Space Adventure Cobra Episodes 1-4

TV version of story of the space pirate with a psychocannon for an arm, an android for a partner, a group of sisters with a map tattooed on their bodies and an evil skeletal cyborg.

The film version of Space Adventure Cobra was released in the UK by Manga Entertainment in the mid nineties when they suddenly went on a Buichi Terasawa kick, releasing Cobra and Goku: Midnight Eye. It was before I “got into” anime, and I never really paid it any attention once I did start buying anime regularly. It was a Manga release, it wasn’t subbed and, I guess this is the main reason Terasawa is overlooked by many anime and manga fans, it didn’t look like anime.

Against the sort of series that fills the market now and indeed then, and arguably when it first came out, Terasawa’s work looks strangely westernised. And that’s because it is. Not in an American cartoon or comics way, but certainly in an European comic art/sci-fi novel cover way.

Now, I’ve still not seen the film, but I have now seen the first 4 episodes of the 31 episode TV adaptations of the manga. What are the obvious western influences from these episodes? Well, the first episode feels straight out of a Philip K Dick novel, mainly “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”, and it kind made me yearn to see a sci-fi equivalent of World Masterpiece Theatre.

Secondly, and the one that is most often quoted when talking about Cobra, Barbarella. Obviously the film adaptation of Barbarella is an influence, wiith one character named Jane after Jane Fonda, and drawn to match. But the next reference I’ll mention increases the likelihood that Terasawa is familiar with Jean-Claude de Forest’s original comic.

The third, and one I only got from reading the wiki entry, is that Cobra’s appearance, and apparantly personality, is based on French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo.

The fouth, in the fourth episode, Cobra claims he is James Bond. Which is an apt comparison. The approach to sex and violence in Cobra is very much along the lines of a James Bond film, moreso than other series that get Bond comparisons such as Lupin III or Golgo 13.

As for Japanese influences, the obvious one that springs to mind is Hajime Sorayame, he of the sexy robot art. Cobra’s partner in piracy, Lady Armaroid, and the robots he dreams of buying in episode 1 are obvious Sorayame homages.

The show itself is good sci-fi fun. The first episode is splendid, the PKD influences are spot on, and is a great setup episode. The second treads water somewhat, but is reasonable, with a neat bad guy. With the third episode though, we get the other 2 main characters (Jane Royal and Crystal Boy) and the first arc begins proper. The fourth, picks up it up a notch with another great episode villain and some hi jinks in a space prison.

The animation, directed by Osamu Dezaki, has so far has been at the higher end of early 80s TV animation. It feels kinetic, there’s some fantastic background paintings, which is a rarity nowadays, and each episode has had something that impressed me. And there are enough Dezaki “Postcard Memories” that you appreciate them being there, but not so many that they drive you mad.  This isn’t up to the standard of Urusei Yatsura, my favourite show of this era, but it’s certainly a good looking show, helped immensely by Terasawa’s designs setting it apart from other series.

In this TV version, Cobra is played by Nachi Nozawa (Anderson in the TV version of Hellsing), whereas the film version had singer (and future Nerima Daikon Brother) Shigeru Matsuzaki in the role. The android Lady Armaroid is played by Yoshiko Sakakibara (Sylia in Bubblegum Crisis, Integral Hellsing in Hellsing, Shinobu in Patlabor) and Crystal Boy is played by Kiyoshi Kobayashi (Jigen in Lupin III, Jack in Violence Jack).

I was watching the subs provided by ILA. Now, I’m not entirely clear on the origins of these subs, as the credits looked professional and in English, but the actual sub quality varied somewhat. Names seemed fine, and spelling was good. But there was occasional sentances that just read wrong, either being overcomplicated or using the wrong word for the situation. Hopefully if the TMS titles that Imaginasian have licensed (Nobody’s Boy, Orguss and Cat’s Eye) are a success, then we may get Cobra next.