What They Say:
Seeking reprieve from a painfully ordinary 9-to-5 existence, mild-mannered office worker Johnson visits the TM Corporation, a company that sells virtual dreams.
In Johnson’s dream adventure, he’s the notorious space pirate Cobra! Accompanied by his android partner Lady Armaroid, Cobra fights the lowlife scum of the Pirate Guild by day and saves sultry sirens of space by night. After the journey is over, events unfold that bring reality into focus. His experience wasn’t a dream at all – it was a reawakening of his buried past!
With the most feared weapon in the universe, the Psycho Gun, Cobra sets out into the galaxy in pursuit of love, fortune and fame!
The audio presentation for this release is a nice step up from the usual in a way as we get the original Japanese language track in stereo encoded at 384kbps instead of the usual 192kbps. This gives the show a bit more oomph to it as it’s a bit cleaner and louder overall with a touch more warmth as well, which is to be expected from an older show like this with the way it was recorded. The series has a pretty good forward soundstage mix overall that, while not going big on directionality, comes across in a very smooth and clean way that makes it engaging to watch and listen to while also being very clean and clear. Dialogue is mostly a full feeling with how it comes across with little in the way of placement but the sound effects are solid and overall it hits the notes you’d expect for a show of this age without any problems such as scratching, noise, dropouts or distortions.
Originally airing in 1982, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. It’s spread across four discs with the fifteen episodes we get here as it’s done in a three/four/four/four format. To my surprise, and to the shows benefit, the bit rate for the video is kept right at the 9.5 for the vast majority of it and it definitely helps. The show, animated by TMS, has a lot of great hand animated detail to it and some great fluidity in a variety of scenes that comes to life here. Colors here are very appealing and the way the blacks and blues of the background hold up definitely help. There’s some natural film grain noise going on here since it’s a film based show but the end result is a series that definitely looks the best that I’ve ever seen it outside of a full on high definition presentation. Definitely a great looking show and exactly what a classic like this warranted.
The packaging for this release goes with a standard sized DVD case to hold the four discs where there are two discs against each interior wall with one sliding over the other that’s easy to remove. The front cover artwork gives us a great visual of Cobra himself with his weapon extended while one of the leading ladies from the series is along the bottom riding one of the hover cycles. With a fiery background that works in some dark colors to a muted black along the top, it’s a slightly oppressive cover and almost murky, but it fits perfectly to look classy while mixing the old style and a new sleekness about it. The back cover gives us a shot of Lady along the right in the same style that has her blending into the darkness while the left has all the details. The premise is well covered as is the origins of the show and production credits. Technical information is decently cover as are the extras. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release is really great with the materials it uses as we get the slick looking modern updates of the characters dominating the static screens across the four volumes. Kicking off with Cobra, we get Lady, Crystal Bowie and Jane along the way and it all has a very great painted feeling that makes it so rich and poster worthy. The layout is simple with the logo along the bottom left with a connecting line to the navigation along the right, which notes the part and disc numbers for the release. Submenus are simple with not much to them besides extras and episode navigation but it all loads smoothly and easily, making for a good, positive experience.
The extras for the release are a touch minimal but what we get is definitely worthwhile. The English pilot episode is certainly an interesting piece of history, one that I wasn’t aware of, and seeing how it was adapted is certainly curious as you wonder what would have happened with it. The other is a great interview piece with the original created Buichi Terasawa that’s simply a treat to enjoy since the older manga creators and their personalities are simply engaging to watch compared to some of the more current creators.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the popular manga series of the same name by Buichi Terasawa, Space Adventure Cobra is a thirty-one episode TV series that ran in 1982 and 1983, starting a few months after the theatrical feature landed. Cobra has had a tough road in North America since it came at a time when seeing these things wasn’t easy, but the bootleg circuit at the time at science fiction conventions that were popping up made this a staple of a show to expose people to, giving it a cult status. It also gained a lot of popularity overseas and in France in particular through the manga, which ran for eighteen volumes in Japan between 1978 and 1984. Over the years, there’s been an enduring love for the character and a few years ago we had a couple of anniversary series launch which brought the character to life again with modern animation but still the same classic styling and fancy free attitude.
