How Project A-Ko's Perfect Edition Saved An Anime Classic

Thirty-seven years ago, "Project A-ko" premiered in Japanese movie theaters, and its legacy far surpassed what anyone involved in the making ever anticipated. The film gets its name from the Jackie Chan film "Project A," and was originally supposed to be an entry as part of the "Cream Lemon" series of hentai (which is, uh, not for children). The project soon pivoted into a sci-fi action-comedy meant for all audiences, and "Project A-ko" exploded in popularity, inspiring three sequels and a spin-off series.

"Project A-ko" is considered one of the most important works of modern anime, developing a massive fanbase not just in Japan, but all over the world. Unfortunately, its legacy was lost for many years, as the 35mm reels holding "Project A-ko" disappeared sometime after the video masters were struck from the elements. The now-defunct company Central Park Media was able to sell the film first on VHS and again on DVD, but CPM used a laserdisc copy of the film to produce their DVDs, because the original 35mm prints were still gone. Fans had accepted that these less-than-stellar copies would be the only way the film would continue to exist, and that a high definition or remastered Blu-ray was an impossibility. Streamers avoided the property because the visual quality was never quite up to snuff, so unless someone introduced you to "Project A-ko" or did some research, "Project A-ko" hasn't been shared around as much as it should have been in recent years.

Fortunately, all of that changed at the end of 2021.

Once Lost, Now Found

The company Discotek Media announced they were finally bringing "Project A-ko" to Blu-ray back in September of 2020, and fans were shocked. The idea of the film coming to Blu-ray was out of the realm of possibility, but Discotek's plan to use the Domesday Duplicator and AstroRes technologies was a revolutionary change. Justin Sevakis, CEO of MediaOCD, Discotek's Production Contractor claimed that the Domesday Duplicator was capable of capturing and digitizing the RF signals from multiple laserdisc sources, which allows high quality transfers from laserdiscs, despite previous attempts not looking as sharp as they could. Unfortunately, this still would not have been as good of a quality as restoring the original 35mm print, but it was a start.

Around the same time as their venture, a distributor known as AnimEigo had set out to restore 1987's "Metal Skin Panic MADOX-01." When the film finally hit DVD, Robert Woodhead, the founder and CEO of the AnimEigo, noted during the special features that he was given the option to license "MADOX-01" or "Project A-ko," and joked that his decision not to pursue the film was a terrible business decision. Woodhead was given a list of films stored at the Tokyo Genz┼Źsho (Togen) film archives in his search for "MADOX-01" footage, and right alongside it was "Project A-ko." As it turns out, the film was not actually lost, just sitting away in storage for decades. No one knew how to find it or even that it existed, because the original 35mm print had been mislabeled.

Goodbye AstroRes, Hello 35mm Restoration!

Woodhead knew of Discotek's plans of putting "Project A-ko" on Blu-ray, and got permission to let the company know about the discovery of the missing film reels. This was huge news for Discotek who announced on a Twitch stream that the AstroRes remastering plan had been scrapped in favor of a totally remastered Blu-ray from the thought-to-be lost original 35mm print. It feels ridiculous that the film was considered lost for so many years due to a clerical error, but "Project A-ko" has had underdog energy from the start. Director Katsuhiko Nishijima joked that his involvement on the film was so that he could earn enough money to buy new teeth, which almost rivals Michael Caine's choice to be in "Jaws: The Revenge" so he could buy a house.

According to Sevakis, most Japanese film companies treat their film lab vaults as "out of sight, out of mind" because most people aren't working with film on a regular basis. He believes that if something as important as "Project A-ko" was just sitting around mislabeled, there's probably other projects suffering the same fate. As of December 21, 2021, the Blu-ray of "Project A-ko: Perfect Edition" is available for those who want it, and include feature commentaries, TV spots, behind the scenes footage, interviews, image galleries, exclusive liner notes, trailers, and a retrospective on the film's music. Now, a new generation of viewers can finally enjoy the incredible tale of three school girls taking down aliens, giant robots, and burly women, all because of a random warehouse find.