Using Tezuka’s popular characters, they showed 11 shorts on a 300-inch theater at Tezuka Osamu World (closed on January 16, 2011) in the Kyoto Station Building. Many of the animations were historical episodes related to Kyoto, while they based the Unico special off of essays written by Tezuka before his passing in 1989. These inspiring essays had several themes, including the destruction of the environment, devastation of human hearts, and the runaway of science. Tezuka talked about not robbing our children’s futures, for parents to talk about their history, foster imagination, and so much more.
They released the Unico special July 20, 2000, making it the fourth animation, as well as marking the theater’s 1st anniversary. Throughout the shorts, Phoenix (Hi no Tori) acts as a storyteller, narrating and commenting on the actions involved in each animation.
Several years later, the shorts were released on DVD on October 2, 2015, in Japan and are now included in Amazon Japan’s Prime Video listing. Each special is around 15 minutes, featuring a wide range of characters. They have not released these specials outside Japan.
The special opens up with Phoenix guiding us through space, informing us that the planet earth is no longer inhabitable. Next we see a goddess looking down to earth with her small telescope. Storks are returning with small blue orbs in cloth bundles, and as the goddess picks each orb up and places it in her basket, she apologizes to them. Humans have strayed from the correct path and since the orbs must return to Earth, she’ll let the orbs be stars instead.
A single tear falls from her eye and lands on an orb, turning the orb green. It glows and rolls down and away from the goddess and off the ledge.
Meanwhile, West Wind and Unico are flying to their next destination, with Unico asking her where they are going. The orb that fell manages hits Unico while traveling across the sky and knocks him into the ocean. Gigantic waves crash down on Unico, and a small tree boy pops out from the water to save him. He grabs hold of Unico and a whirlpool sucks them under.
On a small island, the tree boy wakes Unico, startling each other. Unico runs to find a safe spot before introducing himself. The tree boy steps forward and tells Unico his name is Tsubasa, a human just born in the world. Unico looks at Tsubasa’s features and tells him he looks like a tree. Tsubasa laughs, thinking Unico is joking until he notices his hand and then the rest of his body. Instead of being born as a human, he’s now a tree boy instead.
As Tsubasa cries and says the other children will make fun of him, small whirlpools form in the nearby water. Unico notices the Water Spirits and three beautiful women appear. One mentions that there are no other children on Earth. When Unico asks what she means, the Water Spirit shows him the town hidden under the water. Humans have used up all the natural resources and the O-Zone layer was destroyed. The planet’s temperatures rose, glaciers melted, and several places where humans lived were now underwater. Earth was now uninhabitable to people.
Both Tsubasa and Unico sit at the water’s edge as the sun sets after learning the fate of the planet. Tsubasa apologizes to Unico for getting him involved and asks for Unico to forget about him. Unico tells Tsubasa that he can’t leave someone who needs help and wants to restore the human world. Excited by Unico’s words, Tsubasa picks him up, asking if they can really do it. Unico replies that they’ll find a way.
The two travel across the water on a log until they find land. Everywhere they go, buildings are weathered and broken down, with no plants in sight. In their travels, they stop to rest as the sun beats down on them, Tsubasa wanting to give up. Before they can do anything else, a voice calls out to them, and the sand rises. The Sphinx appears before them and says that she’ll ask a riddle and if they answer it correctly, she’ll grant their wish. If they don’t answer, she’ll eat them. At this point, Sphinx has only really noticed Unico.
The riddle is, “what animal walks on four legs in the morning, on two in the afternoon, and on three in the evening?” Unico and Tsubasa do not know the answer and so they try to run away. Sphinx tells them they cannot escape and laughs when she notices Tsubasa, saying that he wouldn’t even make a decent toothpick for her. Tsubasa gets upset and tells her he’s a human, which answered the riddle as well. She tells him he’s correct and both Tsubasa and Unico are confused.
After explaining the answer to the riddle, she asks them for their wish so she may grant it. Together, Tsubasa and Unico tell her to return the world back to where humans can live on Earth again. Sphinx sighs and tells them that in order to do that, they would have to change history.
She reaches into the clouds above her to pull down a bunch of linked Time Spirits. When the Time Spirit (Astro Boy) recognizes Sphinx, he acts bashfully. The rest of the Time Spirits return to the clouds and now they must figure out how to change history.
The Time Spirit turns the clock back on his hat and Pukko (from Wonder 3) pops out like a cuckoo bird. Clouds swirl in the sky and a massive time gate appears. As the gate is only open for five minutes, the group must hurry through.
