Cowboy Bebop: The Movie Review
Although Shinichiro Watanabe will undoubtedly be a more familiar name to many from his work on Kid's Story and A Detective Story in the series of The Matrix animated films The Animatrix, he is already acclaimed as the creator of one of the best Japanese anime series, Cowboy Bebop, following the adventures of a space-age bounty hunter and his crew. The series never really added anything new to the genre, but it delivered each episode with a great deal of style, pace and action to the accompaniment of a blistering bebop jazz soundtrack and never took itself too seriously.
The TV series and storyline came to a conclusion after 26 episodes or sessions, but the promise of a feature movie set before the concluding episode was awaited with great anticipation by many fans. Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (also known as ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’) won’t disappoint anyone, remaining faithful to the characters and situations and playing very much like an lost extended session. There is a welcoming familiarity about the story-line. While on the trail of a computer hacker, Spike and the crew cross paths with a bio-terrorist, who is responsible for letting loose a mysterious, undetectable virus in the city. ‘Big Shots’ the TV broadcast for bounty hunters offers a huge reward of 300 million woolongs, and the hungry crew see their next meal-ticket. The team still have the same modus operandi – more or less every man for themselves – which usually results in a great deal of injury and destruction. Some things never change…
Nothing really new about the animation either. In fact, if anything there appear to less CGI effects used. Either that or they have been able to blend them in with the cell art so well as to render them invisible, which is always a good thing. The artwork however, remains superb – effortlessly stylish and kinetic as always with action scenes, if anything the transfer to the big screen allows the film more space to breathe, with scenes and locations like the Moroccan market street being absolutely seeped in atmosphere.
It is very much to the advantage of the film that the Bebop crew for the most part abandon the space adventures of the TV series and come down to earth in ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ in their pursuit of a dangerous psychopath who is terrorising the public with a mysterious and deadly virus. Technically it is Mars, 2071 – but the city looks like a combination of Paris and New York. A superb sequence on a monorail clearly draws on the Aum terrorist strike on the Tokyo underground, where a deadly Sarin nerve gas was released indiscriminately on an unsuspecting public. The memory of that terror would still have been fresh in the minds of the Japanese public when the film was released in 2001 imbuing the scene with added significance and horror. The Japanese however tend to be a little less squeamish about putting their fears on the screen, as this is now a very real terror that is more widespread across the western world after September 11th 2001 and may be part of the reason for the delay in the film being released in the west.
It would be a mistake to try and make anything significant of this though – Cowboy Bebop never takes itself too seriously, delivering a sharp, witty and action-packed adventure and doing it with style.
The film is transferred in anamorphic 1.85:1 and it is great to see Cowboy Bebop in a widescreen aspect ratio. The image quality is not as good as I would have hoped though. There is frequent white speckling, although it is very small and only noticeable against dark backgrounds if you look very closely. Other damage and artefacts occasionally intrude, but again, there is nothing to get too concerned about. The image is a touch soft and colours can look slightly muted in some scenes, while in others it is sharp, bright and colourful. A faint light flickering can also be detected throughout the film and some edge-enhancement is noticeable. I don’t think it ever looks as good as the television series on the R1 Bandai DVDs.
The DVD comes with the original Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and a English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The soundtrack itself is pretty powerful, making good use of rears when required, but never being too showy or distracting. It really comes to life during the action scenes with Yoko Kanno’s music underscoring the pace and movement. Given a broader canvas to work with in a feature film, Kanno turns in a superbly varied score, shifting effortlessly from J-pop to jazz, funk, blues, soul and even choral and Steve Reich-like rhythmical marimba pulses. Her contribution to the appeal of the film and the TV series should not be underestimated. This is one DVD that would certainly benefit from an isolated score.The English soundtrack features the same voice-actors who worked on the TV series, and once again they provide strong characterisation for the characters. If you don’t speak Japanese, you have the choice of watching the superb English dub, with actors who are familiar with the characters and sparkling, natural and witty dialogue, or you can choose to listen to a Japanese dub where you can’t judge nuance and inflection and read a stiff, literal translation that distracts from and defaces the superb animation. The choice is yours though - don’t let me influence anyone.
Six featurettes cover most of the aspects of the film’s making, its characters and its voice-actors. From the Small Screen to the Big Screen (5.44), International Appeal – What’s not to like? (7.02), Spike: A Complex Soul (7.20), Faye: Intellectual Vixen (6.38), Ed:Resident Eccentric (6.48) and Jet: No Ordinary Dad (5.04). The featurettes principally feature interviews with both English and Japanese voice actors as well as some brief comments from director Shinichiro Watanabe, Character Designer Toshihiro Kawamoto and composer Yoko Kanno.
Storyboard Comparisons (15 mins)
Four scenes are shown in a split-screen with the storyboard and the finished art. Literally every key frame is illustrated, showing angles, movement and expression. This is really good and well worth a look. The English language soundtrack is used here.
Standard filler material – this doesn’t really add anything to the film.
Conceptual Art Galleries
Sketches and designs can be browsed – Characters (40), Aircrafts (39), Automobiles (20), Monorail (4) and Accessories (9).
This just shows the opening title sequence, Ask DNA (1.45) and the closing scene Gotta Knock A Little Harder (3.54) without the credits to the accompaniment of Yoko Kanno’s score.
Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door) adds nothing new in terms of plot or character development. Even the animation has not developed much further from the Cowboy Bebop TV series, but anyone who has seen the TV series will know that there is nothing much to improve and I’m certainly glad that the creators have chosen not to mess about with the Bebop universe too much. If you are a fan of the Cowboy Bebop series, you’ll love this. If you haven’t got into the Bebop universe yet, this is an ideal introduction. If you have yet to be convinced by Japanese animation, then this is just about the best place to start. That’s should cover everyone. This is simply one of the best, most stylish, exciting and accessible works of animation out there and it’s worth seeing.