"The most anime of retro anime that ever anime-d"
March 18, 2022 7:00 PM   Subscribe

YouTuber KaiserBeamz has made a name for themselves with detailed dives into various retro anime titles - both notable works like Area 88 and questionable dreck like Mad Bull 34,along with their excellent Merrie History of Looney Tunes retrospective on the history of Termite Terrace. Having hit the milestone of 100 episodes, they decided to cover one of the most famous retro anime titles from the 80s that played a major role in building Western anime fandom, a title filled with silliness, geeky gags, and just plain oddity - Project A-Ko.
posted by NoxAeternum (16 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh God.

I first got into anime in the 90s when it was all about knowing the right comic book shops where a clerk had an in with a university fan club that was either doing fan subs or printed out translations guides that you would read along with watching the episode. You could ask for the stuff over the counter and if the clerk in question wasn't on shift maybe their colleague knew about the secret crate of bootlegs and could get you the one that you were asking for. It was like buying or renting drugs.

Anyway, I could remember asking for Ako from one of these clerks. There was no good reason for it. I was just working my way down the list of titles that I knew they had in their scant catalog and I remember Tyler, the main anime contact for this place, was on shift and he said that this title didn't have an "official" sub yet and it just had one of the printout translations. The printouts were always kind of a shitty experience because they weren't always great about telling you which passage went with which scene and it was always easy to lose track. But I remember Tyler saying "you could wait until an official sub comes out from the club, but to be honest, you don't need it. It's so gonzo that the translation guide will be fine."

He was right. It's been decades since I've seen it but i very much remember how it was over the top in a way that didn't need translation. Most of my anime experience up to this point was stuff like Akira, Wings of Honneamise, or Bubblegum Crisis or Studio Ghibli. Very serious. Very much about A Thing with some fan service thrown in. I never watched a show that was all just about fan service and self referential humor and I got it just because I had gotten to know all of those tropes before. It's not the kind of thing that I would keep seeking out and I don't know if I would watch an hour long deep dive on it, but Project A-Ko is very much A Thing that I am glad that exists. And I am weirdly glad that I first got to experience it in that shoddy, scrappy way anime fandom was in the 90s
posted by bl1nk at 8:23 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]


“Three dumbass schoolgirls causing billions of dollars in property damage …”

Sold!
posted by JustSayNoDawg at 9:38 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]


This was the first anime feature I ever saw, and even then I could tell it was riffing on a cultural iceberg that was massive, unseen, and inviting further exploration.

And the soundtrack fuckin' ROCKS. I hope the folks from CHVRCHES pay Richie Zito and Joey Carbone royalties.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:48 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


i do believe A-ko was on SciFi Channel's "Saturday Anime" rotation where i first watched it, and i remember being floored by it: one of the very first times i had the experience where every thing that happened was like it had read my mind, and i had never seen anything like it before. i mean i had seen the usual anime stuff one had seen: mostly hacked-up stodgy robot shows and/or spacey shows that all seemed deadly serious. A-ko hit me like a ton of bricks cuz it was silly and funny and so over-the-top. as the plot unfolded it was like i already knew what was going to happen even though i had never seen it before, because it was basically the silliest, coolest thing i could imagine would happen next. i was probably 14.

[sent from my hotel room above the anime con, typed while wearing a Toshino Kyoko tomato kigurumi]
posted by glonous keming at 10:06 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Man, I remember renting this on VHS, as part of my “rent every anime tape at LA Video” project (especially since they were cheap, if memory serves), and this stood out among the various “first two or three episodes of a show” tapes they had. I remember very little of it nowadays — I should revisit it sometime.

I also seem to recall there was some bizarrely serious spin-off sequel sort of thing that I caught on Sci-Fi once back in high school, that was nowhere near as much fun. But, well. I don’t really remember much of either one of them at this point.
posted by DoctorFedora at 11:44 PM on March 18


I also seem to recall there was some bizarrely serious spin-off sequel sort of thing that I caught on Sci-Fi once back in high school, that was nowhere near as much fun. But, well. I don’t really remember much of either one of them at this point.

That would be Versus, the last OVA made in the series. KaiserBeamz covers all of the followups in their review/retrospective, as well as helping to slot them into both the production history and popular context - something they do an excellent job with in their various videos.

