Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2001)
Director: Shinichiro Watanabe, Hiroyuki Okiura, Tensai Okamura
My exploration of anime films continues and this time I tackle Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, an anime film that always pops up as the ones that “you gotta see” so I decided to finally give it a spin. The trailers for this film called it “Today’s hottest kind of cool” and a “gritty futuristic thrill ride that definitely delivers the goods” so of course my curiosity was sparked. My only concern was that I had never seen the series that the film is based on, so I was sort of going into this movie naked, not knowing anything about what the world of Cowboy Bebop was all about. But then I learned that the film was designed so that newbies like me and fans of the show could enjoy the film alike. I’m sure I’ll enjoy this film a bit more after I’ve seen the entire show, but I like watching anime films perse, so I decided to watch it even though I have not seen the show. Still, just in case you’re interested, this film takes place between episodes 22 and 23 of the show. So, how was my first dip into the world of Cowboy Bebop?
The story for this film is fairly simple, a terrorist named Vincent wants to destroy the world via a virus he wants to set lose upon the world on Halloween Night. The government puts a hefty bounty on the head of the terrorist, so of course, Spike and his crew of bounty hunters decide to go after the guy, so they can cash in all those millions. Problem is that Vincent has gone into hiding, and Halloween night just keeps getting ever so close! How will they stop the terrorist attack from ever happening? As you can see, the story is nothing complex, a weakness of this film in my opinion, I was expecting a bit more. Thankfully, the visuals are top notch as is the animation.
Now taking in consideration that I knew nothing of the concept behind Cowboy Bebop save for the fact that it was a beloved series, I’d say that I grasped the concept behind the whole thing pretty quickly. The idea is that these are a group of Bounty Hunters who are always looking for new bounties in order to make money, the idea being that they are only in it for the money. They aren’t cops or detectives or anything of the sort, they just do these missions for the money, hence the tag line for the film “They are going to save the world, but not for free!” Spike Spiegel is the leader, he’s you’re a-typical “cool dude” always posing, saying cool things, smoking his cigs. Oh and he’s good at martial arts at well! Then we have Jet Black, the aged tough guy/father figure who owns the spaceship they fly called ‘The Bebop’. Faye Valentine, the sexy chick who used to be a bounty but now forms part of the group, Ed who is a computer whiz and is always getting them all the info they need during their missions and finally, Ein a dog with human intelligence who’s also a genius at chess.
But of course, me being a Cowboy Bebop rookie, some elements of the story flew right by me, for example, I didn’t exactly grasp the idea that the whole film takes place in Mars because humanity had to flee from earth. Humanity has spread itself throughout different planets because of this. The year wasn’t clear either. In fact, to me the movie simply takes place in a strange amalgamation between New York City, France and the Middle East. So of course, not having seen the show will put you at a small disadvantage, but not enough of a disadvantage that you won’t be able to enjoy the film. The whole film starts like you are walking into the middle of a film already in progress; I actually liked the fact that the film wasn’t spelling things out for the viewers. You have to sort of figure things out on your own and get on the bandwagon and I liked that about this film. From what I hear the show is structured in the same way. So the film doesn’t treet its viewers like idiots, a cool thing. Also, this is an animated film that’s rated ‘R’, so it has profanity, nudity, guns, violence, the works. So cool, an anime film entirely directed towards adults.
So with all these cool things going for it, why did I end up feeling underwhelmed? Not saying that it’s a bad film, it has some great things about it, and actually, I feel that I need to watch it a few more times to truly grasp the thing, but at first glance I felt the film was in need of a bit more action. As it is, the film has some cool action scenes, like for example the one that takes place on a train, which was awesome. There’s also a climactic spaceship chase sequence that I enjoyed, but in my opinion it needed a bit more than that. I think the big draw of the film is more the chemistry between the characters, but for a show with emphasis on gun play and fights, the film might have needed a bit more of that, or maybe editing a bit of the melodrama to make the pacing a little quicker. But I will say that when the action starts, it’s pretty cool. The animation, the angles chosen by the director and animators, I loved all that stuff because that’s what I love seeing in animation, things that aren’t done often in live action films. I was kind of saddened to hear that the show has a lot more space adventure in it, because sadly characters do not go into space on this film. I love sci-fi films that take place in space, so that would have added a whole other level of cool, but alas, that never came to be, a missed opportunity in my book. Still, we do get cool spaceships and I always enjoy those, even if they aren’t flying around in space. Actually, Spike has this whole scene that’s a chase as he drives this cool little spaceship (called The Swordfish II) which was pretty cool stuff, love the design work on this film.
Hollywood has shown interest in making a Cowboy Bebop live action film but its taking a while to lift off. Shinichiro Watanabe, the creator of Cowboy Bebop assures us that its happening, but that it’s all very secret and hush-hush. At one point Keanu Reeves was going to play the role of Spike, sadly the project has been in development hell for so long that Keanu now feels that he is “too old” to play Spike, so he turned down the project. While it’s true that Keanu at one point would’ve been perfect for it, he actually looks a bit like Spike, I agree, too much time has elapsed and maybe the film would benefit from having a younger actor play the role of Spike. Keanu also stated that the film would cost a fortune to make, so maybe that's holding it back a bit as well, similar to how the live action Akira film is being held back for the same reason. But one thing’s for sure, I would love to see a live action Cowboy Bebop movie. In the meanwhile, you got the show (which I hear is better than the actual film) and this film to quench your thirst for Cowboy Bebops special brand of “Jazzy” action, just remember that its manufactured for fans of the show, newbies might feel just a little bit lost, still there’s fun to be had if you decide to take the plunge.
Rating: 3 out of 5