This Week in Anime
The Strangely Dark World of Unico

by Michelle Liu & Monique Thomas,

The inimitable Osamu Tezuka teamed up with Sanrio to create a cute little unicorn to add to the company's mascot roster, but it wouldn't be a Tezuka joint without some questionably adult themes. Who's ready to see a pastel unicorn baby face off against the undying evil of aristocracy?

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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @NickyEnchilada @vestenet

Nicky, for all the discussion around the late Osamu Tezuka and the impact he had on early anime/manga, there's one thing about him that until recently has been overlooked. Sure, he's remembered as this titan of manga, but once you look past the reputation you might notice a curious trend of featuring cute/sexy animal people. Now you could say it's rude of me to accuse Tezuka of being a covert furry, but to that I raise you: catgirl maid.
I'd argue that catgirls and especially maids are only 20% on the furry scale, but I think we should really be talking about a DIFFERENT kind of cat girl.
Ah yes, Sanrio, the company that brought us Hello Kitty; Aggretsuko; and Ringing Bell, the cute sheep movie that scarred a generation of children. But we're not here to talk about either the metal-screaming red panda or the vengeful murder sheep. We're here to talk about the cute pink unicorn who saves people with the power of love. His name is Unico (because he's a unicorn) and he is most definitely not a My Little Pony.
Specifically, we're talking about the first movie, Fantastic Adventures of Unico! Based on a manga by the Tezuka, and published and produced by that titular toy company. This is the first of the two full movies. At only 90 minutes it might seem a bit short, but like Unico himself, this movie has a lot of power packed inside it's tiny little body.
Considering it goes from "everyone loves Unico, the baby unicorn that spreads happiness wherever he goes!" to "we regret to inform you that the gods are displeased with him for making their religion obsolete" within five minutes, yeah, it's kind of a lot!
Well not without a catchy little ditty about it first!
Anyways, Unico is the only one of his siblings born with a horn that grants magic powers and the gods decide Unico has had it good for too long. But since killing the little adorable ball of sunshine seems like a BIT much they just decide to call this Leiji Matsumoto-lookin' lady, the West Wind, to sweep him faaar faaar away so he can't do anything troublesome like making people smile and all that.

But like in every other story where the powerful try to force someone else to do their dirty work for them, West Wind half-asses the order. She's all like "nah, oblivion sounds like a step too far, how about I drop him on this other, much closer island with nobody on it? Surely that's an acceptable compromise that doesn't require me to fly 1000 years?"
Let's drop him off at checks notes Alone Island. Surely, no one lives there!

Spoiler: Someone lives there.
Turns out that "someone" is a smurf troll with daddy issues. You know, the kind of guy you totally want for a roommate.
Clearly this little monster is straight out of Undertale.

This is Beezil (I don't think he's EVER named in the JP version of the film), the demon of solitude II, not quite as scary or intimidating as the first one, but he's much cuter at least.
Demon kid is set on following his dad's example in being the world's most miserable hermit, but unfortunately for him, living alone on an island gets pretty boring. And the promise of a unicorn friend to hang out with/bully is really too tempting to pass up!
He tries to be all tsundere and stubborn about it but once he gets the idea in his head he acts like the kid who is all "You're in my house so you're gonna follow MY rules" and tells Unico that he has to let him play with his most precious toy if he wants to be friends so bad.
He's not exactly the nicest playmate, no. But can you really blame him for being rough around the edges when he was raised by Mr. "I hate everyone so much I'm gonna bugger off to an island in the middle of nowhere" Demon of Solitude I?
Now this is a bit of a problem for Unico since he kind of NEEDS that horn to give him magical powers and stuff but he acquiesces because he can't say no to the prospect of friendship. So he let's demon-kun borrow it but only under the condition that he gives it back the next day.

Also yes, it's removable.

Still being alone for your whole life isn't an excuse to make light of someone else's things!
It may not be an excuse, but it is a little easier to forgive the lil stinker when he struggles to comprehend things like "not being a jerk" and "helping people in need."
Nah but the word "stop" should at least be enough. He really rough houses with it, and then it's all fun and games until one of the kids accidentally pushes the other one off a cliff and into the roaring waters of the ocean.

Demon kid then has Babby's First Moral Dilemma when he struggles to decide whether it's worth getting his tail wet to save his one and only friend (?) from drowning. On the one hand, he's not supposed to be nice. He's a demon, after all. But on the other hand, he does kind of like having Unico around, and besides, he did promise to give the horn back at the end of the day. He may be a jerk, but he's a jerk with integrity. Solitary upbringing versus the power of friendship...Okay yeah, power of friendship it is.

After conceiving an epic loophole for himself, the little demon graciously returns Unico's horn, returning his powers and his kindness. Which allows Uncio's love powers to activate him into a Big Boy Pony--with wings! Saving the day.

Talk about a happy ending, right?
Unfortunately for Unico, he's not allowed to have one of those, they could smell the stench of happiness from miles away and declared they they needed to summon and even MORE terrifying wind lady to teach Unico a lesson in scary time-out forever.
@ the gods:
So WindMom has to be a bummer and come and pick Unico up from his playdate with his new friend, whisking him away to a new location, and our next story.
Luckily, since Unico has the power to befriend pretty much anything that breathes, it's not long before he finds a new playmate in the form of a very bratty cat in need of a reality check.

