Directors: Shin’ichirô Watanabe, Tensai Okamura, Hiroyuki Okiura, Yoshiyuki Takei
Writers: Keiko Nobumoto, Hajime Yatate
Production: Bandai Visual Company, Bones, Destination Films, Sunrise
Distributors: Columbia TriStar Films, Park Circus, Sony Pictures Releasing, Anime Limited, Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, Manga Entertainment
Platform: Viewed on Blu-ray, with Japanese Audio and English Subtitles
Release Date: Out Now!
The Cowboy Bebop series is an anime staple, telling a distinct western-meets-space-opera that weaves influences from the West with Japanese animation. However, when I hear people discuss Bebop, the accompanying movie is rarely mentioned. Set sometime during the later portion of the show, it tells a self-contained side-story – this fits with the general story-of-the-week structure of the series, and it subsequently feels like another episode, albeit longer and more fleshed-out. This works both for and against it.
Plot-wise, there’s little mention of the series’ main arc. Events revolve around new antagonist Vincent (Tsutomu Isobe) and his threat to unleash a lethal virus; the astronomic bounty on his head attracts the Bebop crew. They end up encountering the mysterious Elektra (Ai Kobayashi), who’s after Vincent for her own reasons. It’s wonderful to be reminded of the chemistry between the Bebop crew; just seeing them interact again is heartwarming. Spike (Kôichi Yamadera) takes his usual lead antihero role, with Faye (Megumi Hayashibara) the next-most prominent as she investigates alternative leads on Vincent. That’s classic Faye, but it’s disappointing she’s later kidnapped and left in unnecessarily voyeuristic situations.
Within the movie format, the oft-praised aesthetic and soundtrack of Bebop get more space to shine and be self-indulgent. The pace is quite gradual, including several long tone-setting montages – however, this works against the movie, compared to snappier episodes of the anime that constantly propelled either the plot or character dynamics forward. The longer runtime does allow Vincent and Elektra to get more development than other one-story characters from the show, but this film would have felt sharper with 10-20 minutes cut out.
Gladly, there’re visceral action set-pieces that take advantage of the extended budget and runtime. Settings of a moving train and an Eiffel Tower replica are visually striking, and use the movie-noir look to great effect. Yet, the problem is stakes regularly fall flat, as we know the main cast all survive to return in future stories. This is an issue for an action-heavy anime like Cowboy Bebop, moreso than a slice-of-life tangential film such as Violet Evergarden: Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll.
Despite how negative I sound, the baseline quality of this is still reminiscent of the Bebop anime, and stands solidly alongside it. Yoko Kanno is back for the soundtrack, and despite the noticeable lack of Tank!, the mix of lyrical tracks and jazz tunes remains uniquely Bebop. The grainy, colourful world keeps that lived-in futuristic grunge look that works so well; it’s always a joy to revisit the world of Bebop – it’s just slightly disappointing how inconsequential this particular story feels.
Ultimately, Cowboy Bebop: The Movie is a fun return to the characters and world we know and love, but as a side story, it feels… Well, like a side story. Vincent and Electra are decent additions, but nothing ever feels groundbreaking. We get some strong character and action moments, and the brilliant Bebop style remains – but it rarely breaks the mould in the way the anime originally did.