There are obviously lots of parodies in the anime world, but the birth of modern day anime parody started with the original Project A-Ko. This outrageous film marked many trends, but it also combines an unusually entertaining plot, a musical score made in Hollywood, and a cast of virtually nothing but females--even the ones that look male! Time has cast a shadow on Project A-Ko, as the humor that was so "outside the box" in 1986 seems tame now, and many anime review sites have given it low marks. This may also be due to the sequels, some of which are magnificent and others of which that are...not. This combination qualifies Project A-Ko as one of the true misunderstood classics of anime.
For those who aren't familiar with the film, let me introduce you to A-ko, B-ko, and C-ko. A-ko is a fiery redhead with uncanny superhuman abilities and a quick temper, but she is generally kind to her best friend, C-ko. C-ko, meanwhile, is an immature blond who constantly refers to herself in the third person and who cooks meals that all but kill the recipient. Nevertheless, she considers A-ko wonderful and tags around with her constantly. Meanwhile, B-ko is an uppity, rich brunette who (for whatever reason) decides that C-ko should be her best friend instead. Violence ensues as the green-eyed monster of jealousy breaks into all out war between A-ko and B-ko. If this weren't enough, a spaceship of aliens has decided that C-ko is actually a legendary princess, and they have plans to cart her off themselves...are you still with me?
Anyway, the key to Project A-Ko is its consistent blend of action, humor, mild fan service, and parody. Literally everything in the early 80s canon gets skewered here somehow, particularly Macross and Captain Harlock, but you'll spot plenty more in-jokes as you go. Meanwhile, the plot itself is unique, although some might find the sexual undertones a little surprising for an otherwise straightforward movie. (Keep in mind that A-Ko was made by an animation studio known for its pornography; as they created the movie, they added more and more comedy to the point that they realized they had something completely mainstream on their hands and dropped the seamier aspects.) What's left is mild, and the movie also has plenty of action sequences that go over-the-top. On the whole, it's one of the most enjoyable movies to come out of the 1980s.
What has hurt Project A-Ko is that many of the television shows and movies seen now started heading over the top because of films like A-Ko. Thus, this movie seems tame by comparison. This is always true with comedy, though, as each new wave brings more and more surprises to the table. It's like watching Ghostbusters or The Blues Brothers now instead of back in the early 80s--there are still funny, but hard to see as groundbreaking. Still, A-Ko has so much funny stuff that you can't help but enjoy the ride. Another thing that hasn't helped is the current DVD release in the US. This disc is simply unbearable. Although the picture and such is OK on most players (though it has some distinct line shimmering), the subtitles drift further and further until they are several seconds off. This makes watching it just impossible. The dub is atrocious, as well, so there's no good way to watch the DVD. Best thing to do, then, is to find a VHS copy in the meantime--sad but true.
When you watch Project A-Ko, keep in mind when it was made and give it a break. Many of the shows anime fans watch today wouldn't be nearly as high-octane without this kick to bolster them. It stands as a true misunderstood classic.
Project A-Ko -- mock violence, brief nudity, mild adult themes -- A