And if you're looking to revisit the original, it got a gorgeous HD remaster, thanks to the discovery of a 35mm print allowing them to do so.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:01 AM on March 19


I still have my Project A-ko soundtrack CD. And no CD player to play it!
posted by SPrintF at 8:33 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


I am not really an anime person but I ADORE Project A-Ko so, so much. For years, I've made a point of teaching it in various college film studies classes. And I agree that the soundtrack is killer.

I don't know this show but thanks for looking to it! Gonna check this out when I have time later this weekend.

Has the 35mm remaster been released to Blu-Ray? I would really like to see that, having only watched the film in subpar video editions.
posted by Dr. Wu at 8:43 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Saw an n-th generation VHS copy of Project A-ko in the late 80s at a high-school friend's house while back in town on a college break.

Having lived in Japan for most of the 1990s I didn't get much chance to watch more anime, since the stuff on TV wasn't subbed so it all went over my head.

Since then I've caught a few series like Banner of the Stars on DVD, should try to watch 5cm/sec, Kimi no Na wa etc. before I get too old : ( . . . but I'm kinda saving them for my retirement I guess . . .
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 10:19 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Has the 35mm remaster been released to Blu-Ray? I would really like to see that, having only watched the film in subpar video editions.

Yes, it has.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:02 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Flashing back seriously to 7th or 8th grade in the late 80s, when I too was at a girls' school (though not one with uniforms) and one of my friends got hold of a bootleg VHS tape of Project A-ko. We watched without subtitles, just figuring out what was going on. One of my friends had studied a little Japanese, so she could give us the basics.

I loved that all the characters were girls, even the big hulking bad guys. A-ko perpetually sleeping late and having to do speed-breakfast was all of us. I wished we could have mecha battles during lunch. I wished I were as cool as the green-haired, hard-drinking Captain. My friends and I learnt the songs so we could sing them in harmony. OK yes we were nerds. But we absolutely bonded over project A-Ko, and Robotech and Megazone 23 and whatever other anime we could get our hands on-- but Project A-ko was the gateway drug. I should really watch it again.
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:19 PM on March 19 [2 favorites]


I... love this movie.

Seeing it on the Sci-fi channel in 1998 might have been the best viewing experience of my life. There I was, in my first college apartment with my two best friends, and we were just getting wasted on a Saturday night, chilling and flipping back and forth between Letterman and Leno, whatever....

...but then we land on this anime. I was the only anime fan among us, and I lobbied very strongly that we stop flipping channels and watch it. My two friends were drunkenly booing me, because it looked like Sailor Moon -- something silly, for girls, right?

But we kept watching it. We began to notice that the action was extremely well-animated. And... the longer the movie goes on, the better it looks and the action builds and builds to the point of complete insanity. ( and I'm not talking about the frantic stuff that happens in modern anime where characters freak out for no reason, this was a rock-solid action movie that just happened to be completely bonkers.)

By the end, we were completely wasted and left wondering if this thing was real.

Absolutely beautiful. And I still have the soundtrack.
posted by Chronorin at 1:47 AM on March 20 [2 favorites]


"Who's there... ahh! No... NO... it's...

...IT'S THE COLONEL!!!"

^___^
posted by Chronorin at 2:05 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]


You could ask for the stuff over the counter and if the clerk in question wasn't on shift maybe their colleague knew about the secret crate of bootlegs and could get you the one that you were asking for. It was like buying or renting drugs.

I experienced this while buying bootlegs of 80’s-90’s Hong Kong action and wuxia films. I bet wrestling tape traders felt the same way.
posted by Eikonaut at 3:06 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]


Oddly, the documentary never addresses something that seemed obvious to me the first time I saw Project A-ko: the "A story" (A-ko vs B-ko) was clearly inspired by Warner Bros cartoons. Very specifically, by the cartoon Operation: Rabbit, which pits Bugs Bunny against Wile E Coyote. (Wile is unique among Bugs' antagonists in that he starts by trying to talk Bugs into giving up.) B-ko's "back to the drawing board" routine mirrors Wile's exactly. Plus, the "interactions" between A-ko and Agent D are parallel to the usual "interactions" between the Road Runner and the Coyote. Clearly, the creators of Project A-ko were freestyling through all kinds of animation inspirations, including Western ones.
posted by SPrintF at 8:54 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


I wished I were as cool as the green-haired, hard-drinking Captain.

A parody of Captain Harlock, no less!
posted by Gelatin at 10:54 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


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