Saturday, February 8, 2020

Space Adventure Cobra by Buichi Terasawa

Space Adventure Cobra
by Buichi Terasawa

Mr. Tarasawa was born on the island of Hokkaido, in the city of Asahikawa on March 30th, 1955. Ironically his start in comics was pure accident. Having failed his college entrance exam and looking for a job, his then-girlfriend mentioned an art contest. An art contest for Shoujo Manga with a grand prize of 1 million yen. Having some talent at art and thinking his odds were a lot better than entering the lottery he sat down, read some Shoujo Manga and started drawing in that style. He didn't win first place but he did win 150,000 yen (adjusting for inflation, that's about 2500$, which isn't a bad paycheck for a dude in his situation). Feeling cocky, since he was a 20 year old with 2500 bucks in his pocket, he wrote the magazine asking why he didn't win first place. The answer was that his drawings were good but he wasn't drawing from a woman's perspective and Shoujo Manga was for women (this was after all the 1970s). He decided that he should learn to draw and write Manga for men and boys, saw an ad for a job with Tezuka Production, and ended up working directly under Osamu Tezuka. If you're wondering who that is... Google Astro Boy. Mr. Tarasawa has been very clear that Mr. Tezuka taught him how to edit, how to put together a story and introduced him to Disney and other profound influences on his work. Mr. Terasawa must have been a fast learner because he came up with Cobra in 1977 only after working with Mr. Tezuka for a year. When asked how he came up with the idea, he admits that it's a fusion of a lot of ideas that were bubbling up in him and his biggest challenge was to combine them all into a whole. Mr. Tarasawa pioneered another frontier for manga when he started releasing works on CD and in 1992 released the world's first computer graphics comic book Takeru. But we're gonna focus on one of his greatest successes here which is Cobra.

The character of Cobra Johnson is canonically an American (as much as that matters in an interstellar civilization) but the book itself is more popular in France and Japan;though the series does have an American fandom. Cobra is a space pirate but he's one of those idealized pirates who spends most of his time preying on other rogues and villains rather than waylaying civilian ships. Cobra's biggest preoccupations seem to be questing for treasure, excitement, and the company of beautiful women. Which I'm honestly not going to criticize because I've heard of worse ways to live your life; at least Cobra is doing a public service by taking out all manner of villains, criminals, and corrupt officials while doing so, which honestly earns him quite a bit of leeway from me. The first issue of Cobra was published in November 1978 in the venerable Weekly Shonen Jump. I've discussed Jump at length in the past so I'm gonna breeze past it by just saying it's the biggest magazine in Japan. It ran for six years until November 1984 and the series sold over 40 million copies, often being compared to Star Wars and James Bond. It spawned numerous sequels comics, as well as two anime television series, two OVA series, a feature-length film, video games, audio albums and more. Bluntly, Cobra was and still is an entertainment empire in its own right. Calling it successful might be an understatement here, especially given that the folks who worked on Cowboy Bebop, Space Dandy, and Devil May Cry have all talked about being influenced by this manga. But we're reviewing this due to the Philip K Dick elements so let's be about it, shall we?

The story is about a man trapped in a dull, dead-end office job that pays rather poorly bemoaning the sheer amount of boredom in his life. Ben Johnson wants to get off-planet and experience some adventurers but after paying off all his bills and expenses, he can't even afford a ticket on a space cruise (See, this always drives me nuts. This is some artificial scarcity right here. It’s always boggled my mind! You have the resources and energy to regularly go into space for leisure and there are space-pirates, but you still have to pay rent? Jesus christ! Take the landlords out back and shoot them already! Make like Shia LaBeouf and JUST DO IT!{Given what I’ve seen in this manga the landlord might literally be Godzilla. So you know what? You go first, I’ll support you from behind..}). That said he isn't doing too poorly and is able to afford a nice apartment, a good car, great television, and a robot butler! Honestly, the appeal of a robot who will clean up after you and take care of the scut work is something that only increases for me. I can only imagine how the men and women who have to clean up after children and whole households must feel. Interestingly the robot butler seems to take an interest in its owner's psychological well being and suggests that Ben wanders on down to the memory clinic and have a fake memory of space adventurers implanted (Please please please tell me that this robot butler isn’t actually sapient. Because that’s slavery. Like, literally of the “Here, you’re downtrodden by the capitalist powers that be, but here is an underclass you can exploit into feeling better” form.{I can’t go into that without wondering into spoilers but the story is older than I am so… Screw it.  His partner, who is not a slave, is hiding inside the Butler Robot so it’s not a representative sample. For my part I don’t see the point in making a Butler bot sapient, there’s no need for that and it would be slavery.}). Because he'll feel better, I kinda wonder if this was programmed into robots as a means of keeping owners from ripping parts off in frustration or boredom. He asks to be a king of a harem and have space adventures because Ben is a fairly straight forward guy in what he wants. Instead of that, it awakens his real memories of being Cobra and leaves him very disoriented until he bumps into the space pirate who was hunting him. At this point, certain words and energy bolts are exchanged and we are off to the races. The rest of the volume quickly disregards any questions of memories or reality and gets down to the gritty business of Cobra hunting treasure, fighting bad guys and hanging out with capable women. (You know, this also always boggled my mind. The whole “denying information/erasing memories to protect you/myself” thing. No. If someone - especially you - is in danger from someone actively hunting them/you, forewarned is forearmed!{I can’t disagree because frankly it almost killed him right in this volume and it wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t hidden the memories from himself. Although I’m asking why you would hide yourself in a life so utterly boring, at least give yourself an interesting job or something!})

Shockingly, considering how old it is, it stands up pretty well given the social and cultural changes since its first release. While yes, the series tends to have beautiful women with Cobra, in this first volume the lady in question was presented on equal ground with Cobra as an adventurer and capable fighter. Additionally, the manga avoids some of the... excesses that manga sometimes indulges in when it comes to its female characters sticking to fairly realistic depictions of what women look like, or at least as realistic as the male characters of the series. Now its influence from We Can Remember It for You Wholesale is rather... minimal if you ask me. Basically using the idea of wiping a character's memory and using a corporation meant to give people fake memories as a means of reactivating those memories as a good jumping-on point for the reader. Because Mr. Terasawa wants to get right into it with Cobra as an experienced and skilled rogue but doesn't want to just toss the reader in and scream “Sink or swim newbie!”. It's an effective device that serves as a good start point without having all the baggage of an origin story. Frankly, I was drawn in and enjoyed it, it's not a super deep story or complex but it is fun to read and after January I needed that. So Cobra Vol I gets B+ from me. It is hard to find though, at least in English and I ended up reading it on a free website. So if anyone figures out how to get a legal copy drop me a link.

Next week, we get our asses to Mars! Join me for Arnold in all his glory in Total Recall! Keep reading folks!

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