Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door

A Little Background: Cowboy Bebop is an insanely popular anime series from Japan that has developed a surprisingly loyal and widespread fan base in the States. Why surprising? Well, not because it's not good, but because it's so atypical of what most Americans like. It defies genres, actually. It's got action, intrigue, romance, comedy, suspense, surprise twists…but it combines these elements together into a fully believable world that is a little too strange and complex compared to what American audiences usually devour. If it was just anime fans latching onto another oddball anime, I could understand, but chances are when you see a band, the guitar player is a fan. The waitress at lunch has seen a couple episodes. The data processor working for your bank has a DVD. Perhaps the series has something for everybody.

The series takes place in the future, where the veteran ex-cop Jet and the younger partner with a dark past, Spike, hunt bounties across the solar system in order to stock their frequently empty fridge and repair their frequently damaged ships. This series is science-fiction, but much like Philip K. Dick's stories, it's a future that seems only slightly removed from our present day, and the sci-fi doesn't constantly beat you over the head with new technology. The series has a certain dark humor to it. The world is a pretty grim place, and as we discover, our characters have been through some of the grimmest. Ultimately, they have hearts of gold, which is perhaps why they're bounty hunters. It's certainly not for the cash, as they frequently miss out on the juicy rewards in order to do the right thing, and the small stuff they pull in barely pays the bills. Over the course of their travels, Spike and Jet pick up Ein: a digital data dog that looks like a Welsh Corgy and has a brain that works better than their computers, Faye: a girl who had everything taken from her and now spends her life using her luck and sex appeal to get a new fortune, and Ed: a savant hacker girl with interesting social graces who's firmly entrenched in that stage of youthful androgyny. Fate has brought them together and they are free to go their separate ways whenever they want in theory, and yet they stay together in a loose family type of situation.

The Movie: Knockin' on Heaven's Door picks up towards the end of the series and plays as a lost episode. All the talent from the series is back, including all the English voice actors, as well as the director, composer, animation studio, et al. The whole Bebop family has been gathered together and gone through a lot by this point, and there are some interesting hints in the movie dialogue of what their relationships will end as in the finale of the series. The plot is middle-of-the-road for Bebop, but it serves as a great backdrop for the action sequences: a terrorist has a new biological weapon and plans on using it to decimate life on Mars. A huge bounty has been issued for his capture, and the Bebop crew begin to salivate at the prospect of putting meat on the table. This soon embroils them in a government/military cover-up which could have grave stakes for Spike and Faye.

Frankly, there are several two-part episodes in the series that I like better than this movie. The movie was made after the end of the series, and it doesn't do a lot to further develop the characters, since the creators pretty much had already said what they wanted to. On that note, viewers not initiated to the series won't have trouble enjoying this film, but not for intellectual stimulation because as I've said, the plot's a little mediocre. Fans will probably enjoy the film more, having attachment to the characters. Despite knowing that certain characters can't die, there are several scenes that make you fear other assorted nastiness might happen. And it's nice to see the Bebop crew in their prime out for one more romp.

One aspect in which the movie does not fail to deliver are the action sequences. Now, there's a lot of humor in the series, and not all of it hit with me. I was always a fan of the darker, more intense action episodes. The movie plays more like one of those, for the most part. There are some great fighting sequences, the requisite awesome flying scene, and just generally some great action sequences the likes of which couldn't be done in a TV series. For those who prefer the comedy half of the series, it still makes an appearance in a lot of the dialogue, as well as in bits with Ed and Ein, and the three old men even put in their appearance! And as always, the jazz soundtrack is in full effect, artfully composed to heighten the mood of the series and add to its distinctive flavor.

Overall, this is a fine movie that fans will appreciate and even a casual viewer jaded against typical anime may enjoy. Go pick it up.

Suitable for Kids?: Unfortunately, no. There are some episodes of the series you could show them until they're older, but you'll want to hold off on the movie. Aside from a bit of swearing, there's sexual references and violence. Sixteen and up is my recommendation.

The DVD: Another example of what anime DVDs should be. My long-standing hate for the thinness of anime DVDs should be well known…DVDs that usually cost half again as much as a regular DVD, but have much less on them than they could fit on them, and no special features. Well, this DVD does it right. Japanese and English (5.1, no less) audio. Subtitles, animated menus, widescreen. Storyboards, concept art, character profiles. And trailers, music videos, and six featurettes! The behind the scenes stuff is mostly on the English voice actors, and certain sequences, but it's a very welcome addition. This is a great anime DVD, and with big time American distribution you should be able to pick it up for around fifteen or twenty bucks.

- - Jeff Light

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