Space Adventure Cobra revolves around the titular character of the series, a dashing young man who is one of the best of the best when it comes to being a pirate. So much so that he ended up being hounded by both pirates and the Galactic Patrol for quite awhile, especially since the pirates formed a Guild that he wouldn’t join, which made him a threat. The whole ordeal caused him to just lose his lust for life in a way and he ended up having his mind wiped of the past and went about with a total facial reconstruction that lead to him having a fairly ordinary life in the galaxy at large. At least until he went to have a dream implanted session and ended up remembering the past, which also revealed that he has the Psycho-gun, a barrel that’s built into his arm that uses mental energy to fire. That gives it a lot more power than a normal gun and it also means that he can do neat tricks with it, such as bending the shots.
The show gives us the kind of convoluted opening episode that reminds you heavily of Total Recall, but once it hits that, it provides an episode or two of basics which introduces us to his ship, the configurable and compartmental Turtle, and his trusty companion Lady Armaroid. We get very, very little about her overall, but she’s the serious half of this pirate partnership as she flies the ship, provides an intelligent look at what’s going on and generally avoids combat in nearly all situations. The two have an interesting relationship but we really don’t find out much about her and what kind of cyborg she is. But with an expressionless face, we get some good emotion out of her through the voice acting and you can see that the two share a very long history with each other that involves complete trust that’s never really spoken about but rather just exercised in practice and action.
With the age of the show, I really expected it to be a series of one-off episodic adventures with Cobra getting involved in a variety of situations with all sorts pirates, women, gambling and gun play. That would make the most sense after all, right? But instead, the first eleven or so episodes of the series here is something far different. Instead, we get Cobra, who has just rediscovered himself and opted to keep this new face, opting to get back into being a pirate and finds himself caught up in a situation after meeting Jane Royal. It turns out that she’s one of three sisters who never met each other as after they were born, their father tattooed their backs with a hidden map and sent them to different parts of the galaxy. With legends of immense wealth being hidden within the map, the trio are highly sought after by both the Galactic Patrol and the pirate Guild. And lucky for Cobra, he ends up with one of the sisters right from the bat and gets drawn easily into it. That has him on a whirlwind journey to a variety of planets, meeting numerous people on both sides of the coin of cop and pirate and also meeting the other two sisters, all who have very different lives from each other. It does go for the grand scale as it progresses with the ultimate wealth really being an ultimate weapon, but across the ten or so episodes that the arc runs, we get a look at Buichi Terasawa’s universe and what kind of people inhabit it.
One of the things that defines works of this period are the unique kind of characters and their trappings. While we get a decent variety with the pirates and Galactic Patrol members, we get some really interesting pirates. The most obvious one is Crystal Bowie, a humanoid creature that’s like crystal that you can see through with some golden interiors and an expressionless face. He goes after Cobra in a big way across the main arc here and there’s just a lot of unusual aspects to him that leaves you feeling uncertain about him, not sure how he’ll proceed. A lot of this goes back to Lady Armaroid as well since she’s similar, but all black clad and closed up. A lot of it reminds me of the old Leiji Matsumoto characters that traded in their humanity for machine life and how they just felt so completely apart but presented in such a simple way to make it clear.
Though this main arc goes on for much of the set, the last few episodes of this collection are all standalone pieces that has Cobra and Lady going on about their more general adventures. Which is good and all and more of what I expected from the set, but it also makes me wary of them doing a lot more of these in the second set. Cobra’s an enjoyable enough character and as he gets into a few sticky situations here, they’re comical and simple and fun, but not like the main arc we got. There’s a fun little Vegas port moment that provides some good material, another episode has Cobra working with someone from his past that he owes a debt to which fills in a couple of small blanks there. But there’s also an episode that involves a giant space djinni that ends up capturing Cobra and using him, which just leads to a lot of bad “space opera” material that doesn’t quite permeate the rest of the series so much.
While I had some exposure to Space Adventure Cobra before with the film, conventions and a bit of the manga, I wasn’t sure what the TV series as a whole would hold for me with this first half of it. It defied some of my expectations in a big way and proved to be an absolute blast with what it does, telling an extended storyline across almost a dozen episodes involving several characters that helped to establish the working order of this particular universe. It’s simple but full of adventure, interesting characters and locations and a sense of fun that definitely makes it work in a very good way. The presentation definitely does the show justice with a great looking transfer and a solid visual design all around. Space Adventure Cobra is a classic in the anime world and it gets a solid and worthy treatment here for a title that has long been overlooked.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Interview With Buichi Terasawa, English Pilot Episode
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: March 4th, 2014
Running Time: 375 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.