This review was corrected on August 21, 2002.
As with last year’s superb anime epic, “Vampire Hunter D,” “Cowboy Bebop: The Movie” features bounty hunters as heroes on the trail of an elusive and mysterious nemesis, while exploiting the anime style to depict urban loneliness and near-apocalyptic decay. But as fans of TV series “Cowboy Bebop” are well aware, the gang, led by young slacker Spike Spiegel and ex-cop cohort Jet Black, serves up generous helpings of odd humor and philosophy while dispatching the baddies. First feature is an utterly faithful expansion of the skein to the bigscreen, and prior knowledge of the band — which cruises aboard spaceship Bebop in the latter half of the 21st century — is not required. Though it isn’t the entirely original creation “Metropolis” was, “Bebop” is more satisfying, and likely to snatch similar B.O. bounty in TriStar’s planned early 2003 U.S. release, following September Nippon opening.
TriStar will release at least one non-dubbed, subtitled print of “Cowboy Bebop” in each major market. This version is the one under review, and it is preferable to the dubbed form, which uses the same distracting and overdone lead Yank voices as in the small-screen episodes.
Fans sure that the saga had ended will find the clan restored to full strength as it travels the local galaxy taking offers to hunt down criminals. Brief prologue sets up a black-comic gun battle in a convenience store to intro Spike and Jet, but scene has nothing to do with the heart of the matter, involving a mysterious man in black who detonates a chemical truck in the heart of a big city.
Although fellow hunter Faye catches a brief glimpse of the bomber, the criminal’s identity is elusive even as the death toll from the attack mounts. Much of the first hour takes its time, in true anime fashion, for Spike and co. to assemble clues. Spike, lazy as usual, finally gets motivated when he uncovers, with the hyperactive help of ace teen hacker Ed (a girl, for those not in the know), a blue marble-like object that, it turns out, contains microscopic “robots” that, if unleashed, could destroy the world.As the bomber’s identity is revealed, it begins a process that sets Nippon animation apart both aesthetically and thematically from Yank forms. At first, the bad guy — Vincent Volaju –is pure evil as he relates his plans for devastation to a freelance computer hacker; but later, after a superbly rendered shootout between Spike, Vincent and a hit-gal, Electra, hired by the medical company that created the microbes, Vincent’s past reveals him as a scientific guinea pig, casting his present-day revenge in fresh perspective.
Like so much sci-fi work, Keiko Nobumoto’s script bulges with exposition, nearly upstaging the present-day story. While a few trims at various points (including an endless airborne dogfight near climax) could help reduce pic’s rather long running time of nearly two hours, novelistic features broaden the texture of the story — one of the charms of the best feature anime work — and add an emotional charge to the finale, a shootout on top of a mock version of the Eiffel Tower.
Helmer Shinichiro Watanabe’s oversight of “Bebop’s” more expansive visual canvas is impressive, bringing out details not previously seen in tale’s small screen version. Such settings as smoky Moroccan Street, a gigantic multi-leveled drive-in, Vincent’s dank and shadowy flat and the cool modernism of the medical company’s HQ not only suggest the great range of physical spaces created, but also how the characters occupy a thoroughly human — if slightly altered — universe.
While several still-lifes punctuate the visual scheme, full-speed animation is potent, particularly in the action highlight aboard a monorail crossing a huge body of water. Though it may lack the stunning colors of an “Akira,” range of moods expressed by drawing and colors fill the eye.
Intact Japanese voices, led by Koichi Yamadera as Spike, reinforce the authentic anime vibe, as does Yoko Kanno’s almost absurdly globe-hopping score, which dabbles in everything from Steve Reich-like serial patterns to Arab-lingo jazz. Original title, not used for U.S. release, translates as “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”