All living creatures sing the song of love.
Like a wave breaking on the seashore,
love is always coming, and always passing away..."
Unico (ユニコ, Yuniko) is a children's series of manga and anime films based on the character of Unico, a baby unicorn who was born with the very special gift of making all living creatures lighthearted and happy, though in the original manga, he could only use his powers for someone who shows him unconditional kindness. However, the gods are jealous of Unico's powers and send the West Wind to banish him to oblivion. Taking pity on Unico, the West Wind instead transports Unico to various faraway places across time and space, and whenever the gods learn of his whereabouts she takes him away to another land...but Unico rarely ever gets to say goodbye to the friends he has made, and his memories are taken away each time he goes somewhere new. Developed by Osamu Tezuka, the manga first ran in Lyrica, a Sanrio publication for children, and eventually consisted of two volumes running from November 1976 to March 1979.
An anime pilot called Unico: Black Cloud and White Feather from 1979 was created but rejected, and two films and a short were completed afterward (in 1981 and 1983 respectively for the films). The movies, both co-produced by Sanrio and Tezuka Productions with animation by Madhouse, are The Fantastic Adventures of Unico (1981) and Unico in the Island of Magic (1983), later accompanied by the short Saving Our Fragile Earth: Unico Special Chapter (2000), a Chinese co-production.
In the early 2010s, the manga gained an official English translation thanks to a successful kickstarter by a group of American fans who grew up on the movies. Prior to that, France gained an official translation of the manga but skipped over the movies and other animated works starring Unico.
On November 2015, Tezuka Productions launched an official Unico fanclub known as "UNICOclub" dedicated to any Unico related news and merchandise in Japan.
On May 1st, 2022, Octas Inc. launched a Kickstarter campaign announcing an upcoming re-imagining of the manga series titled Unico: Awakening which will be an entire reimagining of Unico for the next generation of readers. The artwork and character designs will be handled by Gurihiru with Samuel Sattin as the main writer. The creators are also working closely with Tezuka Productions to keep as faithful to the original manga and character as possible with an English and Japanese release. The kickstarter immediately reached its goal by fans from both Japan and the western market when it was barely 24 hours old. The manga will released August 6, 2024 in the U.S. by Scholastic Graphics imprint.
During the campaign, two new American made Unico stories were released to backers as part of the Unico: Awakening Artifacts reward series. Such as an 8-page American Picture Book in the style of a Little Golden Book by Maddie Copp, which is an abridged story about Unico. While "Steenz" created a mini-comic where Unico is dropped off at a bodega and learns that sometimes magic comes in the form of community.
The Unico franchise provides examples of the following tropes:
- Adaptation Dye-Job: In the original manga and Unico: Black Cloud and White Feather. Unico's pupils were originally orange. By the 1980s, his eye color was suddenly changed to blue or green. His hair color is usually pink but would be colored red in some illustrations. In his first animated appearance, his hair was colored black. In some illustrations and artwork, Unico's fur would switch between blue and white. His tail would frequently change from white to pink in some appearances.
- Adaptation Explanation Extrication: In the Fantastic Adventures no reason is given as to why the gods can't just keep Unico for themselves. In the original manga, it is explained that if Venus did keep Unico with her, Eros would just steal him back for Psyche.
- Art Evolution:
- In the first couple of volumes, Unico's design was different◊ compared to his standard design. Notably, his mouth was colored white◊ and his body was a different shade of blue. Unico also had orange pupils before switching to blue (or black) by the 80s. His design in Unico Black Cloud and White Feather closely resembled◊ his present-day appearance.◊ Occasionally Unico would be depicted with pink eye shadow increasing his cute factor.◊
- Prior to debuting on Sanrio Lyrica in November 1976, Tezuka went through two different designs for the titular character. Unico started out with mostly grey fur, a tiny patch of pink hair, and pink hooves, and his face and chest were completely white. When he debuted on November 1976, he kept most of the white fur on his face, but with a shed of baby blue colored fur and dark colored fur, and with a dark shade of red. As the manga progressed, Unico slowly started resembling his current design◊.
- Anthropomorphic Zig-Zag: While Unico is typically seen walking and running on all fours, occasionally he would be seen standing and walking on both legs◊. It's more notable for some of the covers for the manga◊ (Unico holding a flower while standing on two legs◊, some illustrations◊, and Unico looking cute◊). In the movies, he's still walking on all fours, but rarely seen standing on two legs (with the exception of hugging Katy in The Fantastic Adventures Of Unico).
- And I Must Scream: Any of the folks changed into puppets and used to build skyscrapers.
- Badass Adorable: Unico
- Beware the Nice Ones: Unico can hold his own in a fight, despite himself.
- Bittersweet Ending: In the films: well, Lord Kuruku is destroyed...but Unico must go. The 2000 animated short Saving Our Fragile Earth: Unico Special Chapter is the only time Unico was able to gain a happy ending that isn't bittersweet or depressing.
