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Project A-Ko DVD Review

9 min read

When all A-Ko wants to do is go to school on time, she instead finds herself dealing with invading aliens, an annoying teacher and an old classmate out for revenge.

What They Say:
It’s the not-too-distant future, and a metropolis flourishes in the crash site of an alien spacecraft. A-ko, a teenager growing up in this city, enjoys the life of an ordinary schoolgirl… along with incredible superhuman strength! But her carefree days are numbered. Her school rival, B-ko, is not content to live in the shadows any longer. A-ko’s superpowers and good fashion sense may not be a match for B-ko’s evil genius and Mega-Powered Fighting Robots of Doom!

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release is a bit more than the norm and definitely appreciated. The English language mix is in the standard stereo we’ve seen before, encoded at 192kbps, and it conveys the material as well as it can. The Japanese track gets a bit of a boost as its stereo presentation is encoded at 384kbps, which with the music gives it a bit more oomph in a few places. It’s not hugely noticeable, but it feels like a better track just because of how the elements were put together. Both tracks have a clean feel to them, though the dubbing for the English track has it feeling a touch muffled at times, but could just be recording level differences. Neither track has a real problem to it and it deals with what it has as sources as well as can be. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally released in 1986, the transfer for this theatrical movie is in its original full frame aspect ratio. With the age of the materials and the average at best bitrate, and a fair bit of extras to be had on here, expectations aren’t exactly high for this release. It’s a mixed bag in a lot of ways because of the source materials and the opening five minutes of so are among the worst it has to offer with a lot of noise, a lot of blocking and a good amount of grain. These are all space based scenes with a lot of deep blues and blacks, so ti’s not that much of a surprise as we’ve seen it with other shows from this period over the years. When it gets past this and deals with the Earth based material, the show looks a lot better, but there’s still a softness to it and a layer of grain that’s inherent in the materials. Sadly, Project A-Ko will never look great without a top to bottom restoration and what we get here is about as flawed as what we’ve seen before.

Packaging:
Project A-Ko runs with the tried and true cover artwork here and I wouldn’t have it any other way as it uses the theatrical post that has the main trio running along as a whole lot of damage is occurring behind them as the two main armed forces go at each other. It’s a busy cover, but it has its merits and I love the colors on it and the overall flow of it. There’s a good sense of character, fanservice and action here that really draws it all together in a very good way. The back cover is very text heavy though with just a small strip of shots along the top while the rest has the summary. There’s a lot of puffing up of the release, which it has certainly earned over the years, but the layout just has too much text that it overwhelms things. The discs extras are all clearly listed while just below it is the technical grid that covers everything very cleanly. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

Menu:
The menus for this release are decent overall as they use various pieces of artwork that are included in full in the extras section as the backgrounds, which means some good illustration pieces are present here. Them ain menu has an interesting piece where the background is made up of soft blues of the robots B-Ko creates as well as a headshot of B-Ko herself. The other two girls are in the foreground in full color and have a neat look to them. The navigation selections along the right have a few more jaggies to them than I expected, though soe of it feels like it may be playing up the 80’s motif just a touch, but that may be generous on my part. The menu uses a good upbeat piece of instrumental music alongside the artwork and it sets the mood well. The disc correctly read our players language presets and defaulted to Japanese with full subtitles.

Extras:
This release has a solid slate of extras to entertain A-Ko fans to be sure. The extras kick off with a brief outtake that runs just about ninety seconds that has a huge set up for it to actually happen, to the point where you’re not even sure it’s an actual outtake, since it’s not in the traditional sense. It’s actually a visual change that they highlight at the end. A welcome carryover is that we get the couple of music videos with a runtime of just over six minutes. The music is a big part of this show and having these is definitely a big plus. The image gallery has about half a dozen illustration pieces that are definitely welcome, though they largely populate the menus here as well. A big section is the trailers and TV spots piece, which has seventeen minutes worth of them from around the world. Unfortunately, there are no chapter marks for individual ones, so you have to fast forward through to get to a particular one and there’s no translation for any of them either. I would have liked to have known what the French trailer was saying, for example. Another good sized extras is the thirty minute making of piece which goes behind the scenes to the films production with a good part of it spent in Los Angeles where it deals with the recording of the soundtrack. There’s a surreal layer of comedy to it, especially when you can hear the translations compared to what’s really being said and some of it misses the mark, to say the least. While we get some of the standard behind the scenes material for the Japanese side of production, I loved this little look at the US involvement and how it was portrayed. The last extra is the biggest, one we’ve checked out on a previous release, with the commentary track provided by the films director. There’s a lot of great little nuggets in there for A-Ko fans and is definitely worth a listen and definitely a big positive that got carried over into this release.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
How can this be the twenty-fifth anniversary since this was first in theaters?

