For many American anime fans, Project A-ko was the first anime film that exposed the funny side of Japanese animation. So many of the early examples of anime were either space epics like Macross (known here as Robotech) or gritty war stories like Area 88. Project A-ko begins much like Macross, with mysterious goings on and lots of machinery in space, but quickly settles down to the business at hand: the battles between a group of schoolgirls at Graviton City High School.
A-ko is a mysteriously super-powered redhead whose best friend, C-ko, tries to show her friendship with homemade lunches that turn out to be near-poisonous -- but C-ko's lack of talent does not dampen her enthusiasm. Their first day at school is a disaster, and not only does C-ko inadvertently earn A-ko an afternoon of detention, but she has also become the latest object of affection for B-ko, the beautiful but bossy leader of a clique of geniuses. Soon, not only does A-ko have to manage everyday life at high school, but she must also answer B-ko's daily combat challenges for "posession" of C-ko, each of which involves a more elaborate battle robot, which B-ko has apparently designed and built overnight. This continues until C-ko is abducted by invading aliens, at which point A-ko and B-ko must unite to save C-ko and the earth. Don't ask me to explain, I'm just the critic.
A-ko's amazing appeal can be attributed to its simplicity of plot and its largely visual nature -- the first dozen times I saw it were in Japanese without translation, and still it captivated me. Sure, the lesbian subtexts are unusual in a cartoon, but once you catch on to the idea that B-ko wants C-ko for herself, the rest of the plot falls into place and the story is told in such a manner that no dialogue is actually necessary. It would be a mistake to watch this without sound, however, as the various explosions, robot noises, and screamed epithets between A-ko and B-ko definitely enhance the overall experience. I do recommend that you watch the movie in the original language, with or without subtitles. Not only does the Japanese track sound clearer (see below), but the characters sound funnier in Japanese. You can switch to the English track when your non-anime-fan friends come over.
The DVD presentation is more or less the same as the laserdisc transfer -- fellow 50 Foot DVD writer Scott tells me that it IS the laserdisc transfer, simply moved on to DVD. Given the evident loss of resolution and low-contrast colors, I'm inclined to believe him. This widescreen version has the additional problem of being a cropped version of the original fullscreen image. (Project A-ko was originally released on home video in Japan, though it was later shown in theaters. The theatrical presentation crops the top and the bottom of the image, throwing some of the film's compositions off badly, and that's what is presented here.) Still, it looks a darn sight better than any tape of the film I've ever owned and is worth every penny I paid for it.
There are 16 chapter stops in the film, which aren't always at logical breaks in the film, but I'd rather have more stops at weird places in a movie than fewer at appropriate stopping points. The subtitles are yellow with a black outline, fairly standard for Japanese animation, and readable but not terrific.
The English track sounds a bit muddier than the Japanese track, and that includes the music and sound effects. If you want the full sound experience with this film, definitely listen to the Japanese version.
Unfortunately, there aren't any. Not so much as a trailer for this or any other film graces the disk, which is a pity. Having the option to play the Japanese soundtrack (and the English soundtrack, for that matter) with or without English subtitles is a nice plus, though. Perhaps one day there will be a Project A-ko special edition, with a proper film transfer and a few trailers or the inclusion of one of the sequels, but until then this disc will do nicely and no anime fan worth his salt would be caught without it.
Chris Holland, 6/9/00