Project A-Ko (Enhanced) (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Tuesday, August 13, 2002
Release Date: Tuesday, August 13, 2002



What They Say
Take an alien invasion, a high school catfight, a missing space princess (in more ways than one!) and add plenty of high explosives. This is what you'll wind up with ... one of the funniest films ever made!

A-ko is a lively seventeen-year-old, no different from any other...except for the fact that within her diminutive frame lies a strength that can only be described as superhuman. She'll need every bit of her power to fight off her teenage rival, not to mention a monstrous alien spaceship hurtling towards Earth in search of...?

BONUS: includes the Project A-ko Soundtrack CD!

The Review!
Three years after the horrendous release by Image, Central Park Media takes what’s really their flagship title and does some serious work with it. The end result, while not perfect, is something that A-Ko fans will likely not want to be without.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this disc in its original language of Japanese. The movie features a pretty basic stereo mix with most of it filling up the entire soundstage while dialogue is through the center channel. There’s little real directionality to it, but overall it sounds just as good as I’ve always heard it.

Video:
While the previous release used the cropped widescreen transfer that had been the only print really available to US fans for the longest time, a full frame print was located and used for this transfer. Via one of the extras, we see the work that was done on it with the DVNR process, and in most instances, it really is like night and day when comparing things. The biggest benefit to this remastering is the colors, which have never looked as great as they do here. The main problem that I found with the transfer is just inherent aliasing in tightly drawn lines, something that we see in a lot of older detailed movies. This affects good portions of the movie, but an equal amount of the movie just looks stunning when you don’t have that problem. And since it’s largely confined to panning sequences, you know when they’re going to show.

Packaging:
Finally moving away from the long standard cover artwork used on each prior release, we get a similar cover with A-Ko running with C-Ko in hand while B-Ko is in pursuit, as well as the aliens in the background. The cover also sports some new coloring, giving it an easy way to tell between the two versions that may still be out there in some retail locations. The back cover provides only a single piece of animation but a nice summary of the show and a solid listing of the discs features and technical aspects. The reverse side of this clear keepcase provides the chapter listings and the main production members on one side while the other lists the voice actors for each language.

Menu:
With the snow fade-in that almost exemplifies the 80’s, the main menu loads with a nice border surrounding some of the animation playing while the 80’s music strums along. Access times are nice and fast and the layout is pretty standard and easy to use.

Extras:
This is a real treasure trove for A-Ko fans in terms of extras. Nearly 17 minutes worth of trailers and TV spots from various releases are here, showcasing the variety of ways this movie has been marketed around the world. A comic to film piece, using the dub version, shows the similarities between the comic and the film, using five different sequences to showcase it. There’s a couple minutes of video included that deals with the folks who did the DVNR restoration on the film and show some before and after shots as well as what the whole process is about, giving the restoration crowd an interesting couple of minutes. The music videos, featuring the great vocal pieces, get a nice presentation here as well as the fan art contest section which displays the artwork sent in by people. There’s a newly recorded, albeit brief, video interview with Yuji Moriyama at the Big Apple Anime Fest last year. The big extra in this section is the Behind the Scenes from Japan segment, which runs about 30 minutes. It’s otherwise known as the Secret File and was done for the original Japanese LD release. It features the work done on the audio/music section by the LA producers and the three women who sang the songs. What’s so bloody hilarious about this is that since we can hear the English, the way the Japanese interviewer/narrator translates everything comes across almost completely different at times. And not even that, but when the singers talk, he translates in a higher pitched voice and then comments on how good looking one of the blondes is! Fantastic stuff!

The real treasure here for me is the audio commentary with Moriyama available from the disc setup menu. Moriyama talks throughout the entire movie, and I swear at the end it sounded like he could talk another 86 minutes about this film and his thoughts on it. There’s some variance between his words and the subtitles on the screen, which is really the only downside as it does get a bit worse towards the end. But for the amount of things he reveals, it’s worth every second. What particularly enamors me to him is the fact that he does admit that, even after twenty years having gone by, this film is still the one that he holds the dearest to him and as his best work. It’s rare for any creative type to really admit something that old, especially their first big work, holds that much meaning. Far too many just deal with the here and now.

