Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger can't get his mind off of the denim vest.
Our reviews of Cowboy Bebop Remix 1 (published September 13th, 2005), Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (published August 18th, 2003), and Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (Blu-ray) (published August 8th, 2011) are also available.
"Hey Jet, did you know that there are three things that I hate? Rugrats, beasts, and tomboys. Why do we have all three neatly gathered here?"—Spike
The Cowboy Bebop remix keeps on rollin'. When I last reviewed this series with the DVD release of Cowboy Bebop Remix 1, the goal was twofold: 1) record a first impression for the two percent of anime fans who haven't seen Cowboy Bebop, and 2) investigate the technical differences between the Perfect Sessions release and the Remix release. Now that the handshake is out of the way, let's look deeper into the characters and get a feel for the tone of this venerable series.
Facts of the Case
Spike, Jet, Faye, and Ein continue to traverse the galaxy, losing bounties in every port. In this volume they pick up a hyperactive hacker named Ed, and even manage to keep a bounty or two. But the crew of the Bebop just can't shake a bad case of the blues.
With another volume of episodes under my belt, the verdict has become clearer. Cowboy Bebop is worth all the fuss. Don't get me wrong, I can easily see how the series would not strike one's fancy. It is, after all, an under-plotted "damsel of the week" coat hanger for a stylish patchwork jacket. Some people simply might not fall prey to its charms.
I might have been among them after Cowboy Bebop Remix 1, which didn't sway me firmly either way. The five episodes in Remix 2 have refined the heart of the series, made clear to me what people see in it, and now I'm on board.
In short, it is cool. That might not sound like a ringing endorsement, but Cowboy Bebop has been cool for over seven years running. In anime years, that is an eternity. Cowboy Bebop taps into the essence of cool, becoming perennially so itself.
Spike's character design says it all. He has an unruly mop of hair, a rumpled jacket, and a loosely knotted tie. He slumps, slouches, and stumbles. But when the action hits, his eyes light up and his lanky limbs blur into motion. He charms us rather than takes us over by force. His smooth character development highlights Cowboy Bebop's subtle approach to…well, everything.
The musical score perhaps gets the most attention, and why not? I've since listened to it standalone, and the music is really good. Yoko Kanno transitions from rock to jazz to salsa without missing a beat. If you underestimate the importance of music, try watching Cowboy Bebop dubbed with the radio playing in the background. The right music is critical.
It surprised me when I discovered that I was looking forward to watching the characters interact (flirt? bicker?). Cowboy Bebop elicits laughter from nuance, be it past character interactions or simply narrowed eyes. It underplays its hand, which—imagined or not—gives the impression of an entire reservoir of humor behind the dam.
Details are below in the episode discussions, but for now let's look at the disc. Like its counterpart, Remix 2 has bee granted a superlative new surround track. Purists may detect a lapse in detail here or there, but let's not overlook the forest for the sound of falling pine needles: This thing sounds great. I want to buy all of the Cowboy Bebop soundtracks now just because this DVD sounds so good.
Remix 2 also favors the previous volume in terms of visual style. The art direction and character design are outstanding, while the frame rate takes a nose dive periodically. A decent transfer is marred by pervasive rainbow shimmer around fine lines, combing artifacts, and not-quite-deep black levels. It doesn't look bad, but flaws are readily apparent.
The extras have been pruned down to a commentary with ADR English Director Yutaka Maseba and Wendee Lee on episode ten, "Ganymede Elegy." Maseba and Lee reprise their composed, professional banter, but it seems less informative this time. I mostly got out of the track that they both like the music, and that Wendee was the perfect choice for her role.
The commentary did lead me to re-evaluate the English voice work, which is outstanding. Both tracks are, in fact. I still prefer the Japanese track on general principle, but I watched entire episodes of this volume in English and found the vocal work nearly flawless. The characters are appropriately wry, and there are no "antics" within earshot. Some of the dialogue is superior to the translated subtitles, especially Jet and Spike's conversation in the blues bar in "Sympathy For The Devil." Faye's bitter commentary on sexual politics in "Ganymede Elegy" is sharper when you hear it in your native tongue (if English is yours, of course).
These summaries contain spoilers:
• "Sympathy For The Devil"
Sympathy is the key word for the entire episode. Spike shows sympathy in the face of his enemy, and nearly buys the farm. If sympathy had dulled his reactions but one hair more, an immortal evil would have continued unabated through the galaxy. Yet this same sympathy makes Spike an affable, standout character in anime.
