Sunday, August 7, 2016

Space Adventure Cobra

Space Adventure Cobra; animated science-fiction action series, Japan, 1982; D: Osamu Dezaki, S: Nachi Nozawa, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Gara Takashima, Reiko Tajima, Hidekatsu Shibata

Somewhere in the future, Johnson has a steady, but routine desk job in the city. Out of boredom, he decides to go to a company that implants people with 3D adventure dreams. However, after returning back home, he realizes that was not a fictional dream, but his own erased memory, since he was once Cobra, a daredevil guy who underwent plastic surgery to hide from the notorious Space Guild with whom he clashed. Now awakened, his female-robot, Lady, follows suit and they embark on new adventures. In the first, after two sisters were killed, Cobra helps save the third one, Dominique, who is persecuted by Crystal Boy from the Guild because he wants to find the map of the treasure tattooed on her back. In later episodes, Cobra investigates drug trafficking on a planet while posing as a rug-ball player; goes to battle Swordians from the planet of the sea of sand; assembles a team of four aliens to battle and defeat Salamander, who took over the Guild and wanted to rule the galaxy.

A wide ranging amalgamation of several unusual and often contradictory genres, from Spaghetti-Westerns up to Sci-Fi and secret agent action films, Buichi Terasawa's manga "Cobra" gained instant cult status, as well as its eponymous anime series from 1982 that announced all the daring traits of anime to the world. The first arc, which encompasses the first 12 episodes, is excellent, and really gives the viewers a run for their money: it has one consistent storyline (Cobra fighting against Crystal Boy, one of the most bizarre villains ever created on the screen, who looks like Skeletor with a transparent body made out of glass that reveals his skeleton underneath) and a pure rush of imagination, displaying several brilliant Sci-Fi ideas that reach their full potential (a flying prison hovering over a city, as a ominous warning sign to the people below; Cobra shoots from his "Hordak-style" hand-gun at Crystal Boy's back, but the laser is deflected by three drones who were flying above him, immediately forming a triangle force field...), as well as an suspenseful duel with a lot of humor and irony (Cobra breaks a glass cup in his hand, slyly implying that the glass Crystal Boy "will be next"; Crystal Boy tackles and throws Cobra several feet away, after which he jokes that "he should play rugby"...) which is spiced up by a further "addendum" finale reaching epic proportions (an alien tank that can bury itself into the sand with its gun peeking up like a periscope; Sandra transforming into a giant, chasing Cobra at the top of the pyramid).

Unfortunately, once that highlight is over, "Cobra" should have stopped, yet it continued with a further 19 episodes which are of irregular success: some of them are throw-away one-episode fillers (a genie that captures Cobra in space; a robot that stops a robot rebellion by turning back time - sounds bad, is bad), while some build up better episodic stories that last longer (the 4-episode rug-ball plot, which seems to spoof brutal sports just like "Rollerball"). Still, they never reach the heights of the first 12 episodes and seem arbitrary. Also, "Cobra's" exploitative tone can be felt, obvious in the too many 'fan service' moments of half-naked girls, whereas the finale turned just a tiny bit too much like James Bond. "Cobra" is patchwork, blending in more genres than it can handle, and its episodic tone aggravates that feeling as well, since Cobra is basically the only character in the story (his sidekick, female-robot Lady, is basically just an extra), which changes its setting every a couple of episodes, anyway, starting from episode 13 onwards, leaving little of room to link all of these adventures into one whole, yet it still has some traces of that 80s charm and fragments of a future prototype of a cool hero, which will be later improved in several animes, such as "Cowboy Bebop".


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