Shelf Life
Cobra Commander

by Erin Finnegan,

Look, I may have dressed as Lady Armaroid at Otakon (also sometimes called “Lady” or the “Armored Lady”). It was part of a Cobra group cosplay done with some of the folks at Vertical. Several people recognized Cobra, but only one guy recognized my costume, and he was a hentai dealer. I'm just putting that out there.

Also at Otakon, I attempted to get on Eastern Star's reviewer list, since I've reviewed so many titles they've put out, and given most of the Shelf Worthy, but they said they don't send out review copies. No matter, I pretty much buy all their releases anyway, including the obvious shoe-in Space Adventure Cobra: The Movie.

I had high expectations of this movie, based on Zac's description on the ANNCast that the film is like a bunch of animated scenes of 70's or 80's prog rock album cover art (not an exact quote). Joel from the Fast Karate podcast went the other way, saying that the art looked like 50's sci-fi. I found these reports to be slightly exaggerated; yes, this is a retro film, but I think it's very 80's, and would fit well in my previously proposed 80's themed anime sci-fi bar.

The film works as a perfectly good introduction to Cobra if you're totally new to the character. We quickly learn all the expository facts: Cobra is a legendary space pirate presumed dead, but in actuality he's had plastic surgery to change his face; he has a “psycho-gun” hidden in one arm; his robot pilot Lady is obviously in love with him, yet puts up with Cobra's free-love lifestyle. Cobra's enemy is Crystal Boy, a sometimes-transparent dude with a gold skeleton that doubles as a weapon (perhaps Crystal Boy the ultimate cosplay). Crystal Boy heads a galactic mafia, and controls a seemingly infinite army of robot soldiers.

The movie unfolds in three parts. First, a deadly alien bounty hunter named Jane falls in love with Cobra on a futuristic city planet. In the second section, Jane's sister Sandra, a freedom fighting terrorist on some kind of ski resort planet, falls for Cobra. Finally, Cobra and Sandra go to spring the girls' third sister out of an alien blimp jail on a desolate prison world.

Dave and Joel thought the scene transitions were nonsensical in their podcast review, but I had no such problem. I haven't read the Cobra manga, so I don't know for sure, but the film certainly seemed to be episodic like old serialized science fiction. I wouldn't go so far as to say the plot itself is nonsense, but it does seem as if the author made it up as he went along.

Tonally, Cobra falls somewhere on a range that includes Buck Rogers, Barbarella, Golgo 13, and Dirty Pair. In other words, there are a lot buxom babes (who are sometimes nude) and jet packs and space ships (or combination jet pack/space ships). I'm able to excuse a lot of the sexploitation as a remnant of the 1970's, and I'm willing to let the rest slide as a trade-off for the sheer number of space vehicles in the film. (Consider my review of Cat Planet Cuties.)

Many of the scenes appeal directly to my inner animator. In one oddball series of gags, Cobra “swims” through a white shag carpet, and the furry rug is meticulously well animated. Mr. Warburton always used to say that effects animators were the unsung heroes of animation (again, not an exact quote), and this movie is packed with great examples of lovingly detailed lasers, water, and explosions effects. One of the extraneous “trippy” scenes involves Lady dancing with Cobra in a colorful space disco bar in front of a fish-eye lens. While it's not vital to the plot, it is animated with pure joy, perhaps unlimited by budgetary constraints.

This disc includes a serviceable dub. I loved Shigeru Matsuzaki's take on Cobra so much that I was loath to switch over to Dan Woren, but I did check it out periodically.

I think this is the sort of movie you watch once for the plot and then project on your wall during parties to get people interested in Cobra. I certainly liked it better than Time Drive or the remake series that's on Crunchyroll.

This was an easy addition to my collection, and I highly recommend it to fans of 80's anime and science fiction.[TOP]

Cobra is a very manly title, so I figured I'd follow it up this week with something totally girly: Maria Watches Over Us - Season 1.

Back in 2008, Bamboo reviewed the full box of Maria-sama ga Miteru season one, and then I took over the column and reviewed season four in two parts. Bamboo gave this season a Shelf Worthy, and I disagree, as I think Maria-sama is only Shelf Worthy for very specific fans. It may or may not put your anime club members to sleep at a meeting, or, on the other end of the spectrum, they might get really into it. It's certainly not the sort of thing I'd recommend lightly.

In case you're late to the (literal) tea party, this is an elegant escapist show about a Catholic girl's school where the naïve and innocent Yumi winds up with a mentor-like “soeur” named Sachiko. The incredibly complicated soeur system (soeur is French for “sister”) is an in-plot excuse for working lesbian-like relationships between girls into the plot. That said, I counted, and there are only three frames of actual kissing in this box set.

Do not take my term “elegant escapism” lightly. Maria-sama practically spawned its own sub-genre of slightly-yuri elegant girls school series like Strawberry Panic!, Otoboku - Maidens Are Falling for Me!, and parodies like Maria Holic. That said, I know the truth about all-girls school since I've both read and watched Girl's High (which is zero percent elegance, and one-hundred percent used tampons and drains clogged with plucked pubic hair). Maria-sama presents the ultimate Platonic ideal of Catholic girl's school in the minds of a particularly skewed Japanese set. As such, I have to disagree with Bamboo's assertion that Maria-sama is “slice of life,” and I'd like to conjecture that it is, in fact, high fantasy.

