published in Empire No.76, Sydney
Anime is often misread by a western audience through identifying fragments and ignoring the whole. For example, to presume Miyazaki’s films are ‘European’ because the backgrounds don’t look like Tokyo is like saying that sushi resembles paella because they both have rice. However, there is much anime that overtly references and pays homage to European art and culture. A flip way to describe Space Adventure Cobra would be to say it’s like a French 60s hitman movie set in space. And that’s kind of what Space Adventure Cobra is.
Cobra is a bounty hunter with blonde hair like Terrence Hill of numerous comedic spaghetti westerns, and a bulbous nose like Jean Paul Belmondo. Cobra smokes thin cigars like Leone’s Clint Eastwood, but instead of crack rifle technique possesses a ‘psycho gun’: a strange psychic ability where he transforms his right arm into a sawn-off cannon with laser blast fire power. Like all European cine-mercenaries, he lives alone in a sumptuous hi-tech apartment, and women tragically fall for him – but never is he completely snared by their charm.
The plot to Space Adventure Cobra involves him being hired by the buxom Jane, who along with her two lithe sisters endure a life of torment under the diabolical control of Crystal Boy, a terrifying interplanetary warlord. In a way, it’s all very retro even for its originating date of 1987. But it retains a charm not dissimilar to the bravura machismo of 60s French crime thrillers and Italian westerns.
While the originating manga is an impressive mix of Japanese pacing and American muscular draftsmanship (and Playboy-style voyeurism), the anime accentuates the floating erotic aspects of Cobra’s attachment to the Jane and her voluptuous sisters. Space Adventure Cobra is in love with its European references, yet still manages to paint Cobra as a wandering ronin in a tantalizing future. And that kind of cultural twist is very Japanese.