I cannot count the number of times I’ve reviewed this feature over the years, the only one of the franchise that was built off of it that’s actually worth spending the time to watch. Project A-Ko, originally planned as a part of the erotic Cream Lemon series, is the rare kind of movie that you’re surprised managed to get off the ground. While the animation has its flaws here, made far more visible over the years with better viewing equipment, it’s the kind of show that has a certain kind of charm and energy to it that’s pretty infectious. It’s an over the top piece of work that runs through so many parodies, parodies that you may not even get until the fifth or tenth viewing and see all the little nuance to it, that it becomes one of the very very rewatchable shows out there. Ever since I saw the first release on VHS back in the early nineties, this is one of the anime features that showed me there’s so much to enjoy and have fun with. One that, cliched as it may be, they just don’t make anymore.

The premise to this is painfully simple as we’re introduced to A-Ko, a sleepyhead of a girl who has just transferred to a new school and has had her childhood friend C-Ko do the same. While A-Ko is your slightly ditzy every girl, C-Ko is considered all that is wrong with anime girls as she cries at the drop of a hat, is easily distracted and loves A-Ko far too much. The pair of them together leads to nothing but trouble, especially since A-Ko has them late to school on the first day and C-Ko causes even more trouble just by being her. Their lives are set against the backdrop of a city that was destroyed in a flash sixteen years earlier when a meteorite hit it, but it was something more than that. While the city has rebuilt since then and become a shining metropolis to inspire the world, allowing mankind to leap into space, there are those that are coming to Earth in search of what it was that crashed here. A princess that was lost to them that they want to bring back home.

While the space based material does serve as a big part of the feature in the last act, as it gives us the epic moments that really reach big and achieve it, the majority of the film is about the character interactions. While we have fun with A-Ko and C-Ko, there’s a letter missing there. One of the girls they meet at their new school is B-Ko, a very well to do and smart young woman who has a real attraction to C-Ko and will go to any length to get her. There’s an interesting history that’s revealed later but the crux of it comes down to B-Ko discovering that A-Ko has superhuman strength and she battles against it by creating suits of armor and robots to fight her. There’s a wonderful back and forth between the two as they work through this until the bigger picture lands smack dab in the middle of things.

What Project A-Ko does is work a great kind of humor throughout this while the action unfolds. It parodies so many shows of the time, from the giant robots to the space captain that drinks and everything in between, that you could easily see it being dated since it has been twenty-five years. Yet the show has managed to become timeless because of its excellent use of humor, physical comedy and engaging action. While the characters are basically archetype for the most part, developed as much as you can in this kind of setting with a run time of less than ninety minutes, you get a real sense of who they are but they’re also able to blend easily into characters of today. If this had a fresh coat of paint in terms of animation, you wouldn’t have to change a thing and would still have something that resonates perfectly.

In Summary:
I love this show. I’ve loved it from the first time that I saw it to all the re-releases including this one. And with this one I watched it with someone who had only seen a handful of shows at best but still managed to find it a whole lot of fun because Project A-Ko is entirely accessible. With great characters, animation that has a lot of detail and a whole lot of fluidity to it in the big scenes and a soundtrack that I still adore with all its 80’s pop goodness, Project A-Ko is the kind of mainstream anime film that really needs to cross over more and find more people. With it capturing most of the basic genre elements that anime tends to work in, it’s a crash course for what many shows are about and it sends them up perfectly. This continues to be a must-own release and one that deserves to be continually in print. Very highly recommended.

Features:
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Outtake, Music Video, Trailers, Music Video, Behind the Scenes, Interview With Yuji Moriyama, Audio Commentary

Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: C-
Packaging Grade: B-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A+

Released By: Discotek Media
Release Date: May 17th, 2011
MSRP: $19.95
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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