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|Directed by||Katsuhiko Nishijima|
|Produced by||Kazufumi Nomura|
|Written by||Katsuhiko Nishijima|
|Music by||Richie Zito|
Project A-ko (プロジェクトA子, Purojekuto Ēko) is a 1986 Japanese action-comedy science fiction anime film that had several sequels and a spin-off. This film focuses on a happy-go-lucky 16-year-old red-haired, sailor-suited teenage schoolgirl, A-ko Magami, who goes on her magical adventure from high school to outer space as she struggles to finish her homework, rescue her friend C-ko, and save the Earth from an evil alien invasion. This series references a number of other works of anime from the 1970s and 1980s, such as Macross, Fist of the North Star and Gundam. The title itself is a reference to the 1983 Jackie Chan movie Project A, although the film bears no resemblance to Project A; the working title ended up sticking.
An alien space craft crashes into Graviton City, wiping out the entire population and leaving a massive crater where the city is rebuilt. Students A-ko Magami, a perky, fun-loving red-haired, sailor-suited teenage girl, and her best friend C-ko Kotobuki, a bubbly, carefree optimist, enter a new year of school as transfer students at the all-girls Graviton High School. Although A-ko possesses superhuman speed and strength, she considers herself an average teenager. She mostly worries about getting to school on time, due to her habit of chronically oversleeping her alarm clock each morning. The pair catch the unwanted attention of B-ko Daitokuji, a rich, snobbish, spoiled, and brilliant fellow student.
B-ko develops a crush on C-ko, and is determined to win her over. B-ko's attempts to win C-ko over fail, however, and remembering that she was A-ko's rival back in kindergarten, B-ko creates a series of mecha piloted by her team of female followers to attack A-ko each morning. After losing each new and more powerful mecha, she eventually creates and dons the "Akagiyama 23," a powered suit that looks like a bikini. B-ko quickly escalates the fight across the school with no restraint.
Trench-coated spy "D" has been monitoring A-ko and C-ko each morning and reporting back to a large spacecraft as it approaches Earth. The aliens' conclusion is that they have located a lost princess whom they have been looking for. The aliens finally reach Earth and begin an all-out attack against the Graviton military, which is outmatched by the alien technology. A-ko and B-ko's own fight continues across the big city even as the military and aliens do battle. C-ko is abducted in the middle of this confrontation by "D," who is revealed to be a member of the Lepton Kingdom of Alpha Cygni, an all-female race of aliens. C-ko is their princess.
Witnessing the abduction, A-ko and B-ko set aside their differences. Infiltrating the spaceship, A-ko confronts D and the ship's alcoholic Captain Napolipolita, while B-ko rescues C-ko. B-ko then reneges on the truce and opens fire on A-ko, D, and the Captain, destroying the ship's navigation system. The vessel lands, precariously perched on top of the city's Military Command Tower (actually the remains of the previously-crashed ship).
A-ko happily awakens the next morning, sore from the previous day's adventures, and walks with C-ko to school in their new uniforms. The girls pass by a disheveled D and the Captain begging for donations to repair their ship. The film ends with B-ko, ready for yet another fight, smiling as A-ko appears on the horizon.
- A-ko (A子) or Eiko Magami (摩神 英子, Magami Eiko)
- A-ko Magami, a 16-year-old red-haired, sailor-suited teenage girl who seems to be near invulnerable with superhuman speed and strength, is the heroine of the series and lives in Graviton City, Japan. A-ko is usually friendly, cute and cheerful. She tries to lead a normal life, and spends a lot of time on clothes, a part-time job and romance in the sequels. However, she does have a fiery temper. She also has a large appetite and a tendency to oversleep on school days. She and C-ko are both transfer students to Graviton High, but wear their former school's sailor-style uniform for most of the film. She has an athletic figure and thick red hair that falls past her shoulders. She is dressed in her school uniform (which later became her iconic battle outfit), which is a white middy blouse with a sailor collar, red scarf, black armbands, blue skirt, knee-high white socks, and black shoes; She gains her magical armbands that gives her ultra magical powers. The closing scenes of the original anime slyly indicate that her superhuman abilities stem from her being the child of Superman and Wonder Woman, who are apparently married; the latter is even seen tautening the former's shirt with the distinctive "S" emblem while the former is reading a copy of "The Daily Planet". A-ko's magic superpowers are super strength, super speed and nigh invulnerability; in Final, A-ko can finally breathe in outer space.
