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Project A-ko: The Graphic Novel. Adapted for comics by Tim Eldred. Penciled by Ben Dunn & friends. Inked by Tim Eldred. New York: CPM Manga, 1995. 1v. (various paging). $12.95. ISBN 1-56219-900-5.

Project A-ko 2: The Plot of the Daitokuji Financial Group. By Tim Eldred with John Ott. New York: CPM Manga, 1995. 1v. (various paging). $12.95. ISBN 1-56219-902-1.

Humor; Science Fiction

Adults, teens, kids; very, very mild nudity

NOTE: Project A-ko etc. are adaptations of the anime by the same name. These books collect the four issues of Project A-ko and Project A-ko 2, respectively.

In Graviton City lives A-ko, a redheaded teenager with great strength; her friend C-ko, a squeaky little blond who is unbearably cute; and B-ko, an engineering genius (with a penchant for giant robots and power armor) who desperately wants C-ko to be her friend and will do anything to get A-ko out of the picture. Project A-ko (1) concerns their confrontations at their high school. Among other things, B-ko had challenged A-ko to a duel to the death when they were in kindergarten, but the day of the duel, A-ko's family moved away. So B-ko is just dying to get her revenge and have C-ko all to herself. Complicating matters is the arrival of aliens who recognize C-ko as their lost princess, kidnap her, and begin to trash Graviton City even as A-ko and B-ko are hard at it themselves. Can the two battling teenagers maintain a truce long enough to rescue their chirpy friend?

Project A-ko 2 takes place several months later. The aliens, having crash-landed their ship on top of Graviton City, have turned it into a giant amusement center. Meanwhile, it's summer vacation, and A-ko and C-ko have the run of the city, more or less, when A-ko's parents go to America on business. The chief alien, Napolipolita (who was apparently male in the first book and is now female), has her little princess and A-ko to dinner and confesses to them that the aliens just want to go home, but they can't because the spaceship is wrecked (not to mention stuck on a spire of Graviton City). A-ko reluctantly agrees to help. Meanwhile, B-ko plots more robots; her billionaire father, impressed with her designs, steals them and sells them to the military on the condition that they capture the aliens. Of course, mayhem results.

First I'll say that Project A-ko is one of the few full-length animes that I've actually seen, so at least I have some experience with this title. But I didn't know when I first watched it that it was meant as a major-league parody of anime, so it didn't make a lot of sense to me. That's the danger of parody; it can be hilarious to people in the know but confusing to outsiders. And that's the problem I freely confess to in this review: I don't know enough about anime to appreciate the in-jokes and humorous touches of these books. So I may be completely missing the point here.

Nevertheless, a book that's genuinely funny should at least hold some laughs for outsiders. From my limited viewpoint I didn't find these books funny. A lot of the goofiness seemed forced, as if the various authors of the original screenplay were straining to include every possible moment of slapstick, every possible twist in the characters, without much concern for how everything fit together, and then they milked them well beyond this (cash) cow's capacity. There are a number of running gags (including a running running gag) that are funny the first couple of times but that grate after a while, like C-ko's wretched bento box lunches. All right, already, we KNOW, we KNOW. (I'm reminded of something master animator Chuck Jones once pointed out--that a gag will be funny at 22 frames, but it's not funny at 21 or 23 frames--it's all in the timing. For me, Project A-ko seems to constantly hit that 23rd frame.) And some of it is just plain juvenile, like "the Fist of the Flatulent Star." (That reminds me of some crummy episodic fantasy novel I read a long time ago, in which one chapter ends with a wizard suffering from a curse of perpetual flatulence. Ho ho, hee hee. But funny fantasy is way, way too often like that. Books like The Princess Bride or graphic novels like Soulsearchers and Company--a truly splendid example of parody, I might add--are few and far between.)

The art is sufficiently cartoony for the material. I'm not very fond of American manga; it's sort of like having a kosher-style wiener rather than a real kosher hot dog. Why bother?

A quoted review from the Dallas Museum of Art in the first book suggests that Project A-ko--at least the anime version--will attract newbies as well as those up on their anime cliches, and that may be the case. Didn't attract me, but then, I'm old and hard and jaded. Still, I don't think that quote would apply to these books. They will certainly have a built-in audience among anime fans, and they would likely appeal to readers, especially teens, who enjoy juvenile humor and aren't worried about coherence. But there are many better pieces of manga to start readers off with. Fantasy fans, for example, would enjoy CPM Manga's far superior Slayers, which is quite funny and doesn't rely so heavily on in-jokes. Other good humor manga titles are Ranma 1/2 and Lum (Urusei Yatsura).

Buy the books directly from CPM Manga!

Copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild


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