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
- Jeff Light