Cobra The Animation
by Paul Jensen, Gabriella Ekens,
I had a lame joke ready to use in this week's intro, but then Funimation picked up the license for Nichijou - My Ordinary Life, and that's clearly much more interesting. I watched this show when it aired and was crushed when the original plans for a release were scrapped. Now it's coming back, and that's great news if you enjoy absurd comedy or inexplicably awesome animation. Life is good. Welcome to Shelf Life.
Jump to this week's review:
Cobra The Animation
On Shelves This Week
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Shelf Life Reviews
Earlier this year, Gabriella reviewed the 1980s classic Space Adventure Cobra: The Movie and found that it held up very well. The franchise returned to the screen recently in the form of Cobra The Animation, but how does the new TV series compare to its predecessor?
First, a bit more about the show itself. Cobra the Animation continues where the first anime left off in the manga. It's episodic and only occasionally leans on knowledge of Cobra's previous adventures. However, this shouldn't be a big impediment to people looking to check out Cobra for the first time. It's all very accessible. The basic Cobra lore is that he used to be a salaryman named Johnson. But one day, while on a virtual reality vacation, “Johnson” starts to experience strange visions from another life. It turns out that he's actually Cobra, a legendary outlaw who changed his appearance and erased his own memories in order to give his enemies the slip. Now that he's gotten them back, Cobra resumes his position as the galaxy's premiere rapscallion, rejoining his partner in crime, Lady Armaroid, and reclaiming his ship, the Turtle. (You may notice that this is lifted from the film Total Recall.)
Their first adventure post-return involves three sisters: Jane, Catherine, and Dominique Royal. That's actually the most backstory they get in the anime until the 2009 Time Drive OVA, which comes packaged with this release, depicting how Cobra and Lady Armaroid first met over the course of a time travel adventure. The other OVA, Psychogun, is a movie-length story where Cobra faces off against his archnemesis, the skeletal cyborg Crystal Bowie. These OVAs feel like any other arc from the show, but stand out as some of the stronger ones. Overall, however, there's not much of a quality difference between arcs. The weakest is the one-off episode “The Legend of the Wandering Beauties.” This is the most rushed version of the And Then There Were None group double-cross format that Cobra the Animation employs a few times over its run. Its other instances were more unique, and while Cobra the Animation is never all that original, its narratives are usually paced well enough that I'm entertained throughout, and distinct enough that I'm left satisfied at the end.
I credit a lot of this to Cobra's charisma as a protagonist. He's a male power fantasy in the same vein as James Bond/Indiana Jones/Remo Williams, but without a lot of the chauvinistic baggage that tends to turn me off of those characters. That's not to say that Cobra is at all progressive when it comes to women – the default female outfit in this show is a bra accompanied by a deep-wedgie thong. The whole thing is just dopey enough that I can disregard any qualms over its content to sit back and enjoy the pulpy antics. While Cobra is ostensibly a thief, he spends most of the show righting wrongs and helping out sexy ladies who happen to cross his path. For the sake of comparison, I find less to object in Cobra than Lupin the Third, a similar show that I also enjoy.
Speaking of Lupin the Third, that's probably the franchise most similar to Cobra in its tone, content, and appeal. Both franchises are based on classic manga (Lupin from the 60s, Cobra from the 70s) and are known abroad for their anime adaptations. Like Lupin, Cobra's personality hits the sweet spot between hypercompetent badass and lovable dope. Ultimately, they both hold up as wacky tone exercises, capturing a sort of jazzy nightclub feel that was prominent during the 70s and 80s. The main difference is that while Lupin III, which isn't science fiction, tends to go for a more grounded cosmopolitan look, Cobra likes to go full Moebius. The film and original series are renowned for their psychedelic visuals. Beyond that, they're directed by Osamu Dezaki, who is one of the most celebrated and influential visualists in the history of anime. On that front more than any other, Cobra the Animation has big shoes to fill.
At least visually, Cobra the Animation is the least successful thing to come out of the Cobra franchise. Admittedly, that's a high bar, and I've seen far worse out of nostalgic revival projects like these. This adaptation does contain a lot of the series' iconic setpieces. Prepare to see flocks of intergalactic flying books, an infant galaxy kept inside an ancient snail's shell, and many different varieties of decorative pasties. In terms of crazy surreal sci fi antics, I still left satisfied. The problem was all in the execution. The worst part is the color palette, which is less poppy and duller than the original's. (This is a common problem for these types of retro revivals. For whatever reason, people either can't or don't want to do the superflat/high contrast thing any more. I think that it looks cool enough to stand out strong even nowadays.) This is also not an animation showcase. In terms of production quality, it's squarely average. However, the direction is strong, which is a big part of what makes this show feel like a continuation of the 1982 series. This may be due to the fact that Osamu Dezaki himself returned to storyboard this. You can feel his touch in the compositions, and there are even a few of his iconic “postcard memories” fade-to-cuts.
There's also some rough CG for machines and monsters, but I find that it kind of works to enhance the otherworldly imagery, serving as a sort of 21st century approach to psychedelic abstraction. At least, it does sometimes. Other times it's just ugly. It helps that they don't try to use this for particularly complex objects. Overall, Cobra the Animation looks passably decent – but that's still enough to make it the weakest Cobra anime. While the narrative content is on par with the rest of Cobra, visuals are such a big part of the original appeal that substituting them with something merely competent is enough to make this a third-tier recommendation. I really enjoyed this show, and you might too. But I think that my enjoyment was enhanced by prior affection, and the show largely just left me nostalgic for the original production.
If you're curious about this show but haven't watched any previous Cobra, I'd recommend at least watching the film first. It's a classic. Note that Sentai's release of this show is sub-only and doesn't include special features besides the usual clean openings and endings. Now all I need is for the original series to be released on Blu Ray, and my Cobra collection will be complete.
That wraps up the review section for this week. Thanks for reading!
This week's shelves are from punkbikerdude:
"What's up... again! I actually submitted my shelves some years ago, but since I've moved and grown my collection a bit since then, I thought to send some new pictures. These ones show a good portion of my collection that's at my current apartment, which is about 70% of everything, while the rest is at my parent's house and in storage.
I don't have a lot of shelf space (I've had to double stack in my bookcase), so I wound up installing additional shelves above my kitchen cabinets to help make room. You'll probably be able to tell from the pics that I'm an old-school anime fan, though I keep up with a few new series every year. I still have the same projector from back in the day, and it's still great for watching anime on the big screen.
The shelf-life articles are still a blast to read, and I thought to send some pics again just for fun. Thanks for all the articles, and ciao!"
I always love to see some of the old-school stuff mixed in with some of the new stuff (and bonus points for the VHS tapes). And do I spy the Anime News Nina book in one of those photos? Awesome! Thanks for giving us a fresh look at your collection!
I've gotten Shelf Obsessed entries from old and new fans in the past few days, and I'm looking forward to sharing them all in the coming weeks. Whether your collection has been growing for years or you've just started, send me your photos at [email protected]k.com so I can show them off in a future installment!
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