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Cobra: The Animation Complete Collection Blu-ray Anime Review

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Cobra the Animation Blu-ray Front CoverIt’s a big galaxy filled with skimpy outfits.

What They Say:
There may be stronger and more ruthless guns for hire in the universe, but when it comes to sneakiness, nobody out-sneaks the space soldier of fortune known as Cobra. Who else would change his face and wipe his own memories to hide from former adversaries, then replace his arm with the ultimate holdout weapon?

Whether he’s running from mechanical pterodactyls or trying to rescue a friend in need, Cobra never forgets the most important thing: scoring with pretty girls. Even though foiling the Pirate Guild, surviving avalanches, swimming with human-head sharks and fighting the crystalline killer Crystal Boy are all likely to take a few years off his life, one can’t argue with the fact that these missions tend to involve damsels in distress in various stages of undress! Get ready to blast off, rip-off, and face-off as the action explodes in COBRA THE ANIMATION!

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release is pretty good even if we only get the original Japanese language track here. And oh how I wish we could get a modern dub for these characters just to see some actors really inhabit and have fun with the role. The two OVA series here get their presentation done with the 5.1 mixes that they had originally while the TV series is in stereo, both of which are encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The 5.1 mixes may not be the most amazing thing in the world but it gives the action a nice boost to everything overall as there’s more impact and a better sense of space itself. The TV mix holds its own overall though and while you’ll notice some difference it won’t make much difference overall. The show doesn’t have the most expansive soundstage but it delivers the action where it needs to be and the dialogue is simple and straightforward while also being problem free during regular playback.

With OVA releases in 2008 and 2009 and a TV series in 2010, the transfer for this material is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The OVA series are kept to one disc while the TV series is spread across two discs with nine on the first and four on the second. Animated by Magic Bus, the show definitely looks very good overall but is held back a bit by the source material. Some episodes show more gradients than others but it’s pretty much how it was animated. The encoding, however, keeps it as clean and clear as it can with no real noise or blocking to be had in this. The color palette in general is bright and appealing with the character designs and ships while the backgrounds a bit more subdued and grounded. There’s little in the way of problems overall with the encoding as the source materials are clean and they’re brought through in a good way that makes it pop and stand out as a solid and appealing work.

The packaging design for this release brings us a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds the three discs across a hinge and the back panel. THe front cover works well with a dark background that has the right kind of science fiction elements to it while also making sure that the character designs showcase their pure 80’s excellence – and sexuality. The logo and bar of branding along the top and bottom has the familiar gold element that’s good here, though some of it just feels a touch softer and less distinct than it needs to be, but it covers the basics well of what’s included. The back cover works plenty of black space background but it has a fun tagline along the top and the premise is well covered. The breakdown of what series are included in this is clear as are the extras for it. THe shots from the show are small and don’t do a lot to sell it but they’re fairly standard. The rest of the cover has the usual elements of the production credits and the technical grid that captures it all accurately. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

The menus for this release definitely work well as they bring us some static pieces that set the tone right. Working off of the same color design as the front cover, we get static character images that change across the set as it features Cobra and some of the other lead characters in all their glory. It’s similar to the cover artwork in the detail and color tone and that helps to make it stand out because the designs are distinctive. The artwork takes up most of the real estate and there’s a good sense of power and sensuality to it that works. The navigation is kept to the left where it breaks down the episodes by number and title, with the OVAs being separated into their own blocks, and the extras are done in a similar way. The black and gold design works well as it feels futuristic but also retro. Submenus load quickly and everything has a smooth feeling about it as it plays out during regular playback.

The only extras included are the various clean opening and closing sequences as available for each series.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As I noted when I first watched this group of series back in 2008, my experiences with the Cobra franchise aren’t the most extensive as I’ve seen the original movie but have far more recollection of the music video from Matthew Sweet, “Girlfriend,” in which he used clips from that movie. The original manga started back in 1978 and ran for several years, spawned the movie as well as a TV show, before hitting up various mini restarts in the years following. This collection brings together the two episode Time Drive OVA, which is essentially a look at the origins of the cast, the Psychogun series that’s adapted from the manga done by original creator Buichi Terasawa back in 2005, and then a thirteen episode TV series that landed in 2010 as part of the anniversary.

Cobra The AnimationThe Psychogun OVA series kicks off with very little in the way of a real introduction to the franchise, There’s a nice moment early on when a few bounty hunters of sorts look at various wanted posters and talk about their past bounties, but when it gets to the long blonde haired man named Cobra, we learn that he hasn’t been seen in three years. As it turns out, he doesn’t look much like that anymore as he’s got his more traditional short hair cut, but he waltzes right where these guys are and puts them in their place hard. Cobra’s a man with a rare weapon called the psychogun, a weapon that he has to remove half of left arm in order to use. What makes it unique is that when the energy beams are shot, he can control their path as well as splitting a beam into multiple smaller beams.

The story for the Psychogun OVA is set up nicely in this first episode as we see a woman named Utopia More, a professor of Martian archeology, who is investigating a mysterious fossil creature and has discovered something key about them. Her discovery, upon returning to Earth and the museum she works out of, becomes the focus of the Pirate Guild who wants whatever secret it may lead to. They make their attack on the museum at the same time that Cobra is in there stealing an impressive piece of jewelry. While he’s simply trying to get away himself, he has his longstanding grudge against the Guild and can’t stand to see such an attractive woman getting killed along the way. So a good chunk of the episode focuses on their amusing and daring escape from the museum, before the pair of them find themselves meeting up again on Mars. Cobra senses there’s something worthwhile following here and he’s intent on figuring it out – and her as well.

