Review: Cowboy Bebop the Movie (2001)

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Cowboy Bebop. If you haven’t heard it said by now, then you haven’t been listening. Pretty soon, everyone’s going to be saying it, so I’m gonna get it out of the way now.


This film is not, under any circumstances, to be missed. Ever.

To bring you up to speed if you’ve never seen the series (and my brain is trying to grasp that concept without much success…) then what you have to look forward to is arguably the coolest, hippest anime show to come out of Japan. Cowboy Bebop has quite literally got the lot. It looks great, sounds great and (and here’s the killer right hook) it’s actually got depth — depth of character, depth of narrative, depth of plot. I kid you not. There’s as much humour as there is drama, as there is poignancy, as there is action. The characters, an assortment of bounty hunters and nomads with mixed pasts and dysfunctional personalities far from stereotyped are possessed of remarkable maturity and complexity. And rather than ignoring this fact the creators of the series actually made use of it. Ongoing themes throughout lend the narrative the sort of exploration and growth that one does not normally expect out of a cartoon show. Even one screening on Adult Swim.

Combine these elements with some kind of inspired cultural hybrid between Jazz, Blues, Science Fiction and the Spaghetti Western, a smattering of Film Noir and a decent serve of Kung Fu action and competition in the cool stakes is starting to look a little on the thin side. It might have been a joke when series director Shinichiro Watanabe wrote that Cowboy Bebop would “be a new genre unto itself” in his sales pitch to Sunrise TV, and an accident when the same comment ended up as a quote in the opening sequence animation, but the statement has had something of the self-fulfilling prophecy to it. It is practically a genre unto itself, immensely satisfying and wonderful to watch on so many levels it is honestly something you have to see to believe.
And now, gracing the Dendy big screens comes the cinematic joy of Knocking on Heaven’s Door, a.k.a. Cowboy Bebop the Movie. Sold out at Japanime02, it’s good reason for everybody to get excited.

For those who weren’t part of the early crowd at the festival, Cowboy Bebop the Movie is as good as any of the best Sessions, with one critical difference —the cinematic techniques of a longer format and the production kick-backs from a bigger budget make this a visual, aural and thematic feast.

For those unfamiliar with the series, this is one of the finest examples of everything that makes Cowboy Bebop what it is. Situated between Sessions 22 and 23 of the 26-episode series, the movie is as easily a self-contained, stand-alone film as it is a perfect compliment to the overall narrative of the series. Spike’s ongoing struggle with reality and dream weave into his character’s aria as he comes face to face with death in the form of Vincent Volaju, a man whose motivations, if not means, through life somehow reflect his own. References to dreams, illusions and their associations with death and the brevity of life are no accident in this film. Spike’s whole life has been, from Session 1, something of a waking dream. To have his issues brought to bear in such a way in the film is both character development and irresistible plot device, and it’s impossible not to be drawn in.

But this isn’t the only thing that makes this movie such a pleasure to behold. The two other undeniable strengths of Bebop have to be the action sequences and the music, and for Knocking on Heaven’s Door, they pulled out all the stops. Not only did Yoko Kanno, musician extraordinaire, get to showcase her copious talents to the max, but with several skilled directors working on the film, from series director Watanabe, original character designer, animation director and Bones co-founder Toshihiro Kawamoto, to guest director Hiroyuki Okiura (Director of Jin Roh and responsible for the brilliant opening titles) it would have taken a lot for this film not to be good.

There is, and this is truly an unbiased opinion, little it doesn’t have going for it. It’s anime at its best and if it doesn’t make you want to go out and watch the series immediately, or watch it again if you’ve already seen it, then I really think you really have to ask yourself:

Which world are you living in?

Me, whichever one’s screening the awesome, brilliant, rockin’ Cowboy Bebop: Knocking on Heaven’s Door.

10 Dark, Sociopathic Bad Guys out of 10.
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