(Japanese) Shinichiro Watanabe
(English) Mary Elizabeth McGlynn
(Japanese) Koichi Yamadera, Megumi Hayashibara, Ishizuka Unshou,
Aoi Tada, Isube Tsutomu, Ai Kobayashi, Yuji Ueda
(English) Steve Blum, Wendee Lee, Beau Billingslea, Melissa Fahn,
Daran Norris, Jennifer Hale, Dave Wittenberg
"Cowboy Bebop: The
Movie," like the title says, is the big-screen instalment of
popular - nay, landmark - anime series, "Cowboy Bebop."
Set toward the end of the 21st century, "Cowboy Bebop"
features a world where humanity has spread through the solar
system leaving Earth behind and colonising other planets, most
notably Mars. But it's a challenge to police an entire solar
system, and so, bounty-hunting is legalised - and that's where
the crew of the spaceship "Bebop" come in. At first,
this group of bounty hunters - a.k.a. "Cowboys" -
consists of just the former mobster Spike Spiegel
(Yamadera/Blum), an easy-going hipster who takes life as it
comes, and former cop, the cybernetically enhanced Jet Black
(Ishizuka/Billingslea), but they soon find themselves joined by
the glamorous and cunning Faye Valentine (Hayashibara/Lee), a
gambling addict who became a Cowboy to pay off her astronomical
debts, the curiously cat-like, androgynous-looking Edward
(Tada/Fahn), genius hacker girl who's a few megabytes short of a
hard drive, and Ein, their data dog. A mismatched bunch, to be
sure, but as they struggle to make ends meet, and to keep their
stomachs full, they grow closer to each other than any family can
"Cowboy Bebop: The Movie," known in Japan as "Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door" (in keeping the series' theme of titling episodes after famous songs), was - admirably - theatrically released in America, but hit a snag before it could get out of the gate. Its story is focused on possible biological warfare, and its release had to be postponed, as it coincided with the anthrax scare that was sweeping the west. Though it was eventually released in the US as planned, the UK, as usual, got treated like a leper colony - the movie was only screened in ONE theatre in all of the UK, an arts centre in London which showed it in Japanese with subtitles. Thankfully, this DVD release was quite prompt.
As the movie begins, days before Halloween, Faye, on the trail of bounty Lee Sampson (Ueda/Wittenberg), witnesses a chemical tanker explosion, which spreads a contagion across the city, killing many. Fearing further bio-terror attacks, the government offers the biggest bounty in history for the capture of the perpetrator. But Faye reveals that Sampson was not the driver of the truck, and the Bebop crew are set on the trail of the mysterious contagion. The search leads Spike to the Cherious Medical Corporation, where more than meets the eye is going on, and where Spike clashes with the beautiful, enigmatic Electra Ovilo (Kobayashi/Hale). What is her connection to Vincent Volaju (Tsutomu/Norris), the tortured mastermind behind this scheme? What is the true nature of the contagion, and why are Vincent and Electra immune to it? On Halloween, the night when a lost soul can escape purgatory, all will be revealed, and the final clash with Vincent - a man with no past, no future, and who barely grasps the present - will take place on the bridge between heaven and Earth...
There's not a world of difference between "Cowboy Bebop: The Movie" and the television series, as the flow and continuity between the two is so perfect. The leap to the big screen is made with ease, despite some running time issues (see below), and yet is accessible to new audiences as well. Anime is a niche market in the west, so when an anime movie that's not spun out of a kid's TV show gets a theatrical release it's always worth talking about. Just look at "Spirited Away." Now, that movie plays ball in a different league to Cowboy Bebop, but in place of "Spirited Away"'s fantastical, magical, Japanese-stylised nature which grabs western audiences as something foreign and 'alien', Cowboy Bebop delivers goods that work on both sides of the Pacific - the thing about it is, it's simply much more Americanised than is common for anime. This is primarily evident in the music, which one cannot do a review of anything Bebop-related without touching upon. If you weren't informed, you'd think that the tunes in this movie were an American creation, as they're all jazz and funk - clearly with very American roots. But it's not just the music, of course. The visual design of the show is a blend of futuristic sci-fi and rustic American westerns - the character soar the stars in spacecrafts, but their battles are fought with handguns, swords, and bare fists. But it's never confused or conflicting, always *feeling* right. The final battle sequence of this movie epitomises this split - after Spike completes a spacecraft dogfight, he and Vincent engage in an incredible, gorgeously animated one-on-one duel with revolvers and their bare hands.
The character designs that are new for the movie are particularly grabbing - you know as soon as you set eyes on Vincent that he's just one evil mother-watch your mouth! And Electra is... stunning. And I'm not talking about her being "hot," as so many of anime's busty babes are - Electra's design is restrained and refined. She's truly, classically *beautiful,* perhaps the most beautiful animated female I have ever seen. The existing Bebop crew's designs remain the same, with Jet's being a stand-out for me, he being my favourite character. Faye's, meanwhile, I'm afraid I've never seen any functionality in - it looks incredibly uncomfortable, and why IS she wearing stockings? Fanservice, my friends. Fanservice. It's surprising that a character just as interesting as the rest of the cast is attached to it.
