Posts Tagged ‘anime’

Project A-ko Review (Eastern Star DVD)

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

Having started as an entry in the pornographic variety series Cream Lemon, the producers behind PROJECT A-KO quickly realized that the combination of cute girls trying to kick each other’s asses while being assaulted by parodies of the best anime characters and moments of the era had a certain mainstream appeal that would probably sell better outside of the curtained-off 18+ section of the local video store. They quickly abandoned the more adult elements in favor of stretching it out into a full-blown theatrical movie. Now I’ll admit, the fine line between an OVA and a Movie circa 1986 is one lost on all but the most clever of distributors of the time, but the production values and 80-plus minute runtime both suggest that everyone behind it had just enough faith in it to sell it as a bona-fide feature film… not bad for a goofy little porno about dueling lesbian hotties!

The result was successful enough to spawn multiple OVA sequels over the next five years, and was at the very least a modest success. Supposedly the title has gotten much more attention abroad than it ever did in Japan, which is a curious end for a title who’s pop-culture roots and visual sense of humor are so deeply rooted on things foreigners – even those with more than a passing familiarity with anime – wouldn’t be nearly as intimate with. Then again, Hasselhoff made it big as a German pop singer and Pabst Blue Ribbon is considered a luxury high-end item in China, so it’s virtually impossible to totally make sense as to why one thing is beloved in one country and bemoaned in another.

There wasn’t much of a script behind Project A-ko, as most of the action was dictated by the storyboards and ad-libbing was actually encouraged by the staff. According to assistant-director Yuuji Moriyama, the production had far more to do with 1940s Warner Brother cartoons – crazy people (by which I mean “animators”) in a room bounding ideas off of other crazy people – than the typical “Production Committee” designed anime titles we see today. Most individual scenes were handled by young talents who’d never had a chance to shine before; the staff went out of their way to try and give newbies a chance to do whatever they were best at, with some being so desperate to get in on this ridiculous premise they’d leave works off of their resume just to get in! Director Katsuhiko Nishijima went out of his way to make sure the repetitive story elements, like all those scenes of A-ko rushing off to school with B-ko, were constantly fresh and unique; repetition was something animators used as an excuse to recycle footage and save money, and the whole process behind Project A-ko was to turn anime expectations inside out.  In the end it was really just one delightfully absurd gag after another, riffing on the expected anime cliches of the period; giant super robots, muscle-bound karate masters, inappropriately timed bath scenes, alien invaders, epic space dogfights, and a high school heroine who just can’t ever get to class on time.

The story itself reads simple enough: The inexplicably super-human A-ko Magami is heading to her first day of highschool with her childhood friend, the petite, immature, and utterly ungifted in the kitchen B-ko Kotoboki. At school A-ko is reunited with an old rival named B-ko Daitoukuji, a beautiful and smart girl who’s good breeding and knack for dangerous robotics don’t keep her from being irrationally jealous of A-ko and C-ko’s strong friendship. The two girls fight over C-ko’s “friendship” — though I’m not convinced that’s all B-ko is after — but their inevitable super powered duel to the death interrupted by a full scale galactic invasion. Yep, aliens shooting beams of death from giant crab-bots in the vicinity are seen more as an annoyance by the two girls, and poor C-ko only gets caught up in the middle of it all when she gets herself kidnapped by the outer space creeps! Can A-ko and B-ko put aside their differences and save Planet Earth? Oh wait, they don’t care… well, will they save it as as a side-note to protecting their mutual best friend?!

Even the title was winking at anime fans. See, in the credits for TV shows they’d have one-liners and credit those people as “A-ko” and “B-ko”, or ‘Girl A’ and ‘Girl B’.  The flick was also released about a year after Jackie Chan’s popular-in-Japan action film “Project A”… not that Project A-ko has anything to do with Jackie Chan. The people behind it just thought it was a funny title and never bothered to come up with one that was funnier.

