Since the last retrospective was the very dark and weird 'End of Evangelion', I decided that this time around we’d go for something little lighter...although still kind of weird.
Today I bring you back into the 80’s yet again and to a madcap series of sci-fi comedies that were never really intended to exist as they were. This was Project A-ko, and not only did it raise the bar on humour in sci-fi Anime, but also with how ‘destructible’ animated sets could become!
Not to be mistaken with ‘Project A’, the 1983 Jackie Chan film in which he yet again took on the role of a Hong Kong Cop (I’m a fan, but he rarely seemed to go beyond the Pale with his roles), Project A-Ko takes its name in homage to that Kung-ku comedy movie, with this 1986 action sci-fi comedy.
From the get-go we were thrown into the world of the mysterious Graviton City, which for the most part was a contemporary Japanese city (with some future-ish stuff, but mostly a very 80s feel), which lined the coast of a flooded crater. Within the ‘burbs of this city, we were also introduced to a pair of seemingly ordinary high-school girls. But of course, they were not ordinary (otherwise this would be damned slice-of-life anime…which don’t make for good sci-fi comedies on their own!)
First we had the titular ‘A-ko’, a redheaded girl with the strength and invulnerable abilities of The Hulk combined with incredible agility and speed. Very little was done to explain why she was so endowed with ability (beyond a reference that suggests her parents were both certain members of the DC Universe), and for the most part many characters seemed to take this as little more than a fact of life with her.
Pared with her we skipped a letter for some reason and meet her friend ‘C-ko’. C-ko was ‘ordinary’, in the sense that she held no particular powers beyond her over the top cuteness and lethal cooking skills. (She appeared to routinely make poisonous food for lunch and insist on sharing it with A-ko, much to her distress.) C-ko was unusual in her own sense but not annoyingly so, and made for an interesting comic foil for A-ko comedy violence.
Speaking of violence, I now need to mention the final part of the alphabet soup, which was ‘B-ko’. B-ko was violet haired tech-savvy rich-kid who used her skills in a very ‘Tony Stark’ manner to build a super-suit in order to take on A-ko. From the moment we meet her in the high school it had become very clear that A-ko and B-ko would be rivals, especially given that she had instantly fallen in love with C-ko and had decided to fight A-ko for her love.
This lesbian love-triangle in the plot was actually throwback a from Project A-ko’s origins. This wasn’t actually destined to be a feature in its own right, but rather as an episode of the ‘Cream Lemon’ hentai series. (That’s right folks, I used the ‘H’ word! But don’t worry; it’s for educational purposes!)
The original plot called for A-ko and C-ko to be lovers instead of just friends, and for B-ko to enter the fray as a rival for C-ko’s affections and ‘favours’ (trying to keep language clean here folks). Beyond that however, a lot of what became Project A-ko was present in the original Cream Lemon plot such as the battles between the girls and even an unused scene where their high school transforms into a gigantic war-mecha! (They really should have kept that in; it would have worked perfectly in this feature)
Some of the original scenes intended for the Cream Lemon episode did apparently survive into the final feature. Namely this included the fan-service scenes, occasional nudity and the whole angle of B-ko wanting to score with C-ko. However this character relationship didn’t migrate over to the feature in the way that was intended in the hentai series. A-ko and C-ko appeared to simply be friends in the film, and later plot elements make it clear that A-ko is into guys. C-ko’s orientation was left ambiguous, but for the most part she seemed to be oblivious of all of the various romantic approaches she was getting, and just seemed to be pleased for the attention.
Beyond its cheeky beginnings, Project A-ko was sculpted into one of the most addictive, hilarious, and highly explosive animated comedies I have ever had the pleasure of seeing.
Setting off from its space-bound intro, we join all of the girls in Graviton City on their first day of school, where both A-ko and C-ko are the new kids. After an explosive set of opening scenes, where A-ko demolishes several people’s living rooms on the way to school, the girls enter class where we were introduced to B-ko. No time was wasted in showing B-ko’s interest in C-ko, and her rivalry with A-ko soon resulted in high-impact fighting through the walls of the school, nearly demolishing the place in the process.
Meanwhile elsewhere, a mysterious group of alien ‘space-women’ had arrived in Graviton City in search of their lost princess. Disguised as shady ‘detective’ types they set out into the city in search of the girl.
A-ko and B-ko’s fighting continued daily, with increasing ferocity and an every growing stockpile of high-tech weaponry. That was until the alien’s discovered princess, who turned out to be none other than C-ko. Following her kidnap, the girls put their differences aside to venture out and rescue their bizarre friend / love-interest.
The remainder of Project A-ko played out as a hilarious series of action scenes culminating with C-ko’s rescue and a return to the status-quo…or at least what passed for that in Graviton City.
I know a lot what I have written seems like spoilers of the plot, and they are, but I believe that this in no way ruins this film for a possible viewer. The enjoyment in Project A-ko is in the viewing and the truly delightful way in which it was put together makes this easy to do.
The animation was absolutely top-notch and has aged very well considering that this had been made nearly 30 years ago. The music was typically 80’s, but I feel that this worked in its favour as well.
But the crown jewel of Project A-ko was this its incredible sense of humour. The film was essentially a massive parody of the various Anime of the time. It seemed to make fun of the original Macross, all manner of high school anime and a very obvious set of references to Fist of the North Star. All of which was handled with expert timing and a wonderful sense of ‘fun’.
I highly recommend Project A-ko to anyone with even the slightest hint of a funny bone within them. It is a hilarious joy-ride from start to end, and even has the decency to have a couple of sequels to enjoy. I recommend them as well, however the first one has a special place in my heart.
It has even inspired me in my own manga work, and if you are a reader of ‘Bata Neart’ you might notice a certain similarity between C-ko and ‘Aoife’. That was no accident; C-ko was the inspiration for her creation.
I’m afraid that’s all I can offer for now from the folk of Graviton City. Next time I will bring us back to the 90’s and delve into the oddball comedy territory of ‘harem’ anime with Tenchi Muyo.
Until then, try not to be late for school!