Stephen reviews: Project A-ko 4: Final (1989)

projectako4_1Project A-ko: Final [プロジェクトA子 完結篇] (1989)

Starring Miki Ito, Emi Shinohara, Michie Tomizawa, Tessho Genda, Shuichi Ikeda, Asami Mukaidono, Daisuke Gori, Sayuri Ikemoto, Yoshitada Ohtsuka

Directed by Yuji Moriyama


I can’t say why the filmmakers decided to call it quits at part 4. Perhaps they ran into funding trouble or just ran out of ideas. Maybe it was a case of staff arguing over the direction of the series. Since I’ve never seen any behind-the-scenes info on the Project A-ko sequels (and probably never will), I can only rely on my own unsubstantiated guesses. For whatever it’s worth, I think they realized there wasn’t anywhere else for the series to go and wanted to end the franchise gracefully rather than milk it until it became a stale echo of its former glory.

One of the reasons I say this is because Project A-ko 4 is basically a rehash of the first film. It once again mainly involves an alien invasion that interrupts A-ko and B-ko’s bickering. In fact, the great feud between the two has become so routine that even the other characters are unfazed by it at this point. The big difference this time is that their teacher, Miss Ayumi, is getting married to Kei, so the fight is over him rather than C-ko. This makes C-ko feel abandoned, and she spends much of the film rather depressed.

projectako4_2As much as I disliked the way Kei was used in A-ko 3, those events happened and I’ll just have to live with them. His importance to the plot here follows naturally from that film and is handled well, so my complaints about him are going to stay in part 3. In Final he at least drives the plot away from being a complete retread of the first film. The biggest weakness of this film is its attempts to set up a twist ending. After the first three films, it should be pretty obvious what the aliens are really after; the prophetic talk and the mystic pendant won’t be enough to fool most viewers.

But that is the only major flaw in A-ko 4. The humor works about as well as before, and it has the biggest focus on the action since the first film. It feels more like a Project A-ko film than either 2 or 3 did. The pace is also much faster than any of the previous movies. This is another reason I think Moriyama felt the series had used up its concept. It’s as if he wanted to cram in the last of the ideas before shutting the series down.

projectako4_3B-ko’s father also makes a welcome return in this film, though he lacks quite the same rambunctiousness he had in Project A-ko 2. D and Captain Naploipolita are still pretty much relegated to extras, but at least they get a few good lines in. I do wish we had gotten an explanation of what happened to their ship at the end of Cinderella Rhapsody, though. The commander of Earth’s military defenses is back, too, and he’s more entertaining than ever thanks to the psychological scars he’s developed over the course of the series mingled with a bit of political corruption.

So the whole gang is back together, and it’s all pretty damn fun. Looking at things objectively, I have to call this the best of the three sequel films, though still not as good as the original. Good action, goofy comedy, and a lot of characters get their chance to shine one more time. But in terms of personal preference, I have to say I enjoyed Project A-ko 2 more. In Final there is a sense of having been here before. The situation just seems old. We’ve seen giant combining robots. We’ve seen alien invasions. We’ve seen A-ko and B-ko punching each other. Project A-ko 2 was a slower film without much sense of purpose, but it felt like the series and its world were opening up and expanding. It had the promise of great things to come, whereas Final feels like the series is closing in on itself, ending possibilities and cementing concepts that don’t have anywhere to go.

a-ko

As the conclusion to the series, I suppose that isn’t a bad thing. I guess my problem is that I think the series had more potential it could have lived up to if things had gone differently. The constant battles between A-ko and B-ko were destined to grow tiresome, but Urusei Yatsura’s concept wasn’t all that much different from Project A-ko, and it spanned six films (several of which Moriyama had worked on previously) and over 200 episodes without turning into shit along the way. But it sustained that length through constantly introducing new characters and situations, each of which brought new problems and thus renewed interest. The cast of Urusei Yatsura was gargantuan by the end of it, and most of the characters were unique and memorable.

projectako4_4Could Project A-ko have done the same? Maybe. The second and third films were clearly trying to, but for whatever reason the staff decided it wasn’t going to work out. As much as this is disappointing, I do have a great amount of respect for someone who can recognize when an idea has run its course and has the integrity to put a capstone on it instead of shoveling shit at us for as long as possible. And if that’s what we got here, then I can be thankful for it.

As with the two previous films, Project A-ko 4 is collected in Project A-ko: Love & Robots should you have trouble finding it.

 

 

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