New from Japan: Anime Film Reviews
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Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, Cowboy Bebop is one of the most imaginative anime TV series. © Bandai Entertainment.

Cowboy Bebop.
TV series/OAV, 1998. Director: Shinichiro Watanabe. V.1 - V.13, video, 2 episodes/50 minutes each. $24.98 subtitled/$19.98 dubbed. V.1 - V.6, DVD (bilingual), V.1 & V.2, 5 episodes/125 minutes each; V.3 - V.6, 4 episodes/100 minutes each. $29.98. Distributor: Bandai Entertainment.

Cowboy Bebop is arguably the most imaginative anime creation of the past decade. First, it is designed for adults and older teens. Its characters drink and get hangovers; they smoke, lighting up cigarettes under No Smoking signs. Second, it is an improbably successful blend of every TV genre from interplanetary sci-fi to Westerns to cop and private eye dramas, including spoofs of both popular movies like Alien and news events like the Unibomber in America. Third, it is one of the best mixes of traditional animation and CGI outside of theatrical quality animation. Fourth, its jazz score by Yoko Kanno has won awards and made it a top-selling sound track CD in Japan. (Episodes have music-themed titles like "Asteroid Blues," "Stray Dog Strut," "Waltz for Venus," "Heavy Metal Queen" and "Ganymede Elegy.") Fifth, its mood shifts leave viewers guessing whether the next episode will be drama, comedy, suspense, romance, fast-paced action or an intellectual puzzle. When Cowboy Bebop first appeared in primetime from April 13 to June 26, 1998, only 13 of the 26 episodes were considered suitable for TV broadcast due to such adult themes as drug addiction; the others had to be bought as direct-to-video releases. (The whole series was later broadcast in an adult 1:00 am timeslot from October 23, 1998 through April 23, 1999.) Set in 2071 A.D. after space travel leads to the colonization of the Solar System, Spike Spiegel and Jet Black are two bounty hunters bringing freelance justice to the sprawling frontier society that has grown up among the bubble-domed cities on asteroids and satellites from Venus to Saturn. Despite their genuine good-buddy relationship, each clearly has a past that he is keeping extremely private. They pick up an unlikely assortment of hangers-on (a sultry femme fatale, a juvenile computer hacker of dubious gender and sanity, a Welsh corgi who may be smarter than they are) that becomes a surprisingly charismatic and endearing regular cast. There are in-group jokes (don't miss the "next episode" previews after the closing credits, which may be straight or may give a new meaning to the episode just seen), visual references (an unidentified car in one episode is a Tucker Torpedo, for those who can recognize it), and cryptic plot elements (why is Earth in ruins and being bombarded by meteorites?) that are only slowly clarified, as are the casts personal secrets. A theatrical feature is in production for a summer 2001 release in Japan. (Animation production by Sunrise.)

[The six DVD volumes are titled only 1st Session through 6th Session, but they contain the thirteen individual video titles of: V.1, Asteroid Blues. V.2, Honky Tonk Women. V.3, Ballad of Fallen Angels. V.4, Heavy Metal Queen. V.5, Jamming With Edward. V.6, Toys in the Attic. V.7, Jupiter Jazz. V.8, My Funny Valentine. V.9, Mushroom Samba. V.10, Wild Horses. V.11, Boogie Woogie Feng-Shui. V.12, Brain Scratch. V.13, The Real Folk Blues.]


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