A Review of “Cowboy Bebop the Movie: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” – Bounty Hunting on the Big Screen

“He called you a cowboy? What does that mean? What are you?” 
“Just a humble Bounty Hunter ma’am.” 
– Old lady and Spike Spiegal. 

“Cowboy Bebop”. For many fans, this two-word title evokes an almost religious reverence. Say what you will about “Pokemon”, and who cares about “Neon Genesis Evangelion”; but breath the words “Cowboy Bebop” together in the same sentence, and you had better follow that up with the words “It’s awesome” quick, fast and in a dawg gone hurry. While we will be digging into the actual twenty-six “session” series at a later date, for the time being, we will first begin our voyage through the world of “Bebop” with its mid-way, highly acclaimed movie at the behest of the “Six Steps” Contest winner “HK”. So pour yourselves a stiff drink, kick off your shoes and let’s get into the world of “Cowboy Bebop the Movie: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”.

Warnings and Notable Objectionable Content:Cowboy Bebop” has never been known to be good and wholesome family viewing…unless your family is a bunch of otaku, in which case, consider yourself very lucky. With gun violence, physical hand to hand violence, some drug references, some sexuality, a bit of nudity [though nothing is shown…not really, anyway…], and PG-13 level profanity, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” is not something you would want to show anyone under the age of 14.

Movie Availability – “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” is actually one of the most readily available anime movies I’ve seen in a while, found in some brick and mortar stores like Best Buy, Target and Wal-Mart. You can also find this series in many online retailers like eBay and Amazon for awesome prices both new and used. Proving that “Bebop” is one series that has excellent staying power, a Blu-Ray disk release of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” was released back in 2008,  making an already high-quality movie even higher quality.

Movie Premise – “Cowboy Bebop the Movie: Knockin’ on Heavens Door” is, of course, based off the original 26 episode TV series of the same name. In this movie, set in the year 2071, a time when mankind has traveled and colonized planets and asteroids throughout our solar system, bounty hunters Spike Spiegal and Jet Black are on the hunt for their next big bounty head to cash in on the reward on his head and break their diet of sodium-rich instant ramen. Together with their shipmates, the femme fatale with a gambling habit Faye Valentine, and the eccentric computer genius with a barefoot habit Radical Edward, and their super-smart data dog Ein, the group uncovers the secret behind their latest bounty head. What starts off as just your typical young and stupid hacker bounty head turns into something much, much bigger than the crew of the Bebop could fathom. The super hacker, it turns out, is working for a guy named Vincent; a wounded soul who is bent on releasing a nano-virus on Mars [A virus that was tested on him back in a off-camera war], destroying all life. The only two people who has the key to the vaccine is Vincent himself and his former lover, a woman named Electra.   It’s therefore up to the ragtag group of the fishing vessel Bebop” to apprehend the bad guys and save Mars from certain destruction. “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” pretty much takes everything we love about the “Cowboy Bebop” series and puts it up on the big screen for all to see. The story is easy enough to follow for the “Bebop” uninitiated but fast paced and with enough tie-ins to the original series to keep hardened fans happy. The story has an awesome flow to it overall, feeling like a full length movie instead of just an episode that the creators just padded out like many anime to movie converts tend to be. The ending is marvelous and epic without being too over the top. It’s not so much “WHOO-HOO!!! WE SAVED THE WORLD GUYS!!! LET’S ALL GET ALONG NOW!!!”  It gives you the feeling of “Okay, we got that done, we made a little money, now let’s move on to the next bounty head.” And that, I think, draws people to “Cowboy Bebop” and by extension, to the movie; it’s not about  these super heroes characters out to save the world; it’s about regular guys out to make a buck; something we ALL can relate to. [25/25]

Favorite Scene – Ed and Ein trick-or-treating while hunting for the bounty head. It doesn’t get more epic than that.

