Just what is a “Sporky Donky,” anyway?
Cowboy Bebop is that rare anime that has wide appeal outside of hardcore anime fans. It has all the visual style, high tech designs, and crazy sexiness that anime is famous for, but it also has interesting, relatable characters and an engaging story, as opposed to the weirdness for seemingly weirdness’ sake too often found in anime. The series was successful enough for a blockbuster movie, from the show’s creators, providing Bebop action on the big screen, and, now, on Blu-ray.
Meet the crew of spaceship Bebop. Former crook Spike (Steve Blum), former cop Jet (Beau Billingslea), gambling-addicted femme fatale Faye Valentine (Wendee Lee), and precocious adolescent computer hacker Ed (Melissa Fahn) are bounty hunters looking for work on a futuristic terraformed Mars. When a terrorist attack involving a biological weapon sends the planet into chaos and paranoia, the government puts out a huge reward for the culprit, so the Bebop crew is on the case. As they investigate, they end up caught in a battle between a mysterious conspiracy and Vincent (Daran Norris), an unstoppable maniac.
Cowboy Bebop: The Movie begins with Spike and Jet breaking up a convenience store robbery in search of paltry bounty, not enough cash to afford a nice steak dinner. Later, when the hunt for Vincent becomes dangerous, Spike and Jet further argue about whether putting their lives on the line for a bounty is worth it. The questions are raised—how far these characters willing to go for a bounty? Is it just about the money, or is it something more? That’s the soul searching the characters go through in this movie. It’s played with a fair amount of subtlety amid all the action and craziness, but it’s soul searching nonetheless.
At a basic level, though, Cowboy Bebop: The Movie entertains. The martial arts fights are excellently staged, with fluid, natural movement. The spaceship fighting set to jazz music, another staple of the series, is also a thrill. The characters remain interesting and likable, and the villain is appropriately violent and creepy. The English voice actors have received generous praise and cult followings for their work on the show and the way they’ve made the characters their own, and the same is true for their performances in the movie. Some might find Ed’s comic relief antics too far over the top, but I thought she’s a nice mix with the rest of the cast. Overall, the movie is gorgeous to look at, as the animators do a lot of tricks like using negative space—framing characters not in the center of the screen but down in one corner, emphasizing the background—to establish moods like isolation or tension. Finally, for a movie with “Bebop” in the title, music would have to be a key factor, so the rockin’ soundtrack and jazzy score are both top notch.
Can you enjoy the movie without having seen the series? That’s a hesitant yes. Like its spiritual cousin Serenity, Cowboy Bebop: The Movie can stand alone, but newbies will miss out on a lot of little details and references by not having the context of the series to build off of.
The 1080p picture quality is solid, with beautiful colors and fluid movement. I compared it to a few key scenes to the DVD, and the Blu-ray appears to have a bit more—and, yes, this is the correct technical term—oomph to it than the standard def picture in terms of color and detail. Oddly, the Blu-ray’s audio is a mere PCM 2.0, in English and Japanese, whereas the DVD has full-blown Dolby 5.1 tracks. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with the Blu-ray’s audio, but I’m left to wonder how it could have been improved. That, plus the fact that there are zero bonus features, makes this a flat catalogue release.
The Blu-ray isn’t much of an upgrade, but the movie itself is great fun.