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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (Knockin' on Heaven's Door) (2002)

Spike: I blow the bounty if I blow you away.
Vincent: I have no fear of death. It just means dreaming in silence. A dream that lasts for eternity.
Spike: You're an original, aren't you?

- Steven Blum, Daran Norris

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: August 04, 2003

Stars: Steven Blum, Koichi Yamadera, Beau Billingslea, Unsho Ishizuka, Megumi Hayashibara, Wendee Lee, Melissa Charles, Aoi Tada
Other Stars: Daran Norris, Tsutomu Isobe, Melissa Charles, Ai Kobayashi
Director: Shinichi Watanabe

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: R for language and some violent images
Run Time: 01h:55m:00s
Release Date: June 24, 2003
UPC: 043396090552
Genre: anime


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A BB+A B

DVD Review

In America, we take great animated movies and turn them into cartoon series. In Japan, they regularly do it the other way around. A large chunk of their broadcast time is taken up by anime series that usually run for one year, a self-contained 26-episode arc. If a show proves popular enough, it can be resurrected in theaters to wrap up lingering plots or prove a spin-off adventure. Examples include Sailor Moon (two or three movies), Neon Genesis Evangelion (The End of Evangelion), and, more recently, Cowboy Bebop.

Bebop was very successful in Japan, and an anomaly in America—it aired on Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim" programming block and became one of but a few adult anime to find mainstream U.S. acceptance. The concept is certainly accessible enough (no giant teen-piloted robots here). Spike and Jet are two bounty hunters (known as "cowboys") who zoom around the galaxy in their ship (that would be the Bebop) trying to catch enough crooks to keep food on the table. Along the way, they pick up an odd assortment of fellow travelers, including Girl Friday Faye Valentine (whose outfit looks really, really uncomfortable... it's like a bizarre, even less practical G-string), hacker Ed (an androgynous pre-teen girl and resident loon), and space puppy Ein.

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (released in Japan with the modifier "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," understandably dropped from the U.S. release) takes place between Episodes 22 and 23 of the series. By this point, the characters were well established and the formula set, and the movie doesn't change much, but rather offers a slightly more violent, much better animated standalone adventure, accessible to fans and non-fans alike. This time, the gang is hunting down Vincent, a bio-terrorist trying to end all life on Earth with a military-engineered virus. Vincent is your typical Bebop villain, dangerous and cruel, but with a back story that inspires pathos. His mysterious past forms a large chunk of the story, so I won't ruin it here, but he certainly has reasons enough to wax poetically, and wax he does. Speaking in riddles seems to equal good anime villain, though, so what do I know?

Vincent's story was originally conceived as a regular episode, and to pad out the running time, screenwriter Keiko Nobumoto adds in lots of extra action sequences and a few muddled character moments. The slick gunfights play well under the assured direction of Shinichi Watanabe (who created the series), even if they get a little repetitive, but the character development is expectedly reserved and obtuse—very Japanese—and tends to stop the film flat.

Still, the real strengths of Bebop have always been its pop sensibilities, gallows humor, and gritty vision of the not-too-distant future, a mix of sci-fi technology and Old West familiarity. Watanabe's world feels grimy and lived-in, his cities a random mix of races living at the extremes of wealth and poverty. CGI is getting more elaborate all the time, but I've rarely seen such a unified, impressive vision of the future in live-action.

Addendum: Many anime fans loathe the idea of dubs replacing the original Japanese dialogue tracks, preferring to watch with subtitles. While I agree to a point, Cowboy Bebop features a most excellent American cast (the same as featured when the series ran on Cartoon Network) that has, for some, eclipsed the original. Try them both out—the magic of DVD means you can.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: While Cowboy Bebop looks quite nice on DVD, I was disappointed to see that the quality isn't on par with many recent TV anime releases (though the animation is obviously far superior). I suspect the problems stem mostly from the source materials, as the print used shows some occasional annoying speckling, light grain (which isn't "natural" to animation as it is to live action film), and some dirt.

Otherwise, this is a nice looking disc. Colors are stable but slightly muted (in keeping with the series' visual design). Black level is very good. There is some slight edge enhancement at times, and infrequent aliasing and shimmer. Not quite as dazzling as I was expecting, but certainly serviceable.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Japaneseyes


Audio Transfer Review: The audio certainly doesn't disappoint. Both the original Japanese and the quite excellent English dub are included in DD 5.1 surround (in addition to a French dub in DD 2.0). Surround action is near omnipresent, the mix taking full advantage of the sci-fi atmosphere with frequent front-to-back pans, omni-directional effects, and wonderful atmospheric enhancement. The front soundstage is nice and wide, featuring great stereo separation directional dialogue. Speaking of, speech is always clear and natural, anchored in the center channel.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis, I Spy, XXX, Bad Boys II, Memories, Steam Boy
6 Featurette(s)
Storyboard
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Conceptual Art Galleries
  2. Character Biographies
  3. Clean Open and Closing Animation
Extras Review: I don't expect to see a lot of extras on an anime release, so I'm surprised and pleased with to see all the supplements loaded onto this release.

The six included featurettes should please both longtime fans and newcomers to the Bebop universe. From the Small Screen to the Big Screen (5:44) features interviews with Shinichi Watanabe, who created the series, the character designers, and the cast, all of them discussing the origins of the show and the differences between the televised source and the feature film. International Appeal: What's Not to Like? (7:02) talks about the universal appeal of Bebop. Much credit is given to Yoko Kanno's music, the stylish animation, and the iconic character designs. An entertaining piece, if only to watch the creative team basically admit that the show is more about cool visuals than innovative storytelling.

There are also four character featurettes, with comments from the animators and both the Japanese and American voice actors. It's neat to hear the different perspectives on the characters from the actors, and I always like matching faces to voices (I had no idea the guy who plays Jet is African-American). Each clip is fairly short, and includes excepted film clips in both languages, for comparisons' sake (the two women who do Ed sound nearly identical, by the way). Running times are as follows: Spike: A Complex Soul (7:20), Faye: Intellectual Vixen (6:38), Ed: Resident Eccentric (6:48), Jet: No Ordinary Dad (5:04).

No animation release would be complete without a few artsy extras. This one has two. Storyboard-to-screen comparisons are included for four scenes, and an extensive design gallery offers images in four categories: Characters (4), Aircraft (39), Automobiles (20), Monorail (4), and Accessories (9).

The clean opening and closing animations are presented as "music videos" for the songs Ask DNA and Gotta Knock a Little Harder. Perhaps Columbia TriStar thought that anime newcomers wouldn't know what a "clean open" was.

Rounding out the package are short text bios for each main character and a trailer gallery, with disparate clips for Columbia TriStar releases. I understand the anime inclusions (Bebop itself, Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis, and the forthcoming Memories and Steam Boy), but I don't quite grasp the relevance of the clips for I Spy, XXX, and Bad Boys II (dOc's Kevin Clemons Collection in the making?).

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie should please fans of the popular series. The TV show told some better stories, but it never looked this good. Columbia TriStar has proven itself a worthy contender when it comes to releasing theatrical anime; the Bebop disc easily outshines last year's excellent Metropolis.

 


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