Two weeks ago, I reviewed the Cowboy Bebop series which depicted the exploits of bounty hunter trio of Spike Spiegel, Faye Valentine and Jet Black across space, capturing hoodlums of all sorts to sustain themselves financially. Well, that is, at least on the surface: beneath their adventures was their inner struggle between themselves and their former lives, and how to cope with them moving forward which earned my praise and elevated its likability more. To this day, it remains one of the most beloved shows out there, and a testament to the gritty, yet wondrous landscape of 1990s Japanese animation; which warranted it a theatrical release of its own original story years following its somber conclusion which is all guns, grit and glory packed with adrenaline to its name.
Cowboy Bebop – The Movie
Cowboy Bebop‘s last episode aired on 24 April 1999, and saw Spike and his longtime nemesis Vicious in a vicious (pun intended) gunfight that ends in their deaths. He would be, fortunately, revived for one last adventure set directly before this engagement’s episodes when Sunrise Inc collaborated with neighbouring studio Bones (in their second film engagement, after the isekai-themed Escaflowne in 2000) to make a movie for this franchise. Originally, it was envisioned as a live-action story, but due to budgeting issues, that idea was dropped, instead choosing to retain the episodic feel that heavily dominated the series’ content. Featuring three new voice actors for some of the film’s character additions, it was released in Japan on 1 September of 2001, and due to obvious reasons, was not released on North American soil until nearly a year later, with the subtitle Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, in tribute to the eponymous Bob Dylan song.
While DVD sales of the movie were somewhat impressive on both sides of the globe, ranking as the sixth-best selling anime flick in the US, it performed rather modestly among critical reviews compared to its parent series.
Vincent Volaju, a former member of the Martian special defence team and a survivor of a fatal expedition to the Saturnian moon Titan, has become the galaxy’s most wanted criminal after he steals a tanker and detonates it in the middle of a highway leading to Alba City, the Martian capital. With a bounty of 300 million woolongs put on his head, this intrigues the crew aboard the Bebop, namely Spike and Faye, who go off on their own independent missions to obtain leads to their culprit of interest’s motives, with Jet, Edward and her canine partner Ein remain on standby in case of research or emergency. Spike’s investigation leads him to a certain Moroccan district, where he meets up with a bean dealer named Rashid who gives him a vase containing highly confidential information related to the explosion from the other day. Upon investigation, Jet and Edward realize the contents of the vase, consisting of a single marble-like particle, contains nanobots which dissolve on contact with air, and transmit a deadly poison that kills anyone who is unfortunate to stand in its path.
On the other hand, Faye finds Vincent hanging out with Lee Sampson, a mild-mannered hacker and the man she was originally after, who hands him a suitcase containing these specimens, and reveals his plan: he will contain them within a series of explosive floats during the city’s Halloween parade, which will release the virus particles into the air, wreak mass havoc and getting revenge on the planet’s government for making him go through that military mission. She goes to confront them in their hideout: a dinghy apartment complex, but is captured by Vincent who subdues her and leaves her and Lee to feel the effects of the virus, while he embarks to Alba City’s downtown to witness his plan go into motion.
He walks onto a train, and after a shootout with Spike and his former military partner Electra Ovirowa, blows up a train with a grenade filled with those nanobots, killing everyone remaining save for Spike (who he threw out of the train) and Electra, who end up under police custody. Although the two met on poor terms initially during their respective excursions to a medical laboratory where the nanobots were first cultivated, they warm up to each other after sharing their experiences on love, loneliness and living. Realizing that her survival is because she had been previously injected with a vaccine against the aerosol’s deadly effects, the two hatch a plan to mass-distribute that to the population, passing it through the air and raining it on them. As the Halloween parade gets underway, Vincent watches from atop the city’s Eiffel Tower rip-off, but is defeated by Spike in hand-to-hand combat and dies by Electra’s gunshot. Although he managed to explode the floats, his plan is in vain as Faye, Jet and the air force produce a vaccine shower which immunizes everyone below, stopping the catastrophe; his last words evoke sentiments of regret for a life poorly lived.
What I Liked
- The story was quite straightforward and easy to follow, on top having semblance with its subtitle, with the added layer of apocalyptic undertones and the motives surrounding Vincent’s killer particles giving the film a much-needed depth, a stronger lore and a heightened sense of urgency that wasn’t experienced in any of the other ones which came off as mere “catch the bad guy” sessions.
- It’s great that Edward and Ein were finally depicted as having a more active role, physically tracking down their target rather than being merely intel and restricted to the Bebop‘s confines as in the series. It was nice to see them take this bold direction for once and have them do something that’s out of their routine; apart from Edward’s scatterbrain taking hold at the end, she and Ein did pretty great in that.
