Project A-Ko Vs.
Those who have read my review of the original Project A-Ko know that I count it amongst the true misunderstood classics of anime. Funny, fast-paced, and frisky, it's a fantastic film that set the standard for madcap anime and anime parody when it was released in 1986. It was followed by a number of sequels; the third one, "Cinderella Rhapsody", is every bit as good as the original, but the others were spectacularly lackluster. Project A-Ko VS was an attempt to jumpstart the faltering franchise by setting it in an alternate universe. Sadly, the program killed all hopes of renewing the show's lease on cel paint. Virtually all traces of the original's spirit and comedic muster are gone, leaving the OVAs on autopilot and leaving the audience bored with a sci-fi retread.
In the two episodes, named "Grey Side" and "Blue Side", all that we know of the relationships between A-ko, B-ko, and C-ko from the original four episodes of the show is gone. A-ko and B-ko, bitter rivals in the original series, are now friends who hunt down humongous turtles on a desert planet. C-ko is the daughter of an interstellar shipping magnate who's captured by some bad guys intent on reviving Xena. Xena holds the power to bring forth a dragon that will destroy the cosmos as we know it and bring a new one forth, but she must be summoned through a young girl--enter C-ko. Of course, everybody else is pretty happy with the universe as it is, so it's not a popular plan. Through some mishaps, the kidnappers lose C-ko, who literally drops into A-ko's life. But she and B-ko cannot hold onto her for long, and they have no choice but to track down the evildoers. Otherwise, various clichés about a universal apocalypse are almost certain to occur.
From an animation perspective, move along--there's nothing to see here. It's passable, but nowhere near the quality the series started with. Meanwhile, the music, which made the original so lively and effective, is worthless dreck. After soundtracks worthy of paying $30 import prices to obtain 15 years ago, this one lacks any punch. The technical aspects of the show aren't terrible, but they aren't worth discussing, either.
What feels so bad about Project A-Ko VS is that it steals all the life from the original idea. A-Ko was never about plot--it was about satire, broad slapstick comedy, and hysterical dialogue. Though there certainly were pivotal events around which all the fun was based, the show was about having a great time. There was never a need to put these characters in an alternate universe--the original was funny because it played with the whole absurdity of the events happening in the "real world". I wouldn't go so far as to say that having a plot destroys VS, but I will say it's severely hampered by having a bad one. Combine that with a screenplay that removes the comedy of the originals and replaces it with pointless action sequences, stereotypical dialogue, and stock villains, and you've got a pretty terrible program.
Before Project A-Ko VS, several shows had experimented with different timelines to tell their stories in unique ways, among them such classics as Space Cruiser Yamato and incarnations of Captain Harlock. The trend has continued with other shows like Tenchi Muyo, El Hazard, and Mobile Suit Gundam. However, Project A-Ko VS is one of the only shows I know of that changes not only the nature of the relationships between the characters but also the very characters themselves and asks the audience to accept them without question. Frankly, it just doesn't work.
To add insult to injury, anyone with a basic understanding of Japanese will realize that the translation offered by US Manga Corps misses even some simple comedic points. For example, one of the sillier things in the series is that C-ko, always the immature child, constantly refers to herself in the third person, saying things like, "C-ko is bored! Come play with C-ko now!" The subtitles do not reveal this. As well, a number of sentences go untranslated completely, where three lines of dialogue become two in the subs. Whether these were choices on the part of the twosome that did the translation or somebody higher up who thought the American audience wouldn't get the humor without costly liner notes, I don't know. Although there's not much humor to be found here, US Manga Corps does the show no favors with its paraphrase.
Project A-Ko VS is a disappointing end to a once-proud series. As I watched this junk unfold, even in its few charming moments, I couldn't help but think that it was a last gasp. My strong advice is to catch the original movie, along with the superb third piece, "Cinderella Rhapsody," and to avoid this mess entirely.
Project A-Ko Vs. -- violence, brief nudity, brief language -- D+