Unico was one of the first books published through Digital Manga Publishing’s Tezuka Kickstarter program, and with its recent reprint from DMP in their Storm Fairy Kickstarter, I thought it would be reasonable to revisit a review of Unico I wrote in 2013. The book, as a print object, is one of DMP’s best to date; I’ve complained about their treatment of previous Tezuka work, but I think Unico stands out as both a work that is beautiful, and suitable for folks who aren’t necessarily into manga.
Tezuka’s Unico 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, the collected book from DMP is 400 pages of color comics in a compact paperback. Unlike most of Tezuka’s manga, this book reads left to right because of Lyrica’s formatting, making it a good jumping on point for new readers.
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 Rome, where Unico is the pet of Psyche. Tezuka pulls heavily from Roman myth here, but the similarities between the ancient myth and Unico’s origins quickly widen as Venus extracts 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 seem to be going OK for our hero, the wind comes again to scoop him up and take him to another place.
Unico quickly becomes a comic that is, in each chapter, a variation on the theme. In “Buffalo Hill,” a pioneer girl and a Native American boy fall in love. The innocence of these two characters is overwhelmed by the anger and hatred of their own people. The story almost feels Kantian in execution. 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. The whole collection evokes Babar the Elephant in a reminiscent and good way.
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 his intended reader. One thing that is a little more disconcerting is the collection’s price – for what Unico is, you’re paying a lot of money. When an Image glossy paperback is less than $10, a $35 manga-sized collection is something of a hard sell. Additionally, if you’re thinking about buying this for a small child in your life, the chances that it stays in one piece are slim to none.
Unico is an interesting from a collector’s perspective and is a nice addition to any Tezuka library. For kids, the stories are good, but the book’s constructionand cost are a major roadblock, since any lightweight paperback like this is very likely to be destroyed in a few reads. Still, if you can stomach the price tag, this is a great book for a young reader’s library. Copies can be bought on the secondary market, with a new printing (with better color) to reach the market in November 2015.
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