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Anime Reviews: Cowboy Bebop: The Movie

Updated on May 16, 2015

It doesn't add anything new, but Cowboy Bebop: The Movie delivers an exciting and surprisingly thoughtful story paired with great music and top-notch animation.

Title: Cowboy Bebop: The Movie a.k.a. Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door a.k.a. Cowboy Bebop: Tengoku no Tobira
Genre: Action
Production: Bandai Visual / Bones / Sunrise
Film Length: 115 minutes
Air Dates: 9/1/2001
Age Rating: 13+ (strong violence, mild language, brief partial nudity)

Summary: The Bebop crew are just scraping by--taking on small-time bounty hits to be able to subsist on ramen noodles and expired corner-store sushi. On her way back from the horse races, Faye tails another small-time bounty driving a diesel truck, only to find that her target isn't there; instead, a pale, sinister-looking man steps out of the truck shortly before it explodes, spreading an unknown biological weapon throughout that part of town, killing several dozen people. When Faye returns to the Bebop, she tells Spike, Jet, and Ed about the explosion, which has just made the news with an offer of 300 million Wulongs for anyone who catches the culprit. Based on Faye's ship's camera feed, the group identifies the man--a former soldier named Vincent Volaju, who had supposedly died two years ago on Titan. And now, the race is on to apprehend Vincent before he uses the bio-weapon to kill everyone on the planet.

The Good: Terrific animation and action sequences; atypical Yoko Kanno soundtrack gives the film a fresh feel; basically a two-hour Bebop adventure...
The Bad: ...and that's about it
The Ugly: The fact that Naruto would later completely steal one of the action scenes

Oh hey, how did I forget to talk about this movie for so long? I mean, I've seen this movie several times since its first appearance on Starz roughly 8-9 years ago, and I've always greatly enjoyed it, so why has it taken this long for me to remember to review it? Part of me chalks it up to the fact that, since it's associated with Cowboy Bebop and very nearly just as great, it just felt like a part of the TV series and, thus, my brain forgot about that distinction. But no more! Now, we finish what we started and discuss Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (or as I and many others prefer to call it, Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door)!

First of all, the animation. It's fluid, it's dynamic, it's nuanced, and it's fantastic. This is hardly a surprise, as this was Studio Bones' first big production on its own (after most of the key staff leaving Bandai Visual), and considering that these are the folks who would later bring us Wolf's Rain and Fullmetal Alchemist (both of them), it was pretty much what you'd expect. Doesn't stop it from looking and feeling great despite high expectations, though--moody lighting, masterful use of shadows and CGI (which still looks great 13 years later), and lively crowd shots make even the everyday scenes a treat for the eyes. And then the action scenes happen, and boy do they ever make the film.

From dizzying dogfights to brutal hand-to-hand showdowns, every one is given ludicrous amounts of detail and weight. When Spike's ship makes a hard turn, you can almost feel your own stomach churn as it gives gravity the finger, and each of Vincent's punches has great, meaty impact that gives each fight a breathless tension, despite the fact that we already know from watching the TV series that Spike is not in mortal peril. When the Sword of Damocles is so expertly hung over the cast despite our knowing subconsciously they make it out alright, you know you're watching something great--like Berserk teasing us with the threat of Guts' death all throughout, despite the first episode being an obvious flash-forward that debunks those fears. When you can assure us a character survives, and simultaneously make us fear for their lives, you've got the touch. You've got the power! YEEEAAAAAHHH--okay, let's keep going before another 80s arena rock song hijacks my brain.

Instead, let's have the wonderful music of Yoko Kanno hijack our brains! Funnily enough, Yoko Kanno veers away from her safe zone in this film, presenting more rock-oriented tunes (unusual for her) with some blues touches to retain familiarity. Opener "Ask DNA" gives us a taste of this new style, and I quite like it. It's catchy and it's groovy, and the animation sequence that accompanies it is neat-o, too. As the film progresses, we also get great background tunes like the bass-oriented rocker "Pushing the Sky," the incredibly unsettling and ephemeral "Powder," and fan-favorite brass-filled "What Planet is This!" before the film closes out on its spectacular ballad, "Gotta Knock a Little Harder." Like I said, the soundtrack differs from the TV series' straight-up blues and jazz approach, but I think the more rock-oriented sound works well here, as the film is action-packed and punchy; makes sense that the soundtrack would be, too.

But hey, aesthetics are cool and all, but it's the Bebop crew we're really here for, and luckily for us all, the film does not disappoint in that department--Spike, Jet, Faye, and Ed are just as quirky and likable as always. Even the new characters, from nihilistic terrorist Vincent to purposeful soldier Electra, and the many minor characters splashed all throughout, stay true to the feel of the TV series and spice up the setting quite a bit. The story itself is, at first, a race against the clock to stop a terrorist from unleashing biological hell on the entire terraformed civilization on Mars, but with some pretty deep characterization in place for both newcomers, Vincent and Electra. There's some humor, plenty of action, a bit of film noir-esque exposition--in simplest terms, Knockin' on Heaven's Door is pretty much a two-hour episode of the TV series, and that's not a bad thing at all...or is it?

Like Trigun: Badlands Rumble, Knockin' on Heaven's Door is a feature-length adventure that, while a fun and satisfying ride, adds very little to the overall story of its original series. It's great to be engrossed in the story, but the fact remains that the Cowboy Bebop universe remains unchanged with the film's inclusion. We learn nothing new about our main characters at all (although, unlike Badlands Rumble, the characters and setting are introduced well enough to make newcomers feel welcome and informed), and nothing about how we perceive the TV series' ending changes. Despite its overall high quality, the film is inconsequential. And that's a shame, because even a few new tidbits about our leads would have been awesome, making the film feel more essential than it currently is.

But hey, I can't complain too much. Despite being inconsequential to the overall story, Knockin' on Heaven's Door is still a spectacular action film that can be enjoyed by both fans and newbies alike. It's one of the easier anime films out there to locate and pretty cheap to boot (hello, Amazon!), and it features both a great Japanese voice cast and an incredible English voice cast, so you can enjoy it however you like. Personally, the English dub will always be the default method of enjoying Cowboy Bebop, and thus that's what I recommend. Simply a fun film that you shouldn't miss out on.

Final Score: 9.5 out of 10. Though somewhat inconsequential to the overall Bebop storyline, Knockin' on Heaven's Door still brings to the table everything that made the TV series great, with intense action, a rockin' soundtrack, and of course, a classic Bebop adventure.

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