- It produced higher-quality funny moments too. For example: how the Three Old Men bantered about their supposed war experiences, which livened the climax; the crew playing a game of tag (including Ein, of all creatures) when they unanimously suspect that Faye might be virally compromised, and of course the interaction of Edward with her surroundings; like flawlessly slipping inside a vase that’s half her height, an acrobatic feat that impresses Spike and Jet to the point they contemplate selling her to a circus.
- Something surprised me about the spiritual background of the movie, especially around Vincent’s twisted notion of Purgatory, suffering, and his blurring conception of reality (symbolized by the butterflies he sees throughout) which becomes a central factor to carrying out his heinous act: believing that by doing so, he can somehow redeem himself, end his suffering on Earth and finally create a paradise for himself. That, as well as Rashid’s discussion with Spike about demons and human yearning for the supernatural were nicely-fitted pieces of the story to examine; quite intriguing stuff to have.
What I Didn’t Like
- The fight between Spike and Vincent atop the Eiffel Tower felt a bit anti-climactic and too ordinary of a finale, especially when compared to their previous meeting on the train which was tense and fiery. I also thought the message the latter parlayed before succumbing to Electra’s gunshot wound seemed too nihilistic and a cheap way to bring things to an end.
Neither Spike, Faye, Jet, Edward or Ein fared any differently than their episodic counterparts, so to keep this section short: three new characters make their appearance in this film: Vincent Volaju, the main villain of the story; Electra Ovilo, his former partner-in-arms and later Spike’s assistant; and Lee Sampson, a hacker who assists Vincent in his plan. While Vincent was a much better and threatening villain than a majority of the ones encountered in the series, such as the environmental terrorists of episode 4 or the space pirates of episode 19, Electra felt like she was merely there for support and a replacement character for Faye while Lee basically served no purpose in the story other than slight comic relief, or nostalgic banter. Otherwise, they seemed like standard figures for a Cowboy Bebop cast member.
Three genres of Cowboy Bebop‘s musical repertoire serve as the predominant form throughout the movie. There’s the fast-paced jazz tracks forming the backbone of the action sequences, symphonic tracks throughout the second half that explained backstory, and light rock/pop vocal pieces. For one thing, I like the effort that was made to maintaining the musical continuity with that of the series. It was also good that some of the scenes and the music worked to compliment each other: the music played during the Halloween parade, Electra and Spike’s first meeting, those Moroccan district sequences, or when Vincent describes his time on Titan and their respective joyful, intense, exotic or dream-like vibes were roundly captured through their melodies, and gave it life. My only concern was that its vocal tracks were a little bit lackluster and didn’t feel anything uplifting from them.
Favourite battle: By far the one that was most entertaining was Spike and Jet’s opening move against gangsters in the convenience store. Directly behind it is when he and Electra face off against Vincent in what’s undoubtedly the movie’s bloodiest shootout.
Favourite moment: Edward and Ein’s excursion to find Lee, using the hat he dropped earlier. I just love how goofy, quirky and unique it was as opposed to the serious flavour of Spike, Jet or Faye’s investigations. Edward’s face when she sniffs the hat, the wacky way she dance-walks across the street, Ein’s active involvement throughout, and her running into unexpected situations with the town’s residents is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Favourite track: 7 Minutes is exactly this for me with its frantic instrumentation and blend of soft-rock with choral segments mixed in really emphasizing the great danger that Spike and Electra face, and how desperate they are in their race against an impending apocalypse.
Favourite quote: This one goes to Lee Sampson, who while going with Vincent to the warehouse containing the tools of his dastardly plot, describes his passion for retro video games and their simplicity, which I can stand by with:
Man, screw the games they make today. The ones from the 20th century were much better than all the crap that’s out there. They’re so fun, addictive, and just plain happy to try out… Yeah, even though they’re a small part of our history, nonetheless I’m glad that we were able to achieve it.Lee Sampson being the happy video game geek he is
Cowboy Bebop – The Movie succeeds in replicating the look, style and feel of its parent series, and preserved all the good parts about it, such as its gritty nature and high-stakes gun and hand-to-hand showdowns. The characters didn’t feel out-of-place, and the story’s formulation was easy-going and not full of swivels and holes. I found myself smiling more during the movie because of how much more amusing it got at times, and better paced on that end than what transpired during the episodes, and was satisfied with the depth of content worth dwelling on, although compared to Spike and Faye’s dilemma with their past, it wasn’t as good. All in all: I was pleased with the outcome and it makes for a great addition to what’s already an iconic franchise, and having said this, my journey with it ends here. See you, space cowboy…