With ANN’s former Answer Man Zack B. having described it as “The Scary Movie of 80s anime”, you might think this is all convoluted nonsense and hardly worth your time. Topical humor rarely works five years after the fact, much less a quarter-century, right?  But the beauty of Project A-ko is that most of the exaggerated humor on display is the precursor to the ridiculous nonsense you see in shows that air even now in 2011. Giant attack robots built overnight, half-naked death duels that destroy entire cities, inexplicable lesbianism – it’s just as bizarre and strangely amusing as it was the day the film was released. And before you get too honked up for the original yuri anime or think we’re slinging smut here, even those crazy Aussies at the OFLC gave it a “PG” without blinking. There’s some boob and a moment or two of off-color humor, but it’s really no “worse” in tone or content than most mainstream comedy shows today.

Animation in particular tends to date horribly due to shifting styles and improvements in technology, but humor that’s riffing on the absurd tends to last for generations. If you like the off-color and random humor found in shows like Excel Saga or Maria†Holic,  you’ll probably find something to love about A-ko as well. I’ll also point out that while it may not quite be on par with something like Angel’s Egg or Akira, the animation for a 1986 comedy is regularly detailed and surprisingly smooth, without much in the way of glaring continuity errors or lazy shortcuts. Project A-ko is certainly a product of its’ time, but I don’t really mean that in a bad way – the animation industry was full of incredible talents who were sick and tired of working on talking animal films and stuffy space operas, so they took every opportunity to make the film look as fun and exciting as they possibly could. It’s all a farce, a smart-assed slice of satire, but that doesn’t mean the work was ever phoned in or cut short by production limitations.

If anything, only the blatant spoofing elements will be lost on audiences who don’t have a lot of classic anime under their belt. Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star, Leiji Matsumoto’s heroic pirate Captain Harlock, scenes directly pulled from Macross: Do You Remember Love?, and countless other iconic titles from yesteryear get their moment in the sun by way of spoofing – though at least B-Ko didn’t rip off Bubblegum Crisis. That show actually came out a year later. Most of these gags are still pretty funny though, even if you don’t really “get” it. Who isn’t delighted by exploding Pepsi cans, or a familiar fast food icon popping up in a horror movie? In the same way that knowing a thing or two about Kung Fu movies and Spaghetti Westerns will probably make watching ‘Kill Bill’ that much more rewarding, it’s still easy enough to appreciate Project A-ko on its own over the top terms, even if the origin of some of the more specific gags  fall on deaf ears.

Another aspect worth touting is the soundtrack, provided by Californian artists Joey Carbone and Richie Zito. Each of the three girls was given their own theme song with a different American performer behind it, and the result is a shockingly catchy piece of American pop. Of particular note is B-ko’s ballad, “In Your Eyes”. I can’t properly explain what it is about that cheesy synth track set to deeply  emotional panging as B-ko thinks about C-ko…  and then casually caresses herself in the bath. It’s such a classy presentation of absurdity that it’s cemented the song in the part of my brain that’ll forever associate it with breasts and unyielding romance, which is a pretty awesome combo to associate anything with. The end theme, “Follow Your Dreams”, is similarly catchy and utterly perfect for the free-wheeling feel good nature of the flick as a whole.

Just in time for the film’s 25th anniversary, Discotek Media/Eastern Star has released a freshly remastered DVD (available here through their website, or wherever fine anime goods are sold). Central Park Media remastered the film themselves back in 2002 using the Japanese Laserdisc (Remember those? …anyone?), since word is the guys who own the title back in Japan have lost all the archival materials and only have a crumby faux-widescreen master from the film’s original VHS release left. Discotek has one-upped the old US DVD by removing countless bits of dirt and scratches from the print, stabilizing the “telecine judder” (ie: the camera doesn’t jerk around when it’s not supposed to anymore), and pumping up the colors to a full, vibrant glory without that uncomfortably yellow haze of the 2002 DVD release. Unfortunately, the archival materials were still M.I.A, and that means Discotek has also restored the crap out of the same analog Laserdisc release made in the late 1980s. All of the screenshots here have been taken from the new DVD – they’ve been compressed a bit to save on bandwidth, but they’ll give you a pretty decent idea of what to expect.

