Stephen reviews: Space Adventure Cobra (1982)

36672_280812_112738Space Adventure Cobra [スペースアドベンチャー コブラ Cobra Gekijōban] (1982)

Starring Shigeru Matsuzaki, Akiko Nakamura, Toshiko Fujita, Jun Fubiki, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Reiko Tajima, Akira Kume, Goro Mitsumi

Directed by Osamu Dezaki


The ’80s were a magical time, as anyone who lived through the era can attest. Space Adventure Cobra got an extra dose of that special charm, and if you’re a fan of that time period you will love it. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it got an extra dose of ’70s charm (another magical era all its own), since the manga it is based upon began in that decade. Cobra is a bizarre psychedelic space opera filled with over-the-top action and a heaping mountain of sexy girls in varying degrees of undress. Sense? We don’t need sense. We have crazy-awesome, and that’s even better.

The space pirate Cobra is famed for being the only guy who can transform his left arm into a psycho gun, which is apparently pretty damn powerful. But since he pissed off just about everybody in the galaxy, he’s racked up the largest bounty ever. So Cobra has decided to lie low for a while. But he falls for Jane, a beautiful bounty hunter that’s been tracking him down. Turns out she wants his help rescuing her sister from prison. Cobra is eager to please, even though it means showing his face again and tangling with his old rival, Crystal Boy. If you think that name’s a little too cheesy, there are other translations that call him Crystal Bowie, but screw that shit; I’ll take my ’80s action adventures with extra cheese, thank you.

spaceadventurecobra_2Crystal Boy isn’t the pushover his name might suggest either. He’s a transparent cyborg that’s immune to any laser attack, including Cobra’s psycho gun, and he likes to rip his own ribs out and beat people to death with them. What’s worse is that Crystal Boy is getting it on with one of Jane’s sisters, which apparently only Cobra is supposed to do, so the fight is on.

When Cobra isn’t smooth talking the ladies, he’s kicking ass. He tears though action scenes as only an ’80s action hero can. He pulls off the impossible before every meal. And Osamu Dezaki’s crazed direction makes it all the more satisfying. It’s a lot of fun for anyone who wants a rollicking adventure without any realism to get in the way. Dezaki’s style is in full force here. The triple takes and multiple perspective split-screen shots he loved so much in the Golgo 13 movies are on full display. In fact, his strange stylistic approach is even more intense here than I’ve seen in his other films.

spaceadventurecobra_3Since Cobra is a sci-fi space epic (actually, science fantasy would probably be a better term since there really isn’t anything scientific about any of this) Dezaki has a whole range of bizarre visuals to draw on that the more mundane setting of Golgo 13 doesn’t have. This means all sorts of strange shit can go down, from a fist fight with a floating head to a flying horse made of flames, to some acid-trip bath scenes where we find out that Jane and her sisters apparently have stars on their boobs instead of nipples. I guess that’s how we’re supposed to know they’re aliens.

If there’s a problem in this film, it’s that its central theme of the power of true love is at odds with Cobra’s playboy attitude. Perhaps by “true love” they actually mean free love. But I’ll just reiterate that this movie is all about fun. If you’re trying to find deeper meaning here, you’re going about this the wrong way. Just kick back and enjoy the ride. Cobra is pure gold for anyone willing to take it in the spirit it was intended.

This is the only trailer I could find for the film, which is kinda sad since the narration is a complete lie and the music came from god knows where. But on the other hand it’s absolutely hilarious.

13 comments to Stephen reviews: Space Adventure Cobra (1982)

  • You had me at the title alone, but then you start mentioning things like “transform his left arm into a psycho gun” and Crystal Boy (or Crystal Bowie… I like them both), and I was in love. But I think I saw heaven when I read “rip his own ribs out and beat people to death with them.” I must see this.

  • Joshua Gotay

    Check out the original series. It’s actually better than the movie if you can believe it. It has the best first episode you could ask for and stays good.

    • Even better? Wow. It’s absolutely on my list, and I’m very hopeful about it since Dezaki is still the director for it. I’m really looking forward to it.

      • Joshua Gotay

        It’s definitely one of the forgotten gems of anime – at least stateside. It has a pretty nice following in France like other good anime that never got a proper American release. But, another great gem you guys might like is Armored Trooper Votoms. That’s another one with an excellent first episode that stays good throughout.

        • Yeah, I’m kinda surprised we got it at all. It stood no chance of getting an American release for a long time. Back in the ’80s anything animated was only going to be released for kids, and Cobra is way too hypersexualized to have ever been released for kids. By the late ’90s when anime was becoming more than just a niche market (a very niche market) the thing would have been seen as just to old to take a risk on. It’s only recently that publishers have been willing to release old series. And I’m glad they are.

          I’ve heard of Votoms, but never really looked into it. It has been a while since I’ve seen a good mecha series, though.

          • Joshua Gotay

            It’s definitely not a mecha series that’s up it’s own ass with all it’s mecha. It’s actually very well-grounded for the genre. The actual mecha seems almost besides the point, really.

  • Hulu has this available for free so I watched it. Did not disappoint! Non-stop super fun.

    I had a hard time getting into it at first because it was dubbed, but the power of the crazy on-screen shenanigans won me over quickly. I think this is the earliest anime I’ve seen too, and it oddly reminded me a lot of the cartoons I grew up watching. Because it was in English, and in terms of the animation and the storytelling style, except this one was without the kid friendly filter. Something like this would’ve blown my mind back then… or even in the late ’90s when I first tried getting into anime.

    I can also see where this would be great as a series, because they crammed so much stuff just into this one movie and a series would just allow more time for even more stuff to be crammed in! Hahaha. I loved all the Dezaki split-screen flourishes too. Super fun.

    • Hey, cool! Glad you got a chance to see it, even if it was dubbed.

      I can see why it would remind you of old cartoons. A lot of 80s cartoons were anime series – Robotech, Voltron, Speed Racer, G-Force – so 80s anime does have the same style as a lot of older cartoon shows. Besides that, a lot of American shows farmed out the animation to Japanese studios. Transformers was animated by Toei, for instance, the same folks that made Sailor Moon among many, many other things.

      • I also forgot to mention that there is an American live-action version of this (or at least based on this) in the works. It’s on IMDB as releasing in 2017, so it’s probably still up in the air whether it actually gets made or not.

        I can’t imagine they’ll capture the real spirit of this, although I’d like to see them try!

        • Stephen

          I did hear about a live action version. I thought it was French, though. Or maybe it just has a French director. Something like that, anyway. I’m kinda excited for it, just to see what they do with it. Even if it turns out horrible it’s got to be entertaining.

          • Yeah, the director is French but he’s been working in America for a number of years, making things like the Piranha remake and other things I don’t remember. It’ll be interesting to see what it turns out to be like.

Leave a Reply! Comments are always much appreciated!