- Blessed with Suck: Unico is born with the power to make all those around him happy - pretty awesome ability, right? Not if you have a panel of Gods who feel that they're the only ones who should have it and subsequently want you banished from existence for daring to infringe on them.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: This is a Tezuka manga so it is to be expected. A notable example is when one character throws her own speech bubbles on the fire and their letters proceed to pop like corn.
- Cat Girl: Not played completely straight, but Katy's the kitty to call.
- Cosmic Plaything: Unico himself.
- Crossover: On February 18th, 2021 the Kemono Friends mobile game Kemono Friends 3 announced a collaboration with Tezuka Productions which featured a Little Bit Beastly version of Unico as a playable character. The event was also made to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Japanese release of The Fantastic Adventures of Unico.
- Cute Little Fangs: Katy in her cat form and Beezle have them.
- And the Sphinx's daughter.
- Darker and Edgier: Island of Magic; even the box art has this.
- Disney Acid Sequence: The Island of Magic has Lord Kuruku playing with his toys, while the first has "Katy the Kitty Witch".
- Downer Ending: The manga: The final chapter ends with the West Wind once again taking Unico away, leaving the Demon of Solitude alone at the end of time and robbing him of the only friend he was ever going to have. There is also no indication that Unico will ever be reunited with, or even remember, Psyche and the cycle of Unico making friends just to be taken from and forgetting them will probably continue indefinitely.
- The Dragon: Toby in The Island of Magic. Also contains a literal dragon who you will not forget.
- Faux Affably Evil: Kuruku is polite enough when he's in a good mood, but he is a cruel being at heart and won't hesitate to make you a part of his castle. His mannerisms are very much like Freeza's.
- Friend to All Living Things: So much so that the gods try to banish Unico for making everyone too happy. The girl Cheri on Island also counts.
- Green Aesop: The short, anyway. The movies don't really count.
- Heart Is an Awesome Power: When he feels loved by those around him, Unico is able to turn into a full-grown unicorn, complete with the ability to fly. This allows him, in The Fantastic Adventures of Unico, to fly through the chest of a 50-story tall demon, killing him instantly.
- Heroic BSoD: Unico has one after Cheri gets turned into a puppet.
- Jerkass Gods: Their jealousy of Unico's power kickstarts the plot. Of course, this is nothing new for the Greek/Roman Gods.
- Large Ham: Lord Kuruku, in an extremely disturbing sense.
- Let's Get Dangerous!: Throughout "Unico in the Island of Magic", Kuruku seems like a playful (if creepy) type of villain. Then he gets pissed.
- Like a Daughter to Me: Probably how the old woman views Katy as a human.
- The Musical: Fantastic Adventures.
- Noble Demon: Beezle's very insistent on honoring his obligations; his dad raised him that way.
- Riddling Sphinx: Unico meets one who takes him to feed to her son Piro after he fails to answer her riddles. When she's killed, he promises to watch over her son for her.
- Ridiculously Cute Critter: Unico. The films were made with Sanrio; what else did you expect?
- Samus Is a Girl: Marschka in the manga.
- Say My Name: Holy crap. Both movies feature this and Big Word Shout. You can't go five minutes without hearing UNIICCCCCCCCCOOOO! or some other screaming.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: Tipi and Mary, and Marschka and Romanov in the manga.
- Stumbling in the New Form: Chao/Chow note (known as Katy in the English Dub of the 1981 film) gets turned into a human girl that was secretly granted by Unico. Due to being a cat, she briefly has trouble standing on two legs, which causes her to react with pure happiness and the amusement of Unico. While she quickly adjusts to walking on two legs, Unico has to constantly remind her to behave like a human when her cat instincts are showing.
- Sweet Polly Oliver: Marschka in the manga dresses like a boy for her job as a thief.
- The Imp: Beezle.
- The Stoic: Toby.
- The Power of Friendship: Literally, Unico can do all sorts of things, but only for those he considers his friends. It also gives Unico the power to change into a giant, flying unicorn capable of drilling a supersonic hole through a fifty-story-high demon. Yeah. Not so harmless now, is he?
- It also kills Kuruku, as mentioned above.
- The Power of Hate: Hate is the only thing keeping Kuruku animate.
- The Power of Love: Agape to be precise. Unlike in the films where Unico's powers are fueled by friendship, in the manga, he can only use his powers on people who have shown him unconditional kindness.
- Tsundere: Two cases. Beezle, who literally said he didn't need friends and was overjoyed to see Unico. Katy, who was very harsh to Unico and warmed up to him during his fight with The Lord of Darkness.
- Villainous Breakdown: Kuruku, during the climax.
- Wholesome Crossdresser: While not present in the manga and animated adaptations. Unico is occasionally seen wearing pink◊ or yellow/orange eyeliner◊ around his face. Tezuka would occasionally depict him wearing a red bow around his horn◊ in numerous illustrations.◊ He appears to actually enjoy dressing up in female makeup and wearing eyeliner.