With the lack of proper elements in mind, Project A-ko quite good – probably better than it should! But it’s simply never going to look like Evangelion, Nausicca, Utena, Cardcaptor Sakura, or any other old-school title where they can restore it straight from the original film negatives. Maybe someday a batshit crazy fan in Tokyo will step forward with the last surviving 35mm festival print and a full-blown restoration on par with Rock and Rule can happen, but in the meantime it looks as good as it’s going to, and word on the net is that it’s notably nicer than the old CPM transfer in every respect.

The English dub is included, and like many who are probably already watching their precious DVDs, that’s what I saw first. Oh, my God, this dub sucks - even by shitty early 90s Manga UK dub standards! Ever wanted to hear a bunch of British girls fake American accents while reading lame puns from a clumsy translation? No? Well, now’s your chance! To be fair I’m still glad that they included it at all – the dub is  sort of a miserable time capsule back into what Sci-Fi Channel played 15-odd years ago to get me interested in spending more and more money on these crazy Japanese cartoons, but if you can walk away from it without blood in your ears, you’ve got a way higher tolerance for nostalgic pain than I do. The Japanese audio is the only way to go for this one (as always… *Ahem!*), and it sounds just fine – better than the dub, even, which is a rarity for films from Japan this old. The subtitles look almost word-for-word like the remastered CPM DVD, but like they always say: If it ain’t broke, don’t fuck around with it!

Virtually all of the CPM extras are present, too. We get a commentary track with the animation director (plus a short interview), a hilarious behind-the-scenes featurette where the animators talk about which of the three heroines give them the best boner,  music videos made from the nasty looking un-restored print set to the charmingly 80s theme songs, and a collection of original Japanese previews.  Missing are CPM’s restoration featurette – which is now moot, and an alternate angle using the American drawn comic books in place of the actual storyboards–but why, CPM? (Seriously, why did you even MAKE that?)  New extras include a brief but very cool collection of production art, and a cute animation outtake just for the lesbians in power suits guys that runs about a minute and a half.  All in all it’s a pretty stacked special edition, even if most of the content has been made available before.

Technology and audience sophistication may grow with each year that passes, but Project A-ko’s heart and soul have stood the test of time better than I expected. Eastern Star has put together a fine release at a great price, and if you’ve got a hankering for either a taste of classic creator-driven anime at its peak, or just a great comedy from any era, Project A-ko is highly recommended. If you’ve already got the Central Park Media DVD and you’re not the least bit picky about video quality… well, the lack of grime on the print, bold colors and warm, bright pallet have really worked wonders for the old girl. This is as good as Project A-ko is going to get for the foreseeable future, and if buying a second copy means you can pass the old release off to a friend, I’d say it’s well worth the double-dip.

Evangelion 2.22 – You can (not) advance

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

The second movie in the Evangelion Rebuild… er, the Evangelion: New Adventures, no wait.. uhm, the newest of the Evangelion movies to be created has just recently come out on BD and DVD in the US. It’s in a pretty orange box (which is total shit, unfortunately for Asuka’s beautiful pinup, because the paint keeps chipping all over the place). I got my hands on the BD version, naturally, since I have a PS3 and an HD TV set up in the living room.

I originally watched the movie when I downloaded the *censored to plead the 5th amendment and keep from getting sued by Gainax*. Unfortunately, you could not see anything in that version and it wasn’t subtitled, so we had to guess what was going on. Now that I see it in all it’s beautiful HD glory, I have to admit, it is very much an amazing piece (and THANK GOD the English lines were subtitled too!). Some of Mari’s lines bothered me, maybe just because it feels a little too forced since she’s just talking to herself for the sake of letting the viewer know what’s going on. But she, as I mentioned in the podcast, is a crazy, crazy bitch.

I really wonder how the next movie is going to go down, especially considering that if/when Asuka finds out that someone else was in her Eva, I expect her to go completely batshit and kill everyone.

I love the mostly subtle hints at exactly where the movies stop being the TV show and turn into their own continuity (psst, it has to do with the tape player). You can see the little changes in the characters and the storyline, and I’ve been trying to guess at where it’s going to turn next. Is Kaworu going to just try to fuck up Nerv headquarters with his Eva? Are he and Mari in it together, or is Mari from some third party group that we’ve never come across before?