The movie has a surprisingly long running time, and tends to suffer in the expansion from half-hour TV episodes to a nearly two-hour-long movie. The transition is helped by the aforementioned flow and continuity - it's not like there's a half-hour of plot and an hour and twenty minutes of padding, but the creative team does seem to struggle to effectively move from the short, quick bursts of the TV show into a longer format. Time is intelligently filled for the most part, most of it coming in the form of detective work on the part of the Bebop crew, which sometimes bogs the movie down, and is made less interesting than it could be by keeping the movie almost entirely planetbound, specifically in Alba City on Mars. However, we are also treated to the much more interesting fleshing out of Spike's character, as the film is able to given more prolonged focus on him than the TV series has. But regrettably, it is ONLY Spike who gets this treatment - the rest of Bebop crew are distinctly supporting players, getting considerably less to do. While they each get focus and perform acts that further the plot, it is primarily Jet, unfortunately, who is left to languish without anything physical to do, limited to being an information gatherer via his ISSP connections and a gofer who initiates Spike's plan to stop Vincent. Towards the film's climax, though, you can definitely detect the padding in the form of Spike's cool-looking but utterly pointless (other than to enforce the already-existing style contrast mentioned above) dogfight with ISSP craft. What's weird is, at this point, the movie had already run to over an hour and a half, so it's not as if this part was especially necessary.
The English dub of Cowboy Bebop... what can be said? Well, how about the fact that it's widely renowned as the best anime dub ever? Many are those who would rather watch the show in dub format, who say that the English voices better capture the personalities of the characters, that they don't seem to truly come to life without the American cast - that the English language just FEELS more natural in such an already-Americanised show. I side with those people, both with the series, and with this movie. The whole cast from the show returns to reprise their roles, although this time, as the movie is a union-governed project, where the show was not, they all get to use their real names. New faces are just as well-cast as the existing characters - Daran Norris, husband of English director Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, delivers a dark performance as Vincent, and Dave Wittenberg has a characteristically energetic showing as Lee Sampson. Jennifer Hale performs the role of Electra, which came as a surprise to me, given that she's not an actress who one often sees in the dubbing field. In fact, the only dub role she's performed that I'm aware of is that of Sam in "Totally Spies." Nevertheless, she's well cast as Electra.
Despite all the praise I'm giving out here, "Cowboy Bebop: The Movie" is still not as good as some episodes of the TV show. I find myself challenged to articulate quite why this is.
While writing this review, I took a pause here. Like I've just said, I had trouble putting into words my precise feelings about the movie. As I thought, I read over what I'd already written, which you've just got done reading. And I realised something. Without noticing that I had done it, I said the same thing about the sci-fi/western clash, and the way the English dialogue works naturally with the show and movie - they just *feel* right.
And that's the thing about Cowboy Bebop - a lot of what is great about it is what you FEEL, rather than what you stop to think about. Getting swept up in the infectious music and eye-catching design... getting to know the characters and being pulled into their wacky little family. The movie allows you to you do all of this, but it's stretched a little thin, with not enough focus on the crew aside from Spike, and a tendency to drag or feel padded in such a way that you get pulled out of a story that could have been more compact without losing anything. Indeed, it is the eccentric cast of brilliantly-conceived, well-performed characters and their quirky humour that elevates the movie above the mediocre.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Specifications are for the R2 version of the disc.
Aspect Ratio - 1:1.85 (Anamorphic widescreen)
Audio - 5.1, Japanese, English, Russian (the Russian audio is peculiar, in that it is the English audio, with Russian actors talking over the top of it. Strange)
Scene selection - twenty-eight chapter points
Subtitles - English, English for the hard of hearing, Arabic, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Greek, Hindi, Hungarian, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Swedish, Turkish (that's a lotta subtitles!)
"Cowboy Bebop: The Movie" features more extras that you'd normally expect from an anime movie - indeed, more than are common on single-disc releases of a lot of movies. There are over an hour's worth of featurettes, storyboard comparisons, music videos and trailers, as well as profiles and art to read and look at. Here's how it all breaks down:
Six Featurettes including:
"From the Small Screen To The Big Screen" - interviews with the cast and crew about the making of "Cowboy Bebop: The Movie."
"International Appeal - What's Not To Like?" - the cast and crew talk about the appeal of "Cowboy Bebop" in both the east and west.
And four character studies:
"Spike: A Complex Soul"
"Faye: Intellectual Vixen"
"Ed: Resident Eccentric"
"Jet: No Ordinary Dad"
- in which the cast and crew individually discuss their characters.
These six featurettes, each running between about five and seven minutes in length, totalling just under forty minutes, would be interesting enough on their own, but what really elevates them above the norm for me is the fact that the English dub cast and director are actually involved and interviewed, sharing their views on the movie in addition to the Japanese cast and crew. For a person who's interested in voice actors, there's always a kick to be had out of putting a face to a name, and I think it's great that the cast and movie were treated with enough respect to get this kind of focus given to them (even if they did manage to misspell Mary Elizabeth McGlynn's last name as "McGlin").
Storyboard Comparisons to four scenes showing scrolling storyboard illustrations alongside finished footage from the movie. All together, it adds up to around fifteen minutes of footage.
Character Biographies for Spike, Jet, Faye, Ed and Ein, each two or three pages in length.
Extensive Conceptual Art Galleries split into five categories- Characters, Aircrafts, Automobiles, Monorail and Accessories - totalling an impressive 112 pages of art in all.
Two Music Videos, "Ask DNA" and "Gotta Knock A Little Harder," which are in actuality just a clean open and close (respectively) from the movie.
The Trailer for the movie, and also for Osamu Tezuka's "Metropolis."
So, as you can see, like I said - there's a lot to be seen here, and it's all worth your while. But I would have committed bloody murder to get a commentary track with some of the dub cast and/or crew, a la the "Neon Genesis Evangelion" or "Pokémon" movies.
Extras Rating: 4 out of 5