Guest Author - Lesley Aeschliman
Project A-Ko is a comedy film that was directed by Katsuhiko Nishijima, and was released to Japanese theaters on June 21, 1986. Central Park Media produced an English language version in 1992. Before the company went under, Central Park Media released the film twice on DVD in North America; this review is about the "Collector's Series" DVD release from 2002. Eastern Star has since gotten the North American rights to Project A-Ko, and released the film on DVD in May 2011.
There are three main characters in Project A-Ko: A-Ko, B-Ko and C-Ko. A-Ko is a friendly redhead who also has superhuman speed and strength; she is basically the heroine of the story. She is friends with C-Ko, a blond who acts rather childlike for someone who is supposed to be in high school; she's also rather hyperactive. B-Ko is a wealthy genius, and she has developed a "crush" on C-Ko; throughout the film, B-Ko goes to great lengths to try to get A-Ko out of the picture so she can have C-Ko all to herself.
While this is happening on Earth, there's a battle going on up in space. The two storylines dovetail together by the end of the film; however, I don't want to say how they come together, since that would end up spoiling a surprise about one of the characters.
Project A-Ko is intended as a comedy, and parodies elements of its anime contemporaries in the 1980s. There are obvious references to Fist of the North Star, Macross and Captain Harlock, and I found these to be very amusing; the reference to Fist of the North Star really made me laugh out loud. From doing some research, I discovered that the teacher in the series is designed to look like the character Creamy Mami (which I didn't know, since I have never seen the Creamy Mami anime series). I'm sure there's other references included in the film that went over my head, since I currently only have familiarity with 1980s anime that was brought and dubbed into English, such as Macross and Beast King GoLion.
After watching this film, I can say that it's a bit on the strange side. However, since Project A-Ko was designed to be a comedy, the strangeness of the story actually works. This is definitely a film that is best appreciated by anime viewers who are fans of 1980s anime and get the references being parodied. If you're a more casual anime fan, Project A-Ko really isn't a film that is a "must-see" that you watch as soon as possible. However, if you intend to delve deeper into anime than just the current hits, then this is a 1980s anime classic that you need to make an effort to watch.
When it comes to this DVD release of the film, I have to give Central Park Media a lot of credit. When you watch the movie, you can see how much effort was put into the remastered video and coloring. Also, the company went above and beyond when it comes to the special features included in the set. The only real gripe I have is in regards to the set up menu; after making a selection in this menu, the viewer is taken directly to the film instead of back to the main menu.
There are a total of nine items included as extras; the more minor extras include trailers for other Central Park Media releases, a promo for Big Apple Anime Fest and entires from a Project A-Ko fan art contest. The fan art contest extra is a bit of a waste here, since the exact same feature is also included as part of the DVD-ROM features.
There are 17 minutes worth of trailers and TV spots, which include trailers in Japanese, English and French; Japanese TV spots; and a Japanese synopsis reel for special events. The only real issue I had with the Japanese spots is the fact that subtitles are provided for the voice over being said, but not for any of the dialogue from the movie. This wasn't as bad for the TV spots, but the synopsis reel is a lengthier piece, and so not being able to understand the movie dialogue was a bit of a distraction.
A "Comic to Film" comparison includes five parts from the Project A-Ko manga, with the dialogue of the English dub being said over "animated" images from the English translation of the manga. "Music Videos" includes videos for two out of the three vocal songs that appear in the film.
There are also three documentaries included. The first is "Behind the Scenes from Japan," which is a half hour special about the making of the film; this includes footage from the production of the music in America, as well as interviews with the Japanese crew. The narration of the special was on the cheesy side; while other Japanese documentaries I have seen also have cheesy narration, this one seems to go over the top. Also, it was amusing when all of the production staff included in the documentary were asked which of the characters they would choose to be their lover. That's really not something you would see asked if it was an American documentary!
There's a two-minute piece which shows and explains the process that was used to restore the film for this DVD release. There is also a four-minute interview with Yuji Moriyama.
The DVD-ROM portion of the release has seven options, one of which is the fan art entries already referenced earlier in this review. There's an Art Gallery with 29 pages of characters, backgrounds and promotional materials. Both volumes of the Project A-Ko manga are included, but in the viewer, it's nearly impossible to read due to its size. However, you can access the manga pages outside of the DVD-ROM interface to make it bigger, but the quality of the image is sacrificed.
A script for the English dub is included, but it is displayed over an image in the interface, which makes the script a little hard to read. "Vocal Cast" is a listing of the English and Japanese voices for each character in the film. "Credits" include the Japanese production credits and English production credits; unfortunately, this is laid over an image, just like the script. There is also a "Links" page with links to Central Park Media and some other entities.
And if that wasn't enough, the set is also packaged with a soundtrack CD. The CD includes all three of the songs with vocals, as well as the background music used in the film.
If you want to add Project A-Ko to your anime library, then this is the best release to get. However, since it is now out of print, you will need to look around at outlets that sell used DVDs in order to locate a copy.
I wrote this review after watching a copy of this DVD box set that my husband and I purchased.