To be fair though, Chao is really cute.
Unlike Sanrio's biggest flagship, Unico's new friend Chao isn't so polite or really a good role model. Instead of working hard she decides it'd be better to find the easy way in life by becoming a magical witch!

Also the music video for her is REALLY cute 10/10.
Look, Chao has it all planned out. Step one: find a witch. Step two: become a witch's familiar. Step three: infinite wishes! Maybe marry a handsome prince somewhere in the middle, eat a cockroach or two, and then complain about how people just don't appreciate her culinary taste, it's perfect.

She uh, seems to be having a bit of trouble with step 1.
Unfortunately the "witch" they find, is really just a poor struggling old lady! Also it's kinda hard to be a witch or anything when you're a cat who can't even put on her ribbon right-side up. But Chao isn't really one to give up yet on her own illusion.

Meanwhile, I think Unico got cat-brain-worms because he totally thinks the kitty is too fluffy and adorable to be bad or selfish, and decides he's gonna help her.
Can't say Chao's quite ready to be a human yet though. For one, she doesn't seem to get that people are bipedal.

She also doesn't know to suspect the ominous aristocrat who asks for her address, social security number, and the digits on the front and back of her credit card. SMH Chao, she was never going to make it.
Unfortunately the bad thing about being a cat is that no one really teaches you much about the importance of stranger danger, especially when that stranger is named Baron Ghost! Anyways, Baron Ghost offers her to sing at his sick party at his big ole castle house, but no sweet old ladies allowed cuz that'd be like totally uncool.
Oh, who could've predicted that the man named Baron Ghost and accompanied by dramatic music doesn't have Chao's best interests in mind?

So yeah Baron Ghost invites her over, roofies her drink, and carries her off to a bed to prepare to... metaphorically date rape her? I think? This is about where the movie starts going off the rails a little so I'm assuming Baron Ghost is a vampire or some shit rather than an actual literal rapist in a family movie.
Look I have no idea what his intentions are other than making forest animals hella creepy and attack innocent monkeys because they ate some BOO-BERRIES but it sure can't be good!

Sensing something is wrong, Unico sets out to look for Chao but has to overcome a bunch of creepy forest trees along the way.
Yeah, remember how Unico was afraid Demon-kun was gonna break his horn? Never mind that actually, Unico's horn is now a combination sword/weed whacker/jackhammer.
When Unico wants to go hard he goes REAL HARD! He goes hoof-to-toe with Baron Ghost to save his friend and even breaks his flimsy-ass sword.
Baron Ghost falls off a roof in Disney villain fashion, gets impaled on a spire of his own castle, and the day is saved! Except oh no, we forgot to mention that Baron Ghost is undead. Oops.

Up until this point Fantastic Adventures of Unico is a relatively straightforward movie about friendship and the power of unconditional love, but then the undead vampire count turns into a physical manifestation of aristocratic rot and everything turns on its head. It's honestly incredible how quickly the Ghost/Unico conflict becomes a battle of everything good and healing versus the hegemony of old, this looming shadow of wealth and power and darkness threatening to squash out the hope our small heroes offer.
The last twenty minutes of the film are enough to give the Night on Bald Mountain segment of Fantasia a run for its money! The trees become dragons, and then back into trees, the floor is lava, Beezil is there. It's hard to show in stills but there's some seriously slick animation in here.
Taking down the incarnation of all evil in kid-friendly way: by throwing him into a pit of lava and watching him crumble into ash. Yes this is a very wholesome movie.
I'm sorry to tell you but this is actually the much lighter of the two films. You wouldn't BELIEVE some of the stuff that happens in Unico in the Island of Magic.
But since we're at the end of this one, Wind Mom comes and says that it's time for Unico to go.

The Irony of Unico is that he brings happiness wherever he goes, but he's never allowed to stay, quickly being whisked away and forced to forget, leaving all his new friends behind.
Real happiness is the friends he makes along the way, but they are just that: along the way. In the end the happiness he brings is bittersweet; he has all the friends in the world but gets to keep none at all.
Anyways, Unico is a really fun undercooked classic property, that is sure to mystify and entertain both children and adults. It's light enough for a five-year old but also it's really good at bringing in these big emotions of fear, friendship, bitterness and most importantly love. It's something that anyone can enjoy.

It also has an alright dub btw, if that's your thing or you want to share this film with a kid in your life.
Unico's one of those things that deals in platitudes but sticks to them hard enough that they ring true again. It's creepy at times, adorable at others, and most importantly doesn't end in murder sheep. Only minor kid trauma here, not the nihilist horror of that other infamous Sanrio thing.
No, but it does have GHOST RABBITS.

Kids' shit from the 80s just loves bein' spooky, and I'm here for it. Though nothing terrifies me more than Unico's almost-human face on his tiny horse body, especially without his horn!
We'll just leave it at "friendship is magic," shall we?

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