INTERVIEW: Writer Samuel Sattin Talks Reinventing Tezuka’s UNICO, Fan-Funding, and Honoring the God of Manga

If you’ve follow manga long enough, you’ll certainly know about Osamu Tezuka, his impact on the industry, and the numerous creations he’s made, some of which influence the current generation of artists today. For one of his creations, however, one writer, then an artist team, and then a number of talented creators are aiming to reimagine it for a new generation.

Company Octas Inc., the Eisner Award-winning artist team behind Superman Smashes the Clan and upcoming Ultraman: Another GeneGurihiru, and novelist and co-writer of Crunchyroll’s Essential AnimeSamuel Sattin, launched UNICO: AWAKENING on Kickstarter Monday. Alongside coordination with Tezuka Productions, they’re looking to reinvent Osamu Tezuka’s Unico for a new generation of readers with support from fans and from numerous creatives, ranging from Akira Himekawa to Kamome Shirahama, through various Kickstarter rewards and online initiatives.

I had the opportunity to send a couple questions to writer Samuel Sattin on how this opportunity came to be, and asked why fans — old and new — should consider taking part in this project:

TheOASG: How did the opportunity to work on a reinvented version of Osamu Tezuka’s UNICO come about?

Samuel Sattin: I have a long standing love of Osamu Tezuka’s work, so when I got the invitation to pitch them a project, well…to say that I jumped at it would be an understatement. I received the opportunity initially through a colleague who founded Crunchyroll Japan. He has a long relationship with Tezuka Productions, and told me they had been looking at new ways to work with Unico for a while. Needless to say, I put together a pitch, and was absolutely gobsmacked when they gave their assent. A manga-aficionado friend introduced me to Gurihiru’s representative, and when they came on board, I really felt like we had something great on our hands.

From initial approval to today, how long has this project been in the works and when everyone did believe this was essentially ready to be announced in April?

UNICO: AWAKENING has been in the works since late 2020, though it really started to gain momentum when Gurihiru came onboard in June of 2021. So I suppose the shortest answer is that this project has been brewing for quite a while. But the longer answer involves scheduling, and making sure we had the ability to make this what it truly needed to be in order to succeed.

Also, we had to check in every step of the way with Tezuka Productions, to make sure we were on track. After we had the story summary and script approved, Gurihiru began drawing. And in the meantime, we went on our artist search to get a series of prints approved. I do feel that, as of April, the project was ready to announce, and I’m happy we went forward the way that we did.

Was this planned to be fan-funded from the start?

We had a few conversations that considered multiple options, but fan-funding felt right from the get-go. We really felt that Unico as a character really begs to be embraced by many. Also, this way we would be able to get artists like Junko Mizuno, Akira Himekawa, Kamome Shirahama and Tomm Moore to provide inspired takes on the project, and expand it into a kind of celebration, both of Unico and Osamu Tezuka’s legacy. We all truly care about UNICO: AWAKENINGand hope to be able to do it justice.

You got a number of well known creators to take part in this project — was this initially planned or during development the opportunity to have this happen popped up?

When we first began, I had the idea of ​​telling a story that honored Tezuka’s legacy, while creating something new. That was my primary hope. As it developed, however, and we began to see that we could open up this project to fans and enthusiasts, we realized that there are a good few artists that have a strong connection to Tezuka, and Unico in particular — especially in Japan.

From there, and with the help of great friends and go-betweens, we began to ask the different artists if they’d be interested. Gurihiru was on the project at this point, and artists like Junko Mizuno, Akira Himekawa, Peach Momoko, and Kamome Shirahama opted to participate. One thing we noticed is that all of them had connections to Unico from when they were younger. Everyone looked at this as a passion project, something they genuinely wanted to celebrate.

What’s been some of the biggest challenges that’s occurred so far throughout this process?

UNICO: AWAKENING is a big project, with a lot of different people involved, internationally and otherwise. Though the entire process has been wonderful and, dare I say, smooth, it also requires a lot of people making sure they have all their ducks in a row. Gurihiru’s representative, who I won’t name here so as not to embarrass him, has been incredible at facilitating back and forth between me, the artists, and Tezuka Productions. We also have the people that brought this deal together to begin with, and the people in the US, like my agent and publicist, who were able to keep all the plates spinning on our end. It truly takes a village to do something like UNICO: AWAKENING. A happy village, but a village nonetheless.

It’s noted you and Gurihiru will be working in coordination with Tezuka Productions on UNICO: AWAKENING — how has the creative back-and-forth been with them been so far?

Honestly? It’s been wonderful. Tezuka Productions has been responsive, helpful, and full of all the good ideas you’d expect from a company with their namesake. Upon working with Tezuka Productions, I’ve learned that the most important thing to keep in mind when collaborating with them is that we have a “core understanding” of the material. This is to say that granular details aren’t as important as larger ideas revolving around what Tezuka himself was trying to say. Unico is a story about how love can be used as a weapon and a salve. It’s about the temporality of beauty, and about what people will go through in pursuit of vanity. Although we also pay close attention to the details throughout Tezuka’s original work to make sure we understand it well, the macro is prized above the micro.

Finally, why should not only long-time Tezuka fans but a new generation of readers consider funding UNICO: AWAKENING?

UNICO: AWAKENING is a clear and heartfelt homage of the original work, and provides loads of Tezuka-derived goodness for longtime fans. For new readers, UNICO: AWAKENING presents a new story for a new era, and with a character whose story I think is truly important to tell. We are equally concerned with honoring the God of Manga and, in the tradition of iteration he celebrated, carrying it on into the future.

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