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Bored 24th-century salaryman Mr. Johnson buys a virtual vacation at the Trip Movie Corporation only to discover that his chosen holiday (the life of a space pirate) triggers real memories that he has suppressed. He discovers that he really is Cobra, a rogue with a price on his head who has a false arm hiding the mentally powered "psychogun." Fleeing the Galactic Guild, he encounters beautiful bounty hunter Jane Royale (Jane Flower), who has part of a treasure map tattooed on her shapely back. Her sisters Dominique and Catherine have the other pieces that reveal the location of the Supreme Weapon. Cobra springs Catherine from prison before tracking down Dominique, a police officer who has infiltrated the all-female Snow Guerrillas gang. Though Cobra claims to want the Supreme Weapon (and, like any Buichi Terasawa hero worth his salt, to see the girls naked), he is also intent on protecting the ladies from Crystal Boy, his golden cyborg rival, who lacks Cobra's qualms about skinning them alive to make the map more portable.
Keeping relatively close to Buichi Terasawa's 1978 manga in Shonen Jump magazine, the first season's quest for the MacGuffin Supreme Weapon ends with Cobra recruited by Dominique for undercover work. Investigating Guild drug-smuggling on planet Laloux, he joins the Red Saxons, a sports team that plays the rugby/baseball hybrid rugball. Amid violent matches reminiscent of Rollerball (1975), he rises through the ranks to crack the case and win the championship. The series ends with a third arc, as Cobra locates Salamander, the entity behind the guild that's revealed to be an energy field controlled by the spirit of Adolf Hitler.
Predating Total Recall with its original premise, SAC is typical Terasawa, crammed full of leggy, disposable beauties who turn up, wiggle their assets, snog the hero, and then get shot. It's got plenty of ray-gun action, as well as the artist's other trademark-madly futurist designs based on contemporary technologies like motorcycles, cars, and planes.
The TV series was preceded by a feature, with a script written by Terasawa himself and Haruya Yamazaki-Miyazaki's amanuensis on Castle of Cagliostro. The movie script shuffles the characters into a slightly different setting-in this version Jane Flower and her sisters Catherine and Dominique form the three aspects of the Empress of the Universe, ruler of the planet Myras, who will manifest when all fall in love with the same man (guess who?). Crystal Boy (aka Necron) is now the personification of Death itself, tracking Cobra as he springs Catherine from jail and encounters Dominique on the Planet of the Snow Guerrillas. Clearly a dry run for the later series, changes made between the two include a new composer and the replacement of the original Cobra voice actor Shigeru Matsuzaki with Nachi Nozawa. SAC also steals from many SF movies, including Barbarella (1967), Flash Gordon (1980), the Genesis project from Star Trek: Wrath of Khan (1982), and the carbonite-freezing episode from The Empire Strikes Back (1980). The movie is often claimed as a sequel set two years after the TV events, though it requires remarkable suspension of disbelief to accept that Cobra would meet two trios of virtually identical girls with the same names, occupations, and troubles. Similarly, the movie version does not allude to Mr. Johnson's induction at the Trip Movie Corporation; Japanese audiences familiar with the manga could disregard any of the film's more far-fetched or hallucinatory episodes as yet more evidence that this is all "really a dream"-not an option available to most English-speaking viewers. When dubbed for the U.K. market, Manga Entertainment replaced the Japanese soundtrack with all-new material from the group Yello. The decision gained SAC extra press coverage and papered over the cracks to make this antique film seem up-to-date, while the 1995 copyright date for the new score helped imply it was newer than it really was.
The series is popular to this day and has an ardent fan following in Japan and Europe. Scenes from the feature were also recycled for Matthew Sweet's pop promo "Girlfriend." However, its influence was strongest in Korea, where Cobra's relationship with Jane was shoddily rehashed with Hyesong and Marie Kim in Lee Hyun-se's Armageddon (1996). Other Terasawa works adapted as anime include Goku: Midnight Eye and Kabuto.