Cowboy Bebop The Movie (Cert 12)

2 Discs DVD/Blu-ray Combo (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 115 minutes approx.

The first of a trio of re-issues from Manga Entertainment of classic anime films on Blu-ray comes from one of the most popular series ever – Cowboy Bebop! The comic sci-fi action adventures of bounty hunter Spike Spiegel and the crew of the Bebop captivated fans upon its arrival in 1998, so a film spin-off was inevitable.

Original released in 2001, this film, subtitled Knocking On Heaven’s Door, was actually conceived while the TV series was being made, thus slips into its continuity between episodes 22 and 23. Set on Mars in 2071, a mysterious man explodes a stolen tanker in the capital containing a deadly pathogen that kills many and infects thousands of others, two days before Halloween.

The Mars government puts outs a staggering bounty of 300 million woolong for the culprit’s capture which naturally catches the attention of the Bebop crew – Spike, Jet Black, Faye valentine, Ed and her dog Ein. With each one taking a different approach to finding information about the culprit, his story becomes as convoluted as the extreme threat of his heinous masterplan.

I have to make a confession that will undoubtedly put a huge dent in my anime fan credentials, but I haven’t actually seen the Cowboy Bebop TV series, outside of one or two (pukes) dubbed episodes on the short lived Anime Central channel a decade ago. This film therefore is my main experience of this legendary franchise, but at least my relatively feeble knowledge of it made this less daunting to approach – had I been a complete novice I would have been rather bemused by it all.

Like most film spin-offs this one also takes the liberty of assuming the viewer is already au fait with its universe and characters offering no introduction for the uninitiated. The only real piece of helpful info shared is that Ed is in fact female despite looking like a skinny boy, but that doesn’t make her any less a peculiar, esoteric person, setting the template for future oddball computer hackers in anime.

This shouldn’t be much of a surprise though as Mars is quite an eclectic planet, having become home to humans ever since Earth become uninhabitable following an apocalyptic event. The capital is a multicultural melange where people of all colours, race and creed mix openly without tension, some embracing modern technology, others happy to stay true to their traditional lifestyles with angry an eyelid batted.

Throw in futuristic air vehicles and hi-tech monorails and you have quite the metropolis that offers a more credible vision of the near future than some of the overtly outlandish ideas of others. So why is one man so hell bent on destroying it? The culprit of the tanker explosion is revealed to be one Vincent Volaju, a former military man apparently killed in the Titan War, but clearly isn’t dead.

Aside from Faye, a blueprint for many a kick ass vixen in anime, who has an unfortunate run in with Vincent that almost costs her life, this is Spike’s show, the others afforded a few solo skits a part of their investigations before converging again for the finale. Without seeing the series first I can’t say if Spike being this introspective is normal it does feel to a newbie as though this is exploring a different side of his personality.

Sadly the same can’t be said for Vincent and Elektra, two people who do clearly have backstories that would be of great interest to delve into but even with an overlong 115-minute run time we only scrape the surface of the former. Perhaps this would have made his motives for wanting to wipe out the world a bit clearer but he is evidently more traumatised and less maniacal that your usual antagonist.

Vincent has no memories of his early life and something happened to him that was terrible enough to be so malevolent and destructive towards his fellow man. A huge clue is found with tanker, the owners being Cherious Medical Pharmaceutical Company, who were behind the development of the pathogen.

They either have a guilty conscience or have some other reason for wanting this hushed up, and that include silencing Vincent, a task handed to another former military soldier Elektra Ovilo, an agent connected to Vincent’s past. It is Spike tailing Elektra that leads him to confronting Vincent for the first time in a thrilling fight-cum-shootout on the monorail, one of the highlights of the film.

I mentioned the credibility of the world building earlier – this extends to the animation and personalities of the cast. Animated fights tend to be wildly exaggerated affairs that take advantage of the suspension of disbelief the medium encourages, something director Shinichiro Watanabe refuses to indulge in.

