Review

Project A-ko: Perfect Edition Blu-ray

I’m here to answer three questions looming over this release. Is Project A-ko worth watching for newcomers? If you have seen it before, is this edition worth your time? Lastly, what are the special features that make this the “perfect edition?”

For the uninitiated, Project A-ko is a 1986 anime film that was widely successful in Japan and groundbreaking for the U.S. market. This isn’t a piece of quaint retro media; it was formative to early English-language fandom as one of the first anime fans could (legally) get on tape. It was initially pitched as a direct-to-video release as part of the Cream Lemon erotica series, but producers must have seen its potential for wider appeal, and it was reworked as a mainstream title with a bit of spicy content left in. By and large though, Project A-ko is a sci-fi comedy full of impressive action set pieces, mechanical designs, and physical humor that surprisingly still holds up over 30 years later.

The film’s premise is pretty straightforward: Super-powered A-ko lives in Graviton City, a place in the near future that has experienced a surge in technological development after recovering from a meteor strike. She and her childhood friend C-ko are new high school students and perpetually late for class. The crybaby C-ko immediately catches the attention of the wealthy queen bee and part-time inventor B-ko who makes it her mission to defeat A-ko and claim B-ko for herself. In the background, an alien ship is approaching Graviton City in search of their missing princess.

Much of the film’s charm is thanks to its commitment to the bit. If that means five slightly varying sequences of A-ko thundering through a neighborhood and crashing into the alien spy D, so be it. Will she ever lose to B-ko in their quickly escalating face offs? Probably not, but director Katsuhiko Nishijima (who was only 24 at the time) and the rest of the animation crew know how to defy viewer’s expectations. A build-up to a fight is just as likely to end in a quick leg sweep as it is to turn into a full-out brawl.

If I had to levy any criticisms at the queer-charged narrative, it’s that the pacing can be a bit all over the place. There are a few beats that feel like the story is drawing out for time until it finally gets to the explosive climax, but Project A-ko runs on spectacle. Just as the audience feels inclined to groan at yet another “race to school before the bell” sequence, the movie changes it up with a different diversion. My other primary complaint is that the joke reveal that all the aliens are women hasn’t aged well. It isn’t malicious, but it does feel dated to a time when “manly women” (and all the baggage that came with it) were a common punchline.

Visually, this is the best Project A-ko has ever (and perhaps will ever) look. There’s a great feature over on Crunchyroll by Paul Chapman that discusses the wild story of how Discotek pulled off this remaster. The condensed version, as was told to me by Justin Sevakis, is that the team was remastering the film manually through a new process (referred to on Discotek releases as AstroRes) that was pitched to them out of the UK. At that time, the original 35mm film was considered lost. As the restoration process marched on, Robert Woodhead, the founder and owner of AnimEigo would become the unsung hero of the release. Through what was discovered to be a filing error, Woodhead found the original 35mm film elements of Project A-ko.

The results are fantastic. I had seen the the CPM release of A-ko back in the early aughts and was lucky enough to be at the Otakon viewing last year. Watching it again at home, the clean-up work and color correction are stellar. From A-ko’s hair to the giant spaceships, there’s a deeper richness to the hues that create a superior and more enjoyable experience. At the risk of sounding like I’m repeating my praises from Discotek‘s Memories release, this is worth viewing just for the animation alone. But it’s the special features that really sell it.

Project A-ko‘s unique history extends to its musical score. The anime features three vocal tracks and a score composed and produced by Joey Carbone and Richie Zito with performances by Anne Livingston, Samantha Newark, Valerie Stevenson, and George Doering. There’s a great 30-minute documentary with Carbone, Zito, Livingston, and Newark that discusses how they were brought on to the project and their specific places in music history. I’m not an 80s pop music buff, so consider how surprised I was to learn that besides some bopping tracks, the creators were heavily influential in mainstream music. The special features are full of interesting insights like this, whether it’s a 1980s behind-the-scenes doc shot by a Japanese film crew in Los Angeles or a quick playthrough of an abandoned CD-Rom game. These are features that aren’t just nice to have but provide a full context of why Project A-ko has its place as a seminal part of anime history.

Project A-ko is a good romp. Personally, I recommend watching it with friends while eating fried chicken to get the perfect vibes. Throw it in when the world feels a little too much and let A-ko’s physical hijinks clear up your bad day.


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