Fortunately, Spike's reflexes are up to the task. Small details sell the action. For example, Spike's gun is shot out of his hand and spins off to the left. Spike goes against the expected and leaps right, away from his gun, thereby avoiding the stray bullet meant to catch him as he made a dive for it. Cowboy Bebop is full of touches like this that enrich the stories.
Though "Sympathy For The Devil" is dark (especially the shootout
at the end), I found myself in peals of laughter at some of the witty repartee
between the Bebop crew. When Faye eats Ein's dogfood, the character implications
are as telling as they are amusing. Later, Jet professes to have lived for the
blues "since I was in my dad's sac!" Whether playing it light or
crude, the writing delivers fine comedic moments.
• "Heavy Metal Queen"
Spike meets one such trucker en route to collecting a bounty, in one of the series' more memorable comedy fight sequences. A hung-over Spike purchases an expensive egg to make his morning-after pick me up, only to have brawling cretins knock it into his lap. Spike intervenes and shows them what fighting is all about, saving a damsel in distress and gaining a reluctant ally in the process.
The episode itself is subservient to the vibe, a throwaway plot about a
nerdy explosives aficionado (who reminds me of another made up character, but I
can't place it…Waldo? Leisure Suit Larry?). There's also some made-up
drama at the end—could Spike not spare an extra twenty seconds to fill
everyone in on the plan? Nonetheless, the episode is a highly entertaining
interlude between two forbidding bookends.
• "Waltz For Venus"
Ever on the fringe of the shiny future, Cowboy Bebop takes us into the dusty badlands. A sweet frontier gal suffers blindness from a potent allergic reaction to the atmosphere-scrubbing plants they use to make Venus habitable. Her kid brother has been plaguing Spike to teach him some moves ever since witnessing Spike in action during the attempted hijacking. The kid needs those moves: he has stolen a rare plant that is worth millions to the mob and worth recovery to his sister. If you wonder how it all turns out, you haven't watched enough Bebop.
Caught in a sort of limbo, "Waltz For Venus" evidences neither
strong humor nor a compelling pathetic element. Maybe it's because the
damsel-in-distress card has been used too often in the series already, but
"Waltz For Venus" struck me as a follower rather than a leader. Maybe
it's because the "hey mister, help my poor, blind sister while I sacrifice
myself to the mob" shtick smacks of cliché. Whatever the reason, I
wasn't enthralled with the story. The episode still musters a cohesive tone of
sadness and regret, so it isn't bad.
• "Jamming With Edward"
I was warned about this episode, maybe even by some of you reading this now. A friend of mine told me that Ed (the aforementioned kid hacker) was the last straw, and that he was done with Cowboy Bebop for good. I'll admit that the bored spy satellite plot doesn't exactly draw you in, nor does Ed's eerie facility with a remote control. There is a lot of filler with Jet hitting the streets balanced with a little action when Spike jumps at the chance to take on a network of laser-wielding death machines. There are in-jokes about otaku and the Bebop's propensity to lose bounties. But you could argue that this is the least boppin' Bebop of 'em all.
Yet it has something going for it. I have an unhealthy fixation on the
Big Shot For the Bounty Hunters hostess. Seriously. Those golden locks of
hair, the green eyes, the healthy, bouncing cleavage barely concealed behind her
denim vest…ahem, I told you it was unhealthy. "Jamming With
Edward" is worth a B in my book for sheer fan service audacity alone. Where
can I get a Big Shot girl action figure?
• "Ganymede Elegy"
Faye gets wind of a chink in Jet's emotional armor and worms away at it until he snaps. That's Faye for you, always the picture of class and discretion. Jet confronts an old flame who has shacked up with a questionable boyfriend, and decides between old love and duty. The decisions paint a complex picture of Jet, making him more than a sidekick. He keeps his imposing aura of shrewd logic while showing us what ticks inside. This personal element tinges "Ganymede Elegy" with deep sadness.
The art direction is outstanding in this episode, with cut away shots of
knick knacks highlighting moments of emotional resonance. The drinking bird
takes on an almost malignant symbolism, like the paperweight in 1984 or
rosebud in Citizen Kane. When the
action kicks in, it kicks in big, but the action is umbilically linked to Jet's
personal demons. When action is married so potently to character development, it
makes the episode that much better.
The second volume of Cowboy Bebop Remix maintains the high audio-visual quality of the first volume as well as the episode count. The extras take a major hit while the episodes find a groove. As with the initial release, the real question is: How important is the refurbished soundtrack to your Cowboy Bebop listening experience? My answer is still the same: the new track makes a noticeable difference if your pocketbook can take the hit.
The jury finds in favor of the defendant.
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• Commentary by ADR English Director Yutaka Maseba and actress Wendee Lee for "Ganymede Elegy"
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