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Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2001)

Adapting a TV series for the big screen is a fine art. The best ones are able to produce an end product that will satisfy fans and work as a standalone piece of entertainment in its own right. Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (originally titled Knocking On Heaven's Door) is a perfect example of how to get it right.

Shinichiro Watanabe's 1998 series Cowboy Bebop is to this day considered one of the best and most influential anime series of all time. Its success overseas was much greater than in Japan- in fact, without the foreign market, this film would probably not exist at all.

Watanabe himself directed the film, which was produced at Studio Bones. It takes place somewhere in the timeline before the final episodes. The story is one that could have come straight out of the series, with the crew of the Bebop in pursuit of a valuable bounty head. On this occasion though that bounty is a terrorist whose plot threatens the whole of Mars, meaning that the stakes are much higher than normal.

The opening heist sequence serves as a perfect introduction/re-introduction to the character of Spike Spiegel ("just a humble Bounty Hunter ma'm") and to the tone of Cowboy Bebop as a whole. This segways into one of the best, most beautifully animated intro sequences in any animated film- all set to the killer track Ask DNA by the peerless Yoko Kanno.

The movie ultimately feels like an extended TV episode, but one where everything is turned up to eleven. The action sequences are ramped up considerably. We get several memorable action set-pieces including a fight between Spike and new character -and potential love interest- Elektra (" I love the kind of woman who can kick my ass") and a shootout on a monorail. The world building that the series excelled at is even more impressive here too, with the city feeling like a genuine living-and-breathing location. This is probably down to the fact that the feature sees us actually stay in one place for an extended period as opposed to the planet-hopping that the series tended towards.

The animation gets a slight upgrade too, with the world of Bebop looking better than ever. And of course, there's the music, with the previously mentioned Kanno returning with Seatbelts to deliver another batch of incredibly catchy tunes. Ask DNA and What Planet Is This? being particular standouts.

Fans back in 2001 were incredibly thankful that Sony (who originally released the film in the West) were able to bring back the original TV series ensemble to produce the English dub. Even all these years later the cast of Steve Blum (Spike) Wendee Lee (Faye Valentine) Beau Billingslea (Jet Black) et al, remains arguably one of the best in animation.

The new additions to the cast slot nicely into the mix. Villain Vincent cuts a suitably imposing figure, but also one with surprising depth. You can at least understand his motivations, even if you don't agree with them (or his actions). Elektra, meanwhile, is a feisty and likeable character who gives Spike a run for his money.

The film looks and sounds better than ever in the new Blu-Ray release. It also carries over a handful of decent extras from the original DVD release, featuring a mix of the original Japanese creators and the English language cast.

The biggest pleasure of Cowboy Bebop: The Movie however, is just the fact that it's more Cowboy Bebop. It takes a unique mix of influences- Film Noir, 70's cop shows, martial arts movie, blaxploitation and sci-fi to create something new, yet familiar. There has been nothing quite like it before or since, so getting one last chance to return to this world is one that should not be passed up.


IN A NUTSHELL: A welcome encore performance for the coolest show on this (or any other) planet.