PROJECT A-KO (1986)

(Blu-Ray/Roku/tubi) As one might suspect, I was a gigantic nerd in my youth, enough of one that I was part of a group in high-school that would pool our lunch money to order LaserDiscs of late 80s anime and we’d then, err, find ways to ‘happen upon’ ways to duplicate copies for all involved. Let me tell you: bootlegging works were far more difficult, but far more enthralling, back then.

Apart from the soundtrack occasionally popping up in my playlists over the years, I’d mostly forgotten about PROJECT A-KO (despite still having a proper VHS copy of it)! At least, until this post popped up in my feeds.

The immediate flashback this post induced was: “oh, now that I think about it, this anime wasn’t just fan-service, it was super gay.” And, yup:

“The basic plot of PROJECT A-KO is: one dumbass lesbian fighting another dumbass lesbian to win the heart of the dumbest lesbian in the lands.”

I forgot how funny, how comic, PROJECT A-KO was, even though I know I didn’t get the bulk of the in-jokes and parodies and references back-in-the-day, and probably still don’t. However, it features a ton of hilariously universal kinetic physical comedic moments, while still often feeling grounded despite, you know, someone using numerous missiles as stepping stones during combat. Additionally, while the characters do a lot of punching, there’s not much in the way of punching down. Everyone here is flawed and messy and definitely either queer or over-protective found family, and you’re meant to identify with their flaws, rather than scorn them.

I rarely recommend any YouTube film-centric commentary video that runs for over an hour because I often don’t have the patience for watching them, but I highly recommend the one linked in the MeFi post above. I learned a lot, and it brought back a lot of memories.

Lastly, the OST is well-worth your time. Spaceship in the Dark is still a banger with all of its orchestral hits.

THE MAXX (1995)

(VOD/DVD) THE MAXX was a short-lived animated adaptation of Sam Keith’s comic book featured in MTV’s similarly short-lived ODDITIES block and, to this day, remains one of the most faithful — and most intriguing — comic book adaptations ever.

THE MAXX is about a spandex-clad vagrant (The Maxx) who believes himself to be the protector of Julie Winters, a complicated social worker who is being tormented by a man known as Mr. Gone. The Maxx sometimes slips into another realm known as The Outback, where he’s a noble warrior instead of a homeless man in a purple suit. If it sounds slightly ridiculous, well, -comics-, but it’s essentially a hard-boiled vehicle to explore repression and trauma.

While the narrative and characters would be interesting enough on its own, what really makes the series stand out is how it adapted Keith’s extremely stylized artwork and layouts to TV: they essentially ripped the panels from his comic, and -then- animated them. Occasionally they throw in some CGI or live action video footage, but the majority of it is exactly what you would have seen and read in the first twelve issues of the comics. Amazingly, instead of feeling like a hollow recreation, it feels vibrant and thrilling and often even funny.

If Keith’s comic were a lesser work, it might not have translated so well to bizarro late-night 15-minute programming, but instead it feels fresh and audacious, even today. There’s never been anything that looks or feels like THE MAXX, and it’s unlikely there ever will be.

You can watch all 13 episodes in around three hours. It used to be stream via MTV.com (albeit as a very poor transfer) but it’s now it’s only available to purchase via DVD or the usual VOD outlets. However, resourceful folks can find episodes through Vimeo (but you didn’t hear that from me).

FEELS GOOD MAN (2020)

(kanopy/VOD) FEELS GOOD MAN is a deep dive into the re-appropriation of artist Matt Furie’s Pepe the Frog, and the steps Furie takes to try to get the character back.

Most of the doc focuses on Furie recounting his history and struggles with the laidback frog, but director Arthur Jones and producer Giorgio Angelini bring in artists (including BOJACK HORSEMAN’s Lisa Hanawalt) and comedians/writers (such as BARRY’s Emily Heller) and academics to flesh out the online world of trolls and memes. Even if you believe you know the story of Pepe — and I certainly thought I did — you’ll still find new and surprising bits.

If FEELS GOOD MAN was just a collection of talking head interviews, it’d still be worth a watch, but Arthur Jones leans on his animation background to liven up the doc with vivid, kinetic animated sequences depicting Pepe and his friends as they react to the events as they unfold. It’s a welcome respite from the traditional motion graphics interstitials that pepper most modern documentaries, and is so expertly done that I was left wishing that a BOYS CLUB animated show existed.

DR. KATZ, PROFESSIONAL THERAPIST (1995-2002)

(DVD) ‘Improvised animation’ from Tom Snyder (no, not THE LATE LATE SHOW’s Tom Snyder — a completely unrelated Tom Snyder) featuring Jonathan Katz as a therapist to a litany of stand-up comedians, and father to man-child H. Jon Benjamin. While I think DR. KATZ is probably best known for the controversial SQUIGGLEVISION animation process (I’ve personally never had any issue with SQUIGGLEVISION) it still lasted seven years, and even had a syndicated cartoon strip, which was oddly antithetical to the premise of the show. I remember upon first moving to Chicago, I cracked open my first copy of the Sun-Times and was shocked to see it in print.

While the show’s built around extraordinarily deadpan jokes from some of the best era’s best stand-ups (Ray Romano, Joan Rivers, Steven Wright, Emo Philips, Andy Kindler, Mitch Hedberg, to name just a few), the animators always managed to insert more than a few amusing visual flourishes and gags, a stylistic tic that’s worked its way to future Snyder and Snyder-inspired shows, such as HOME MOVIES and BOB’S BURGERS. Additionally, while most of the characters — guests and otherwise — are stunted in many ways, there’s a warmth and acceptance that underlies the show.

The show’s endlessly re-watchable and perfect fodder to work or fold laundry to, especially if you love word play and stand-up.

No trailer, obviously, but in the spirit of the season, here’s their Thanksgiving ep: