Thursday, December 10, 2009

REVIEW: Project A-ko

At first glimpse, this one’s so damned ‘80s you might want to lunge at the remote to hit eject before you actually give it half a chance - but given that the original (and best) incarnation was actually made midway through that decade, you have to give a little something of your wayward soul.

Others might wince at the slightly hentai (perverted, for lack of a better translation) undertones that filter through right from the opening sequence.

But above and somewhere way beyond those concerns, the first Project A-Ko movie (1986) is a hilarious parody of the anime that preceded it, from shojo girls’ romance tales like The Rose Of Versailles right on through to the Gundam giant robot sci-fi saga. Sometimes in the very same breath, let alone frame, American comics (by D.C. and Marvel), products (Pepsi cans) and even KFC's founder Colonel Sanders are referenced, action set-pieces are tossed asunder, there's a rampant sense of humour as well as homage, and even the name of the series is apparently a pun on Jackie Chan’s 1983 movie Project A.

The plot, such as it is, concerns Eiko Magami – your average red-haired, super-powered schoolgirl (who’s possibly related to Superman and Wonder Woman) – along with her best friend, the cantankerous, hissy-fit chucking and super-teary Shiiko Kotobuki. Into their lives, with a bunch of killer mecha contraptions, bursts Eiko’s old kindergarten rival Biko, along with an entire invasion fleet of aliens.

And that's just the beginning of this glorious 80-minute fiasco.

Add in a script co-written by Yuji Moriyama (Geobreeders), and a dash of Shinji Kimura, an art director who also previously rendered the background art on Mamoru Oshii’s Angel’s Egg (1985) and Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro (1988) and was more recently the art director on Katsuhiro Otomo’s Steamboy (2004) and the superb Tekkonkinkreet (2006).

Then there's the just-right sleazy '80s synth soundtrack by American producer Joey Carbone (who also did Legend of 8 Samurai - see the previous entry below).

"It was great fun doing the soundtrack," Carbone (right) told me back in 2004 for an article we were doing for Anime Insider magazine, since very few (if any) other foreigners had scored anime up till that time.

"The animation company gave me some guidelines, but basically they let me have a lot of freedom to create what I felt was right. To be honest I wasn't really an animation fan when I took on the job, but that movie really turned me onto Japanese anime and I've been a fan since."

For the Project A-ko score, Carbone worked with a group of fellow musicians.

"We did it in Los Angeles, with my buddy Richie Zito - who composed and produced it with me - and I played keys and Richie played guitar. Also Arthur Barrow played some keys, and George Doering played guitar while engineering the recordings. I chose three American female singers to do the songs: Annie Livingstone, Samantha Newark and Valerie Stevenson. I later took Annie to Japan for promotion of the soundtrack, as she sang the theme song, 'Dance Away'. The Japanese producer, director and music editor all attended the LA recordings and seemed to be very happy with what we made."

Check out the original movie directed by Katsuhiko Nishijima - the later OVAs in the Project A-ko series unfortunately don't stand up quite so nicely.


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