Buichi Terasawa's Cobra
is an homage to the pulpy sci-fi stories of decades past. Firmly within the realm of soft sci-fi, all the conventions are here: a dashing hero, rayguns, hot girls, a galaxy-spanning adventure, and grandiose villains. I've seen both TV anime and OVAs, so I'll attempt to discuss their relative merits and weaknesses below.
Cobra's first TV anime was 1981's Space Cobra
. There are a lot of things going for this particular series: a fun jazz soundtrack, with a bit of brass thrown in, the charisma and energy of Cobra himself (aided by the late Nachi Nozawa's excellent performance), and the interesting adventure plots. The hand-drawn animation is excellent as well—a credit to the anime pioneer Osamu Dezaki—and still looks great on the RightStuf DVDs. While the adventure plots are a lot of fun, though, some of the stories are stronger than others. Also, having now watched Barbarella, the charge that he plagiarised it is unfounded, though the inspiration is obvious.
It got a second adaptation in 2009, called Cobra: The Animation. This series expands on the story established in Space Cobra
It's pretty watchable too, especially the OVAs, but I was less taken in by it for several reasons. Basically, it suffers from a similar problem as the Golgo 13 anime; it can't reconcile the old story/character designs and the updated aesthetic. It just feels too clean, and the CG isn't that great. The story is a product of its era, which should be reflected in the design. The jazz soundtrack helped the original series to not feel as if it's taking itself as seriously; the bombastic orchestral track sounds a bit generic by comparison. It also exacerbates the sneaking feeling you might have had about the first series, that sometimes Cobra is just too
awesome in any given moment. Also, although the V As
put in commendable effort, someone younger should really have been cast for Cobra in both cases. He sounds more like your uncle who's trying to crack a lame joke now, rather than the youthful, sassy hero.
This may not be the most "cultured" series, but if you're nostalgic for pulp stories, or just want to watch a fun escapist adventure fantasy, this is the series for you. Just don't overthink it and, if you're time-constrained and have to choose one or the other, watch the first one.