"KNOCKIN' ON HEAVEN'S DOOR"
"How do you say 'useless' in Texan?"
It was probably a good idea to have Bebop's bow a a feature movie be a story "hidden" in amongst the chronology of the show's run. Doing a "what happened after" wouldn't work, given who's left at the end of the finale, and doing a prequel wouldn't work because prequels always suck, especially when the whole hook of your show depends on the unsaid to work properly and explaining all the unexplained stuff would really . . .kill it dead, wouldn't it?
The challenge with shows where the finale of the series bangs the door shut with real finality but you have a whole movie yet to go is a tricky one. You either do a continuation or essentially re-tell the original story (for example: Evangelion is now into it's third version of the same story, as the finale ended with everyone but one masturbating shut-in reduced to Tang didn't really leave many places for the story to go) Bebop decided to look at it as a farewell tour. No need to rock the boat, no need to reinvent the wheel, just go out there and play Dark Side of the Moon for the punters one more time, strum the strings of sweet nostalgia, and leave them satisfied but always wanting more.
There was also a bit of a victory lap to be had, as well--initially, Bebop was plagued with all sorts of problems and caught a lot of flak for its violence and half its episodes didn't even air in its first run. How wonderful then, to come back with a big splashy feature to an anime that grew into one of the most beloved international successes ever?
Thus, Knockin' (I am not typing out that title every damn time) plays t generally safe, and you don't really notice that it's kind of Bebop's greatest hits unless you're really looking. Then again, Bebop never shied away from doing plots multiple times, because plot really wasn't that much of a thing: People liked the show because they liked the characters and the style in which Bebop was done. So it was a safe bet.
The plot is a biological warfare attack ("Gateway Shuffle") perpetrated by a veteran of the wars on Titan ("Jupiter Jazz") who has suffered some kind of damage to his memory and is out of his customary time and place (God, pick an episode, why don't you?) There's a lot of stuff that marks it as a product of the first decade of the new century--a comprehensive reaction to a terrorist threat, the fear of germ warfare, etc. Said plot eventually spirals way outside of everyone's ability to stop or control it, save the crew of the Bebop, who don't let a little thing like the impossible slow them down all that much.
Being that he's essentially a cipher, the villain of the piece, Vincent, isn't really all that interesting, as he's lost everything that made him a distinct person. We're supposed to be scared of him for that reason--lacking restraint or explanation, he's kind of supposed to be a force of nature, I guess. It . .doesn't quite come off, not does the notion that we're supposed to feel any kind of sympathy for him for losing his memory and being a victim of forces beyond his control, but it doesn't sit comfortably with someone who's indulging in a little nihilistic mass murder. Also, he sounds a bit too much like Vicious, and when you add in the common threads between them (enmity with Spike, his past on Titan, beats the shit out of Spike) he really doesn't differentiate himself successfully.
However, he's less a character and more an attempt to illustrate the main point of Cowboy Bebop--loneliness=bad; finding a place where you belong=good. Vincent has no memory and no connection to anyone and becomes a destructive nihilist. The Bebop crew, for all their problems, are a unit and manage to survive all the crazy shit that Vincent throws at them because of it.
Even if the science, which makes every effort to be plausible, is as dumb as a backward jackass.
Likewise, Electra, Vincent's former lover-cum-saviour, isn't all that interesting either, though she's a female character of a type not really featured on Bebop to any real degree and her and Spike get a lot of awesome moments together, and there's something to be said for being a good catalyst even if you aren't a fully fleshed-out character
However, as always, the ropey bits are balanced out by a bangin' soundtrack, my favourite of which (heaven help me for admitting this) is the utterly ridiculous/hilarious country pastiche/parody, "Diggin'"
If, like me, you grew up with country music all around you and it wasn't your favourite thing ever, then hearing this was the song that let you know you were not alone.
There's also the fact that this movie is absolutely gorgeous to look at--the attention to detail in the Moroccan Street sequences and the scenes of all the old airplanes taking off is just staggering and the action sequences that punctuate all the philosophizing and wisecracks are uniformly excellent, and really show off what all that extra money can get you.
I also like the near-rabbinical determination the producers of the movie had for making sure every single touchstone of Bebop got a bit in the movie. You want the three old guys who are always around playing cards? They're here? Big Shot? Definitely here. Ed wandering around the city in what seems like a plot-forwarding role, but more an excuse for a goofy break so we can chuckle over her and Ein's antics? Yep. Faye even gets tied up by Vincent, who, despite being a nihilist, knows what some folks paid to see here.
There's also the usual recurring imagery--lots of stuff about eyes and fishing, as well as a new wrinkle where things are framed by games--Vincent's Chinese Checkers-ish thing, Lee's various video games, Jet's shogi board, etc . . .there's plenty of subtext to plunder for the intellectually curious (or the hard-up blogger trying to fill up the page with words. . . )
But in between that, we get several great action scenes, and I wanna mention them now. Electra and Spike's first encounter is really rad, and demonstrates that Spike is awesome enough to hold someone off with a push-broom. The subsequent gunfight with Vincent on the Monorail is really awesome, as is the dogfight Spike has in the Swordfish with the Army jets (because again--everything you loved in Bebop got crammed into this movie, even the cool space battles) It all culminates with the fight on the tower between Spike and Vincent, which is just bad-ass.
I should make mention here that the whole philosophising about dreams and how it relates to the butterflies is a reference to a quote by Zhuangzhi, specifically:
"Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things."
The more you know.
I have no segues for these last few bits before I talk about the end so I'll just drop them in, as I wanted to also point out two other awesome songs from the soundtrack, specifically "Dijurido"
. . .and the totally awesome "What Planet is This"
So, while the final resolution between Vincent and Electra is inexplicable when it's not being mawkish (honestly, it's a little confusing and awfully convenient that Vincent remembers he and Electra was tizz-ight at the most critical moment) the movie uses it as a perfect opportunity to restate the final thesis and make Vincent's end a hopeful one: He's found the answer he needed, but not the one he sought. He wondered if he was living in the real world or not, but what he needed to know was that he wasn't alone after all.
This is meant to presage Spike's death in the finale, and it . . .kinda does, but it also doesn't, and even if the correlation were more explicit, it's hard to draw too close a line between their situation and his because we've had 26 episodes to get to know Spike, and asking an audience to fully identify with characters as this as Electra and Vincent is not so easy.
So instead of belabouring the point too much more, we close with a song, and it's a great one that elegantly restates the themes of the movie. To play us out, here's "Gotta Knock A Little Harder."
And that's Cowboy Bebop, y'all. The whole thing (so far) There's been occasional rumours of another movie or (god help us) a live-action version produced in the USA, a possibility I see as about as worthwhile an endeavour as fitting a Humvee with a vagina--sure it's a technical achievement, but the two things don't go very well together, really, do they?
And with that, we're done. I can't remember if this is our third series we've done in the entirety of or not, but it's certainly the first one of a different style for me. I took copious notes for this--there's like half a notepad's worth, for heaven's sakes. Maybe they'll put in in a collection of my papers or something one day. More than likely, they'll do what everyone else does though, and either skip to the Mad Men reviews or just come here from Google searches for "tits."
I hope you enjoyed this comprehensive look back at the entirety of Cowboy Bebop. Thanks to all of you who've followed along (I think we got one new reader out of this--that's a good day here at the Prattle) Until next time!