Cobra- The Movie: Released in July of ’82, covers the first story arc. TV series was released later that year.
Cobra US Pilot: Cut together scenes from various episodes plus new animation, dubbed in English.
Cobra- The Movie
I don’t know much about the history of Cobra in Japan, but I can tell it was kind of a big deal. The manga ran for six years in Shounen Jump, spawned a classy theatrical film, a big-budget TV series, and its influence still runs subtly through the anime of today. I’m just guessing here, but it’s clear why things get made into movies: to cash in on a franchise. Cobra must have been big, and this is a pretty big movie. Now, Cobra’s a big guy, but I think this movie was too big for even him.
The Cobra movie is set in a different continuity than the TV series, but contains similar plot elements to the first arc and has the same characters. However, the only characters who actually look the same as they do in the TV show are Cobra and Lady, with the rest of the designs being either slightly similar or wildly different. The characters aren’t the only ones who had their designs changed, a lot of the mechanical designs are also different, and finer details are altered as well (for instance, in the movie, Cobra’s arm just changes into the Psycho-Gun, rather than the gun being covered by a fake arm.) I’m not sure if the movie designs are truer to the manga than the TV seires or vice versa, simply because I’ve not read the manga.
It’s hard to really write out the general plot of this movie, since it’s all revealed in this spot of expositional dialogue near the middle, and at that point it’s a spoiler, so there’s not much I can say. The movie starts with Jane, a bounty hunter, who asks Cobra for his help to do something. Cobra agrees because she’s pretty, and the movie gets under way. Basically the film takes the treasure hunt arc with the three sisters and turns it into something about saving the galaxy. A lot of the same plot points are there, but are all handled totally differently, and the ending isn’t nearly as good as the one in the TV show (which was actually the high point of the entire series for me.)
One thing that really works against this movie is that it tries to be an action movie, a drama, and an art film all at once. Chase scenes and shootouts are sprinkled between dramatic deaths and arty sequences, and as one can imagine, such a combination is not conducive to a film flowing well. The movie opens with fun SF action, but slowly begins to take itself too seriously, and this is really where the movie’s main flaw lies. Now, I’m not familiar with the original manga, but the Cobra TV series’ biggest draw is the balance between action, humour, and how generally unbelievable it is. The movie certainly is unbelievable (it’s SF, after all) but it takes its silliness too seriously, and thusly doesn’t feel fun. This isn’t to say it’s a bad movie by any means, but given what I expect out of Cobra, I’m a little disappointed.
On the technical side of things, about everything is at it should be. This is your typical big-budget ’80s film, so it’s real nice to look at. I’d say the animation quality is slightly above that of the already very nice looking TV series. As far as music goes, it starts off as synth stuff but as the movie gets more and more serious it brings in the proper orchestra for some competent but uninspiring tracks. The opening and ending numbers are pop songs from the time and do their job well.
From what I could tell, the voice cast is completely different from that of the TV series. Instead of TV’s Nachi Nozawa as Cobra, we have big shot singer Shigeuru Matsuzaki as the man in red. I was quite fond of Nozawa’s rendition of Cobra, but Matsuzaki does a good job. He cuts down on the goofy and plays it smooth, which works in the context of this movie, but I have a thing for Nozawa’s dumb laugh.
Despite all the shit I’m giving this movie, it’s really not bad at all. As a normal movie, it’s fine, but as a Cobra movie, it leaves something to be desired.
Cobra US Pilot
I guess TMS tried to sell Cobra to the US at one point in the ’80s. They really play up the “THIS IS LIKE STAR WARS” angle by calling the Pirate’s Guild “The Dark Side Clan”, having Cobra as the leader of some resistance movement and even giving cameos to robots who look too much like a certain duo from the original trilogy.
The pilot episode runs at about 22 minutes, and is really just footage from episodes 1 and 13 cut together with bits of new animation added where needed. It’s clear TMS tried to dumb this down for US audiences, what with the goofy synth BGM, changing Cobra from a lone wanderer to an underground hero of the people, and in general whitewashing the story to make it more kids-show-ish. The funny part is how badly they FAIL. Sure, while aspects of what they had could run alongside Robotech or G-Force, they still left in all the scantily clad women, the gambling and the deaths! At one point, funnily enough, in the new animation made for this pilot, a child gets shot. Sure, it’s robot child, but it’s still child getting shot. He doesn’t only get shot, but his skin burns away to reveal a flaming robot skeleton. Japan had some things down, but they were clearly unfamiliar with the US TV standards of the time.
This being made for English audiences, it’s dubbed into English. The dub sounds like your typical ’80s cartoon, but recorded on some really bad equipment. The episode ends with an instrumental version of Secret Desire, clearly in an attempt to wipe any hint of Japanese influence from the show. But the funny thing is the instrumental version still has the backup singers singing in Japanese. Hah!