Space Adventure Cobra Review
If I told you a tale about a science fiction pirate who has a bodypart that turns into a gun chasing three amazonian lovelies from another world, you might expect that this would be a boy's own adventure filled with babes and battles. But you'd only be half right about Dezaki Osamu's Space Adventure Cobra, as the film delivers up plenty of fights and chases, only to cap the sex quotient by emphasising the transformative power of love. This romantic choice may seem a little twee now that sex and violence flow more easily in modern Anime titles, and watching this film now it is important to remember it came from a more innocent time.
Initially, the movie seems to offer a lustier approach with the curvaceous bounty hunter dogged by the twin attentions of the Mafia guild of pirates and a blond cocky, cigar chomping admirer. Sex is on the latter's mind and Jane Flower is soon displaying her charms, including nipples shaped like stars, but it is only when he reveals himself as the scourge of the guild, Cobra, that the horizontal jogging can begin. In a haze of post coital bliss Cobra is pulled into Jane's world and learns the secrets of her triplet sisters, the story of her home planet, and he is pressed into action to fight the seemingly invulnerable Crystal Boy. Cobra is shocked to realise that he is doing his thinking with his heart, and any chances of a bawdy romp disappears with romantic psychedelia replacing it.
The trippy world of Space Adventure Cobra includes a spiritual mentor who travels the cosmos in his own bubble, a psychokinetic villain who can morph his body into invisibility and shadow, and an android girl friday whose feelings for Cobra are rather non-metallic. The film travels from planet to planet with an assortment of chases and fights offered in arctic conditions, in gigantic prison ships and even underwater, and, no matter where Cobra is, his trusty cuban is always lit.
Plot is simply a skeleton for getting around the locales and providing the action, and if you examined the story for meaning then you won't get much other than love will save us all. For a movie made in 1982, the images and the morals are pretty much those of the late sixties and seventies with intoxication by substance swapped for intoxication by romance. The movie does avoid the land of camp by retaining Cobra as an anti-hero who resists his feelings and begins the movie by admitting that he is little different from the Guild, and Crystal Boy, who are hunting him down. By the conclusion, the macho sex-god cries out for his lost loves and his bravura is replaced by a broken heart.
The often hallucinatory nature of the visuals, which mix exotica and stunning action, are complemented by a Keith Emerson-like score of baroque twiddlings and synth grandeur. The animation always looks well realised and imaginative and the style is a less restrained version of the director's work on Golgo 13 which he would make the following year. Space Adventure Cobra lacks a dramatic flow and momentum, which is partially due to the trippy approach, and this leads to periods where the action idles - I found myself impatient as the film built to its climax for something a little more coherent and sustained. Similarly, there is some painful expositional dialogue thrown in just before the third act because the script finally realises it must explain what is going on. .
Possibly 10 minutes too long, but a really entertaining ride, Space Adventure Cobra is always worth your attention and the occasional silliness and almost constant action will prove rewarding overall. It is an animated bounty of beautiful women, pirates and big guns, with the redeeming factor of romance keeping things relatively proper.
Manga's UK release of this film comes with no film related extras, a non-anamorphic treatment and exactly the same running time as NTSC versions. Audio options include a stereo English dub and a 5.1 mix of the Japanese track. The English dub is a much cleaner mix with individual elements such as effects and dialogue much clearer and lacking in distortion, the Japanese 5.1 is muddier, with less separation and simple and approximate coverage of the full range of speakers rather than a more sophisticated effort at immersive sound. I wouldn't normally recommend an English dub but given this is an animation and the characters are Anglicised anyway, I do on this occasion. Some part of both dubs are not well synched with mouths onscreen but this is a minor comment, musical cues and soundtrack music are different between the two options with the English titles robbed of the awful Eighties rawk ballad singing. The English subtitles are strong and reflect the Japanese track rather than a translation of the much different English dub.
As you can see above the transfer carries black space on the right hand side of the image, and a fading effect on the left hand side which makes the image present at about 1.78:1 rather than the reported 1.85:1. The print is generally in very good shape with some green spots appearing like cigarette burns, and horizontal bands of discolored grain displaying during the opening titles. The interlaced transfer is certainly sharp but it looks a little dull, a symptom of poor standards conversions, and occasionally combing is present in stills. Compression artefacts and macro-blocking do appear during the film, but these are really most evident when viewing it very closely. More evident are jagged edges and aliasing which will show up on bigger screens, but despite these problems I didn't consider this to be a poor treatment as colour and contrast are managed well and the image and detail are quite acceptable.
The only extras provided are trailers for other Manga releases which I have previously listed in my review of Lupin the Third: Secret of Mamo (See side panel).
Not having seen the R4 disc of this film I can't comment on whether that treatment of the feature is superior to this new release, but this will be one that dedicated Anime fans want to hunt down. This new R2 release is easily improved upon but attractively priced.