Cowboy Bebop: The Movie Blu-ray Review
Cowboy Bebop was one of those famously cool 90s anime series that exposed many westerners to anime. It was an atmospheric sophisticated series with adult themes and realistic features. It was also an action packed series about space cowboys who ventured a futuristic looking galaxy in search for money and glory. It is between episodes 22 and 23 of this memorable series that Cowboy Bebop: The movie takes place. In 2071, just before Halloween, a terrorist appears on Mars and releases a deadly virus which kills hundreds of people. Taken by surprise and unable to cope with this new biochemical terrorism threat, the Mars police puts up an astronomical award to whoever captures the one behind the attacks. The Cowboy Bebop crew seizes the opportunity and starts to investigate. Both Spike and Faye manage to find a lead to solving the mystery. But as they split up to check on their findings they are each faced with life-threatening ordeals and one murderous terrorist. Will they survive and capture the culprit in time before the terrorist manages to unleash the deadly virus into Mars’ entire atmosphere?
Cowboy Bebop: The Movie plays out like a long typical Cowboy Bebop episode. In the beginning the Bebop crew knows very little and has to use its connections (and weird investigation methods) to gather information. They always find enough information, but the vital piece that connects all the dots is missing. When this piece is found the wanted person is located and a final fight takes place. This is a well-used formula in the Cowboy Bebop universe, and while it works it is also very predictable. Most of the Bebop crew are well represented in the movie and receive ample screen time. Ed’s performance in particular is way over the top, in a good way. However, Jet gets surprisingly little screen time in the movie and is grounded to the ship most of the time. I found that to be quite odd, but I guess just like in real life not everyone can always be useful in everything.
The story of this movie is a very serious one, but some light gags are included here and there to prevent it from seeming too dark. Although the movie stops a few times to dwell on Spike’s past it never reaches melancholic lines. Angst is kept to a minimum. The story unfolds slowly and can drag at times. In contrary to the story, the action scenes scattered throughout the movie are spectacularly animated and quickly shake you out of your boredom. Action scenes were always Cowboy Bebop’s strong side, but the bigger budget this movie enjoyed has contributed to some very impressive action bits, complete with believable choreography and physics. Although all of these are spectacularly animated I was particularly blown away by a dog fight between Spike’s “old” airplane and several enemy planes. It’s great to know that this movie’s animation holds up to today’s standards and delivers a solid experience. The music doesn’t disappoint either. A large score is used during the movie, with several fully voices songs by The Seatbelts. The movie didn’t go for the old blues feel of the TV series. Rather, it uses light pieces that keep the movie bright and upbeat. Almost no song is used twice, and the overall musical performance is very strong.
The movie maintains a balanced presentation. I didn’t feel that supportive characters received too little screen time, or that the overall quality deteriorated when less important events occurred. The movie’s only real downfall is in its overarching plot. Because it is shaped like some classic Cowboy Bebop episode it doesn’t raise above the plot of other episodes in the series. It has in fact quite a simple plot with no amazing discoveries to be made. There are no sudden surprises or resounding upheavals. The movie moves in a straight line from beginning to end, which is a bit disappointing. There were several other episodes in the main series which I believe could have translated better into a movie.
The first thing you’ll notice when you pick up the movie’s Blu-ray box is how slim it is. Image Entertainment used a very thin cheap plastic box for this release. It feels so fragile! The box is purely functional, with too many quotes littering the front and back of it. On the inside you’ll only find the disc. There is no booklet, postcard or a reversible cover here. The movie’s menu is pretty nifty. Apparently Sunrise created a completely independent opening theme just for this movie, which plays when you browse the menu. The Blu-ray disc contains the movie and nothing else. There are no extras, which I found a bit odd. I felt Image Entertainment should have included some character profiles for those viewers unfamiliar with the Bebop crew. Image didn’t even bother to include a clear opening theme (the one in the menu has buttons overlaying it). This should have been a cakewalk to make.
The movie comes with English and Japanese audio, both of which are in uncompressed PCM stereo. English and Spanish subtitles are available. I listened to both the English and Japanese audio tracks and both are adequate. As I’ve previously seen the dubbed version of the TV series I leaned a little bit in favor of the English audio. There are no real issues to report on the audio front, and the subtitles are also good for the most part. The only tiny slip I found was a song Ed sings, which was not translated in the English subtitles. However this is but a trifle in an otherwise flawless representation. The picture quality for the movie is quite good. The specifications on the back of the movie’s box says the video quality is 1080p, which is a bit of a stretch. This movie has been retouched for the Blu-ray release and some of the frames actually possess 1080p quality. This effect is used primarily for objects, such as the outer details of buildings and vehicles. That said, the vast majority of the movie isn’t rendered in 1080p. One shouldn’t forget that this movie was made for DVD and as such contains many DVD issues even in its Blu-ray incarnation. There are slight flickering issues (especially in static scenes), the characters can look a bit grainy, and the overall color pallette can be pale at times. There are other discriminating features that show that this movie was not HD oriented – the picture just isn’t that sharp and some rooms have very little to no details to them. Don’t misunderstand though; this upscaled retouched version of Cowboy Bebop: The movie looks great and is the definitive version to have. Just don’t expect it to be a native HD title because it isn’t.
In the end Cowboy Bebop: The Movie is a solid product. It remains true to the spirit of the series and has many eye candies for the fans. The movie looks and sounds great. It’s also a bit boring. I loved the Cowboy Bebop TV series and wanted this movie to blow me away. But all these eye candies and explosive action scenes can’t hide the fact that the movie’s plot is predictable and linear. Sunrise should have changed their formula a little bit to accommodate the bigger budget and extended time the movie margins allowed. Instead they took a very conservative approach and made this movie into one long Cowboy Bebop episode. One very well crafted long Cowboy Bebop episode.
- Stunning animation quality.
– Well-choreographed confrontations
- The plot is boring.
- The execution is a bit too conservative for its own good.
Final Score: 8/10
Product Information: Cowboy Bebop: The Movie Blu-ray. Published by Image Entertainment. Release Date: June 28, 2011.
Review Equipment: Samsung 32-Inch LCD HDTV (LA32B530) connected to a PlayStation 3 using an official Sony HDMI cable.