Previous Retro Reviews...
- MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO *** KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE *** PRINCESS MONONOKE
- HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE *** NAUSICAA *** CASTLE IN THE SKY *** PORCO ROSSO
- AKIRA Vol. 1 *** Vol. 2 *** Vol. 3 *** Vol. 4 *** Vol. 5 *** Vol. 6 *** TRIGUN Vol. 1
- LITTLE NORSE PRINCE VALIANT *** DRAGONBALL Vol. 1 *** GHOST IN THE SHELL
- MACROSS II *** LUPIN III: THE SECRET OF MAMO
Putting this in a sequence with THE SECRET OF MAMO invites the undeniable thought that the heroes of anime in the late 70’s and early 80’s generally had more fun. It’s not simply a case of there being copious pratfalls and plentiful winks interspersed throughout all the chases and gunplay - - Lupin III, the Dirty Pair and, now, Cobra all seem to have this strangely-urbane cheekiness about them. Their adventures are cavalier. Watching them in action, one almost reflexively imagines being in an audience of cocktail-drinking sophisticates in the smoky entertainment parlor of some ritzy casino.
Such pop cultural synesthesia isn’t reaching too far, I swear! Show SPACE ADVENTURE COBRA to any viewer with no preconceptions about the character, whatsoever, and they’ll a hazard a guess that it’s Han Solo as re-imagined by the editorial staff of PLAYBOY. Cobra smokes his cigars and ambles around the galaxy, more-or-less just doing his thing until a space mobster guns for him or he’s propositioned by a knockout dame. The latter even happens more often than the former in this flick - - sexy witch triplets, a sexy robot and even (potentially) a sexy terrorist leader all fall helplessly to his unbridled masculinity.
(Why, in the absence of any literal snake imagery, you’ve got to figure that Cobra’s name’s a double entendre of the same design as Shaft’s.)
Described as such, Cobra’s milieu perhaps embodies some dated sexual politics - - maybe even male chauvinism. Go on and sort the rest of that topic out in your next grad school discussion class, if you’d like; it’s the other potentially-dated aspects of the character which seem more pertinent.
Stated fairly, Cobra will need a serious makeover if Alexandre Aja’s long-discussed remake ever does go through. Here, his ensemble of red tights and stumpy Psychogun seems like actualized ugly box art. Not that it bog any of the fun down, of course, but it does lock this flick into a very specific time and place. If Cobra stepped out today, the fashion police would be on him a lot faster than the TRUTH street teams wanting to stamp out his stogies.
This flick’s datedness isn’t even necessarily a problem. SPACE ADVENTURE COBRA demonstrates - - without any nostalgia here to jack it up - - that animators had to use a lot more abstract thinking before computers started taking care of so much of the thinking for them. Without exaggeration, every single shot in this flick exudes the sort of virtuoso storytelling craft that only comes about as a result of very deliberate planning. Every dissolve, color-tint, focus rack and multi-plane movement available has been employed to make the visual narrative on screen irresistibly involving at every interval. Even when you can’t always keep up with the plot (more on that in a moment,) you’re always mesmerized by the telling of what’s on screen.
Miyazaki was a key animator on here and, reportedly, the interest here was to present the experience of a 3D movie without the necessity of 3D glasses. Even while the resurgence of 3D as a serious money-maker has affixed plenty of nasty stigma to the process, I’m dying to see more movies attempt to simply seem three-dimensional the way this psychedelic parade of sound and color did.
What about the plot, though? I haven’t gotten much into that, yet, because…
Well, here’s another anime where synopsizing feels like a really uncool and bureaucratic response to what was such a cool and instinctive experience. Like a deadlier Lupin III, Cobra speeds through a delirious whorl of heady concepts, and never slows down long to give any of them a second thought. There’s a triplicate of vixens with something of a hive libido! There’s a crystalline android who turns his ribs into deadly spears! There’s a hideous witch whose head stays alive, and airborne, after decapitation!
The thread of Cobra breaking into a floating space prison to save the identical sister of the beautiful bounty hunter he’s scamming on is really just the through line to tie all this glorious insanity together. You won’t find such as delightedly-madcap a take on space opera outside of anything but THE INCAL. Cobra may wear his debt to STAR WARS (and his plagiarism of John Williams’ SUPERMAN movie score) rather blatantly on his sleeve… but damn if he doesn’t use what he’s borrowed to gallop into corners of the galaxy that most space pirates are too boring to even think of approaching.
SPACE ADVENTURE COBRA may not be the title to show to anyone with an eye-roll reflex to anything even just potentially hokey. Today, it’s maybe only for black belt otaku who’re brave (or maybe just fun) enough to experience an unfiltered dose of a zany outlier that ventured into much nuttier directions than so much of what came after it.
Watch SPACE ADVENTURE COBRA on Hulu below and experience the madness for yourself…