- Voiced by: Miki Itō (Japanese); Stacey Gregg (Original Movie) & Teryl Rothery (Sequel OVAs, Versus OVAs) (English)
- C-ko (C子) or Shiiko Kotobuki (寿 詩子, Kotobuki Shiiko)
- C-ko Kotobuki is A-ko's best friend and has depended on her since they met in kindergarten. Though the same age as the other two girls, C-ko is less mature. In the Japanese original, she frequently refers to herself in the third person. Though normally extremely cheerful, C-ko cries easily when facing hardship. She enjoys cooking, but the results are inedible.
- In the first installment of the series, C-ko is revealed to be the Fourth Princess of the Fifth Queen of the Lepton Kingdom of Alpha Cygni, an all-female race of extraterrestrials. She crash-landed on Earth when she was an infant, and the Lepton Kingdom has been searching for her ever since. However, C-ko is uninterested in her unearthly ancestry and wants to remain on Earth with A-ko.
- Voiced by: Michie Tomizawa (Japanese); Julia Brahms (Original Movie) & Cathy Weseluck (Sequel OVAs, Versus OVAs) (English)
- B-ko (B子) or Biko Daitokuji (大徳寺 美子, Daitokuji Biko)
- B-ko Daitokuji is well known at Graviton High as the daughter of a local industrial tycoon. A genius, she is seen living luxuriously, taking a limo to school and having several admiring henchmen in her class. Although seemingly calm and poised in public, deferring to her teachers' authority, B-ko is haughty and goes to great lengths to get what she wants. Her desire to steal C-ko's affection away from A-ko develops into an obsession. She devotes all her resources to this goal, but defeating A-ko seems more important to her than actually winning C-ko's approval. As A-ko appears to be the child of Superman and Wonder Woman, it could be argued that B-ko is intended to be the daughter of Tony Stark; her father sports a moustache of the exact same style as Stark's.
- Voiced by: Emi Shinohara (Japanese); Denica Fairman (Original Movie) & Venus Terzo (Sequel OVAs, Versus OVAs) (English)
- Captain Napolipolita
- Napolipolita is a captain in the Alpha Cygnan space navy, who has spent the last sixteen years searching the universe for C-ko. Although Napolipolita cuts a fine figure, always impeccably dressed with a dramatically swirling cloak and wraparound sunglasses, her facade quickly shatters when danger arises. During the long sojourn in space, she has become addicted to alcohol and unravels when she is unable to get a drink. Napolipolita is a parody of Captain Harlock.
- Voiced by: Shūichi Ikeda (Japanese); Jay Benedict (Original Movie) & Scott McNeil (Sequel OVAs) (English)
- D (Operative DC138621-S113)
- As a spy for the Lepton Kingdom, D has been stationed on Earth, searching for signs of their missing princess. Her quest comes to fruition when she encounters A-ko and C-ko racing to school one morning. She continues to stalk the pair, despite suffering accidental bodily harm whenever they meet.
- Like the Captain, D is in fact a woman, but appears masculine to Earthling eyes. This confusion is cleared up at the end of the first movie, when she dons a scant uniform to battle A-ko. D could be a reference to Vampire Hunter D.
- Voiced by: Tesshō Genda (Japanese); Marc Smith (Original Movie) & Robert O. Smith (Sequel OVAs) (English)
- Miss Ayumi (亜弓先生, Ayumi-sensei)
- Miss Ayumi is a teacher at Graviton High School who has the principal characters in her class. She is the main protagonist in one of the sequels. In Cinderella Rhapsody, Ayumi reveals she is one of the members of Public Works Defense Force.
- Miss Ayumi is modeled after the lead character of the TV series Creamy Mami, a magical girl TV show of the 1980s.
- Voiced by: Asami Mukaidono (Japanese); Lisa Ross (Original Movie) & Lynda Boyd (Sequel OVAs) (English)
- Ume, Ine, Asa and Mari
- These four girls are B-ko's friends. They act like minions to her, doing whatever B-ko orders them to. This ranges from reconnaissance work to piloting B-ko's war machines, to helping her stage commando raids against anyone who dares to cross her. They are not paid well and gripe amongst themselves that they can only afford to eat ramen.
- Ume is chubby and wears spectacles. Ine is skinny and buck-toothed. Asa is fairly normal-looking. Mari is a giant with tanned skin and enormous muscles, like Kenshiro from the Fist of the North Star franchise. She uses a similar fighting style, tatters her clothes when flexing and has many of Kenshiro's mannerisms; however, her speaking voice is a normal female one.
