A-ko the Versus

October 7, 2004 on 10:31 pm | In Project A-Ko | Comments Off on A-ko the Versus

Project A-ko runs into a dead end with this, A-ko the Versus. A completely different universe OVA, with only the three -ko girls in common with its predecessors, this is one of those anime you may have been warned about: the pointless mini series.
Take Moriyama Yuji’s name off the character design, writing, and direction teams (he still works in key animation) and you have Nishijima Katsuhiko’s poor, lifeless cash-in.

On a distant planet, A-ko and B-ko work together to hunt and sell sand turtles. One day a ten year old heiress, C-ko, falls into their cargo. This C-ko has been abducted by two terrorists, Grash and Liza, to offer to their leader Gail – who in turn plans to call into the girl’s body the spirit of the high priestess Xena, who is capable of resurrecting a giant three headed dragon, who will proceed to destroy this universe and replace it with another.
All because of a nun who died twenty years ago.

The Versus is a confusing mix of fantasci-fi – the plot itself is actually found in countless fantasy stories (Record of Lodoss War not least among them) – and the story is so sparsely populated that it is hard to believe that there is a universe for the villains to destroy. The story telling is clumsy, featuring awkward and sudden exposition along the lines of “What do you think of our boss’s plan to revive the high priestess and summon the mighty dragon?”
I’m going to come right out with a spoiler here, just to illustrate the program’s lack of sense. One of the big “dramatic pulls” of the program is that Gail kills B-ko with his psychic ability. The policeman Maruten tells A-ko that he will bring her back to life if she agrees to help. How this works is never explained, as all of his comrades have died and not returned – but B-ko is alive and well in the next scene.

This is very thick and hard to understand; it’s not like the story is particularly difficult, it’s that characterisation is not strong at all. The idea that no matter what universe, A-ko and B-ko will fight is proposed. But these aren’t alternate universe versions of these characters. Fundamentally, this A-ko and B-ko are friends. It really seems that the A-ko title is just for brand recognition, because apart from a few second cameo from the Akagiyama missiles this bears little resemblance to the original continuity. Firstly, the characters are redesigned (for the uglier), secondly, C-ko is ten years old and thirdly it’s set in a desolate wasteland.
A-ko and B-ko as friends on any level betrays everything, as does the idea of A-ko disliking C-ko. The triangle that held the OVAs together and is dissolved by B-ko’s brief foray into loli-con. Also, making B-ko the nice one? That’s stretching it really, really far.
The new characters are either underused or ill explained. The spirituality and Gail’s motives really needed some sort of depth to them, because it was quite difficult to empathise with a doomed universe with nothing in it. B-ko’s actions seemed rather arbitrarily placed to force the plot along.

There’s a brief moment when everything picks right up – when the OVA becomes a dramatic romance story between A-ko and Kei: in other words, a continuation of the original series. However, it’s all a joke, which is really quite disappointing. Seeing more of that sort of stuff, with the style of animation that they were using would have actually been interesting. When it returned to the desolate future, everything sank. It was almost as if Nishijima was asking if he had taken the wrong path.

A-ko the Versus is from a different production company to the previous; Pony Canyon no longer producing. The staff are much the same as previously, but Nishijima Katsuhiko takes the helm and redesigns the characters a little. They look simpler and uglier. The whole project does not look very nice at all, and the colours are disturbingly solid. One of the under-used villains has huge boobs, but is not appealing in any way. It’s really quite disturbing when A-ko punches her right in the cleavage. The cel work is much simpler, and there’s no fan service level detail in the mechanical designs.
Most surprising is the music, composed by big league musician Kawai Kenji. Because of the material it is being used on, it’s largely forgettable. When one chooses to notice it, however, it’s quite strong. The ED songs are pretty nice, but eminently unmemorable outside of the credits.
Michizawa Tomie as Xena was an unexpectedly high quality performance, that raised the whole thing just that little bit.

Nishijima Katsuhiko went on to direct Studio Fantasia’s glossy, high class fan service extravaganzas (case in point: Aika). Here he suffers Moriyama’s randomly inflicted illness, making an utterly pointless adventure with little to recommend about it. The original Project A-ko was a true anime classic. The following four productions were, without doubt, entirely non-essential.

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