And of course his revelation of wanting to do more, well, let’s just hope some financial backers get interested. Moriyama is one of the better Japanese creative staff I’ve heard do a commentary, even with the various bits of dead space throughout.

Though not included on the DVD, there is yet another extra, and that’s the full length CD soundtrack that CPM put out a few years ago. Your enjoyment of this will vary depending upon how you feel about the film, but suffice to say I’ve been listening to their original release of the CD for years now and am glad to have a second copy to enjoy.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Much like Moriyama, Project A-Ko holds a special place in my heart, being one of the earliest anime films I had seen. And even at that time, with all the in-jokes I simply didn’t get, I found it to be a massively entertaining film. With this latest viewing of it, my opinion hasn’t changed a bit.

Taking place some fifteen years after the city was destroyed by an object from space, Graviton City has rebuilt to become the shining vanguard of the world. Built within the crater of destruction, the layout of the city is pure future science fiction mixed in with standard Japanese design. While we don’t see too much of the city for awhile, we do focus on a few areas. The lead character is a headstrong young redhead named A-Ko, who along with her friend C-Ko, have just transferred to the high school in the city. C-Ko, a (annoyingly?) cute short blonde that at times looks far younger than she should, is the character who will cry on the spot for whatever reason.

Their first day at school goes bad, with them being late, C-Ko getting excited about things other than class and just general troublemaking. To complicate matters, another classmate is from their past. The daughter of wealth, B-Ko once had C-Ko all to herself when they were all little, but lost her to A-Ko after a dog attacked poor C-Ko. B-Ko has forgotten about her since, but with her now back in her life, she aims to do anything in her power to get A-Ko back.

Honest, the folks behind this deny they intended to put any lesbian themes in it. Just blame it on the movie being done by mostly 24 year old guys.

With her massive wealth, B-Ko builds an array of giant robots to defeat A-Ko. Of course, A-Ko isn’t exactly what she seems and manages to provide quite a challenge to each of B-Ko’s not so cunning plans. And to make even more a mess of all this, there’s a massive alien starship that’s arrived in the solar system that’s looking for their lost princess from fifteen years ago, and set about using any means necessary to find her.

This film, once things get rolling, features such a hyperactive piece of storytelling, there’s hardly any time to really let things slow down. It really uses its entire running time to properly tell the story without much in the way of filler or unnecessary pieces. What helps this action stand out is the great rhythm to the music as done by the LA producers and singers, giving it a very different feel than many other shows at the time, especially theatrical anime which had gone to using a lot of orchestral material then.

As mentioned by Moriyama in the commentary, a lot of the staff for this came off of Urusei Yatsura after Oshii had left the TV series and they wanted to do something that they felt passionate about it. That passion is on the screen. In some ways, this is one of those films where the people behind it went off afterwards to become key players in the industry as it continued to grow and evolve, giving this film an almost “origin” feel, much like some Hollywood ensemble movies showcase young talent that all becomes very famous later on.

I love this movie, so I’m admittedly extremely biased in it. It’s one of the films that has stayed with me as being enjoyable through the years and through my own growth and changes in what I find entertaining. Things I found enjoyable to watch three years ago I no longer do, but this film from nearly twenty years ago manages to hold up extremely well. I still play the CD and sing along to all the vocal tracks and bop my head to the instrumental pieces. This release is probably the best it’s ever going to be for US fans, and I couldn’t be happier.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Trailers & TV Spots,Interview with Yuji Moriyama,Comc to Film Comparison,Music Videos,Japanese Behind the Scenes,Fan Art Contest,Video Restoration Documentary,Audio Commentary with Yuji Moriyama

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Skyworth 1050P Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.



Mania Grade: A+
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: A+
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Central Park Media
MSRP: 29.99
Running time: 86
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Project A-Ko