We recently noticed that we had a ton of Discotek Media DVDs lying around waiting to be reviewed (as is a common problem, as you know). Thinking we could make a theme month out of it, we decided to turn April into Discotek month. So starting today, the rest of the month is all Discotek titles all the time. I know what you are thinking ,”but how is this any different from the anime you normally cover?”. Well, we really don’t have an answer to that…so enjoy Discotek month.
As I go through COBF’s anime reviewing past, I noticed no representation of late anime director Osamu Desaki and partner in crime character designer Akio Sugino. Speaking personally, my personal attempts in the past to discuss anything worked on by these two has floundered; They Were Eleven, an anime film with Sugino’s character designs and directed by Desaki’s brother Satoshi Desaki is a personal favorite, with fear that 900 words of congratulating its excellence would not be an interesting read. The second, a mid-90’s NHK produced jointly by Desaki and Sugino known as Hakugei: Legend of Moby Dick, a tonally uneven space-opera which couldn’t decide if it wanted to be melodramatic and heart felt (morning a beloved character’s death) or jokey by focusing on Japanese puns (spend most of an episode morning a loved character’s death, then at the end of that same episode bring him back to life, why Desaki you emotionally manipulative director you) was a review I should have penned. But since we are doing a Discotek theme month, I guess I need to pick something befitting the theme therefore I will review the 1982’s Space Adventure Cobra.
The titular space-faring adventurer Cobra has always in my eyes represented Lupin era macho; a walking pair of bushy side-burns with an ever-present unlit cigar in his mouth. Cobra’s cocky exterior covers up how deep-down he knows he’s an average Joe, a relatable lead before Fist of the North Star’s Kenshiro arrived and returning everything to the Greek status qua of crying to show that he cared. Cobra’s blonde-haired and big-nosed self is the most recognizable manga character of mangaka Buichi Terazawa, a man who succeeds by filling a world with crazy stylish futuristic nonsense like in his manga Goku: Midnight Eye, for fear that anything less could end up dull like the forgettable Kabuto.
Anime adaption movies come in two different flavors during this era (a time before Pokemon and Shonen Jump properties practically corner-stoned the theatrical release market): bigger budgeted animated compilation movies like the ones for Mobile Suit Gundam, Fist of the North Star, and Galaxy Express 999 or effectively T.V. episodes stretched to a 90 minute run time, common with episodic properties like Dirty Pair and most of the Urusei Yatsura movies. Space Adventure Cobra is the later, where in the status queue must be returned by the feature’s end. Cobra’s latest adventure entails running into a bounty hunter named Jean, who plans on picking up the bounty placed on Cobra’s head by the space mafia pirates known as the Galactic Guild. Deciding she would rather fall in love with Cobra instead of turning him in (Cobra’s quick back story -he is the average-Joe born again form of the once galaxy famous space pirate Cobra, the only man to ever fight the Guild).
Jean asks Cobra to help her free her sister Catherine from the Guild’s prison planet Cido. The escape attempt is foiled by Guild key player in the Crystal Boy, a Darth Vader tall man that looks like someone made a transparent jelly mold containing a golden chemistry classroom skeleton. Cobra learns that the Guild plans on using Jean and her two sisters, Catherine and an unseen third sister named Dominique, who are the three remaining off-spring of the alien planet Miros Queen(did I mention Jean was an alien, because outside of moderate Esper powers like telepathy and star shaped nipples, she appears completely human). Simply put, Crystal Boy and the Guild plan to achieve world domination by using the three women’s role as future Queen to harness Miros’ planet power to threaten the world into universe-wide submission. It’s up to Cobra now, added only by his trademark left armed psycho gun and android assistant Lady. Going back to Osamu Dezaki’s early 80’s film, I noticed that his art design wasn’t just limited to incorporating Akio Sugino’s pretty feathered hair character designs while occasionally pausing for his trademark post-card moments. Dezaki filled Cobra with mountains of weird visuals, that I will in lazy fashion just list: multiple moons reflecting off the broken lens of a space priest, paired naked women floating through space in bubbles, an on screen heart monitor overlaid at the bottom of the screen, a flying professor that looks like a green Buddhist deity, a prison cell made of plate glass, and finally, a horse made of pure yellow energy with the power to morph into a disc. Cobra on its own is just fun to look at as a piece of art. This made picking screen caps hard with an overabundance of choices instead the usual dearth. Space Adventure Cobra is filled with un-even characterization, starting with Cobra himself. Cobra’s episodic adventures allow for the nonsexist character development often found with Black Jack and Golgo 13, best classified with someone like Indiana Jones; characters written into stories where their skills and interactions are more important than developing as characters. Space Adventure Cobra has Cobra acting detached, like he knows that this is just another one of his millions of adventures. A big plot point centers on how Jean and her sister’s become Queen, originally a single person who can be achieved by either two of the sisters dying or all three falling in love with the same man. So instead of one fleshed out woman who just happens to have two extra split personalities, we have three separate women where they all have the same goal, just sort of different means. With a point in Cobra’s characterized favor, he keeps character by responding to Dominique’s impassioned speech on how he is destined to love the sisters later in the movie by telling her Jean was just a fling, as he was not willing to stay tied down. Crystal Boy acts simply to push the Guild’s evil plan, with the occasional rivalry started by Cobra’s old pirate self.
Pros: Immensely stylish, were you start appreciating a director like Dezaki’s personal flourishes, making the Cobra movie stand out more than just a heightened film budget. Cobra’s charming cigar-chomping everyman personality is likable, going as far as to warrant laughs from my own mother while watching it with her. Music, specifically during a dance club in the middle and the film’s climax, show great from catchy disco beat to sad melody similar to the ending of the first Mobile Suit Gundam compilation movie.
Cons: Drops the ball during the second half wherein less time is focused on being purposely artsy. Story wraps up in that clunky way any movie based on an episodic property does, where Cobra might as well have told Lady at the end “if that wasn’t just a couple of days”. “Love is strong enough to save this world” plot push gets tiring when it turns into everyone’s motivation.
As this is Discotek month, Discotek Media did release Space Adventure Cobra: The Movie rather recently, so finding a copy shouldn’t be that hard. As a film, Space Adventure Cobra is half a stylish space romp with Cobra as a likable put-upon protagonist, but half a tired execution of a “complex on the surface but not really” plot. Cobra is not getting out of here without a gold star affixed to its red skintight jumpsuit as an artsy endeavor that does keep a constant narrative. But not without the finger sliding condemnation that it does fall apart when it remembers that it has a story to wrap up.
Turn in next time when we continue Discotek month with Panda Go Panda!.