Friday, April 15, 2011

Space Adventure Cobra - The Movie (1982)

Space pirate, all-around tough guy and semi-professional heart-throb Cobra has retired from the pirating biz, changed his appearance and now spends his time smirking and smoking cigars on some backwoods planet. Things - though not the smirking and the smoking - change when he meets space bounty hunter Jane Flower. Because he's a bit of a carefree guy, and Jane's pretty cute, Cobra tries to impress her by revealing his true identity to her.

At first, the young woman doesn't believe a single word he says, but when the couple is attacked by stormtroops of the highly influential space pirate guild, and Cobra transforms his arm into his trademark psycho gun (powered by his mental badassitude, obviously) to fend them off, Jane's scepticism quickly disappears. Instead of doing the obvious thing for a bounty hunter, Jane asks for Cobra's services as a body guard and his help in freeing her twin sister Catherine from a floating prison on a far-away planet. Because Jane's still pretty cute, her kisses induce some pretty spectacular hallucinations, and our pirate hero is already quite in love with her (at least as much as his type of macho persona can be), he agrees.

Alas, Catherine has been imprisoned by the regional boss of the Guild, a certain Crystal Boy, an old enemy of Cobra's and one of the few guys in known space who can shrug off laser beams as if they were nothing, so the hero couple's future brings quite a few clashes with him and his men, as well as triple tragedy, betrayal, more space sex, an example of how to use the Power of Love™ gambit in a story while still keeping one's male hero quite promiscuous, and as many goofily fun space opera shenanigans as one can pack into 99 minutes of anime.

I couldn't leave the decidedly crap Golgo-13 adventure Queen Bee as the only entry for an anime directed by Osamu Dezaki on this blog for long. After all, the man is the inventor of many filmic techniques that have become common in his chosen medium, plus he has worked quite a bit in those areas of anime that are the most compatible with my interests.

Space Adventure Cobra - based on the endless magnum opus of mangaka Buichi Terasawa - is the sort of space opera that really isn't done anymore today. Design-wise as well as philosophically highly influenced by the SF of the second half of the 60s, it's mostly the (mild) sex and the (enthusiastic, yet not too crass) violence that distinguish it as a product of the early 80s. At its heart, though, Cobra is the kind of SF that logically follows things like Moonbase Alpha or the pop Science Fiction of Italians like Antonio Margheriti or Alfredo Brescia, where attractive men and women in boots and very tight, colourful clothes fly through space sipping cocktails and having awesome space adventures and equally awesome space sex.

The big difference between Space Adventure and its spiritual predecessors is that the anime form gives Dezaki and Terasawa visual possibilities for throw-away awesomeness live action movies couldn't - and even in the age of CG - still can't afford. The film is packed full with reams and reams of ridiculous and awesome throw-away stuff, as if it were a novel by Iain Banks without the politics and the characterization. Expect flying prisons, a female snowboarding bandit resistance group named "Snow Gorilla", lots of things with the pre-fixes "space" or "cosmos", a space ship made of glass, embryos floating in space, a little green Buddha-like professor floating through space, very weird theories about love, even weirder ideas about queenship, a psychic planet, a naked woman riding on a horse made of energy and more impractical but great technological design than anyone could wish for.

This being a very Japanese piece of space opera, there's also the already mentioned talk about the Power of Love™, which, incidentally, seems to be quite useful if you need to punch through walls. This kind of space hippie kitsch is often not very popular with Western SF fans, but I think it keeps the potentially insufferably macho character of Cobra in check by giving him at least a second dimension. Sure, depth lives elsewhere, but what makes a space opera as cracking a bit of fun as Space Adventure Cobra is, isn't depth, but breadth, the willingness to throw an insane amount of visually and conceptually cool ideas on screen, regardless of concepts like realism. While this breadth of ideas leaves the film no time to properly explore any single one of them, it sure gets the imagination running, resulting in the sense of wonder I hope for in my space opera.


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