Characters – “Knockin’ on Heavens Door” reintroduced us to the crew of the Bebop and, unlike many other movies based on existing series, doesn’t try to recreate the characters we’ve come to know and love. I’ll dive into these characters in greater detail later on when I actually review the main series, but sufice it to say, those who are fans of the characters in the original series will be more than satisfied with the group as they appear in this movie, while those who may be new to the world of “Bebop” as a whole, would find them relatable and fun to get to know. The movie-exclusive characters we’re introduced to fit in well with our motley crew, and our lead bad-guy, Vincent Volaju, is a deliciously evil antagonist for Spike. It’s amazing how similar they are, and in that, you find the conflict that drives the movie. In fact, at the climax of the movie, Vincent ad-libs a quote that Spike used in the series about living in a dream that he never wakes up from. That, plus the fact that they are evenly matched fighting-wise makes the interaction between these two worth the price of admission. Electra, Vincent’s former lover, also plays well with our existing Bebop crew, giving Spike a different female to play off instead of Faye, which I found to be really nice. Ed is just a bundle of cuteness wrapped in insanity and brilliance. While at first bash she looks as though she would be completely out-of-place on the Bebop crew with her wild frizzy hair, minimalistic wardrobe and alien-like ramblings, she actually plays an integral role in the movie as well as in the series, and there was not one time throughout the whole series or this movie that I thought she was just extra weight. [25/25]

Animation – Typically, when a series makes the move from the small screen to the big screen, the creators get a much bigger budget for animation. This is good, however, in many cases, the creators go all out, adding things and changing character designs until the end result winds up looking like some sort of shadowy, dark, under-colored mess; worse than even the original TV broadcast. Thankfully, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” didn’t go down that road; keeping the look and feel of the orignal series that the viewer has come to know and love while taking advantage of the larger budget by giving everything a more fluid animation style. The action and fighting scenes are some of the best I’ve ever seen in any anime, and I do not say that lightly either! The animation for “Bebop” has always looked awesome, but this one takes it one step further, without losing any of the “Bebop” grit that we’ve come to know and love. Our characters look exactly the way we left them in the series, if not slightly better while the movie-exclusive characters fit in just fine without outshining our originals. At the end of the day, the whole movie looks less like an anime and more like a live-action movie, which speaks volumes to the creative staff. [12.5/12.5]

Music – From opening to closing, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” delivers time and again with regards to music, from the opening song “Ask DNA”, which oozes hipness and smoothness from every note, to Faye’s unofficial theme “(Cosmic Dare) Pretty with a Pistol”, which plays EXTREMELY well with the fly over scene in which it’s used, right down to the ending song “Gotta Knock a Little Harder”, Yoko Kano and the Seatbelts give fans songs to hum and sing long after the ending credits are concluded. The incidental music…well…actually…I feel kinda bad for calling it “Incidental music” as it has just a strong a presence as any normal musical piece. In any case, the “in-between music” I’ll call it, plays EXTREMELY well, and it’s just the thing you would come to expect from a Watanabe/Kano/Seatbelts collaboration. [12.5/12.5]

