Monday, 3 February 2020
The delight in Katsuhiko Nishijima's Project A-ko is how it juggles, or even outright subordinates, the film's terrifying, principal threat - an invasion from Leiji Matsumoto style space brigands. The desperate situation facing planet Earth is reported in brief, apparently hopeless, asides largely disconnected from A-ko's madcap whole. These apocalyptic blips allow Nishijima and his animation team to not only clue the audience in on stakes the film has no desire to explore, but also permits them the opportunity to work through a series of low-orbit laser exchanges, each boarded with a delirious, satirical, sense of abandon.
Set in Graviton City, a man-made island that has sprung up - in much the same way as Super Dimension Fortress Macross - around the wreckage of a marooned alien spacecraft, Project A-ko centres around an all-consuming friendship between two teenagers. A-ko, an invincible red head able to skip merrily along incoming missiles barrages, and C-ko, a hair-trigger brat who demonstrates her devotion by cooking up repulsive looking bento boxes. Side-eyeing the pair is B-ko, a scorned third nursing a (pointedly forgotten) rejection dating back to pre-school. B-ko, the daughter of a wealthy industrial magnate, won't take no for an answer - whipping up piloted mecha and two-piece powered armour in an attempt to crowbar herself back into her beloved's affections.
A-ko is pastiche first and foremost, a film primarily concerned with a zany maxi-plot that revolves around a super-powered high school love triangle that two of the participants have no idea they're even in. Begun as an instalment of a pornographic home video series, the discursive, comedic value of Project A-ko apparently won out, resulting in a feature-length bid for animated legitimacy from production studio APPP. Although actual titillation is kept domestic and brief, the film's frivolous beginnings linger in both structure and characterisation. Action sequences are built around the fantastical and transgressive intruding on a mundane everyday, while infantilised klutz C-ko is treated like a highly prized object.