unico, we can give you some brief history.

During the 70s, the ambitious company Sanrio was making animated films. Sanrio opened an animation studio in Los Angeles, California and production for the Disney-like film Metamorphoses (later changed to Wings of Change/Hoshi no Orpheus) soon began. Metamorphoses featured five versions of Ovid's Greek myths and took three years to produce. Sanrio collaborated with several well-known people like Joan Baez, The Three Degrees, and Mick Jagger, who composed the music for the film before they later changed it to a more disco themed soundtrack.

As a huge Disney fan, Tezuka loved the idea of producing anime in the United States. In June 1976, while waiting for a direct flight to Japan, Tezuka visited Sanrio’s animation studio and got a glimpse of the work-in-progress US-Japan collaboration film, Metamorphoses. After seeing Sanrio’s project, Tezuka envisioned a cute unicorn, grabbed a sheet of paper, and sketched out a design. This was the birth of Unico.

Sanrio was also developing a shoujo (comic for girls) magazine called Lyrica, which featured several themes like relationships, romance, and slice of life. Hoping to publish an English version, Lyrica was large, in full-color, and read left-to-right. They asked if Tezuka would be interested in creating a comic for the magazine and he was happy to join and began working on Unico almost immediately.

During his flight back to Japan, Tezuka named the character Unico, the name deriving from the word unicorn.

In November 1976, five months after his creation, Unico made his debut in Lyrica magazine. Immediately after reading the Prologue chapter, Unico's misfortunes are apparent.

What's Unico's Story?

Unicorns have magical powers, and it is the power of human love that brought out Unico's ability. Unico works to make the people happy who treat him kindly. In the Prologue chapter, Unico lives with the beautiful Psyche, bringing her happiness and good fortune in return for her unconditional love. When the goddess Venus grows jealous of Psyche, she has Unico captured and orders the West Wind to take him far away, where no one will find him. The West Wind feels sorry for Unico and travels through time before finally leaving him on a hill. With Unico's memories gone, he no longer remembers Psyche or his past.

With each chapter, West Wind transports Unico to a new place and time, losing his previous memories. He is often bullied and teased, but he never gives up. Unico only wants to be loved and accepted.

Although Unico's adventures seem bleak, each chapter has a beautiful story to tell. Several messages and themes are present within the manga, so the story is much more than just the tales of a cute unicorn.

The Unico manga ended when Sanrio cancelled Lyrica magazine in March 1979, so it's uncertain what other ideas Tezuka had for the little unicorn. From April 1980 to January 1984, Tezuka brought a new version of Unico to the children’s magazine Shougaku Ichinensei (First Grader), but unlike the Lyrica version, he made the First Grader comics for grade school-aged children. Unico was no longer being taken away by West Wind but lived with a young boy and dragon in Japan.

What is Unico: Awakening?

Artwork by Gurihiru

Unico: Awakening is a re-imagined story based on Osamu Tezuka's manga, Unico. Sattin and Gurihiru are working in coordination with Tezuka Productions to reinvent the character for a new generation of readers.

While Unico has appeared here and there and with merchandise releases over the years, his story never continued nor had a true ending. The re-imagining of Osamu Tezuka's Unico introduces the character to a new generation of audiences and brings one of the more popular manga chapters, The Cat on the Broomstick, to life once more. Sattin and Gurihiru are staying true to Tezuka's characters and message, while giving Unico a fresh and vibrant new look. From artwork seen online, Gurihiru's rendition of Tezuka's characters works well and conveys each character's unique personality.

Artwork by Gurihiru

It's good to note that this manga is not a continuation, reboot, or remake, but a re-imagining. Fans who have known Unico since their childhood will find the familiar characters and storyline they love, but with a new twist.

Since this project is a collaboration between Japan and the US, several creatives are involved from both countries. Plenty of art prints/posters and Artifact items are available during the Kickstarter's run, featuring well-known artists like Akira Himekawa, Junko Mizuno, Soo Lee, Katie Longua, Peach Momoko, Kamome Shirahama, tokitokoro, Tomm Moore, and many more.

Unico: Awakening will be available in English and Japanese, and the Kickstarter mentions shipping to several countries across the world. This allows fans from all over to get the chance to read this wonderful fresh addition to the Unico franchise.

What's the "The Cat on the Broomstick" Chapter About?

For those who have not read the original manga, The Cat on the Broomstick (ほうきにのったネコ) chapter is where Chao/Katy the cat makes her appearance. In this chapter, Chao helps Unico after seeing him mistreated by a flock of sheep. The two become friends and after her owners throw Chao away, the two find a cabin in the forest.

Hoping a witch lives there, Chao is excited but soon learns that the old woman living in the shambled home is not a witch. In order to keep Chao with the old woman, Unico says he'll grant her whatever she wishes. She asks if he could turn her into a human girl and he uses his magic to make it happen. Chao is happy and gladly helps the woman with chores around the home.

Then the dangerous Baron Ghost appears. He enjoys killing animals and cats are high on his list. When he sees the human Chao, his goal is to keep her in his estate and orders the old woman to be killed. Unico rescues Chao and the old woman, but the Baron kidnaps Chao once more.

In order to save Chao, Unico turns several of the forest animals into humans. They march right up to the Baron's estate and pull him from his home and take him deep into the forest.

The anime film differs from the manga as the Baron becomes a Great Devil in the end. While we don't get to see much of the Baron's personality in the anime, his cruel intentions and sinister ambiance are present. He's literally a devil in disguise.

What's different about Unico: Awakening?

While the story for Unico: Awakening is based on The Cat on the Broomstick chapter, it's unclear what will truly unfold until its release. From interviews and images online, we learned that some names and character designs have changed. Sattin stated in The Anime Nostalgia Podcast that Chloe the Cat got her name from combining Chao and Katy, two names we know the character as. The Night Wind and West Wind keep their names but have newer designs. This is also true for Venus, who has shed her humanlike appearance.

As mentioned before, this is a re-imagined Unico, so the story and plot itself will be different, but still following Tezuka's original work.

So why is Unico: Awakening important to the franchise?

With the resurgence of Unico, this opens several doors. Since the Kickstarter is performing so well, it's a dead giveaway that people want more Unico, and this could allow more distribution in the future. Many English-speaking fans would love the manga to be reprinted as the DMP copies are out of print, hard to find, and very expensive. People enjoy collecting and buying merchandise of characters they love, and fans new and old living outside of Japan could get their hands on Unico items.

Fans of Samuel Sattin's and Gurihiru's works who are not familiar with Unico, will be exposed to the character and it could open more doors for those readers. Everyone working on this project is excited and working hard to make it happen.

Let's not forget that Unico's message of friendship, love, peace, and perseverance gives readers hope when times are dark. Even Unico feels despair, but he never gives up. He wants to be there for you as much as we want to be there for him.

More Information

The Kickstarter has little over a week left and the pledges continue to grow. To learn more about the project and make a pledge, click here! The Kickstarter will end June 2, 2022.

Be sure to also follow the official Unico: Awakening Twitter Account for up-to-date information and news!

Sources:

  1. 【明田川進の「音物語」】第8回 「星のオルフェウス」制作秘話と、ロスで手塚先生のお手伝いをした話 : ニュース – アニメハック (eiga.com)” – Susumu Aketagawa. July 11, 2018
  2. "Sanrio and Me | (cartoonresearch.com)" - Fred Patten. June 30, 2013

* Concept and other Unico: Awakening artwork used for this post are from the main Kickstarter page and My Love Mix-Up! by Aruko and Wateru Hinekure - UNICO too! (mangasplaining.com)


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