Performances and Production – “Cowboy Bebop The Movie: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” was created by Studio Sunrise with director Shinichiro Watanabe at the helm. Of course, his resume goes without saying; “Cowboy Bebop”, “Samurai Champloo” and more recently, the highly acclaimed “Kids on the Slope”. Here in the US, the series was dubbed by Bang! Zoom! Entertainment with Mary Elizabeth McGlynn at the helm. Her resume is pretty respectable in the world of dubbing both behind and in front of the microphone. She’s directed several shows including “Digimon Tamers”, “Naruto” [Oy! No throwing eggs at the blogger! I didn’t say I was one way or the other about the dub! We’ll get into that later!], “Wolf’s Rain”, and a few hundred episodes of “Bleach” [After the last director went insane when the series hit over 100 episodes…kidding…]. The original cast returns once again to their respective roles and pull off a performance worthy of praise and adulation. Steven Blum as Spike Spiegal is, as always, simply the best. There is NO anime voice actor before or since that can match his register, and none should even try or should try lest they want to be ridiculed beyond recognition. Beau Billingslea as Jet Black is also extremely good; the depth to his voice gives a gruffy warmth to the character that plays perfectly off Blum’s portrayal of Spike. Wendee Lee as Faye Valentine has been, will be and forever shall be, the best role she has ever played. OtakuAndrain might give me a hard time with this, as Lee has also voiced Konata Izumi and Haruhi Suzumiya, but dawg gone it, I have thousands of fans that say otherwise. Melissa Fahn as the free spirit Radical Edward is absolute perfection. Plain and simple. She picks up on all of Ed’s little quirks and nuances perfectly, almost naturally, giving a performance that shines as bright, if not 1/10000000th lux brighter than her fellow actors. Daran Norris as the antagonist Vincent is the perfect bad-guy voice. It’s not this overt “I AM THE EVIL BAD GUY MUHAHAHAHAHA!!!” kind of voice, but it’s more of a low, dangerous, somewhat gentle voice which is absolute perfection for the character. Finally, Jennifer Hale Electra is nicely done. She hits all the emotions on the mark, and plays off Spike’s flirtations very well. [25/25]

Scoring Summary:

Story Breakdown – 25/25
Characters – 25/25
Animation – 12.5/12.5
Music – 12.5/12.5
Performance and Production – 25/25

Final Score – 100/100 = 100% – (A)

Lagniappe (A Little Something Extra):

  • In the US, the movie was released simply as “Cowboy Bebop: The Movie” without the “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” addition. This is due to legal reasons as Bob Dylan had a song entitled “Knocking On Heavens Door” which is the basis for the original movie title.
  • It should also be noted that this films release in the US was delayed for approximately 2 years due to the events of September 11, 2001. Apparently, it was thought that the terrorism aura of the movie would be too much too soon for viewing audiences.
  • The events of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” are supposed to take place sometime between Session 22 “Cowboy Funk” and Session 23 “Brain Scratch”.
  • The English Voice Actors for Jet, Faye and Spike make an animated cameo appearance in the opening title credits. The african-american male with the headphones and sunglasses [when the song says “What’s up?”] is Beau Billingslea. The blonde female drinking from a water bottle immediately after that [the “Sweet cakes” line] is Wendee Lee, and the guy with the shades doing the faux karate moves [the “Anyway…” line] is Steven Blum.

So where does that leave us? Dude, look at the score–a PERFECT sweep. If I ain’t convinced you by now that “Cowboy Bebop The Movie: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” is not one of THE best movies around with a superb story, awesome characters, beautiful animation, amazing music, and a world-class group of actors in both the US and Japan, then there just ain’t no convincing you. If you have never seen an episode of “Cowboy Bebop” before, or if you’ve watched the series multiple times over, you WILL find something enjoyable in this movie. I know I did.

Well, “HK”, there you have it! Your prize for winning the “Six Steps” game! I hope you enjoyed it! It was EXTREMELY enjoyable to write, and it got me excited and wanting to review the original 26-Session series! However, I got something much, much, MUCH bigger planned for the month of August. Oh yeah, this is a pretty big project, but I’m positive that the end result is going to be all kinds of epic. Grab your goggles, gloves and green socks because we’re going throw-back with a good friend as we review…

Digi-Trinity Review – The Cajun Samurai, OtakuAndrain and special guest Lord Patamon Review
“Digimon: Digital Monsters” [Digimon Adventure]


4 thoughts on “A Review of “Cowboy Bebop the Movie: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” – Bounty Hunting on the Big Screen

    1. I hope you enjoy it! A lot of work went into making this particular review happen and I am VERY excited about the kind of reception it’ll get! And thanks for the heads-up about “Digimon” on DVD! I’ll have to do a bit of tweaking!

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