Reviewby Mike Crandol
Sixteen years after a mysterious meteorite leveled Graviton City, the rebuilt metropolis faces an even greater threat to it's architecture: two quarrelling schoolgirls whose superhuman powers threaten to tear the city apart. A-ko and her ditzy sidekick C-ko are the new kids at Graviton High School for Girls, and they ought to be pretty popular, given A-ko's superhuman strength and speed. But things turn ugly when evil-genius classmate B-ko decides she wants C-ko for herself. Can A-ko defeat her rival's army of giant mechs? How about B-ko's Akagiyama supersuit, the world's only flying, missile-launching bikini? Oh, and did we mention the huge alien warship heading straight for the downtown shopping district? Whatever the outcome, you can be sure of one thing: Not much of Graviton City will be left standing!
An hilarious sendup of all things Anime, Project A-ko is a biting yet reverent satire of everything we've come to expect from Japanese animation. The film is filled to the brim with dead-on parodies of classic anime such as Fist of the North Star, Macross, and Captain Harlock. Unfortunately many of the older titles skewered in this picture are too dated or obscure to have been seen by many of today's anime fans (a scene-for-scene spoof of "Harmageddon" is likely to go right over most people's heads). That is not to say Project A-ko cannot be enjoyed by the casual otaku; the film is more a parody of basic anime themes and cliché's than a spoof of any one particular show. Anyone familiar with the conventions of big robots, cute girls in sailor-suits, intergalactic sci-fi and martial-arts mayhem will feel right at home here. The characters of A-ko and B-ko are deconstructed composites of basic hero/villain stereotypes, and that most revered of anime staples, the Giant Mech, is revealed as the ultimately ridiculous idea that it is. Nothing is sacred in A-ko's world, but it is plain that the creators truly love that which they caricature, and their sense of joy is evident in every frame.
But Project A-ko is more than just a comedy....it's also one of the greatest action anime ever made. The entire second half of the movie is essentially an extended fight scene. As A-ko and B-ko take their wall-crushing fistfight into the middle of Graviton City they run afoul of the military and the mysterious alien invaders. When the connection between the girls and the aliens is made clear (in one of the great comedic plot twists in any anime), the two rivals call a truce long enough to take down the offending extra-terrestrials....with their bare hands. The action builds at a frenetic pace, and just when you think things can't get anymore ludicrous Project A-ko manages to top itself again and again. When firing a tank at B-ko fails to stop her, A-ko throws the tank at her. A-ko later demonstrates her hopscotch skills at 50,000 feet on a wave of anti-aircraft missiles. If it all sounds unbelievable....well, it is, but it doesn't feel that way when you're watching it. I've never seen any other film which manages to pile on so much excess so effortlessly, without anything seeming forced. Anyone who thinks Dragon Ball Z is the ultimate action anime needs to give Project A-ko a long, hard look.
The somewhat dated artwork may turn off some viewers, but by mid-1980s standards this is a very well-drawn film. The animation is fairly limited in most of the calmer scenes, but when A-ko and B-ko launch into action they move with a wonderfully fluid vitality that keeps things interesting and exciting. Many more recent "action" anime lack the rip-roaring feel Project A-ko creates as the two antagonists punch, kick, jump, and throw each other through walls....all beautifully timed and fully animated.
The Japanese vocal cast gives a simple yet solid performance (wide dramatic range is not required for a story such as this). Suichi Ikeda, in an amusing in-joke, gives voice to the mysterious Captain Napolipolita, who is in part a parody of Ikeda's Mobile Suit Gundam character Char Aznable. VA superstar Megumi Hayashibara gives one of her earliest performances as Miss Ayumi, the girls' teacher. The English cast does an adequate job despite the sometimes awkward translation, with Denicia Fairman's B-ko being the standout. A few of the lines are actually funnier in English ("ain't it cold in that?"). However, be sure to turn the volume down when C-ko talks in either version!
Project A-ko's music was actually composed and recorded in America, and the film's three original songs are sung by Americans in English. This is not uncommon in anime today but was a real rarity in 1986. The soundtrack is typical of 80's films: ironically, as time goes by the cheesy synthesized score only adds to the feeling of parody that permeates the movie. The closing number, "Follow Your Dreams", is infuriatingly catchy.
As great as this movie is, it truly is a shame Central Park Media and Image didn't do a better job with this DVD. The picture quality is really no better than the VHS release. Artifacting pixelation, line shimmering and dot crawl are all a problem on this disc. Zooming in on the screen, even at just 2x, will make you swear Project A-ko was drawn on your Microsoft Paint program. The menus are the dullest I've ever seen, featuring only the Project A-ko logo on a white background. A bigger annoyance are the subtitles, which as the movie progresses become more and more out of sync with the actual dialogue. In a comedy such as this that can (and does) spoil a lot of the humor. If this is your first time viewing Project A-ko I highly advise watching it in it's English dubbed version, despite the Japanese track probably being the better of the two.
The biggest crime of all, however, is the complete lack of extras on this disc. This might be excusable; after all, this is a pretty old film from a pretty small studio. But on CPM's previous VHS release of Project A-ko the original Japanese and French theatrical trailers were included after the movie! Why they are not on the DVD when they were obviously available to include is beyond me.
Sadly, the only advantage this DVD has over it's analog predecessor is the dual-language tracks, as the Japanese and the English dubs each have their own merits. But even that is compromised by the sloppy subtitling job. Unless you're a hardcore digiphile, I recommend saving a couple bucks and buying the VHS version. You'll get those spiffy trailers, too.
(Ed note: On Aug 13, 2002, CPM re-released Project A-ko as an "enhanced" version, featuring significant technical improvement over the original Image release)
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : A+
+ A true anime classic. Hilarious parody of genre cliché's. Unmatched for action-packed fights.
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