Cowboy Bebop: Tengoku no tobira
Mars, 2071 A.D.: A group of renegade bounty hunters motivated by a hefty reward attempts to capture a bioterrorist bent on destroying the world.
Based on the popular, 26-episode anime series that first came out on DVD and then aired on the Cartoon Network, Cowboy Bebop: The Movie follows the adventures of bounty hunters (''cowboys'') Spike, Faye, Jet and Edward, who live on the good ship Bebop in the futuristic city of Alba on a very Earth-like Mars with their genetically engineered genius Welsh Corgi, Ein. On Halloween Eve, 500 people are killed when a tanker truck full of contaminants explodes on the freeway. The government suspects a bioterrorist and offers an enormous reward--300 million Martian bucks--just what this poor crew needs. They set off on the hunt and soon pieces of the puzzle--a major corporation, a secret military group led by top agent Electra, a cryptic Arab who seems to know all the secrets, blue marbles, and macadamia nuts--fall into place.
If you've ever seen an anime film, you know that all too often it's difficult to get past the stilted dialogue and poor pronunciation. Bebop suffers very little of this--in fact, the dub is excellent, and it's no doubt because all cast members but the voice of Spike are the same as the series, which is considered one of the best anime dubs ever. The English-speaking cast is so familiar with the characters they pull it off without a hitch--problem is, they never really shine and instead almost seem as bored reciting their lines as you become watching them. What's cool, and unexpected, are the characters who don't sound traditionally ''anime'': a computer hacker with a London accent, the smooth Arab Rasheed who rolls his r's, and the bioterrorist Vincent whose deep, gravelly snarl echoes the torment he feels. It's a shame the main cast kind of leaves you cold, because the same four characters are way more engaging in the half-hour cartoon series where they get to have a little more interplay--here the mood is so dark, they're just not having any fun and you know it.
Director Shinichiro Watanabe, who helmed the original series, admits that the film was extended from 90 to 120 minutes halfway through editing, and therein lies one problem--it's Just Too Long. The only people Bebop is likely to appeal to are diehard fans of anime or of the original show, because there's way too much going on and none of it, quite frankly, is all that interesting. You've got layer upon layer of convoluted story, yet some of the fundamental holes are never filled in and some necessary facts are introduced so late in the game they don't make sense. For example, the overriding question of why Vincent is so determined to destroy the world is never clear. Unless you know the series you won't really ''get'' the bounty hunters and their relationships to one another. Everyone just does a LOT of talking, squinting and talking, and talking some more. This film is punctuated with a truly creative soundtrack, an incongruent mix of ethereal melodies and '70s-type jazz-funk that fits its neo-noir grittiness, and gorgeous, breathtaking animation that continually surprises, if the story doesn't.
No matter how excellent the animation, Cowboy Bebop: The Movie's rote characterizations, unexciting story and way too long runtime will disappoint. Watch the Cartoon Network show instead, it's more fun.