REVIEW: Cowboy Bebop: The Movie

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie follows the crew of bounty hunters aboard the Bebop as they chase after a biological terrorist who intends to wipe out the human population of Mars with an unknown pathogen. The film takes place between episodes 22 and 23 of the original anime series, and was released three years after the original series’ conclusion. 

I have never seen the original Cowboy Bebop series, but I still very much enjoyed the film and felt like I was keeping up with the story, characters, and world. The film throws you right into the world without much exposition, but I prefer that a film won’t drag out an introduction. There were some moments where I was unsure if I was missing some context or if I was just a little confused about the storyline, but nothing was too big of an obstacle in my overall comprehension of the film. The film does not rely heavily on the lore of the original series, which allows new audiences to enjoy the film alongside long-time fans. 

I was most impressed by the film’s soundtrack, art, and action. Yoko Kanno, the original series’ composer, returned to score the film and perform the soundtrack with her band. The soundtrack elevated the atmosphere of the film, whether it was upbeat rock instrumentals in action sequences or subtle, more moody music as the crew chases after the bounty. 

As for the art, I thought the backgrounds were particularly worth noting – they were all incredibly detailed and drawn from interesting perspectives and angles. I liked the use of bold but less-saturated, almost matte colors. I also really enjoyed the character designs, specifically for Spike and Ed. I found Spike’s ridiculous height to be amusing, especially in the montages of him walking through crowds. I think his design is very clever, with his long and lanky stature contrasted with his suave and easy going demeanor. On the other hand, I loved Ed’s ridiculous way of moving around – the way she flails her limbs and entire body around while moving can be likened to a wet noodle. I loved how the animation showcased both that Ed is a child and a genius – for example, there is a scene where she is hacking into a database to retrieve crucial information for Spike as sea creatures swim across the screen and attack the windows that pop up. 

The action sequences are perhaps the most impressive, not only because of the accompanying score but of the moves the characters use in their fighting styles. None of it is overly gorey, but there is just enough gore that you recognize how brutal the fights are. I’ve found that in recent action or superhero films, there is a lot of mindless fighting and shooting at faceless and nameless CGI antagonists, but the action in Cowboy Bebop feels more believable – you can better understand what it would be like for Spike to slam your face into a handrail than if he was shooting at you while flying through the sky on alien spacecraft.

Though Cowboy Bebop isn’t the genre I typically gravitate towards, I had a very enjoyable time watching it. I am interested in exploring the series, but for the time being I thought the film did an excellent job of introducing me to the world of the series.

PREVIEW: Cowboy Bebop

As part of the Michigan Theater’s Late Nights Series, Cowboy Bebop: The Movie is playing tomorrow at 10pm. The film, alternatively known as Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, is set between two episodes of the 1998 anime series, though it was released in 2001 after the completion of the series. The film follows Spike Spiegel and his crew of bounty hunters as their spaceship, Bebop, land on Mars in 2071 chasing after an ex-military officer turned biological terrorist. 

Several staff members of the original series returned to work on the film, including director Shinichiro Watanabe, writer Keiko Nobumoto, character designer/animation director Toshihiro Kawamoto, composer Yoko Kanno, as well as the voice actors. The film received some mixed but generally positive reviews from critics when it premiered, with the most praise for the score. It is interesting to compare the reception to the film compared to the recent Netflix live-action series, which was helmed by different creators but did bring back Yoko Kanno. As someone who has not watched the original series, it seems that there is generally more encouragement to watch the film instead of the live-action series in order to watch a continuation of the original that actually preserves its spirit and quality. 

Tickets are on sale for Cowboy Bebop: The Movie on Friday, Jan. 7 at 10pm!

REVIEW: Weathering with You

Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering with You tasted like something akin to cilantro: soapy, spritely, sometimes confusing, and ultimately, edible. The Japanese animated romance-natural disaster-fantasy film weaves an aesthetically compelling yet narratively lacking film about two young lovers brought together by the power of sunshine amidst Tokyo’s endlessly dreary summer rains. Hodaka, the male protagonist, is presented as an impulsive high school runaway who leaves the vaguely depicted discomfort of his hometown to chase a more unrestrained lifestyle in Tokyo. His story thus becomes entwined with that of Hina, a cheery “sunshine girl” whose prayers cause the city’s clouds to part for minutes of sunlight.