One of the reasons I was interested in this show originally is that I’ve found some really enjoyable classic shows finding a new life in modern animation. A lot of seventies shows and manga tend to have a very distinct look in comparison to how things are designed today and that little bit of difference and approach in storytelling can make for a great break from the norm and nudge things in a new way. The Psychogun series is one that keeps to the classic character designs, just animated better, even though some of it comes across kind of poorly. Utopia for example has a really awkward look with her thong as her main outfit as a professor, but even Cobra kind of calls her out on it. The look of the show updates fairly well with better colors and animation, but some of the CG animation for the ships doesn’t look good and gives it too much of a cheap feeling. There’s a lot to like here but there are things that don’t work well too.

Cobra The AnimationAfter acquiring key information, she’s gotten her bare ass back to Mars and Cobra has sidled up next to her and her crew to figure out what’s going on. His reasons are twofold to be sure; one is that the Pirate Guild is involved and that means his nemesis in Crystal Bowie may be involved. The other is that Utopia is quite the futuristic hottie and Cobra does not let any woman he’s interested in pass him by if he can help it. These two things have come together well for him and he’s managed to worm his way into the operation at least a little as the whole thing is an Earth government gig, even if Utopia does tell him more than he really needs to know.

The Martian Adventure segment of this OVA series does start off in a most comical way as they basically “adapt” some scenes from the Dune movie as Utopia, Cobra and the other scantily clad women hook and climb their way onto a massive moving sand whale so they can get inside and try to find one of the fossil snails. Being a huge fan of the Dune books, I loved it as it added some fun to the show with a real nod and wink towards other science fiction franchises. Where this Martian mystery adventure goes is less clear though as Crystal Bowie is still manipulating things, or being manipulated himself as it’s still unclear, and the push to retrieve the data and the fossil snail gets even more violent with an attack on the camp.

All of this is done to introduce us to the Count that Utopia and Cobra end up meeting after wandering around the desert for awhile. Owning some three hundred kilometers of land around this part of Mars, we get a better look at how things are setup and the kind of fear that the Count instills in his people in order to secure his rule. But the fear is something that hasn’t been heard by others outside of the area, so his reputation is quite good. A lot of that is probably more in reference to the awesome set of legs he has to get him around the landscape. His castle is completely mobile with four massive mechanical legs that allows him to travel over the entire estate over the course of a week so he can check on the populace (which he views as property and therefore owns) as well as the various projects going on. The mystery of the Count, and his connection to Crystal Bowie, is given the most attention here towards the end so we’re enticed to come back for a third serving of space opera goodness.

For the third episode, Cobra and Utopia are still mostly on the run from the Count and what he’s got going on inside his Sandcastle with the drugs. That’s not his primary mission at the moment though as he’s under orders from the higher ups in the pirate guild to acquire the data from Utopia regarding the birth of galaxies. There’d be nothing more dangerous than for that crowd to have that so she’s intent on keeping it from them, though she hasn’t realize that the Count is really one of those people yet. Cobra’s got it all figured out that after his excursion through the castle but it’s really cinched when he comes across his old nemesis in Crystal Bowie sitting there drinking some fine alcohol.

Cobra the Animation Blu-ray PackagingThe escape to the wilds of Mars is fairly brief though as we instead get treated to watching them bicker and squabble about who keeps landing who in trouble as they seem to always be falling out of high speed vehicles. Their journey lets us explore Mars a bit more, such as their ride along the Sand Whale which is hilarious to watch as the dusty brown creature floats over the landscape. When they get into the forest region, where they eventually finagle their way into Doc Gypsy’s group with a cover story, we see several more species that are pretty violent and cruel. The introduction of the duck-like race towards the end doesn’t fly quite as well though since it reminds me too much of the nephews of Donald Duck, so much so that I expected to hear them named after them.

Cobra’s certainly had the snot beat out of him at times over the course of this series and more often than not he seems to be falling off of things from heights or vehicles that cause him to go for a tumble. With the final episode, he gets put through the wringer even more as the Count has used a time weapon to slow down events around him so he can feel pain for what would seem like an eternity as the spike burrows through his chest. There’s certainly some creativity to this and it’s nice to see a villain take pride and passion in the way he inflicts pain on those that would ruin his plans. Sadly, the Count talks too much though and bits of critical information get out.

What’s a little frustrating about this episode is that for a good chunk of it, it’s pretty easy to forget what the overall motivation of the series. Namely, stopping the Pirate Guild from acquiring the information about how to birth galaxies, since they could theoretically birth one right in the Milky Way and blow it all up. So much time is spent on revenge, as Cobra wants to get his on Crystal Bowie for the death of his sisters, that the core storyline becomes a background subplot for the most part. The revenge storyline is decent, but with it being forced out by an overly talkative Count detracts from it a bit and that it comes at a key moment where Utopia can hear it and fall for Cobra all the more knowing what he’s gone through. Cobra’s motivations are at least plain and clear and you can appreciate that, but it would have been nice to tie in the main storyline a little earlier into the episode.

Thankfully, we do get to the actual galaxy material once the Count shifts the show to another dimension where we see an ancient Martian city and learn that they were like gods that walked throughout the entire galaxy, leaving their footprints everywhere. It’s a rather neat idea on the whole galaxy making angle and Cobra has an amusing idea as to what the machinery looks like, but understanding the scale of what the Pirate Guild could do becomes much clearer and more real when faced with the final product. Like most shows that build up to this particular climax, there are a few fights to be had and Cobra gets all badass on everyone while getting support from Lady and his new duckie friends. Crystal Bowie and Cobra get a good fight, one that’s overdue when it comes to some serious intent, but there’s also a really fun sequence involving Cobra and the Count that left me with a smile.

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