The Creator Of ‘Samurai Jack’ Made A Wild Cartoon You Cannot Sleep On
Trying to define Unicorn: Warriors Eternal is hard. When it arrived on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block last year, in May 2023, some questioned what this animated series was doing on at 11:30 at night when it could have easily been shown on weekday afternoons. It had the makings of an anime, yet looked like a Betty Boop cartoon from the 1930’s, with a Tolkien-esque fantasy setting paired in Victorian England. These disparate elements shouldn’t have worked, but just like anything Genndy Tartakovsky touches, Unicorn turned out to be another masterpiece.
Baffling name aside, Unicorn: Warriors Eternal is a wild animated series that sounds ridiculous at first, but will have you hooked before the first episode finishes. It’s the ultimate animated throwback that’s also one of the most original concepts for a cartoon show, but it almost didn’t turn out that way. Something changed in the animator’s life that helped connect the fragments and turn them into one of the best toons adults and kids can watch together.
The Awakening Warriors
Every few generations since the Arthurian Age, a team of heroes are spiritually resurrected to battle a great unyielding Evil that seeks to end the world. Fast forward to 1800s London, as Emma Fairfax was to be wed to the love of her life until her picturesque wedding is interrupted by a shocking possession. A magical ritual inserts the soul of one of these ageless champions into her unwilling body, transforming her into Melinda, and disrupting Emma’s life plans for the endless mission of some mystical being she’s never heard of before.
Joined by two other seemingly random people possessed by these ancient warriors, Edred (amateur conman turned into a powerful Elf knight) and Seng (a 12-year-old orphan toughie now imbued with the powers of a cosmic monk who can bend space and time), they’re guided in their quest by Merlin and their robotic companion in a gold top hat, Copernicus. As Emma and Melinda battle for control of the reluctant body, this odd band must defeat the Evil bent on total annihilation, and solve its mystery before time runs out.
The core of Unicorn is duality, and that’s apparent by just watching the show for a few minutes. Unicorn is just as pretty as any Tartakovsky animated series, but this one looks a tad different than the others thanks to the classic designs from Stephen DeStefano. Rooted in the serialized shorts from the golden age of cinema, Unicorn combines classic Disney and Max Fleischer cartoons of the 1930s and 40s with the prolific manga look of Osama Tezuka’s Astro Boy helped visually set the tone for an anachronistic landscape set during the Industrial Revolution. This steampunk Victorian England is a fog-covered home for technology, with its backyard hiding elves, wizards, and mystical forces most average people have disconnected from. It’s a period of change, as sorcery makes way for the practical magic of steam engines and light bulbs.
Every show from Tartakovsky tends to have a certain sensibility that separates it from his other shows. Unicorn: Warriors Eternal blended those ingredients into one, making it a non-stop treat filled with Samurai Jack’s action, the laughs of Dexter’s Laboratory, and the complex emotional drama of Sym-Bionic Titan. It also has the intensity of Primal when it needs to turn things up to 11, just minus the viscera. It’s truly the culmination of Tartakovsky’s numerous creations all rolled into one.
How Fatherhood Shaped Unicorn
Unicorn lived rent-free in the back of Tartakovsky’s mind for twenty years before it was finally picked up. Despite his success in other ventures beyond Cartoon Network like the Hotel Transylvania series, he could never find a home for this larger-than-life concept. His patience paid off, but that time also helped refine the cartoon into something bigger than even he imagined. While the show looks and feels like a fantasy adventure, Unicorn is much deeper than you think.
Unicorn is, simply put, about growth and coming of age, but it didn’t always start that way. When Tartakovsky first began formulating the series 20 years ago, it primarily was about action and excitement. That all changed the moment Tartakovsky became a father. By the time production began in earnest, he was a father of three.
As his kids transformed from infants to adolescents, teens and young adults, Unicorn suddenly reshaped to reflect the way children reinvent themselves on nearly a daily basis as they come to terms with who they are and what they’re capable of. “I have younger kids who have become teenagers, what if all of a sudden they became adult age […] ‘Wow, what happened to my daughter?’ You know, ‘What’s going on?” Tartakovsky explained in an interview with TV Insider, “It felt like such an organic vehicle for those stories where you wake up, and all of a sudden, you’re two people, and how do you deal with that?”
It’s a spectacular way to analogize this concept in a cartoon, and nobody could argue that growth isn’t a major part of the story. So far, the show has centered on the internal struggle of Emma and Melinda, while giving us a small peek at Edred’s past. The other cast have yet to come to terms with their evolutions, and knowing the way Tartakovsky sees these characters, it sounds like there’s a lot of room to develop these ideas about maturation even further.
Is Unicorn: Warriors Eternal for Kids?
With only 10 22-minute episodes comprising its first season, Unicorn is easy to watch with your kids (or fellow adults) in one sitting. It’s as sincere as it is action-packed, a force to be reckoned with of myth VS machine, and the search for one’s truth. It’s never too dark or mature for a ten-year-old to handle, but will be among the more sophisticated shows they watch at a young age. While it’s still too early to make such a bold proclamation, Unicorn has the potential to sit among the ranks of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Steven Universe, or Owl House as a modern great, it just needs more time to tell its story and show us what it’s capable of.
Despite its multi-faceted success, a second season has yet to be announced by Warner Bros. Discovery, unsurprising amidst their current tempestuous relationship with animation. With the first season ending on an epic cliffhanger, it would be a shame if Unicorn: Eternal Warriors didn’t continue its story and finish growing up.