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An early design for Unico

In June 1976, while waiting for a direct flight to Japan, Osamu Tezuka visited Sanrio's animation studio in Los Angeles, California. He enjoyed the idea of creating anime in the US and got a glimpse of Sanrio's first work-in-progress US-Japan collaboration film, Metamorphoses (later changed to Hoshi no Orpheus/Winds of Change). After seeing Sanrio's project, Tezuka envisioned a cute unicorn, grabbed a sheet of paper, and sketched out a design in the studio before it disappeared. This was the birth of Unico.

Unico from Lyrica Issue #1

Sanrio was also working on serializing a monthly magazine for girls called Lyrica. Unlike traditional Japanese books, Sanrio's magazine would read left-to-right with horizontal text and published in all-color AB sized pages hoping to release to Western audiences. Tezuka—who loved to try new things—was happy to join and started working on Unico almost immediately.

On the plane back to Japan, steeped with confidence for the new project, Tezuka named the character Unico, the name deriving from the word unicorn.

Lyrica Issue 1

Sanrio released the first issue of Lyrica in Japan, November 1976, five months after Unico's creation. The magazine not only featured full-color comics but also plenty of ads for Sanrio goods, crafts, contests, horoscopes, and more! Tezuka was heavily busy with other works (Black Jack, Buddha, Three-eyed One, Phoenix, etc), but continued to draw Unico for several years.

As sales declined over the years, Sanrio discontinued the Lyrica magazine with the last issue being in March 1979 (No. 29). They returned the rights to all the artists, allowing them to publish elsewhere. In April 1980, Unico began his new adventures in the monthly magazine geared toward younger children called Shougaku Ichinensei (First Grader).

Unlike the original manga, the Shougaku Ichinensei version was written in traditional left-to-right format and focused on Unico's adventures with a young boy named Esuo (S-o) and a dragon named Ragon. Each chapter was around six or seven pages long with comical stories, often involving Unico cleaning up after his friends. Chao, the black and white cat from the original manga, also makes an appearance.

Altogether, 43 chapters were published during its run in the Shougaku Ichinensei magazine. The comics ended in January 1984, allowing Tezuka to work on other projects.

The Kickstarter project for Unico: Awakening launched on May 2, 2022, hoping to fund a reimagined version of Osamu Tezuka's Unico. Within 24 hours, they met the goal. The new manga is schedule to be released in 2023!

Click for more information:
Lyrica Version (1976-1979) Shougaku Ichinensei Version (1980-1984)Unico: Awakening (2023)


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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. Haruji Mori, General Manager, Tezuka Productions. (2011). Osamu Tezuka Bunko Complete Works – Unico. Japan: Kodansha
  3. Osamu Tezuka. (1983). Osamu Tezuka Manga Complete Works: Unico 2 (vol. 286). Japan: Kodansha.