So many things to be excited to learn about in the next film. Or films. Or double feature. Or… whatever. However many additional films that Gainax knows they can milk us for.

Play-Asia 20% Off Clearance Sale – Mark II

Monday, March 28th, 2011

They’ve got a few more things on sale! Damn, and after I already sent in my order. I’m sure most the stuff I want I’ll be able to find at Anime Boston. ;)

Click on the pictures to be taken to the Play-asia listing.

Yui Figma!

K-On! Houkago Live!! for PSP:

Catherine for PS3:

Blazblue Portable for PSP:

Hatsune Miku: Project Diva 2 for PSP:

Dance in the Vampire Bund, Vol. 6. I may hate this anime (ugh, Shinbo-isms galore!!), but this is a gorgeous cover.

Dissidia for PSP:

Wifi Max – this thing is incredibly frustrating, but it DOES work. I’m actually using it right now as a wireless modem. xD

OMG! Play-Asia 20% Off Clearance Sale!

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Play-asia is having a 48 hour, 20% off clearance sale! This includes a ton of games, toys, figures, etc., including these adorable Tako Luka (Octopus Luka Megurine, Vocaloid) plushies:

Click on the pictures to be taken to the Play-asia listing.

This really freaking adorable Hello Kitty screen cleaner:

Hime-Chara Designer File (looks like a Vocaloid artbook goodness):

Ritsu and Yui (from K-On!) maid figurines:

GORGEOUS Odin Sphere figure (really wish I had enough $ so I could own this… and do a review on it. ;) ):

Adorable Asuka (Evangelion) Sega figure:

This is probably the cheapest price you’ll see for these Nendoroids. Get them during the sale!

Ciel Phantomhive Nendoroid:

Ui Nendoroid (K-On!)! If you want her, I highly recommend getting her now! She is sold out at Amiami!

Leina Nendoroid (Queen’s Blade):

Whoops, looks like Judge Mental bought the last Leina. ^^;

Yui and Mugi (K-On!) Special Edition Lolita Stage Nendoroid:

Cattleya (Queen’s Blade) Nendoroid:

Dead Master (Black Rock Shooter) Nendoroid:

And the adorable Black Rock Shooter Petit Nendoroid set:

Don’t forget to get something for dinner!

Against my better judgement, I ordered the Ui Nendoroid and the “> u<” face Tako plush. Now off to make more money to buy stuff at Anime Boston!

Judge Me Not Anime Podcast #2 – 03/14/2011

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

Time for another edition of the Podcast, episode #2!

With your hosts, Judge Mint and Judge Mental.

This episode includes such topics as Hyperdimension Neptunia, Pokemon Black and White, Evangelion 1.0 and 2.22, Puella Magi Madoka Magica ep. 9 and 10, and much more!

Audio MP3

Or download here:
podcast 03/14/2011

This episode runs ~1 hour 45 minutes.

Kirino Kousaka Nendoroid – Review

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

*SQUEEEEEEEEEEEE~!* She’s here, she’s here, she’s here! The cutest of all tsundere bitches has arrived~! I managed to control my excitement until I had a chance to get photos.

This is my first Nendoroid, as well as one of my favorite anime characters of all time, so this was a really great experience for me.

Overall opinion – WOW. This is a really great figure. The pieces are so incredibly easy to exchange, and the stand actually fits and works with the character (unlike the stands for my Revoltech fraulein Rei and Yuria figures). The figure’s head is made of a nice, sturdy plastic, while the hair, arms, and clothes are made of a slightly squishy plastic. This makes squeezing the pegs into the tiny holes OH so simple and actually fun to do!

Box images:




AND NOW~ *drumroll~* Kirino~! Click on one of the images to open it in fullsize.

The toy comes with three heads/expressions, 4 sets of arms, a bag, Kirino’s cellphone, and two game/doujinshi sized squares, as well as stickers that you can use to decorate the boxes and Kirino’s bag. I didn’t notice them at first (I was far too excited and was already ripping her arms off), so I didn’t get any pictures of them. Here’s a closeup of the stand, which I don’t know how well you can see, but it actually has a mold of the bottom of Kirino’s skirt, to help hold her up!