In the West, Cowboy Bebop is one of the most popularly acclaimed anime of the past two decades with its space western plots, intense action, and memorable soundtrack. The Cowboy Bebop movie is really just more of the same—only in widescreen and with a bigger budget.
Cowboy Bebop: The Movie connects to the series not only through its characters, but in the themes that are explored. The final episodes of the series, Real Folk Blues, were thematically about dreams and death—as is the movie.
In Real Folk Blues, Spike explains his past and how he needs to know which is the “dream”: his life before with Julia or his life on the Bebop. The movie shows how Spike came to frame the world in those terms through his encounters with Vincent, the main villain.
Vincent is a man without a past—an escaped nanomachine weapon test patient robbed of his memories. As a bad guy with an evil plan, he is pretty generic; however, what makes him work is how he compares to Spike and Faye.
Spike is a character trying to break from his past and live a new, unrelated life of freedom. Faye is living this freedom—but not by choice—and longs to regain the sense of self and purpose that her memories of the past would provide.
Vincent is, like Faye, a person with no memory of the past. But unlike her, he doesn't wish to remember it. He views all that is happening as a dream, a nightmare from which he can’t escape—where the dreams at night seem more real than the life he lives during the day. Thus in the insane world of his nightmares—i.e., the real world—he acts insanely as well, formulating and enacting a plan of mass genocide.
Spike, as a man living a dreamlike existence far removed from his own past, finds Vincent a kindred spirit of sorts and hopes through their encounters to come to terms with his own life.
Whether on Earth, Ganymede, or Mars, the setting in the anime series seemed largely interchangeable. Visually, the bustling cities and barren wastes all shared the same basic look. The movie, however, does a lot to change this up by making Mars seem like its own living, breathing world that is similar, though still quite different, from the world we inhabit today.
We see cities, urban markets, untended ghettos, and industrial centers. But what really makes Mars a distinct world are the low orbital scenes, where we see the beauty of both Mars’ traditional red landscape and the sprawling metropolises that span the surface. All the loving detail and thought put into the setting makes Mars as much of a character as any of the Bebop crew.
The action scenes in Cowboy Bebop: The Movie are as fun as they are beautiful. There are shootouts, spaceship dogfights, and amazingly well-choreographed kung fu brawls that grab you right by the testosterone and refuse to let go.
But perhaps the most enjoyable of these is Spike’s fight against Electra where he wields a push broom like a staff in a way somewhere between Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. In other words, once the action gets going, you’re in for a fun ride.
Between the action and the exploration of the film’s themes is the story itself. The film presents a mystery centering around an undetectable nanomachine weapon. The characters spend the first part of the movie trying to figure out the nature of this weapon—which basically amounts to lots of walking around and a series of lengthy conversations that lead nowhere.
Once they do find out about the weapon, it becomes a race to figure out how Vincent will spread it into the general Martian population. The problem is, you will almost certainly figure out this distribution mystery before the movie even reaches its halfway point. That means you spend about half of the movie just waiting for the characters to put it all together and catch up.
There is more than a little bit of contrived writing in this movie—i.e., characters acting out-of-character for reasons outside of the plot. Take Faye’s portion of the story. Faye comes upon Vincent’s hideout and accidentally exposes herself to the nanoweapon. Vincent, despite the fact that he gives no value to human life, kills over the smallest things, and has never even met Faye before, gives her the antidote (his blood) and takes her prisoner.
There is no conceivable reason for this—other than the meta-reason that we know Faye doesn’t die here and thus has to survive somehow. Also, isn’t it “lucky” they were of compatible blood types.
The same basic thing happens with Spike. Despite having Spike totally at his mercy, Vincent decides on a whim to shoot Spike non-lethally and throw him clear of the upcoming explosion—so that Spike, the hero, can survive like we know he must and return later in the film.
As a stand-alone movie, Cowboy Bebop: The Movie is a run-of-the-mill action movie plot with amazing action scenes. But it’s the thematic and character-building connections to the end of the series that make it worth a watch to fans of the anime.
Frankly, it is largely a microcosm of what the series had to offer: a mix of space western plot, great music, excellent action, and good character moments. Simply put, if you enjoyed the series, you will probably enjoy this film.
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