Hajime Yatate and Shinichirō Watanabe’s Cowboy Bebop: The Movie

When I first encountered Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, I had not read the manga nor seen the TV series — which actually left me with no expectations, which is a good thing.

The basic story is your standard action/adventure with terrorist plot, future universe variety. The story actually takes place on Mars about 2070. The Bebop crew, Spike Spiegel, Jet, and Faye, all bounty hunters, are aided and abetted by a child (a girl, as it turns out) who happens to be a computer whiz, and a dog, Ein (Welsh corgi, no less), who occasionally displays some uncanny abilities of the psychic variety. And yes, there’s a terrorist, Vincent, who survived a weird experiment in anti-nanoweapons technology during the Titan War ten years before. And now he’s gotten his hands on the nanoweapons his anti-nanobots were designed to defeat. Which means that when he ends the world by releasing the nanobots — which act like a virus — he alone will survive. After his first strike — blowing up a tanker truck containing a sizable amount of nano — the Bebop crew get real interested: the Mars government is offering a bounty of 300 million. The team are aided, sort of, by Electra, the security chief of a chemical company that is deeply implicated in the whole thing and is assiduously trying to eradicate all records of the nanoweapons.

The animation here is of a very high level. One thing that struck me is the naturalism in the action, in the small gestures, the near-throw-aways, the “business” that the characters engage in. The film is full of little touches, like Spike bending to tie his boot (which is offscreen) while talking to someone. The film echoes its live-action counterparts through its use of camera angles — shooting up through grated walkways, the focus characters being momentarily hidden by passersby in street scenes, and the like — which adds to the realism. The verisimilitude comes from the action, not the renderings, and it’s incredibly convincing.

The characters are a delight, not only in the designs, but as their personalities unfold. Spike is totally bishounen a term that denotes a type: tall and slender, with extraordinarily long legs, and very pretty. Faye is his female counterpart, very cute, and quite buxom, and while Electra is equally attractive, she’s of a different order entirely: a former special forces-type soldier (who served with Vincent, as it happens), she, like Spike, is an expert martial artist. Ed is my favorite — she’s loony and completely uninhibited. It’s only thinking back that I realize that she is the most cartoony of the characters — the style of her rendering is more abstract than the others, and much more so than Ein, who is actually very realistic. It’s a testament to the quality of the designs that I didn’t notice at first.

The story, while a standard action/adventure with comic touches, does reach for some greater depth. There are some scenes of character revelation that are pretty engaging, and I found myself wishing that they were live action, with the greater degree of nuanced facial expression that animation just can’t handle. They would have been very powerful that way, I think.

It’s all in the details: the music is excellent, and perfectly fits the mood of the story, the small touches — the business, the smothered lines when characters are muttering to themselves, the comic bits – all fit beautifully.

And the action scenes are terrific. There’s a fifteen-minute chase/rescue sequence leading up to the final confrontation that is spectacularly wonderful, Star Wars by way of A-Team. It’s amazingly well done and total edge-of-the-seat excitement. That goes equally for the chop-socky one-on-one combat scenes. And there’s enough stuff blowing up to keep even me happy.

One final word: yes, it’s your standard action/adventure thriller, formulaic and somewhat derivative. Joseph W. Campbell said, in The Hero With A Thousand Faces, that there is only one story, and the stories we tell are parts of it. My take is that everything, pretty much, is formula, but it’s not the formula that matters, it’s the way the creator handles it. This one is excellent.

Running time: 115 min.

(Bandai Visual Company, Bones, Destination Films, Sunrise, 2001)

About Robert Tilendis

Robert M. Tilendis lives a deceptively quiet life. He has made money as a dishwasher, errand boy, legal librarian, arts administrator, shipping expert, free-lance writer and editor, and probably a few other things he’s tried very hard to forget about. He has also been a student of history, art, theater, psychology, ceramics, and dance. Through it all, he has been an artist and poet, just to provide a little stability in his life. Along about January of every year, he wonders why he still lives someplace as mundane as Chicago; it must be that he likes it there.

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