Despite only running for 26 episodes in the late ‘90s, Cowboy Bebop’s reputation as one of the most popular and influential anime series ever made continues to grow by the year. An arresting mash-up that might best be described as SF western noir, this beautifully animated saga of spacefaring bounty hunters would have been a guiltless pleasure even without its regular detours into the all-too earthbound hang-ups of its argumentative central quartet (plus dog).
One of the challenges facing this 2001 spin-off feature (also known as Cowboy Bebop: Knocking on Heaven’s Door) was that the series ended on such a dramatic cliff-hanger that a direct follow-up would’ve been a tricky sell for the uninitiated. The answer was to set it between later episodes of the series (the majority view is that it falls between ‘sessions’ 22 and 23) but not to hold onto any major plot threads from the telly version. This works a treat in a Thunderbirds Are Go (movie not woeful CGI show) sort-of-way; rewarding fans with a bigger version of the TV series and cleverly re-introducing the concept in a way that newcomers can easily pick up.
Shit gets serious when Vincent Volaju, a bearded weirdo criminal (think Jared Leto in cartoon form) stumbles out of a spectacular fuel-tanker smash without a scratch, but the explosion triggers a terrible bio-terror virus. Turns out the Mars government have placed a huge bounty on his head so in swoop the Bebop team. But they’re not the only outfit hunting the hairy dude; he’s the mentally damaged by-product of a military experiment to create immortal nano-soldiers, so the corporation that created him has dispatched its own super-agent Elektra Ovirowa to haul Vinnie back in. Fans of the series won’t be shocked to hear that floppy-haired leading man Spike finds her rather alluring. Like the series, the plot here is fiendishly convoluted but serves as a platform for the main characters to deliver on the quirks and quarrels we expect from them.
This 1-disc Blu-ray release from Umbrella Entertainment gets under the skin of the film with a wealth of short featurettes, storyboard and conceptual galleries. The movie was made as a traditional cell animation and the hi-def transfer makes the most of this, rendering the neon-flecked Bebop universe more beautifully down-and-dirty than ever before.
With a live-action American TV version in development (or should that be threatened?), now is a great time to get back into the original. While not the strongest story of the whole saga, Cowboy Bebop: The Movie is an extended dip in a uniquely mind-bending pool.
COWBOY BEBOP: THE MOVIE / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: SHINICHIRO WATANABE / SCREENPLAY: KEIKO NOBUMOTO / STARRING: KOICHI YAMADERA, MEGUMI HAYASHIBARA, UNSHO ISHIZUKA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW