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Even these tapes cost something

  Unico
 
1983 | Toho International
The sleeve is bright yellow, with multi-coloured stars and a pink haired Unicorn on the front. Yet, the distributors claim this betamax tape to be suitable for 4 - 14 years old. 14?! Pink, love brining Unicorn? How can this be true? Rest assured, I'll get to the bottom of this!
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From the mind of The God of Manga Osamu Tezuka, Unico started life in the pages of Ririka, a Sanrio publication aimed at girls. The title character is a little Unicorn with the magic power to make all those around him happy. This power displeases the gods and they command the West Wind to banish Unico somewhere he will never be found. But the West Wind takes pity on the poor creature and allows him to live out of sight with other creatures. Unfortunately the gods continually discover him and Unico is constantly moved from one place to another, and his memory of his previous adventures are permanently erased.

The Manga ran for three years, from 1976 -79. In its final year a TV pilot was produced titled Black Cloud White Feather (Kuroi Kumo Shiroi Hane) in the hopes of creating an animated series. The series was not picked up however, but the pilot was made available on VHS. The 30 minute story, based on chapter 3 of the manga, finds Unico in a town suffering from the effects of the polluting smog cloud hanging over them, produced by a nearby factory. Meeting a little girl made gravely ill by her situation Unico uses his magical power to destroy the factory but his actions once again bring him to the attention of the Goddess Venus, who in this version is responsible for his predicament, and Zephyrus The West Wind must once again whisk him away from his new friends.

Unico's story was finally given a cinematic treatment in 1981 in a movie simply titled Unico. As in the TV pilot the story took its inspiration from the manga bringing the characters, Akuma-kun, Chao and Danshaku to animated life. The famous Japanese pop singer/song writer Iruka performed the musical numbers as well as narrating the tale.

The 90 minute movie, released March 14th, was animated by Madhouse studio and distributed by Sanrio.

A second movie followed in 1983, titled Unico: To the Magic Island (Maho no Shima). Produced by the same cast and crew as the first ensuring consistency in style.

All three anime outings have been released on Sanrio DVD.

Unico first appeared in the west in 1983. The famous Japanese movie studio Toho created an English dub of the first Unico movie for distribution abroad. Only small changes to the movie where necessary; the original Japanese lyrics were removed from the opening and closing themes and the closing credit scroll was removed. As usual name changes were necessary; Chao to Katy, Akuma-kun to Beezel (one of the Devil's lesser known pseudonyms) and the shadowy Danshaku became Baron DeGhost. Dialog was removed referring to the Baron's intentions to sacrifice Katy, in this English dub his true intentions are never made clear.

In the UK the small company Mountain Video picked up the first movie for sale on VHS and Betamax. Ahead of its release a small clip of Unico's debut appeared in their kids promotional tape Flash! No.1.

The full movie was sold under the Graphic Video label which was also home to other Japanese imports including Mazinger Z, Tecno Police, Frankenstein and the Osamu Tezuka feature Space Firebird. Unfortunately Mountain Video disappeared a year later meaning only a small number of tapes made it to the shelves.

Tezuka's unicorn fared far better in the States where movie giants Colombia Tri Star handled his video debut. Retitled The Fantastic Adventures of Unico the movie was available to rent from Colombia themselves and was later re-released to buy under their childrens label Magic Window (as with Sanrio's previous Winds of Change).

The second movie also gained release in the US and both features were regularly screened during the late eighties on Disney's pay-per-view channel gaining Tezuka's character the widest recognition.

 
Unico Manga Unico White Feather   Unico Japanese VHS
Unico Mountain Video Poster
Unico Manga (1976)
 
Unico Anime Pilot (1979)
 
Unico Movie VHS (1981)
 
UK Movie Poster (1983)
 

IA magical unicorn named Unico is born to the world. The event is marked by a hastily penned theme tune. The singer seems so unsure of the weak lyrics that she is barely even singing, more talking in a higher tone than usual.

