When one thinks of Cowboy Bebop, jazz springs to mind. The spirit of jazz is spliced into the DNA of Bebop’s movie, just as it is into its earlier TV series.
That spirit begins as ever with Yoko Kanno’s soundtrack, which is as jazzy and vibrant as ever, but director Shinichirō Watanabe has carried that spirit into the animation and writing too. When Spike fights in this film, his movements have all the fluid and messy sense of a musician improvising a set. That verve, that confidence, that spirit, whatever you want to call it, feels as present in this film as it ever did.
Despite being set between Episodes 22 and 23 of the series, it really isn’t the case that one needs to see the series first. In Watanabe’s own words, Cowboy Bebop is more a collection of short films anyway and, as such, this film (also known as Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door) is just another addition to that. It’s totally self contained.
Set on a colonised Mars in 2071, the antagonist is Vincent, an enigmatic terrorist making no bones about wanting to end the human race with his stolen cache of deadly nano-machines. That this film is set in a modern first-world city lends it a chilling prescience that feels only more relevant today than in 2001. Lorries explode on motorways and bombs ignite on trams as Spike and Faye get closer to Vincent.
The carnage being wrought across the city is definitely where one senses a difference between this film and the series. The flashes of violence, though brief, feel stark and brutal, whilst Vincent’s plot has an apocalyptic scale that’s simply bigger than anything the series could attempt.
What is the same, though, is the crew of the Bebop, that strange family unit. Jet the worried Dad, waiting by the phone for his troubled children to call home. They are hungry all the time, never have enough money, yet they enjoy their vices too. They smoke and gamble and generally seem like very chill, cool people, just without much of any direction in their lives. Afloat at sea. After all these years, I keep coming back to Cowboy Bebop for them and that feeling: drifting. When Spike is injured in this film, as in the series, you feel it. Jet puts his arm around him and helps him walk. When Vincent mentions Spike, Faye’s face changes. They care about each other.
Included with this Blu-ray release from Manga Entertainment is the original Japanese language track (with English subtitles) as well as the English language/dubbed version. My preference is for the Japanese, but the English dub is well regarded for a reason. Also included are a number of interesting short special features, including interviews with director Shinichirō Watanabe and music composer Yoko Kanno, the latter of which recounts how she first became acquainted with jazz whilst travelling around the USA alone on a ‘Greyhound’ coach! How mighty oaks from little acorns grow…
This 2001 vintage film continues in the vein of the iconic 1998 series, dreamy, melancholy and downright fun. Our world-weary bounty-hunters face off against a massive threat in the form of Vincent and his apocalyptic ideology, but the film’s production doesn’t miss a beat. The animation is great, whilst Cowboy Bebop‘s strongest player in Yoko Kanno continues to compose music that transcends borders. It is a fitting last entry in to one of anime’s most enduring series.