Time-travelling, little Unico the unicorn has magical powers that spread happiness wherever he goes. He turns war into peace, greed into generosity and poverty into prosperity. This angers the ancient gods, who want things as they are with humanity under their thumb. So they send the West Wind to slay Unico but, moved by his gentle soul, she spirits him away to the Land of Mists. After Unico teaches Beezle, the impish ‘demon of solitude’, lessons about friendship and selflessness, the gods are more eager to see him dead than ever. They summon the cruel Night Wind, prompting West Wind to carry poor Unico away from his newfound friend.
Unico then falls in love with Katy, an abandoned kitten (“It was a serious blow to my self esteem!”) he finds floating in a basket along the river. Katy’s crazy dream is to become a human girl and study magic; a wish Unico obligingly grants, transforming her into a wide-eyed ingénue. Katy starts out a rather selfish, daffy girl but slowly blossoms. Her beauty suddenly draws attention from the handsome, but sinister Baron De Ghost.
This anime classic was a collaboration between two titans of the genre: Sanrio Films, the toy merchants with ambitions to become the next Disney, and Osamu Tezuka, the most important manga creator of all time. The basic premise is surprisingly downbeat for a light-hearted, children’s anime, but will strike a chord with fans of television shows like The Fugitive or The Incredible Hulk: the wandering hero who helps others find happiness, but remains alone, forever on the run. In a subtle, storybook style, Tezuka fashions a tale that tackles philosophy, morality and the difference between emotional needs and superficial desires.
The pastel-hued whimsy is lively and appealing with delightful characters. Happy-go-lucky Unico embodies the indemonstrable human spirit while Katy, in both her feline and human incarnations, is one of the most adorable anime heroines. True to form, Tezuka experiments with wild animation techniques (particularly the kaleidoscopic “Katy the Kitty Witch” musical montage) and steers the film from comedy (human Katy still laps saucers of milk and frolics in fields), fantasy action (Unico transforms into a fully-grown flying horse, or uses his horn like a power drill or sword to duel with the dastardly Baron De Ghost), surprising eroticism (Baron De Ghost seduces Katy with drugged wine: “I hope your dreams are pleasant. They’re the last you’ll ever have.” Gulp!), and horror (a spate of monkey murders; the Night Wind assails West Wind and Beezil with wraithlike tendrils). A few of the Karen Carpenter-style songs are a little sugary, but Masahiko Sato’s score is mostly charming and helped make this a fan favourite amongst American kids. An amazing gothic finale features Katy strapped to a lightning rod atop a dark castle, a man gorily impaled on a turret, and three heroes battling it out with living lava, a forest full of ghouls, and a giant demon who spews out vampire bats. They don’t make children’s cartoons like this anymore.