Cowboy Bebop : Knockin on Heaven's Door
Oh yeah, one of the most popular series gets its first movie. And while Bebop wasn't necessarily the most original or deep work a lot of people wanted to see how it's cool and style would translate into a bigger budget and longer duration format.
For the tiny handful who don't know the `bebop' in question is a cool music style and a seriously ratty old spaceship. And the `cowboy' bit is a vision of free roving individualists on the boundary of both society and the laws and conventions it follows. In this it refers to a bunch of exotic, but intensely skilled, individuals who have ended up sharing the space the ship provides. They make a living hunting bounties on criminals, but spend so much time running into `interesting' situations that they never seem to be able to land the big one that would make them rich.
The show opens with the much loved crew of the bebop doing what they do best, hunting bounties. Spike and Jet are going after some hold up artists who prove a little bit tougher than expected. While Fay, acting on information provided by the surreal hacker Ed, is hunting a hacker who turns out to be an awful lot tougher than she expected. In fact what she finds is an entirely different guy with a lot of style, intensity and willingness to destroy the lives of hundreds of innocent people for his own mysterious reasons. It smells like an arch villain, it smells like an interesting suspense plot, it also smells like the chance to nab the largest bounty in the galaxies history...but they're sure going to have to work for this one.
To begin with let me make the most important statement first, this is an excellent movie. The style and richness of the series is both preserved and expanded in this actually pretty long film. I cannot imagine many people being unhappy at getting the chance to watch or buy this anime.
That said some people are going to be mildly disappointed in how it fits into the bebop storyline. That is to say it doesn't. The crew of the bebop are all assembled, and there's not time to re-introduce them. Likewise it doesn't follow on or expand from the events at the end of the TV series. In practical terms it sits somewhere in the middle of the TV series as a completely self contained story. A long episode if you like. It's not in anyway a weakness in this show, but it's still worth mentioning.
It could also be criticised on the basis of being somewhat style over substance. The core plot, once fully revealed, is actually sort of weak. There's also a lot of coincidence / convenience in some of the events needed to make the story work. Some of these being so sizable you'd be tempted to call them plot holes. There's also a lack of character discovery for our favourites, let alone Ed and Ein fans who are likely to be disappointed in their small roles.
It also doesn't matter a tiny little bit. While the story isn't the deepest thing the sense of atmosphere, character and intensity it brings out is frighteningly good. And the characters introduced for the story are wonderful in how they express themselves in word, action and atmosphere. Meanwhile the world in the background seems amazingly fully formed, gritty and realistic and a wonderful stage for the characters to stalk, hunt and confront one another. This world feels complex and dangerous, a place in which our beloved characters could easily fail or even lose their lives.
And then there's the action quota. A lot of the movie is relatively subtle (known as the suspense / mystery bits) but when the action starts it's absolutely top notch stuff. The opening fight is fantastic and it gets better as it goes. The depiction of martial arts, including one relatively `friendly' conflict (too cool) and at least two total knock down brawls, is exciting to watch and gives a real sense of the danger and damage of the fight. There's also a little bit of weapons work and a great aerial combat sequence, even if its connection with the story is a little bit tenuous. And, in all cases, the sheer sense of style, class and cool of the Bebop series comes through loud and clear. This is proof that action can express a sense of character and style while being extremely entertaining.
The animation itself is great, albeit a little bit strange. It has a sort of washed out look, and much attention is paid to the shape of things rather than their texture. Thus sometimes people, especially those in the background, are more shapes than objects. In a lot of ways it looks like the effects of motion capture or some computer assistance. It works though, allowing some very complex scenes, crowd movement and some lovely smooth sequences when the mains get involved. A real sense of personality and life to all the environments in which the action takes place, and I've already mentioned how cool the action is. The characters also look good, expressive, and the voice and music are top notch. I can see another sound track being added to my collection.
Couldn't seem to find any reviews for this title from my regular sites. However I think it is a safe bet that this is a very temporary situation.