#The little fellow named Unico
as cute as cute can be

An innocent boy was Unico
so happy and so care-free

[The tape went jumpy at this point]

Across the land the fighting will cease
and night will turn to day

All tears will simply disappear
and the world will say...

We love you, oh Unico
We love you...#

Unico Fantastic adventures of unico

So what magical ability does Unico possess? Can he breath fire, or does he have X-ray vision, super strength or the power to read minds? No, none of those, Unico has the magical ability to spread love wherever he goes. But not just that, if someone nearby really loves him he involuntarily transforms into a adult-sized, winged Unicorn. It really doesn't get any more macho than that.

Why is Unico magic? No one actually knows, but one thing is for sure; it's pissing off the gods! They don't like the idea of some fruity unicorn putting everyone he meets on a fast track to happiness. They believe that's something that should be earned through years of hardship and suffering. So, rather than let him spread his vile gift amongst the populace they plot to have him removed from existence. Murder is a step too far even for these mean spirited deities so the West Wind is called upon to snatch Unico from his loving family and dump him on the Hill of Oblivion far from another living being. There he will cause them no problems.

Unico Fantastic Adventures of Unico unico

However, never send the Wind to do a god's job. Feeling sympathy for the creature's situation Westy drops Unico off on a remote misty Island, far from the sight of those scheming gods. Surely that'll be good enough, no one will find him here, right? So the set up is over, time for the plot to kick in...

... or not. Unico spends the next 20 minutes (trust me, it feels longer) wandering in the dark with an irritating devil he meets named Beezel. Beezel spends his time flitting around the screen and through the scenery like a kid with ADD after watching a three hour Power Rangers marathon. Despite having caused the death of his stone-statue-father (the Demon of Solitude) Unico believes the two of them can be friends. I can't work out way he'd want to befriend this jerk anyway. Well, lots of nothing happens for ages until the pink haired doormat agrees to hand over his horn to Beezel if he promises to be Best Friends Forever. That's right kids, making a friend is worth mutilating yourself for.

Unico unico Fantastic Adventures of Unico

With Unico's horn now part of him Beezel becomes even more 'spirited' (unbearable) and chases Unico around the island and eventually off a cliff, into the sea. Without his horn Unico is powerless and begins to drown. He cries out for his new friend's help but, surprisingly, Beezel isn't in the least bit interested and goes inside for a nap. No, really. He leaves him to die. Eventually though he starts to feel bad about what he's done and and heads back. Beezel dives in to rescue him even though the sea is poison to devils. Unico's horn is returned which, it turns out, represents a selfless act of love from on Beezel's part. This wonderful event causes Unico to transform into the winged stallion. He uses his new form to fly the both of them out of the rough waves and safely to dry land. As a reward Unico grants Beezel a horn of his own. "I've got the Horn! As good as my Dad's!" he chants, and the gloom lifts from the island as it is reborn.

This landmass-makeover blows Unico's cover and the god's, realising West Wind's betrayal, decide to call in more reliable wind related assistance - The Night Wind. Fortunately for our pink haired friend, the West Wind reaches him first and steals from his new home and carries him far away. Perhaps that's the last we will see of Beezel.

Unico unico Fantastic Adventures of Unico

Sadly, it's not.

Unico finds himself in a new home, next to a stream running through a green forest. Floating down stream in a wicker basket is a new best friend; Katy the cat. Having been abandoned by her owners she is now on a journey to find a witch to teach her magic spells. The reasoning behind this is never made clear but we do get another song and this time it seems the singer is making up the words based on what she's seeing onscreen - as she's seeing it. So, little plot development but plenty of stuff about "I'll blow you a Bubble full of ruby red shoes", "if a red ribbon bow is appealing to you, Katy's the kitty to call" and the oddly sinister line "#You can wave your arms and shout, you won't scare me away# I'll do what I want to you anyway#"

Unico unico Fantastic Adventures of Unico

The next morning the pair chance upon an old cottage in the woods which Katy obsessively insists is a witch's house. Against his wishes Unico and his cat chum investigate the place and find that it is inhabited by an old woman, who Katy naturally insists is a real life witch. The kindly old soul takes the strays in and they live together for a few days. Katy reveals that her greatest wish is to become a human girl, and it is clear to Unico that she'll never be a happy until to happens. So he uses his magic power to make it happen but allows her to believe that the 'witch' was responsible.

