Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2003, U.S. release)Rated R for some violent images.
Starring the voices of Steven Jay Blum, Beau Billingslea, Wendee Lee, Mellisa Fahn, Daran Norris, Jennifer Hale (dubbed English version).
LVJeff's Rating: 6/10
Photo ©Destination Films and Samuel Goldwyn Films. All rights reserved.
Even Cowboys Get the Generic Blues
Cowboy Bebop: The Movie starts out by yanking you by the collar with a tense, forceful, skillfully-presented scene. Some nutjobs are holding up a convenience store when the bounty-hunting Bebop team decides to drop in and foil the crime. Using quickness and strength, Bebop members Jet and Spike subdue the three law-breaking individuals, when suddenly a fourth crook emerges from the bathroom. He quickly grabs an old lady and holds her hostage with a gun. Spike aims his own gun at the robber, who threatens to kill the elderly woman. Spike counters by saying he doesn't care -- he and his team are "cowboys," not cops, and they have less interest in upholding the law than they do in collecting the reward for capturing criminals capture. Tension mounts. The robber looks confused. The old lady looks confused. Spike just looks plain cool.
I'm disappointed to say the rest of the movie doesn't live up to this promising beginning. What starts off as something quite slick slowly devolves into something resembling a typically generic anime film. What a shame.
Cowboy Bebop, a popular 1998 television anime series, enjoyed great popularity in Japan. It also gained a loyal following in the U.S. when the Cartoon Network began to air the series. The futuristic series stood apart from other anime with its hip use of jazzy rock and its cast of loose, wisecracking characters. However, instead of running with this approach and focusing on what makes hanging out with the Bebop team (a foursome plus a dog) a unique experience, the movie opts to employ an overused anime story arc -- heroes come across a new challenge, which turns out to be much bigger than anyone expected, caused by a villain who seems to be indestructible. In the end, after some investigating and a lot of background-delving conversations, the heroes must stop the villain whose plan will, naturally, destroy the whole world.
The movie offers its audiences glimpses of what reportedly made the tv show such a hit. The members of Bebop are eccentric, independent-minded, and rather loose-knit. They don't seem to have much close comraderie, and that lends itself well to light-spirited comedy -- they rib each other a lot and don't seem to take much seriously. Concentrating on this dynamic might have allowed the movie to move in an interesting direction -- the film could have had an unusual mission serve as the backdrop for some energetic character interaction; the action and conflicts could have drawn out memorable "performances" from the animated heroes. Instead, the movie employs the opposite method -- one involving a large, cumbersome plot that corners the characters into scenes designed merely to move the story forward and fill the quota for action sequences.
Nowhere is this exemplified more than in a sequence where Spike, for no discernable reason, flies a fighter jet high into the upper Mars atmosphere, only to be chased by the Mars military police, culminating in an exciting but otherwise extraneous dogfight. Cowboy Bebop: The Movie has plenty of this kind of stuff -- marvelously animated sequences and solid action -- but that's par for the anime course. In the end, I asked myself, "Is there anything unique about this movie because it uses the Bebop characters as opposed to average anime heroes?" Sadly, very little, I'd say.
©Jeffrey Chen, Mar. 27, 2003