In retrospect, season four was handled a lot better than season one. One episode doesn't lead into the next with as much dramatic weight as in later seasons. Particularly, the first episode has a lot of trouble handling time jumps and explaining the relevant backstory material to the viewer. In my view, it takes some real patience to get through it.

The series makes a lot more sense now that I've seen Brother, Dear Brother (Oniisama E…), which throws Japanese sororities into a Maria-sama context. If you like one of these shows, it's well worth checking out the other(s). It happens that you can watch Dear Brother on Viki nowadays.

The included extra short films are not as funny as subsequent shorts, as if the hilarity leading up to the mahjong party builds to a crescendo. Right Stuf includes some on-disc cultural “liner” notes, several of which were new material for me (this is surprising based on my history of reading translators' notes). There is also the option of watching the series with or without honorifics in the subtitles (as there are a lot of them).

I think Maria-sama fits into an anime canon of important and influential works, and a lot of fans will want to include it in their collections, especially, it goes without saying, yuri fans. My shelves, however, are relatively small, and I can't see re-watching this. It's not a re-buy either, unless you're just looking to save on space by getting this lite box.[TOP]

To finish out the week, I reviewed another all-girl school series, set at a very different school…

I know Himawari! is a little old, but I rented season one so I could then rent season two. (Look for it in the coming weeks.)

Based on the cover art, I was worried that Himawari! might be a sort of ninja harem show, but, thankfully, I was wrong. It's more like Ninja Nonsense, but (sadly) with no Onsokumaru (whom I loved) and fewer panty shots. I'm starting to suspect that in Japan there's a long tradition of silly ninja shows that we just don't have in the U.S., like the extremely long running Nintama Rantaro. I'm sure Himawari! is part of this long running silly-ninja tradition.

Himawari! is set in a ninja village. Himawari Hinata was raised outside the ninja community by an adoptive grandmother, but she has an encyclopedic knowledge of (quasi-)fictional ninja films/television and dreams to be a great ninja. The series begins as she enters Shinobi Gakuen (“ninja school”). Meanwhile, Hayato Madenokoji takes a job teaching at Shinobi Gakuen to pay off a friend's debts (Kaiji, anyone?). Himawari develops a very innocent crush on Hayato, but far from a teacher-student romance, Himawari winds up saving Hayato's life several times per episode since he isn't accustomed to life in an actual ninja village.

At first Himawari's wide-eyed, energetic, innocent protagonist antics reminded me of Naruto (from Naruto), but after a few episodes, her character won me over. I found the supporting cast full of types who weren't exactly fleshed out characters. Hyper-violent and tan Himeji reminded me of Su from Love Hina. Shikimi the medicinal herb expert reminded me of Shiemi Moriyama from Blue Exorcist (mixed with a tougher character), and animal-expert Yusura reminded me of Shippo from InuYasha (in the character design, if nothing else).

In fact, I was taken aback by how much I liked this show. I wouldn't re-watch Himawari!, but I was pleasantly surprised by how entertaining it was. For example, the ninja girls at the school are forbidden to have boyfriends, yet Yusura is dating a kappa and all her friends know it. The kappa's levelheadedness shows up Hayato's hotheaded personality to humorous effect in a couple of episodes. I laughed that the kappa's love of pickles and cucumbers could be a significant plot point.

I also laughed out loud at several of the silly ninja school gags (laughing out loud being my thermometer for comedies). In once scene, the floor of the classroom drops away, revealing sharpened bamboo spikes below. The ninja girls in class, prepared for this kind of trap, quickly escape up into the rafters. Newcomer Hayato, unaware of ninja norms, would've fallen to his death, but for Himawari saving him. I thought this was particularly funny character-driven humor. A lot of subsequent scenes take place in the classroom rafters, as the set-ups continue to grow organically from the ninja characteristics these students possess.

This is a fun show with a nice spirit of adventure. If it didn't star all girls and prominently feature a student-teacher crush, I could totally see this being on after school on Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network. Unfortunately it's not dubbed at all, and the aforementioned mitigating circumstances easily prevent it from broadcast in the US. I think Himawari! is relatively kid-friendly, if the kids know about ninjas, even though there are a lot of culturally Japanese things that younger viewers in the West probably wouldn't get.

Maiden Japan is kind of an oddball distributer in terms of catalog choices. They certainly don't include dubs or extras, which is too bad, as I think some ninja cultural notes would've been helpful here. [TOP]

Heads up, there might not be a Shelf Life next week (September 17th) depending on how much homework I have. In point of fact, Shelf Life may go every-other-week for the next month or two. I'll keep you guys up to date.

Meanwile, the Right Stuf sent me Martian Successor Nadesico, which I have never watched, but I've heard is some of the best of the 90's, so I'm looking forward to it.

This week's shelves are from RPGothic:

"I've been meaning to send in pictures of my collection for a long time now. I'm a british Otaku and my collections is a mixture of Region 1,2 and 4 dvds which I have nearly 900 dvds (I haven't checked my manga collection since January 2011, when it was over 1200 volumes). I've been collecting since 1999 (although my original monthly issues of mangas or videos are not shown), but my collection really took off in 2004 when I made a trip to Los Angeles and brought more then my weight in manga and anime. As the photos show I'm a big fan of Precure (hence why there the largest collection of figures in my collection), my favourite anime genre is Mahou Shojou, ever since Sailor Moon first aired in the UK. My most special item is a small talking plush pikachu keychain as this was the 1st part of my collection to be brought. "

Very cool! Love the collection!

Want to show off your stuff? Send your shelves to [email protected] Thanks!

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