Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
My Father is a Unicorn
High schooler Issei isn't quite sure what to make of his mom's new husband – not only did he not see the remarriage coming, but his new dad also happens to be a unicorn! Masaru can transform into a beautiful blond human male, of course, but that's only if he remembers to, and that's something Issei is left to cope with on his own when his mother leaves on a sudden business trip. New stepparents are hard enough to get used to without them coming with baggage like this…
If, like me, you grew up watching old mid-century sitcoms because your parents thought they were safer than modern TV (or that's just what was on to watch), there's a good chance that you'll find a certain familiarity to the way that Monaka Suzuki's My Father is a Unicorn is told. It follows the same basic formula as shows like Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie with a supernatural being plopped down in the middle of the main male character's everyday life, only in this case, the Elizabeth Montgomery/Barbara Eden character is the guy's new stepfather and he happens to be a unicorn. (So yes, there's a dash of Mr. Ed in there, too.) As was the case in those shows, the main character's woes here mostly stem from trying to make sure that his new magical dad doesn't accidentally out himself as not human, and since Masaru the Unicorn is particularly inept at acting human, that's a pretty tall order.
The story begins abruptly as many of its ilk in manga do, with Masaru's mother suddenly announcing her remarriage, introducing Masaru, and then promptly running off on a business trip. Given the absurdity of the situation, it feels very possible that Suzuki is deliberately poking fun at the trope of a parent basically announcing, “Surprise! I got married!” without ever letting their child know they were even dating anyone. (This may also be due to cultural differences between Japan and the west; I'm not entirely certain.) Issei, a high school student, is totally floored by what he views as completely ridiculous, and the fact that he's now being left alone with the unicorn/man that he's only just met does not sit well with him.
Needless to say, things only get weirder from there. Masaru is determined to be the best dad he possibly can for Issei, but this is difficult when he's not actually aware of what humans require in terms of nutrition or even how to do basic tasks with his human hands. The first day he's in charge he prepares a steaming hot plate of sautéed hay for his new son and irons the laundry by stomping on it with his hooves. This last has the unintended (and unwelcome) consequence of the nosy neighbor lady hearing him clip-clopping around the apartment, and she immediately becomes suspicious that the Uno family is keeping a pet horse.
This leads to one of the clearer comparisons in the storytelling with those mid-century TV shows I mentioned earlier; in her particular brand of nosiness, this neighbor is more reminiscent of Bewitched's Gladys Kravitz than the typical manga version of that one difficult apartment block tenant who tries to run everything. What's nice, though, is that over the course of the volume we do come to understand the woman better and to see that there's a reason for her apparent harassment of neighbors in general and Masaru in particular, something that the other housewives in the apartment complex also see. It's in keeping with the generally upbeat tone of the manga, and there's definitely something to be said for that; a total lack of mean humor makes this a gentle, fun story.
Unfortunately, it's also a story without a whole lot to it. The title essentially gives away the book's single joke, that Issei's new stepdad is a unicorn and that's weird. While we see it played out in a few different ways – unicorns love virgins, unicorns can purify water with their horns, Masaru can't figure out how to be human – it all boils down to the central gag of Masaru not doing as good a job at playing human as he thinks he is. That Issei is generally very patient with him about it and really does try to explain things (the “no hooves when shaping burgers” is a good example), it still all comes down to a little over one hundred pages of the same basic gag. Cute as it is, it can become wearing with length of use.
It is nice that it's backed up with some very attractive art. Suzuki's good at sight gags, particularly when it comes to the various weird variations of Masaru's transformations and moments when the story calls for a different art style. All of the characters are cleanly drawn and distinct from each other, even the background mob of housewives, and that's not something all artists pay attention to. The book also reads very easily, with clean layouts and a variety of panel sizes and styles to ensure that it is continually visually interesting.
My Father is a Unicorn isn't a deep or innovative book, and it doesn't vary its theme all that much. But it is a nice read, a story that's cute and funny enough to be a pleasant time. If you're just in the mood for a little brain break with light, fluffy storytelling, this absolutely fits the bill.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : A-
+ Lighthearted and fun with attractive art.
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