The fights in this film are perfectly choreographed punch-ups akin to any live actions scraps you might see that eschew the gravity defiance and remarkable recuperative powers of the fighters – proper punches and martial arts styles kicks and blocks are used, animated with acute precision and fluidity in their verisimilitude, also evident in the nuanced reactions and body language of the characters.

Having no prior reference I don’t know how well this fits into the Bebop canon or if it truly represents what the franchise has to offer but I enjoyed this enough to whet my appetite for watching the series (which I have on Blu-ray). I have to be honest the HD transfer isn’t as sharp as it could be, with some residual spots and specks that haven’t been cleaned up which is a surprise.

Also, inexplicably there is no option on the main menu to set the audio of your choice (English or Japanese) or the subtitles; to do this you have to use the display function on your player’s remote control.

Existing Cowboy Bebop fans should get a kick out of this feature length adventure, while newcomers get a snifter of its immense popularity and its influence over other anime shows.

 

Extras:

English Language

Japanese Language

English Subtitles

 

Behind The Scenes Featurettes

Storyboard Comparisons

Conceptual Art Galleries

Theatrical Trailer

 

Rating – *** ½

Man In Black

7 thoughts on “Cowboy Bebop The Movie

  1. Cowboy Bebop was a hallmark show for dubs by the way, so it actually has one of the first dubs that is considered good. In case ya didn’t know. Any way, to address the actual film now.

    The film takes place in the middle of the actual series but is something you are “supposed” to watch after the series. However, the film is a solid stand-alone work that has gotten a lot of people into anime by accident. At one point in time, this was actually easier to find than the series so many people would watch it by mistake thinking it was what everybody was talking about when it came to Cowboy Bebop.

    With that being said, there is some larger context you do miss out on without having seen the series. Thankfully, most of the character dynamics are fairly obvious in this film but since some characters get more screen time than others it doesn’t necessarily offer enough. Enjoyed the review, just thought I’d share that info with you. 🙂

    Like

    1. Sorry but if there is one thing am I totally intransigent towards it is dubs. I’m not going to start that argument here but suffice to say it’s Japanese and subs only for me.

      Thanks for the insight into the Bebop world though. If I ever get a chance (unlikely but stranger things have happened) I do intend to crack open my Blu-ray set of the TV series.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You do you man, just pointing out how important the dub was and the fact that it is considered top-notch in the community.

        Any way, you definitely should give the show a watch when you can. It’s a pretty good show and a classic after all 🙂

        Like

  2. Most people like Cowboy Bebop’s dub, so if the English language version of the show didn’t win you over I can see why subs are your medium of choice.

    Hope you enjoy the series Blu-Rays. I much prefer the series over the movie because it has more comedy and gives the other characters more time to shine. That doesn’t apply only to Cowboy Bebop though. In general I prefer an anime series over an anime movie.

    Like

    1. With respect, the dub’s popularity means nothing to me. It’s a personal thing – I just can’t handle American voices trying to be something they are not, coupled with the localisation of the scripts. It robs it of all authenticity for me. :/

      Anime film spin-offs do struggle to match the series regardless of how great the series may be – One Piece, Bleach, Dragonball Z all suffer the as fate. The worst offender is Naruto as most of the spin-off film’s have the same plot: Naruto works alongside/is sent to protect some snotty brat, they argue, Naruto saves them, they become friends, lather, rinse, repeat… :/

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m really surprised you’ve never gotten around to seeing such a classic show. It’s probably my #1 or #2 favorite, especially since it’s the first series I saw once I started watching anime seriously. I loved the movie because it stands alone so well, but the series definitely had better development for the supporting cast (though I wish Ed wasn’t so weird at times). If anything, each episode is so packed with plot that it was good to see the movie had more room to develop with its longer runtime. Definitely try to finish the series; it’s more of the same coolness and has a truly memorable end.

    Like

    1. I know. One of the by products of being a reviewer is being afforded so much anime to watch (as well as my film and wrestling reviewing duties) that my leisure viewing takes a hit.

      I will get round to it one day I’m sure! 🙂

      Like

Comments are closed.