Sometimes you just have to wonder how a series managed to get made. Usually it’s for terrible series with questionable origins, like a series based on a pachinko machine. This isn’t always the case though. Sometimes you wonder this same thing about series that are actually good, such as Cobra the Animation. I don’t know how anyone could think Cobra would resonate with today’s otaku. It’s based on a manga series that’s over 30 years old about a muscle-bound, cigar smoking space pirate who shoots people in the face, with a sexy busty blonde women at his side. There’s so little in this show that appeals to today’s otaku that it’s a complete mystery as to how it was allowed to be made.
In The Psychogun, Cobra faces off against the pirate guild who are searching for an artifact that is capable of creating new galaxies, or destroying one if it ends up in the wrong hands. In Time Drive, Cobra’s companion Lady is starting to vanish, and Cobra must travel back in time to discover the cause and put a stop to it. The TV series sees Cobra going on several different adventures, from saving planets to searching for undersea treasure.
It’s easy to tell when watching Cobra that it hails from a different time. Everything from the content of the series to the design calls back to a time when manga aimed at teenage boys was about adolescent fantasies instead of the power of friendship. What teenage boy wouldn’t fantasize about flying through space, shooting people with an awesome laser gun and making out with hot blondes? Cobra the Animation is like a time capsule, showing what a successful anime/manga for teen boys looked like in the past and standing in contrast to almost every anime coming out these days.
Cobra doesn’t exactly focus on plot, especially not in the TV series, which is mostly episodic. Instead it focuses on just providing an entertaining experience through a good mix of action, humour, and stuff that’s just cool. Cobra may be a muscle-bound guy whose answer to every problem is shooting someone, but he has a sense of humour about everything he does. He cracks jokes in the middle of fights, hits on every woman he sees, and treats all the amazing and deadly things that happen to him like there not really a big deal. He makes killing a roomful of people seem like perfectly normal fun.
Of course, it’d be hard not to have a sense of humour about it if you were going up against some of the things Cobra faces. Time Drive prominently features underlings who, when going off to battle, transform into swords. But they don’t transform and then get used by someone else, they’re perfectly capable of moving around and fighting on their own. There’s no logical reason for this, and it’s one of many things that exists just because it’s cool as hell. One episode of the TV series also features piranhas who jump out of the water and use jets to propel themselves towards prey, and another has frogs with lasers on their backs. Even the least entertaining episode in the series has Cobra shooting sharks in the head with a magnum.
One weak point of the series is the characters. Almost every character who isn’t Cobra simply isn’t very interesting. Most have no back story, have no impact on the plot since the stories only last a couple episodes, and just exist so Cobra has someone to interact with. The only other character given any amount of focus in the story is Lady, and that’s only in the Time Drive OVA since she barely appears in the TV series. Cobra’s main female companions for each storyline are at least given backstories that make them seem important, but they all basically boil down to plain busty blonde companions who exist so the camera has an ass to focus on. The cast is mostly whacky one-off characters who are so uninteresting that you don’t even care when they die, but Cobra’s interactions with them still manage to keep things interesting.
Cobra the Animation is fueled by adolescent fantasy, and this is most apparent in the way it looks. I’ve mentioned that the protagonist is muscle-bound, something that’s not so common in shounen protagonists these days, but Cobra also has a cigar in his mouth all the time (though the cigar might not be an attempt to look cool since it’s actually a Swiss army cigar, capable of performing whatever function Cobra needs it to in order to solve his current predicament). The design aesthetic also extends to the female characters obviously, almost all of whom are blonde, have large breasts, and walk around in g-strings. A rare case where a woman isn’t walking around in a g-string is the episode that takes place in a winter setting, but if she could get away with a g-string you know she would.
The animation makes use of certain habits that are likely attempts to mimic older anime. It makes frequent uses of triple takes, with one usually happening every time Cobra pulls out his psychogun and shoots someone, though this particular habit is only common in the OVAs which had a different director than the TV series. The animation itself isn’t doesn’t do anything really impressive, but a guy who mainly just shoots people doesn’t really allow for much dynamic action, so that can’t really be helped. One annoying habit in the animation is the use of CGI, which is used for almost every vehicle and one character. It’s not so bad with the vehicles, but when Cobra fights a character animated entirely with CGI it just doesn’t mesh very well and that character’s movement always feels stiff. Aside from the annoying CGI stuff, the animation is competent enough to get the job done, but nothing really amazing, like most TV anime.
Cobra the Animation is a fun series that hails back to time when trends in anime/manga were much different they are today. It has a great lead character, great action and a sense of humour about everything that goes on. It may not be very strong in the story department, but it’s still an enjoyable ride, and definitely worth checking out.
Pros: Great lead character, good action, just plain fun
Cons: Most of the side characters are bland, CGI vehicles
Cobra The Animation is available streaming on Crunchyroll