Reviewby T Strife, Jun 15th 2008
Space Adventure Cobra the Movie
Cobra is a man with a bounty on his blond-haired head. A big bounty. Big enough to ensure that not even Michael Jackson levels of plastic surgery are enough to keep him from determined detection. He lives life on the edge, flying through space in search of gold and booty. Unfortunately for his shady mirroring of a 007 lifestyle, he's going to find himself falling in love and taxed with the fate of an entire planet.
Title: Space Adventure Cobra
There's little disputing Cobra's status as a classic, especially considering that, once such a crown is earned, it is very hard to take it away again. You can't revoke such a status very easily. But what constitutes a classic is often actually defined by the era: specifically, a product's relevance and impact at time of release. And as luck would have it, Cobra is very much a product of its time.
Dating all the way back to 1982, Space Adventure Cobra, based on a 1978 manga, has done a reasonable job of holding its own with a modern audience while still being immediately identifiable with the period from when it was birthed. Not only is this the sort of rollicking, tight-outfit-wearing fantastical space opera adventure that was typical of anime of the time, but it's also every bit as tripped out and hypnotic as stereotypes of the eighties would lead you to believe.
Space Adventure Cobra tells the tale of its titular character, a supposedly dead adventurer with a record-holding bounty on his head. Driven by his hormonal nature, he quickly becomes romantically involved with a blue-haired female bounty hunter. Unsurprisingly, the next thing he knows he has the fate of an entire world on his shoulders.
A theme of ‘love as a power beyond compare’ is thrown around enough that it should make a you sick, but the film somehow gets away with it, thanks in large part to the surreal logic of the narrative and trippy visuals that bounce along with the plot. It also helps that everything – themes and all – tie into a grudge from Cobra's past, one that is responsible for a bounty so large that it isn't reproduced in this review simply because the number of zeros would look silly. It turns out that this bounty has been placed because he remains the only person to have escaped the clutches of the Space Guild. This lends the show a convenient structure – not to mention a bizarrely super-powered villain capable of using his own ribs as weapons.
The romance (or romances that happen to be the one romance or something or other as may be the case) itself doesn't stand up quite as well as the adventuring elements, which at least have the luxurious benefit of not being bound by a need for believability. Judged on base merit, character relationships and development in Space Adventure Cobra are a bit weak at the knees and, frankly, laid bare for a brutal baseball bat kneecapping. That Cobra himself isn't without an air of playboy to his character does somewhat dilute this bottleneck where ‘true love’ is undercooked and passed around like a baton, but by and large it's apparent that characterisation and development aren't this feature's strong suit.
Ultimately, it is the mixture of camp nostalgia and the psychedelic visuals that allows Cobra to maintain its appeal. Often playing out as a succession of early MTV music videos, the frequent aesthetic trip-outs lend a robust resilience to a series of action and infiltration scenes that may otherwise have aged poorly in the face of more modern animation techniques, to say nothing of more learned means of choreographing combat. Cobra will get involved in typical gunfights, gunfights that would border on the boring side of normaldom if it weren't for the secure knowledge we have that they'll be infused with a bizarre lightshow and then followed up with a momentary face-off against a foe that can, for example, pull his golden ribs from his transparent body and use them as boomerangs.
For all its visual splendour, it's unfortunate that the video transfer really isn't the best we've seen, not by a long shot. However, this is our only significant complaint with this release. Extras are desperately thin on the ground, but this is understandable given the age of the material and considering that Cobra probably won't grab the wide spread of attention that it should. In this particular case we're grateful enough just to have two language tracks. Being one of the earliest of the early Western anime VHS releases, the dub comes packing some nostalgia, and the vast discrepancies between it and the tone of the original Japanese track is almost as interesting a history lesson as the actual animation itself.
If providing a tripped-out sense of adventuring is the hallmark of early eighties anime, and if everything else can be seen as a mere foundation to this experience (and it is very easy to take this view), then Cobra remains something of a triumph. This is an anime that represents many traits of its era, good and bad (bright red tights, anyone?), but remains a digestible visual indulgence for modern audiences. It also displays a sufficiently strong sense of its own character and identity to stand on its own. It may fall shy of masterpiece status, but it is a classic, and deservedly so. It is well worth at least one sitting, if only to better understand the medium's foundations.
Overall : B
Story : C+
Animation : B
+ Some wonderfully trippy moments.
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