Everyone hops onto Sphinx, and she enters the gate, running through the river of time. Tsubasa spots hundreds of humans down below and the Time Spirit explains that they all must choose one of two paths. As they continue through time, stone statues of other Tezuka characters float endlessly around them. As the gate is only open for a short time, they too will turn into stone if time runs out.
They exit another gate and enter the past, where several humans are in line, discarding their technology and grabbing new items as am enormous machine destroys natural resources to create them. The people are oblivious to the exploitation of resources, choosing the easiest path and throwing the future away.
The five minutes are almost up, and Tsubasa is still trying to change people’s minds — telling them to think about the Earth. He begs the people to leave the future children a beautiful earth then cries. As his tears fall, something deep within the trash comes to life. The trash explodes under Tsubasa and Unico and a massive red creature emerges. It flies over, forcing the humans to continue following the easy and short path.
Unico saves Tsubasa but the massive creature lands in front of them, telling them he’s a monster created by humans. He explains humans choose to change the Earth to make it more convenient for them. The Greedy Soul (Yoku Tamashii) reaches into the pile of trash and pulls out a large yellow orb, saying it’s human’s egoism — the self-interest and desire to live only for themselves. After eating the orb, the monster grows bigger and says he’ll destroy whoever gets in his way.
Before the Greedy Soul can attack Tsubasa and Unico, Sphinx appears. She tells the creature that she promised to bring the world back to where humans can inhabit it again. The Time Spirit reminds her that there isn’t much time, and she tries to punch the monster. The Greedy Soul spews black smoke from his mouth and knocks Sphinx down the massive pile of trash.
Unico brings Tsubasa to safety and returns to the monster, hoping to stop him without fighting. The creature shoots black smoke at Unico and chases him. Unico dodges his attacks and the monster crashes into the side of a mountain. Even though the creature is trying to hurt Unico, the little unicorn still flies over to ask the monster if it’s okay. Without saying a word, the monster returns to attacking and chasing Unico.
The smoke destroys the trees and landscape and with only 30 seconds left, Unico flies over a large area of water. The monster flies into the water. When he doesn’t surface right away, Unico flies down to check, but a massive red hand bursts through the surface and grabs him. The monster laughs, having finally captured Unico.
Unico feels bad for the monster and his horn glows. The monster pauses for a moment and then the arm holding Unico blows off, turning into trash and unwanted items that plummet into the water. Once again, Unico flies in to see if the red creature is okay. The Greedy Soul asks why Unico would care, assuming that Unico hates him. Unico tells him that if he’s made by humans, then he’s a friend.
The monster seems surprised by Unico’s answer and listens as Unico tells him that not all people are bad, that there are people who want to save the world. With a quick chuckle, the monster agrees to give humans a chance and flies off, warning that he’ll be watching.
The Time Spirit calls out to Unico as time is up and everyone gathers once more. The road widens as humans are choosing the path that will help the future, but Tsubasa notices that the road leading to catastrophe has not disappeared. Sphinx leaps in front of the humans, blocking the destructive path and making sure no one can pass. Tsubasa cries out, not wanting her to stay behind. As time runs out, Tsubasa and the Time Spirit turn to stone. After Sphinx and Unico turn to stone, they are lost in time. A voice tells Unico to not give and his magic activates, breaking him free. Unico transforms into his adult form and rescues the Time Spirit and Tsubasa. Together, they return to their time.
Unico smiles when he sees that everything in the future is normal, but West Wind appears, telling Unico it’s time to go. He tries to run, but she catches him with no trouble and together they leave. As they fly off, Unico wonders if Tsubasa will remember him. West Wind tells him everything will be fine.
Down below, Tsubasa turns back into an orb and is reborn as a human baby. From the hospital window, there is a small area in the sky with sparkling light where West Wind and Unico are. The baby laughs in his mother’s arms (who looks like the Sphinx reborn) with Black Jack and Pinoko standing next to the hospital bed.
With humans taking care of the earth, the storks can deliver new children and life can flourish, creating a beautiful future for children and all living things.
– ガラスの地球を救え ユニコ特別編 – YouTube (Clip from the special)
– ガラスの地球を救え・ユニコ特別編｜アニメ｜手塚治虫 TEZUKA OSAMU OFFICIAL (Official Japanese language site for special)
– Saving our Fragile Earth: UNICO Special Chapter｜ANIMATION｜TEZUKA OSAMU OFFICIAL (Official English language site for special)