“I want you more than any blue sky.” – Hodaka Morishima, Weathering with You

The film motions towards gritty themes through the pair’s struggles with homelessness, the sex trade, and armed terror – which at times seem like decorative attempts to add dimension rather than gripping allusions to reality. Due to the sheer number of unresolved issues added to flavor the narrative, the film’s ending felt incomplete and soapy. I questioned the importance of certain ‘gritty’ motifs such as Hodaka’s recurring gun stint, and the development of his savior complex in response to Hina’s woes. I found Hina’s character, an orphaned “sunshine girl” fatefully burdened by dramatic choice, emotionally strong yet ultimately stifled by Hodaka at every twist and turn in the film’s plot. Though Hina braves mature duties to her brother, the eternal fate of Tokyo’s weather, and herself, Hodaka continuously leaps in to save his magical “sunshine girl” – most of the time without her consent. Hina’s acts of sacrifice exhibit both mental strength and a keen understanding of her fate with cumulonimbus clouds; however, they are selfishly averted by the ever-spontaneous Hodaka. Indeed, Hodaka’s character does not seem to view Hina’s personal decisions with the autonomous power that they deserve – eventually, Hodaka’s failure to recognize such leads to Tokyo’s partial submergence in water. I found this plot decision to be the most confusing and also the most inconsistent with the traditional collectivist views perpetuated in many East Asian countries like Japan – why value Hina’s corporeal existence over the entire wellbeing of Tokyo and its citizens? Is Hodaka’s intervention representative of the foolish nature of young love? Or perhaps, the stubborn inaction over climate change concerning Earth as we know it? 

Climate change and its ominous effects on the human spirit are central to Weathering with You; beyond the film’s narrative soapiness, the animation direction does a beautiful job of capturing the nuances of weather and mood. Hina’s characteristic hand movement of reaching up towards the sky, the newfound sunlight filtering through her fingers, is so distinctly human, and touching within the context of Tokyo’s depressing weather. The animations carry the same underlying thread of childlike wonder and curiosity throughout the film, transporting the viewer into a parallel universe set aglow with fantasy with every sunshine prayer Hina wills unto the clouds.

REVIEW: Icons of Anime: Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door

Every time I see a movie, I have a particular feeling afterwords, where I take on some of the characters’ attitudes, style, or mannerisms. Depending on how good the movie was, this can last for quite some time. For instance, I watched Billy Madison weeks ago and I still straighten into first position when I feel myself slouching. And though I have neither the time nor money to get into ballet lessons, my heart yearns to sign up for a beginner’s class.

The mood of absolute coolness is overpowering in Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. I regret forgetting to wear a shirt with a poppable collar; I felt beyond out of place amongst Spike Spiegel, Electra Ovilo, and Faye Valentine, lightyears behind them, fashion-wise (and name-wise of course). The landscape of the city made me feel small, but the characters walked through it with confidence: they owned the streets, moving in long strides, self-assuredly occupying space.

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The variety of color schemes was greatly influential in making the movie’s aesthetic unique. The different settings (Moroccan Street, the bounty hunter crew’s home, the warehouse, downtown, etcetera) were distinct in tone, the characters’ clothing standing out enough within these spaces but also blending in well. The omnipresence of shades of earthy brown is representative of the 1990s and early 2000s, but still allowed for a futuristic feeling. Though many of the colors were muted, they worked well in accentuating the artists’ highly contrasted shading technique.

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In terms of the movie’s concept, its originality brought new life to what could have easily been a standard, unremarkable action flick. The focus on fight scenes was thankfully minimal (for me at least, there is no greater sleeping pill than any of the Jason Bourne movies), instead there was more emphasis on the nature of the bioterrorism device. They actively developed the idea, including scientific details that fleshed it out more than I expected. It was a bit unrealistic that the researchers attempting to find out more about the biological agent came up with absolutely nothing, while the cowboy gang figured it all out so quickly. It would have been less distractingly odd had the scientists started to gain more understanding. This choice could have made the agent more complex, more terrifying in a more real way.

Throughout the movie, I found these places where small occurrences slyly slipped by. In the first hospital scene, a woman lies on a bed, reaching up at nothing, most likely in the process of dying. The shootout on the trains traveling over water has a moment where two trains pass each other just so, drawing darkness in and out so smoothly.

Also, the soundtrack was great. The music was as widely varied as the settings, and some of the song titles are as out there as the characters’ names. The whole soundtrack is by one music group (Seatbelts) on the album Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door: O.S.T. Future Blues. This would be the perfect album to listen to while cooking a fancy, complicated dessert, or an enormous bowl of homemade ramen.

The U of M Center for Japanese Studies is continuing this film series Wednesdays at 7PM at the Michigan Theater. The next movie is on March 13: Ghost in the Shell (1995). Be sure to mark your calendars!

PREVIEW: Icons of Anime: Your Name

The Center for Japanese Studies presents the next installment of their Icons of Anime lineup: Your Name! Come see it at 7 PM Wednesday, January 30 at the Michigan Theater (if you can stand the cold!).

The film tells a tale of two highschoolers who have the magical ability to switch bodies with each other. Complications inevitably arise, and we follow the two on a deeply emotional journey to meet eachother. Your Name  is beautifully animated and deservedly critically acclaimed, earning an impressive 97% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Student tickets are $8.50, and 10.50 for adults. Please make sure to dress in lots of layers, as temperatures will be far below zero, especially in the evening. Be sure to limit exposed skin, including your face and hands.


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PREVIEW: Spirited Away

I’m thrilled to be attending my first Studio Ghibli movie on the big screen! Spirited Away will be screened on Wednesday, Jan 23 at 7 p.m. in the Michigan Theatre. It is part of a larger film series, Icons of Anime, curated by the Center for Japanese Studies. Directed by the acclaimed Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, the movie follows ten-year-old Chihiro as her family stumbles upon a supernatural theme park. The movie has gorgeous, magical animations and is a captivating fantasy.