Unico unico Fantastic Adventures of Unico

Time passes. One day Katy is fetching water from the stream when a mysterious man appears. Riding in on a intimidating black horse as shrieking birds flee the trees it is somewhat unclear to the viewer if his intentions are good or bad. Okay, he's clearly evil. The sinister gentleman asks Katy about herself, ultimately concluding "She's either an innocent or a simpleton and little more than a child." His own words will make his later actions questionable. He reveals himself to be the Lord of the Woods, Baron DeGhost. The Baron finishes by inviting the ex-cat to his party.

Unico unico Fantastic Adventures of Unico

There are only two conditions;
1) No companions (well, not the old woman - it seems her age was a real sticking point. More on that later)
2) Tell no one.

So to sum up; a creepy stranger has invited a girl he considers "little more than a child" to a party at his mansion which she must keep secret from everyone. Just so we're all clear on that.

In the end, the joke's on him - she used to be a cat!

The next morning Katy attempts to slip out of the house unnoticed but is confronted by the pink haired unicorn. If she is to navigate the haunted woods to the Baron's mansion then she's gonna need to distract her do-gooding magical chum. Fortunately, she doesn't need to do anything as Unico is suddenly sidetracked by a injured monkey, wounded during the night by a squirrel agitated by the Baron's presence. While Unico licks him back to health Katy sneaks away.

Unico unico Fantastic Adventures of Unico

Arriving at the mansion assisted by a zombifying red berry, Katy is instantly welcomed by the Baron. It seems she is early, well it is still daytime, and no other guests have arrived.

Unico unico Fantastic Adventures of Unico

Having restored Monkey with his super spit, Unico turns his attention to saving Katy, who he realises, despite his warnings, has wandered off into the scary woods. The woods themselves try their best to stop our hero, thorned weeds constrict, the trees actively shift around to block his path. Yet another use for Unico's horn is revealed - as a head mounted sword which is handy as the foliage is getting pretty hostile. One last secret ability - Unico shrinks and sprouts previously unseen tiny wings allowing him to fly above danger - where he spots the eiery mansion in the distance.

Unico unico Fantastic Adventures of Unico

And Unico had better hurry - The Baron has already got Katy into his bedroom with an open bottle of wine and there's a special pill in her glass. You read that right, the Baron is plying the teenage cat/girl with spiked alcohol, in his bedroom!

Unico unico Fantastic Adventures of Unico

Returned to normal size, the unicorn watches through the keyhole as Katy attempts to serenade the Baron but is so wasted she can barely stand, let alone remember the words. But before this anime girl can go wild she collapses on the floor and falls asleep. DeGhost scoops her up, carries her across the room and lays her on his four-poster bed...

Unico unico Fantastic Adventures of Unico

Sensing that the movie is about to jump up a few age ratings Unico creates a distraction before dragging Katy out of the bed and using his Horn to drill through the wall while the Baron is distracted. You'd better believe the Baron's pretty pissed when he finds his 'date' has been stolen.

Unico tunnels his way outside of the castle and into the relative safety of the surrounding woods - that's a fair distance in such a short time! Unfortunately Baron DeGhost is already there to meet him and the two engage in a sword fight - kinda like that time Count Dracula fought Yoda, except with better lighting. Unico's horn proves mightier than the Baron's sword, snapping the tip of the blade. Feeling somewhat emasculated the evil Baron resorts to some sort of eye-flashing trickery which causes Unico to become incapacitated. With his final breath our hero calls out for backup...

