Manga continue their retro assault this month with the kind of sci-fi film they just don't make anymore.
The story follows a bounty hunter called Jane (exotic huh?)
who's bumps into a mysterious and cocksure man in a bar after completing one of
her missions. The man claims to be Cobra, a legendary space pirate who had
the power to stand up to the feared Mafia Guild all on his own. Jane doesn't
buy his story at first as he looks nothing like the legendary man, but she
changes her mind when he rescues her from Mafia Guild agents by using Cobra's
trademark Psycho Gun. It turns out that Jane has been seeking Cobra to
hire him to protect her from the Mafia Guild and their evil leader
Crystal Boy, and to rescue her sister Catherine from their clutches.
However, things don't go according to plan. Crystal Boy is relentless in
his pursuit of Jane and Cobra, and it soon becomes clear that Catherine might
not be the unwilling prisoner her sister thinks she is. With everything
against them Jane and Cobra battle to escape Crystal Boy, but why does he want
Jane and Catherine in the first place? The answer lies on a legendary
travelling planet, a planet that Jane, Catherine and their sister Dominique had been
born to rule, and a planet that houses awesome technologies that Crystal Boy
wants to control. With one sister in Crystal Boy's clutches and his sights
set firmly on the other two, can even the legendary hero Cobra hope to save the
damsels in distress, and the universe?
When I was first getting into anime a lot of Manga Video's releases were like Space Adventure Cobra. Sci-fi adventure almost typified anime in the VHS days and countless films and video features of this ilk were available in your local HMV. However, time has moved on and the style of anime sci-fi has changed. No longer do we really get one man taking on an evil force in order to get the girl and save the day, the focus has shifted away from simple action adventure stories and instead we get complex storylines that delve into the souls of the characters. We get politics and brains to augment the brawn of
the action sequences, we get cleverness and stories that make you think alongside the epic space battles. The kind of no-brainer sci-fi where a seemingly invincible galactic hero saves the universe with little more than wits, bravery and one-liners seems to have been consigned to the past. It's a shame, as great though the heartfelt and thought-provoking stories are, sometimes you just want to see simple battle of good vs. evil and lots of things blowing up.
Space Adventure Cobra provides this to an extent.
You've got the cocky hero, you've got the damsels in distress, you've got the
powerful evil villain, and you've got the grand scheme that threatens the universe.
The story is a throwback to the sci-fi of the 1950's (but even more implausible)
and so are the characters. The cigar-chomping Cobra is pretty much Han
Solo in Flash Gordon's jumpsuit, whereas Jane is like the classy and
confident femme fatale in a detective novel. You know the
ones, the kind that inexplicably falls for the lead, sleeps with him
and then gets killed about five minutes later by the main villain.
It's old-fashioned, slightly misogynistic and pretty cheesy, with
lashings of action scenes in to cover for the one dimensional
characters and and a pointlessly large bodycount.
Now I can imagine a lot of people are wondering what is wrong with that, but the simple fact is that the film lacks the charm, excitement or sense of fun to really get away with its datedness. It's the anime equivalent of an embarrassing uncle that says inappropriate things at family gatherings, it's good that he's there but you just wish he'd stay in the corner quietly and not bother people. The animation is dated, the music is poor and the story is convoluted and far-fetched even by sci-fi standards. One of the main plot elements is that in order for Jane to achieve her destiny she and her identical
sisters must all fall in love with the same man. Why? And isn't that going to make things a bit awkward later? The plot is a mess with few unexpected twists, but worst of all is the lack of concern Cobra shows at the escalating bodycount - even when people really close to him die it barely affects him. This makes him quite a difficult lead to like and identify with and also demonstrates the film's focus on science and action over characters and story.
I know that I've sounded like I have contradicted myself in this review. However, the simple thing is that I may miss old-fashioned action adventure, but I want it to be done a lot better than this. There are things to like - Crystal Boy is an interesting villain and as always with retro sci-fi the mechanical design is great - but despite some intriguing ideas Space Adventure Cobra fails to excite and feels very dated. There is a lot of stunning retro anime out there, but sadly this isn't one of them and it's hard to see how it will appeal to a modern anime audience. It leaves me thinking that this is aimed squarely at the nostalgia market and fans of retro sci-fi where men were men, women were distressed and everyone wore spandex may get some enjoyment out of it. However, I found myself underwhelmed and a little disappointed after watching it, and I hope Manga's next retro offerings are a little bit better than this.
Just trailers! Not what you come to expect from Manga Entertainment.