- Ume :Voiced by: Megumi Hayashibara (Japanese); Lisa Ross (Original Movie) & Cathy Weseluck (Sequel OVAs) (English)
- Ine :Voiced by: Yoshino Takamori (Japanese); Anne Marie Zola (Original Movie) & Venus Terzo (Sequel OVAs) (English)
- Asa :Voiced by: Yoko Ogai (Japanese); Toni Barry (Original Movie) & Lynda Boyd (Sequel OVAs) (English)
- Mari :Voiced by: Sayuri Ikemoto / Daisuke Gouri (Japanese); Marc Smith / Anne Marie Zola (Original Movie) & Scott McNeil (Sequel OVAs) (English)
Production and release
Production of the film included several artists who would later create other popular works, including Kia Asamiya and Atsuko Nakajima. Also noted is the western source of the soundtrack, credited to Joey Carbone and Richie Zito.
In Japanese, "-ko" is a common suffix for girls' names, like Hanako, Rumiko, and Yuriko, or indeed Eiko, which sounds just like A-ko. The literal meaning is "child", so A-ko is a generic "Child A", a common way to reference peripheral characters in Japanese contemporary drama. In the making-of documentary for the film, it is stated that "A-ko", "B-ko", and "C-ko" were intended as generic "Jane Doe"-type names.
Project A-ko was initially planned to be part of the Cream Lemon series of pornographic OVAs, but during the production of the series, it was decided to make it into a more mainstream title. The only sequence animated during its Cream Lemon days left in the revised production is B-ko's private bath scene. In a nod to Project A-ko's origins as a Cream Lemon episode, the owner and several working girls from the brothel in the Cream Lemon episode "Pop Chaser" - where director Katsuhiko Nishijima was one of the animators - can be seen in one of the classrooms A-ko and B-ko crash through during a fight sequence in the film.
Nishijima states (possibly in jest) that he took on this project because he was missing some teeth at the time and needed the funding from this film to buy new ones.
The film was released to theaters by Shochiku-Fuji on June 21, 1986 alongside a shorter film titled Going on a Journey: Ami Final Chapter. Pony Video distributed the film via VHS and LaserDisc later in the year.
Video release in North America
Project A-Ko was Central Park Media's first video release in 1991. They later released a dubbed version produced by Manga Entertainment to VHS in 1992. The English dub for the rest of the franchise was produced with Ocean Studios instead.
After releasing Project A-ko on DVD in its original widescreen video format, Central Park Media later released a "Collector's Series" version in 2002, which features remastered video and coloring, a large number of A-ko related extras, commentary and interviews by many of the Project A-ko staff, and a free Project A-ko soundtrack CD.
On May 17, 2011, Eastern Star released a newly remastered R1 Project A-ko DVD. It contains many of the extras of the original CPM release, minus the soundtrack CD. On September 14, 2020, it was announced Discotek Media will release the film on Blu-ray. The footage for the film was to be sourced from the laserdisc release using the Domesday Duplicator to capture the footage at a higher quality than previous releases, with a technology called AstroRes being used to upscale the footage and restore it to a higher quality. On March 8, 2021, Discotek announced that the film will instead be sourced from the original 35mm film negatives, which were previously thought lost.
Central Park Media has released the three theatrical sequels (often erroneously cited in U.S. anime references as OVAs) in a single-disc DVD collection, 'Project A-ko: Love and Robots':
After this original series, a spin-off entitled A-ko the Vs (1990) was created and released in the OVA format. In this two-part series (a "Grey side" and "Blue side"), A-ko and B-ko are partners hunting monsters in an extraterrestrial environment, with no relationship to the previous series. Central Park Media released it as Project A-ko: Uncivil Wars.
- "Project A-Ko DVD". Right Stuf Inc. Retrieved January 21, 2018.
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- Ledoux, Trish; Ranney, Doug (December 1995). "Anime Genres". The Complete Anime Guide (First ed.). Issaquah, WA: Tiger Mountain Press. p. 62. ISBN 0-9649542-3-0. LCCN 95062359.
- "Project A-ko (anime)". Seiyuu Database. Retrieved September 19, 2016.
- 2002 Collectors series DVD behind the scenes footage
- Douglass, Todd Jr. (June 20, 2011). "Project A-Ko". DVDTalk.com. Internet Brands. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
- Pineda, Rafael Antonio (2020-09-14). "Discotek Licenses Rose of Versailles, Hajime no Ippo, Project A-Ko Anime". Anime News Network. Retrieved 2020-10-27.
- Pineda, Rafael Antonio (March 8, 2021). "Discotek Licenses Dear Brother, Sgt. Frog, Kashimashi, Nyanbo! Anime". Anime News Network. Retrieved March 8, 2021.
- See, Raphael. "Project A-ko: Versus". T.H.E.M. Anime Reviews. Retrieved 2015-06-03.