Unico unico Fantastic Adventures of Unico

... and that means Beezel. The West Wind picks him up, out manoeuvring the deadly Night Wind on the way. Seeing his good friend once more restores Unico's fighting spirit and the two converge on the Baron's mansion, where they find Katy tied to a roof-top turret. Nothing like the threat of a possible lightning/Demon related death to sober you up!

Unico unico

Seeing his friend in danger, Unico sprouts his fairy wings and flies towards the Baron, his horn ready to attack (yeah, yeah -real mature!). His sharp protrudement tears through the baddy's shoulder releasing several torrents of clear blood. The shock of this attack causes Baron DeGhost to slip from the roof and he plummets several stories before being impaled on a spire. No, really!

Unico unico Fantastic Adventures of Unico

Just when things look like they can't get anymore unexpectedly distressing for the kiddies watch.. they do. The supposedly vanquished Baron mutates into a demon and his vast mansion begins to crumble and collapse as Unico, Beezel and Katy flee to safety. The sky turns dark, lightning flashes and thunder rumbles in the distance. Suddenly the mansion is torn apart as a huge demonic figure raises rapidly from its foundations. The baron has transformed into a vast, cloaked, skull headed monster which is bloating out the sky. As a kid watching this I would have crapped myself!

Unico unico Fantastic Adventures of Unico

The ground beneath the good guys begins to crack and crumble, giving way to deadly lava. As the trio attempt to escape they are constantly confronted by aggressive plant life and homicidal trees. Unico and Beezel turn and fight the unfeasibly huge enemy. Their attacks are way too puny to have any effect on the Baron Monster then things go from bad to worse when it retaliates with a previously unseen giant axe. Unico is struck and his horn sliced in two. His friends rush to his aid but he is unresponsive and apparently dead. But, wouldn't you know it, there unashamed out burst of emotion and floods of tears trigger Unico's Pegasus Response.

Unico unico Fantastic Adventures of Unico

The bright light of his transformation blinds the Baron Monster as Unico flies into the sky, and straight through the terrifying creature. Weakened by this massive flesh tunnel, Baron Monster sinks into the lava and order is finally restored to the once sinister woods. With the big finale over Katy rushes home to tell the old woman all about it. Beezel and Unico follow, but the West Wind snatches the little unicorn away without anyone seeing.

The old woman explains Unico's back story to Katy as he is once more whisked away from those he loves. The closing theme plays without lyrics while the credits roll without text. Enjoy your unexpectedly distressing ending kids!

Unico unico Fantastic Adventures of Unico
 
Missing videos Missing videos

Beezel Gets His Horn
Oh god. It's Beezel.
See his amazing, Baywatch style, rescue.

DeGhost Busters
The unexpected showdown with the shady Baron. He would've gone to jail anyway...

 
Very well animated
 
Surprisingly dark ending
 
Fairly good dub
  A bright yellow video case
 
Beezel! Arrgh!
 
Not a great deal of plot
 
Unico's voice is a little grating

Wow, I bet I wasn't the only one who didn't see that ending coming. I can't imagine any future Pixar extravaganzas featuring pre-teen friendly horror and violence like that. Or a sleazy aristocrat getting a teenage girl drunk for undisclosed purposes either. Those sections had a definite Madhouse influence for me, especially when you consider that, in the Manga, Danshaku was not a child-luring monster at all, just a bored and evil man who enjoyed cruelty to animals.

It would be really great to hear from anyone who saw this as a kid. I'd enjoy hearing how the sudden shift from happy cute animals singing to colossal demon horror-action went down with the target audience. It would have scarred me to death - I found episodes of Ulysses 31 too distressing to watch!

In honesty, I didn't expect to enjoy Unico at all. From the cover it appears sappy, and childish. But in actuality it was pretty enjoyable, if it were not for Beezel this Bargain Bin classic would join the 4 video rated few. I think this fun little movie would still be of interest to the modern kiddies audience. But I'm not too sure what they would make of the Baron!

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