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.
Behind The Scenes Featurettes
Conceptual Art Galleries
Rating – *** ½
Man In Black